Food. Life. Travel

France 101: A Quick Guide To Monaco

 

View of Monte Carlo from the “Rock”

Ah, Monaco – the tiny city-state (principate?) off the coast of France. Home to the Grand-Prix, tax-free earnings and the rich and famous. Oh, and it was featured a couple of times on International Househunters. Overall, Monaco is a vibrant vacation spot, boasting many things to do. Provided you do go during the high season. During the off-season, Monaco is somehow less vibrant. By this, I mean that during the Autumn and Winter months, Monaco, much like Cannes, has a softer more subdued vibe. When planning my vacation to the South of France, I had images of warm Mediterranean weather, delicious French food, crisp wines and high-brow conversations with the rich and famous. Did I (in this grand fantasy I concocted in my mind) also think that I would casually bump into a handsome Greek shipping tycoon and he would fall madly in love with me and want to marry me? Maybe.

In reality, my trip to Monaco was the exact opposite of what I fantasized about. Which brings me to my first piece of advice – let go of expectations when you travel. In fact, try and let go of expectations in general! They only ever set you up for disappointment. Scrolling through Instagram posts and Pinterest, I saw many examples of people’s sunny vacations to the South of France and I (naively) assumed the same thing would happen to me. Before you ask – yes I did check the weather and while it did say there would be rain, there was also some sunshine. I was hoping the Gods were smiling down on me and would provide me with a rain-free vacation. It would appear the Gods took a vacation to a warmer destination and left me dealing with rainy ol’ France.

However, during my research, I never came across a post that talked about things to do and expect during the offseason in Monaco. Not everyone has the means or opportunity to travel during the summer months and off-season travel is more accessible. This is where I come in! My blog post is going to be your offseason travel guide to Monaco. I’ll explain where I stayed and what I did to give you a better idea of how to plan your next trip to Monaco.

 

WHERE TO STAY

Where possible, I tend to stay in Air B&Bs as they are the most affordable option. While there are hotels and small boutique residences available in Monaco there are a plethora of Air B&Bs to choose from. However, here is a little travel hack for you. Choose accommodation in France and spend your time in Monaco. What do I mean by this? Well, if you are bad at geography like me (don’t judge), then maybe you thought Monaco was a little island off the coast of France. I did say don’t judge me LOL. All the photos I had seen of Monaco showed me the coastline so I assumed it was some island that you had to take a ferry to visit. This isn’t the case. Monaco is a section of the South of France that is an independent city-state. This means that you can have one foot on the “border” of France and another in Monaco.

Japanese gardens (L), Lavrotto Beach (R)

Accommodation in the France section will be cheaper than Monaco. And depending on where you are on the France side, you’ll be anywhere from a 2-15 minute walk away from Monaco. Or a short train ride. Our Air B&B was situated right on the border of Monaco on a winding road with two-way traffic and no pavement. If you went up a set of stairs you would be in France and if you went down a set of stairs you’d be in Monaco. But first, we had to survive leaving the house without being hit by a car! Ah, the joys of traveling on a budget.

WHAT TO DO

There are plenty of things to do in Monaco during the high season. A simple Google search will reveal all the must-sees of Monaco when the weather is warm and sunny. During the off-season, there is less to do. Like Cannes, many shops and attractions are closed (because who, besides yours truly, is going to travel to Monaco when it is rainy?).  We were blessed to have one day of complete sunshine, which is why some of the photos here make it look like I traveled to Monaco during the summer.

However, aside from the few things I am going to mention below, there really isn’t much to do in Monaco during the offseason. My recommendation is to stay here two-days at most. Anything more and you’ll find yourself at home drinking instant coffee and eating a baguette with Nutella. I obviously do not speak from experience.

Here are something you must check out during your offseason trip to Monaco!

  • Visit the Old Town. There is also a section where you get an amazing view of Monte Carlo.
  • Check out the Casino (for around 10 euros you can also go inside!). If you are feeling lucky you can even play a few games (though depending on how lucky you are, it may cost you more than 10 euros!).

 

Port Hercule (L) and the Casino (R)
  • Walk into the small cathedrals and churches. There are plenty in Monaco (i.e.Sainte-Dévote Chapel)
  • Head down to the pier (Port Hercule) and take a photo of yourself looking baller amongst those million dollar yachts! Greek shipping tycoon (sadly) not included.
  • Check out Lavrotto beach. If it’s warm enough out you can even swim! Beware though, the section I was on was a bit pebbly and wasn’t really a soft sand beach. Also, there were no beach chairs that I could see so pack light!
  • Walk around the Japanese gardens. This city garden was designed at the request of Prince Rainier III and based on the strictest principles of Zen.

