Because Mike and I were so mesmerized by the French Riviera, we decided to visit the #1 most opulent area on the coast, Monte Carlo, Monaco. The Principality of Monaco, a small city-state overlooking the pristine blue waters of the Mediterranean, is a place famed for its glamour and wealth. There were definitely a few stand out attractions; however, we were generally disappointed by Monaco for 3 main reasons:
1. Exorbitant Costs - Just as its reputation describes, it’s really for the Rich and Famous. Since we were on a budget, it was difficult for us to enjoy all the luxurious experiences the area has to offer.
2. Private Everything – A lot of the most beautiful and luxurious hotels and coastline are private. This area seems to be best explored by boat or “super yacht” and not on foot because the town is nestled up against a large mountain.
3. Monaco vs. France Rules – We rented an AirBnB in Roquebrune Cap-Martin which is actually in France. While in the area, it’s not exactly easy to know exactly where France ends and Monaco begins and vice versa. Thus, we were very confused as to why we could never convince a Taxi to take us to and from our apartment; but, we learned that many laws vary between the countries and Monaco taxies are not allowed to pick up guests from France. Without going into detail, we tried to find a taxi to our apartment for 3 hours upon arrival. That said, our experience started off pretty rocky.
Not to be a negative Nancy but we really want you to understand the draw backs of Monaco before you plan your trip so that you are prepared for what to expect. We highly recommend to save your pennies and make sure you have enough $$$ to really enjoy your time in Monaco. And now to the fun stuff.
We were only in Monaco for 3 days but can easily tell you the key attractions of the country, as there are only a few to see considering the country is so darn small (.78 square miles). On our first day, we were ready for some time at the beach so we immediately researched the best beach clubs in town. By far, the #1 best Beach Club is the Monte Carlo Beach Club, which has everything your heart could desire, from multiple pools, cabanas and day beds to a spa, restaurant and water sports. But the cost for a day here starts at €150 per person.
If you don’t have the budget for the Monte Carlo Beach Club, you can head to Larvotto beach which is exactly what we did. It’s the most well-known, free, public beach area in Monaco. Be warned, like many beaches in the Riviera, it has pebbles rather than sand so make sure you bring/wear your sturdy water shoes. This is a great beach for families with kids and not very romantic for couples. However, if you prefer to rent loungers, sunbeds and umbrellas, there are 3 main locations to do so and we went to all of them.
The best Beach Clubs in Larvotto beach are La Rose de Vents Restaurant & Beach Club, La Note Bleue Beach Club, and Nikki Beach Monaco Beach Club. Both La Rose de Vents and La Note Bleue are on the sand and call their beach “private” but it’s not exactly private since there is plenty of open beach for the public. The best thing about these beach clubs is they have nice lounge chairs and umbrellas for rent as well as towels and bar/food service. You can rent 2 chairs, towels and 1 umbrella for about €50 per day. It’s not cheap but well worth the comfort and accessibility.
On the other hand, Nikki Beach is located at the top of the Fairmont hotel and is more of a pool and day club experience. We much preferred the beach as the water in the Mediterranean is warm and beautiful for swimming. On Larvotto beach, they also have a barrier net to keep large predators and jelly fish from swimming in the beach area. It’s also lovely to watch all the super yachts as they pass by! But, being a California native, I must add that Larvotto beach doesn’t hold a candle to Newport Beach or Laguna Beach. I didn’t find it as beautiful as I had imagined or heard from reading blogs and travel websites.
After a day at the beach, it seems most Monaco tourists get dressed up and head down to the town center to see and experience the Monte Carlo Casino, known for its beaux-arts design and high stakes table games. It’s also the location for the country’s Opera and Ballet performances. It’s worth a look inside at the very least and of course, you must people/car watch on the outside of the Casino, as you are likely to see the most expensive and beautiful cars of your life. Even being from SoCal, I’d never seen so many custom Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys and Rolls Royces in one place at one time.
The best place for people watching is the patio at the ever-popular brasserie Café de Paris. It’s glamorous yet unpretentious, it’s lively yet cozy all at once. It’s the perfect place for a pre or post-dinner cocktail. Walk inside and experience Slot Machine Envy at Casino Café de Paris. This casino is definitely for the slot machine enthusiast and even has a garden patio where you can spin to win outside! Unfortunately, we didn’t find ourselves super lucky here but we still had fun gambling with the likes of the European rich and famous.
Other sites to see while in Monaco are the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco which contains 90+ tanks and some very exotic fish. This Aquarium is one of the best in Europe. Our advice is to take the little train tour (about 30 minutes in total) to see the highlights of Monaco. For €9 per person, you will visit the medieval Old Town, The Prince's Palace and discover the architecture of the Saint Nicholas Cathedral, all while riding on the Grand Prix Circuit. It’s a great tour to get a few for the city, it’s small size and surprising amount of wealth!
In hindsight, we would’ve budgeted more for Monaco and found a hotel or apartment in Monte Carlo instead of staying in Roquebrune Cap-Martin. This would’ve allowed us to experience and indulge in the luxurious nature of the country!