Monte Carlo Stories and Tips

Gloriously Garish

Monte Carlo is situated in the heart of the French Riviera within the city-state of Monaco close to the French-Italian border. Often regarded as the playground for the rich and famous it is small but far from unassuming. Monte Carlo is exactly what you would imagine it to be: opulent and affluent, ostentatious and brazenly glitzy with everyone wearing their money on their sleeves. People walk the streets of Monte Carlo rarely, but when they do, often to take their poodle for a stroll, it's to be seen. Blacked out windowed BMWs and Ferrari's are commonplace here.

There is not all that much to Monte Carlo beyond numerous exclusive shops (every fashion darling boutique imaginable), hotels, restaurants, of course the casino, and many admiring tourists. As an experience, it's fascinating and worth spending a few hours there but I would suggest no more as either boredom or jealousy will take over.

I can recommend a day trip as access from many of the main resorts along the Riviera is easy by bus or by train. Although the whole area is hardly renowned for its economic value, you would still be better off staying in Nice and taking the train from there. It costs about 7 Euros return per person, runs roughly every 20 minutes and takes about the same amount of time to get there. The last one back usually leaves at about 11:30 pm so you can easily have a night out and return to Nice. Monte Carlo does have hotels, such as the famed Hotel de Paris, but you will need to re-mortgage your house to stay there.

So, things to see in Monte Carlo are, first and foremost, the people, their fur coats, elderly rotund gentlemen with their trophy wives, the wannabes and the hangers on. Best place for this is of course outside the casino. Like we did, take a pew outside the Cafe De Paris situated next door and sit and watch for hours. Front row seating is rare, even in October when we went, but even a few rows back it's worthwhile. Cafe de Paris is an interesting place. Never before I have I seen so many couples sitting and drinking and not facing one another. It really is like a show as you see every car of your dreams pull up and dark glassed persons emerge and hurriedly escape into the gambling Mecca.

Cafe de Paris itself is as expensive as you would imagine. You can drink outside facing the Hotel de Paris and adjacent to the casino. Dining happens inside and is a fine example of the traditional French dining experience. Here waiters are professionals and take pride in their job. There were 2 of us and we had 3 waiters between us checking, refilling, clearing and generally fussing, but in a good way! You pay for the privilege though, main courses are 20 Euros upwards but the quality is classic and very fine indeed. Is it worth the money? Probably not but when in Monte Carlo...

After dinner you should head over the road to the Hotel de Paris and sip on an overpriced (yes, there is a theme here isn't there?) champagne cocktail in the plush bar. We found this place to be fairly characterless but worth going so you can tick the box. The bar at the Hermitage hotel (about 100 meters away) looked a much better bet but was closed for a private function when we were there so couldn't go in. Overall, this hotel looked to be much more fun and less stuffy so if you want to stay in Monte Carlo, although we didn't stay there, this would have been top of my list.

Tourists can venture into the casino too, which opens its doors from 2pm. You have to pay to go into the gaming rooms themselves (10 Euros and you need ID with you). I didn't as they were very quiet (it was a Monday night at the end of October) and I could see just as well from the main lobby (they call it the Atrium) and this is free to enter. If it had been busy I think the premium would have been worth it. The building itself dates from the late 19th century and is exquisitely beautiful - this is no Brighton casino! The Atrium is free to wander, as are the toilets (to use rather than wander). I can highly recommend both as being marvellous experiences.

That about sums it. Hop the train back to Nice for a nightcap in the Negresco. More on that in a separate review...

So, that's Monte Carlo. I don't think you will need more than a day there but it's worth seeing just to check out how the other (or autre) half live.

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