We docked in Nice instead of Monaco (due to potentially choppy seas); but we figured not a problem, we’d take the train. We walked forever and never did find the station (or a local person who seemed to know where it was), but did find the bus stop, so we stood in a long line, finally got on a very crowded bus and stood all the way to Monte Carlo. We ran into a British couple from our ship who had tried to take the train (and had paid 15 euros for a cab to get there), only to be told a strike somewhere else was causing problems and there wouldn’t be a train for at least two hours. Ah, the perils of travel . . . .
In any case, we got to Monaco minutes before the changing of the palace guard and literally sprinted up the steps to the top of the “rock” to catch the action at 11:55. This is a beautiful, tiny country featuring some Belle Époque architecture and an almost vertical system of streets, stairs and pretty dense high-rise buildings. Everything is very green and, of course, the centerpiece is the lovely waterfront filled with yachts of every size.
We wandered around a bit, took some photos of the beautiful harbor, and then set off to find the restaurant I had selected and reserved for lunch. Once again, no small feat in this mountain municipality. Finally, we arrived very hot and bedraggled at Le Saint Benoit, also with a pretty view of the harbor. Waiters were very good with the ice water and eventually we cooled off enough to order. I had the special of the day, which was the local fish (Bream), served with small vegetables it was really delicious. For dessert we shared an amazing chocolate pastry.
Thus fortified, we set off for the famous Monte Carlo Casino. I was there while in college, not old enough to get in and had been so disappointed. This time, I was disappointed that I did get in ;-). We were dressed nicely (pretty much everyone else was your typical tee-shirt and shorts tourist); we were extremely hot, since the day had really warmed-up and we had walked and walked (A/C was minimal); the dealers and croupiers never smiled; you pay 10 euros to get in; and basically you can only go into one room for table games and two rooms with minimal slots.
I played roulette and didn’t like that each chip is valued at $5, so this is not conducive to spreading them all over the table in my usual style of play! My husband played black jack and enjoyed the difference of the dealer taking a single card at the end of each deal (a $25 minimum). All-in-all we broke even.
We managed to find the bus to Nice quickly and this time got a seat and good A/C for the half hour ride back.
Notes: The 100 bus travels between Nice and Monaco and is 1.5 euros per person. There are 6 stops in Monaco. The train is a bit more and apparently a bit more erratic. Both the bus and the train run along the beautiful coast. Check the schedules and stops in advance.
FYI – The famous Hotel du Paris, by the Casino, is closed until December 15, 2014 for renovations.
Cannes is beautiful. We tendered in right by the Vieux Port (Old Port) and were met by MoMo, a driver we had contracted for a few hours. The goal was to get out on the coast and take in the scenery, and that is exactly what made this day so special.
Before we left town, we headed up the famous waterfront on the Boulevard de la Croisette, where the Palais des Festivals hosts the annual Cannes Film Festival and grand hotels like the Majestic, Carlton and Martinez are found. Among the high-end shops you can find Chanel, with the address Number 5, the origin of the famous perfume name. The Rue d’Antibes offered even more shops, but without the distraction of the colorful parks and action on the waterfront.
We wanted to drive along the Corniches (roads cut into steep hills) and we started with the lower, Basse, Corniche along the coast to Antibes and Cap d’Antibes. The entire area was extremely beautiful and obviously very wealthy. In Antibes we also visited a local market, sampled the delicious Socca (made from chickpeas and olive oil) and purchased some Absinthe, the legendary and controversial, potent liquor. We took in the 13 mega-yachts and one 92’ baby-yacht, all but one with Cayman Island registry, and then drove by stunning villas along the coast.
In the distance we saw the Lerins Islands of Sainte Marguerite (where the Man with the Iron Mask was jailed) and Sainte Honorat.
We did drive on all three of the Corniches, including the Grande (upper) and Moyenne (middle); these roads all follow the coastline, but at various heights along the route. Ah, yes, and more bocce “courts”, which look like large sandy fields in France, where the game is actually called Petanque.
Our drive took us to the hilltop village of Eze, where we enjoyed a quick survey of the shops, cafes and 5-star hotels scattered along the steep, narrow stone pathways.
Once back in Cannes, we visited the Old Town of Le Suquet with its Notre Dame d’Esperance 17th century, Franciscan church and castle ruins.
A final stop at a waterside café for a glace was a perfect ending to the day.