With the French Riviera spanning far from Nice, we decided to see what other lovely towns were nestled along the rocky coastline of the Mediterranean.
Whether traveling north by train (7€ each way) or by bus (1.50€ each way – bus 100 from Nice Port. Be sure to sit on the right side of the bus!) the views winding through the mountainous coast are absolutely gorgeous. We opted for the bus since we really had no timeline to get to Monaco on a Sunday when we knew many things would be closed. The bus route hugs the very edges of the coast and stops at some lovely little towns, just radiating with charm. (When we return to the French Riviera in warmer weather, we will be sure to stop and explore).
At last we arrive to Monaco and jump off the bus just outside the tunnel at Place d’Armes. A couple hundred steep steps later, situated high upon “the rock” as the locals call it, is Monaco’s Palace and Monaco-Ville (or the old town) with sweeping views of both harbors and those infamous mega yachts! At 11:55AM each day the changing of the guards occurs. While this is not the most elaborate procession I have ever seen, it is still interesting to witness age old traditions that remain today. Again, getting lost amongst the old streets is always enjoyable, and Monaco is no different (due to location on the rock, Monaco’s old town is much smaller than most). To the far side of the Place d’Armes tucked away is the Saint Nicholas Cathedral, the location in which Princess Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III in 1956. This roman catholic cathedral also contains the remains of many of the members of the Monaco ruling families, including Princess Grace Kelly and many of the Grimaldi family. A short walk through the lush St Martin Gardens, we arrive to the Oceanographic Museum and aquarium, established by Prince Albert I in 1910. This impressive building somehow defies gravity, towering far above the sheer cliff face and sea below.
After covering much of Monaco-ville, is was time to head to the harbor and get our first up close and personal look at the Mega-yachts and fancy cars that the city has become famous for. Since there was no cruise ship docked, we were able to walk out to the edge of the jetty and get a wonderful view of the old harbor and the buildings that overlook it. Walking along the harbor’s edge, you can just imagine the people who own these boats and the lives they life. Upon reaching top of the harbor, we were greeted with our first view of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit, outlined on the streets with red and white paint. While the top of the harbor is probably the second most touristy place in the city (not on a Sunday in February), there were a few nice little places tucked behind which I am sure are bustling with people in the warmer months. If you happen to find yourself in the city around Happy Hour, the Brasserie de Monaco (right on the harbor’s edge) brews their own beer and offers 3.50€ pints from 6-8pm.
Climbing yet another hill along the far side of the harbor (I’m beginning to sense a trend in many of these cities!) Monte Carlo was awaiting us along with Pointe Focinane, which in our opinion had the best views of the apartment buildings clinging to the cliffs and the main harbor below. On a clear day 3 countries – France, Monaco, and Italy – can be seen from this point. Continuing along the grand prix route, which takes a major bend just behind the casino, the Fairmont Monte Carlo appears along with the swankiest outdoor Starbucks and views of Monaco’s only beach, Plage du Larvotto to the north.
Wandering the area around Monte Carlo is where the streets just ooze with money – designer shops at every corner, luxury
vehicles, and gold clad buildings. Tourists are welcome to take pictures of the vehicles, but don’t even think about touching one (the guards sternly scolded a woman for practically sitting on the hood)! The lobby of the casino is dripping with riches and if you bring your passport, you are welcome to enter the casino floor, although a little intimidating.
Given the season and the day of the week, like France many shops and restaurants were closed, so we opted to head back to Nice for the evening. A very easy and inexpensive day trip to see other parts of Cote d’Azur and experience a taste of the luxury lifestyle.
Oh Antibes. I had heard such great thinks about this quaint little town south of Nice where a medieval wall separated the sea from the old town. Wonderful sweeping beaches of white sand and a multitude of restaurants and shops to choose from.
In an effort to save a couple dollars (we have many months to go!) we chose to take the local bus for 1.50€ each direction instead of the 8€ train. Unlike the bus to Monaco, Route 200 did not hug the coast and was a very local bus stopping every couple of blocks. Over an hour later we arrived to the city, and were greeted by the harbor which housed larger yachts than those we had seen in Monaco. It seems that this town just a few kilometers to the south is where serious buyers go to custom build, charter, or store their MEGA yachts for much less than the overrated Monaco harbor.
With the Mistral winds blowing at close to 40mph, we ducked behind the city wall to explore the old part of town. Much to our surprise there was literally NOTHING open. Maybe a dozen store and about half a dozen restaurants. Not even the Picasso museum was open on a Monday. I figured some things would be closed but not near this much. Due to the terrible winds, it was near impossible to get good views of the city and the sea from outside the wall so we were forced to wonder through the streets for a couple hours before grabbing a coffee, a couple beers, and heading back to Nice.
Antibes really looks like an amazing little town and we were so disappointed there wasn’t more for us to experience. The weather was a major downfall in spending more time wandering along the water and discovering some of its hidden gems (Supposedly many celebrities frequent Antibes to escape the high-profile locations like St Thomas and Monaco). We most certainly will visit Antibes again to sample the great cuisine their restaurants had listed, many using locally caught seafood from just outside their city walls.
Tip from a friend – Stop to eat at LE J (17 Avenue Dr Dautheville, 06160 Antibes, France) for amazing food and great staff.
Our Stark Perspective
- Many of the towns in Cote d’Azur are easily accessible by train and/or bus. It might be much more worthwhile to stay in one central location and just day trip to many of the towns. We have been told the road connecting them is one of the most expensive in Europe to drive.
- France SHUTS DOWN on Sunday/Monday and these towns are no different, especially in Winter.
- The nicer beaches seem to be to the south of Nice, however they are much smaller than many US beaches.
- http://www.bestofniceblog.com/transport-in-nice/buses-in-nice/bus-from-nice-to-monaco/ (bus directions from Nice)
- https://french-riviera-blog.com/2011/10/05/walking-tour-around-the-old-town-of-monaco/ (walking tour of Monaco-Ville)