Last summer of 2012, my husband, a dedicated filmmaker surprised me with a 5 day Monaco Tour Package. It was a memorable adventure for us. Monaco is a country rich with great romantic views; it seems there is never a shortage of happenings. We had a grand time exploring around to witness the defining characteristic of this charming country. It was done months ago but here I am still raving about it, totally captured by its grandeur and beauty!
A direct shuttle bus fetched us in Nice Cote d’Azur International Airport and brought us to the Monte Carlo Harbor. Along the way, we stop off at the edge to see the memorial for Princess Grace Kelly. At the Monte Carlo Harbor I saw all kinds of yachts, and huge cruise ships. I felt I was walking along an exhibition of the top notch yachts gallery. The most fancy and expensive boats are docked there. We took the €2 Eco ferry ride and were treated for a circular tour around the harbor. Several dining restaurants and café line along the harbor too. We went to the Casino Square; the square is the center with a lovely garden to go people watching. My husband took lots of pix with me beside luxurious cars. The fountains, flower displays and the Casino as a backdrop make a great photo. We went around behind the Place du Casino and the Opera and had a spectacular view of the Mediterranean. We enjoyed a sumptuous dinner of fresh caviar and oysters at Café de Paris. It was safe to walk even at night as the square is properly lighted.
We spend the rest of the day at the Grand Casino of Monte Carlo; it was quite thrilling to visit the legendary casino. The atrium was covered in paved marble and onyx columns in Greek inspired architecture. However, we were only allowed to take pictures outside. Only tourists are allowed to play inside, the locals are prohibited to enter. A strict dress code is enforced. Aside from the gaming rooms, I also checked out the other establishments beside the casino like the Grand Theatre de Monte Carlo and the Monte Carlo Opera House. Before the night was over, I won € 50 on the black jack desk.
The next day we walked around Monaco to witness the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix. Roads of the circuit closed as early as 7 am. Buses run on restricted routes so we had no option but to walk around the grandstand to get a good view of the circuit. I was advised to take the high section and not the lower so I was able to see the pit lanes. There are no restrictions on bringing food. Glass bottled drinks are not allowed though. We rented a Fan Vision unit, they are miniature TV’s tuned to the race where you can follow the race leaders, statistics and commentaries. Cameras are allowed and I was able to take shots of the atmosphere at the pits up to the ports. I noticed some tourists buy ear plugs or ear defenders. My husband and I have been to lots of F1’s and we never wore earplugs. It was a thrill watching those colored race cars and its noise reverberate around the tall buildings they passed by. After the race ends in the afternoon, the streets were reopened and there was a party atmosphere all around. They even set up tables and DJ’s, it was a great experience!
Day 3 was a visit to the famous Musee Oceanographique de Monaco in Monaco – Ville. It is a museum that houses aquariums, marine life exhibits and collections of various species of fauna in stuffed or skeletal form. One entire floor was dedicated to the relics from the sea, which I found amusing while my husband preferred the aquarium floor. At the special section of the first floor was a beautiful stone dedicated to Prince Albert I. Another hall featured maritime travel, old ships, and maps to show the history of sea faring. The museum is worth looking around up to the top, with a panoramic view of the city and the pristine blue waters of the Mediterranean from the roof. There is also a little café on top with wide outdoor seating as well as a playground for kids. I bought little ceramic sea creatures at the gift shop. The best part of the museum was the lowest level which was filled with aquariums, tons of blue aquariums. Kids were in awe of the little sharks and other sea animals on the prowl. It was a multitude of sea life!
Our fourth day in Monaco was a visit to Monaco Cathedral, a beautiful church with fine mosaic on the ceiling above the altar. It is nestled along the cliff overlooking the sea. The tombs of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier are both easily seen even though the inscriptions are in Latin. Entrance is free and I noticed everyone seem aware that this was not a place for talking and being loud. Everyone else lined up and was very respectful. When we were there the tombs were very carefully guarded. We placed fresh flowers on their grave and spent a little time for reflection at the main altar. We toured around the chapel and found interesting statuaries and religious paintings. The cathedral shares the plaza with the Pala is de Justice and the Conceal National. A lovely rose garden and park with views and sculptures were nearby; a quiet place for contemplating. A visit to the cathedral is a must if you are in Monaco!
A few meters from the cathedral is the Prince’s Palace, the official residence of the Prince of Monaco and the rest of the Grimaldi family. It is perched high on a hill, with a magnificent view of the French Riviera. We got there at around 11:59 am to witness the changing of the guards’ ceremony. It was interesting to see policemen cordon off the street to give way for the local pageantry. The palace was closed when we visited. We were not allowed to take pictures of the interior. Sentries and cannons guard the entrance. We contented ourselves with buying souvenirs at the boutique shops along the side of the palace. One tip; if the flag is up, the royal family is in.
On our last day, we took a two hour bus drive to Fontviellie, to visit the Princess Grace Rose Garden. It is a garden created by the late Prince Rainier as homage to Princess Grace after her death. We walked along the Sculpture Path and discovered hundreds of local and monumental art works. The garden boasts a stunning display of a huge variety of roses. Admission here is free. At the center of the garden is a pragmatic statue of the late Princess Grace surrounded by the most beautiful and rarest roses around the world. It offers a quiet and serene refuge from the noise of the city. While in Fontviellie, we also checked out the Museum of Antique Automobiles, the museum is simply a collection of vintage cars by Prince Rainier III. The converted Mini and the Royal Wedding cars were my favorites. The souvenir shop at the exit offered scale models but a bit expensive. From little cars to big limousine, this is definitely a must see!!
Indeed it was a memorable summer tour experience. I am still in awe of the postcard images of Monaco in my mind. Monaco is a perfect place for romantic couples. It is also a heaven for sitting with a glass of wine in the summer sun watching the world go by and enjoying the sights of Monte Carlo.