After spending the last few weeks travelling the south of france in a motorhome, i thought i would share some of my experiences with you lucky lot and not least because i recieved the credit card bill through the post today!
The journey into Monte Carlo is quite unimpressive, very industrial and stark contrast to the picturesque landscapes surrounding Monte Carlo. You get the first taste of its financial implications by the increased frequency of the tolls upon its approach. It seemed like there was a toll booth on the roads every 10 mins as opposed to the every couple of hours we had experienced around Provence.
We arrived at night, a bit "blind". by that i mean with no campsite booked and no idea where to park up our home for the night. A quick drive through the very windy streets with sharp gradients and we found ourself at the port which proved to be our trouble-free home for the night. The port itself had parking restrictions but we made ourselves as inconspicuous as a 40ft motorhome could be and slipped on our least creased and tatty clothes and was able to walk straight into the bar area and past the most luxurious yachts i have ever seen.
As we were there for one night only the plan was to take in the sights, hit the casino and generally have a good ol' gawp at what there was to see..... and that there was plenty!
The bars themselves did not seem anything special. A quick overpriced drink in stars and stripes only a minutes walk from our motorhome gives you a taste of what monte carlo is all about....seeing and being seen.
From stars and stripes we followed the harbour round on foot staring unashamedly at the very very expensive yachts moored up...apparently you can pay to have dinner on the decks and let the many tourists stare at you with envious and hungry eyes. My 25ft Jaguar weekend sailing yacht seemed worse than a pedalo at that moment and at one point I was even found salivating profusely at one Caymen Island registered monster yacht....one day....one day i had to remind myself!.
The walk round the harbour takes to you to the grand casino which is an absolute must should you go to Monte Carlo. Part-owned by the Monaco Royalty - the Grimaldi's, it is the very essence of Monte Carlo - Big, Oppulent, Ostentatious and Brash.
The valet parking gathers a bigger crowd than many Football crowds. Its all about who comes out of what car. The tanned fake boobed women dripping in gold accompanied by their equally tanned and generally older companions. It was almost like a parody...a cliche if you will but like any car accident.... you cant help but stare now matter how awful it is what you are staring at. Cars with values equal to the GDP's of many medium sized countries made to an impressive parade and for all you car enthusiasts to which i am not there was two ferrari daytona's (apparently only 15 left in world) and more bentleys than a premiership clubs car park.
Unable to get into the main casino due to the no open toed footwear policy - all that dressing up to no avail, we decided to to have a drink at stars and stripes again mainly due to its good people spotting location, and there we sat sipping Kiri Royals (£8 a glass) and played the "spot the plastic surgery" game..... not a hard game to play.
Back to the motorhome, relief it was still there and had a generally unproturbed night. Had a walk round in the morning past the tacky Ferrari and Porsche souvenir shops and after all the visual bliss of provence felt a bit hemmed in so decided that a visit up to castle wasnt needed and just needed to go somewhere where tight faced old leathery men/women were not in abundance...... stupidly headed for Nice....where there plenty.... but more of that later.
Overall Monte Carlo is nothing better than a glamourous freak show.... you go there to see and be seen and i found the whole place, gaudy without being tacky and monied without the class. Plenty of suntanned Italian men eye candy for the ladies... and enough boats and cars to keep even the most ardent anti car/boat person happy. I would not reccommend more than a couple of days there and bring fake tan and shoes!....oh and free parking at the port :)
I have visited Monte Carlo in Monaco twice, love it, and the way I describe it is that it is just like Venice in that it is one-of-a-kind and so unique looking that there nowhere else like it.
The easiest way to visit Monte Carlo is by flying into Nice Airport and travelling along the coast. I travelled by train from Nice to Monaco and it took me around 25 minutes' travelling time, so it is not very far. These days you can find great flights to Nice with some of the low cost airlines from many UK airports.
Monte Carlo just looks stunning on first impressions - and you will be immediately surprised just how many buildings they have managed to cram into a steep coastal resort overlooking the Mediterranean! It wreaks of money and glamour, and the combination of blue sea, sparkling sunshine, and density of buildings of all shapes and sizes makes it a must-see destination.
The key sites to see are firstly the harbour with loads of amazing million-dollar yachts moored up. These shine and sparkle in the Cote D'azur sun and look amazing. Then you should take a walk around the Grand Prix circuit, which if you have ever seen it on TV you will immediately recognise. You can walk along the road of the start/finish line, which is actually lined with some lovely restaurants, and then head for the famous tunnel and the hair-pin-bend. I was amazed when I saw the hair-pin bend the first time as the road is so tiny and narrow, and you imagine the F1 cars to be much bigger than they are. It is amazing to think they go around these bends at the speeds they do, and it makes you realise just how talented the drivers are! I first visited Monaco early May several years ago, and it was only a week or so before the Grand Prix. It was so interesting as the track and barriers were already in place - and the price of hotels was still quite reasonable as people only wanted to be there for the actual race.
The other things to see in Monte Carlo would include the famous Monte Carlo Casino - which is located on top of a hill overlooking the sea. You have to be well-dressed to go inside (we were in jeans so did not even try!), but it is worth seeing close-up from the outside, which you can do. There are also lots of the main designer shops also located on small streets close to the Casino which are worth taking a peek at (from the outside!).
Once you have looked around this side of the 'city' you should be sure to also see the Prince's Palace in the Old City which is located at the other side of the bay on the big rock. You can walk up to this (takes around 10 minutes) and once up there you will find the Palace and lots of tiny old streets and shops bustling with tourists. You can also see Grace Kelly's (Princess Grace of Monaco) along with Prince Rainier's inside the Monaco Cathedral located in this area.
One restaurant I would recommend for its locations and ability to see beautiful sunsets is called 'Stars N Bars' (http://www.starsnbars.com/en/) and is located along the Quayside. Ok - so it is not traditional French haute-cuisine, it is an American themed restaurant with average prices, but the food is very good and the main attraction to it is the location. Book a table here once evening on its outside terasse and watch the sun go down - you will not be disappointed!
There are more things to see and do in Monte Carlo, but this is just my main selection. I would really recommend seeing all this for yourself if you get the chance!