 

Winter Carnival (L), a Vespa chilling near Rue Princesse Caroline (R)

 

  • See the Winter Carnival! We were lucky enough to chance upon this winter carnival taking place near the pier in Monaco. There were rides and games, and stalls filled with fried foods and hot chocolate. And entrance is free!
  • Just explore the area in general. Walking around and getting lost is the best thing to do. On our last day, I walked around and happened upon a cute little boulevard (Rue Princesse Caroline) with ice cream stores, cafes and small shops. It reminded me very much of Old Montreal!

As an aside one thing I also recommend taking the time to explore the small towns along the Cote d’Azur (between Nice and Monaco). When we left Monaco on our way to Nice (our final stop), we hopped off the train and came upon this beautiful beach located in Villefranche-Sur-Mer. You guys, the Cote d’Azur is absolutely beautiful, and when it is sunny the sea catches the light and the waters turn into a rich turquoise colour. I wanted nothing more than to jump into the waters and swim. Sadly the minute we got off the train and walked to the beach, large storm clouds hovered above us and we had to seek shelter at a nearby cafe.

WHERE TO EAT

This could be because of the limited selection of restaurants and cafes, or maybe I was not checking out the right places but honestly, the food in Monaco did not wow me. In my fantasy, I had grand dreams of sipping rich cafe au lait and indulging in flaky buttery pastries. If you consider Nestle coffee and a store-bought baguette spread with Nutella as gourmet French cuisine then I was living my fantasy. But I think you and I both know I could have done better.

One thing I can recommend is visiting the cute bars and cocktail lounges that line along the pier in Monte Carlo (near where all the fancy Yachts are docked). There is an area that is filled with bars and cocktail lounges that also serve food. During the summer season, this is where all the high-end clubs are located as well. I recommend La Racasse, or Buddha Bar (though this place is sort of dead during the offseason).

The old town of Monaco

Culture Trip and this blog post right here, have a list of restaurants to check out while in Monaco. I can vouch for Cafe du Paris. Located near the casino, this restaurant boasts a beautiful covered patio and is the perfect spot to sit down, sip a cafe au lait, eat a very buttery croissant and watch the people of Monaco pass by. I also recommend Old Town for restaurants. I had a really delicious and large serving of lasagna for 9 euros! As an aside, there is a nightlife in Monaco but the major clubs are closed during the offseason. During this time bars are usually open but the atmosphere is more laidback. If you are looking for a major party scene you’ll have to come back to Monaco during the summer time!

HOW TO GET AROUND

Walking around Monaco is the easiest thing to do. There are easy and accessible pedestrian routes and everything is so small and close by that you are better off walking there. However, there are a lot of stairs in Monaco. In fact, stairs are their equivalent of bridges, linking one part of Monaco to the next. You don’t have to worry about working out because the stairs take care of that.

Taxis and buses are located everywhere however I never used any of them. To get to Monaco, I took the train.  You can refer to my Cannes blog where I explain how the trains work. As for Ubers, they do not operate in Monaco but they do operate on the “France” side. So if you decide to Uber you’ll have to walk to France or have your Uber driver pick you up in France. Isn’t that fancy?

The calm before the storm at Villefranche-Sur-Mer. 

CONCLUSION

Offseason travel to Monaco is not impossible. There are things to do and see, and overall your trip will be quite inexpensive. In addition, you do not need to spend much time in the area. Two to three days max in each city is plenty of time. In fact, you can do most of your sight-seeing in one day.

However, the South of France is not known as the French Riveria or Cote d’Azur for no reason. If you want an honest opinion I highly recommend you save up and experience the South of France at the most optimal time – summer.  This part of the world is best experienced during the warm summer months. More attractions are open, there’s a larger selection of things to do, and when in doubt you can find yourself lazing on the beach all day long.

During the offseason/winter months Monaco (and the South of France) in general is quiet and sleepy. While there are a few things to do, you might feel underwhelmed. Nevertheless, Monaco is a city that warrants a visit in the off-season if you have the opportunity to do so.

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