Friday, April 10, 2015

Monte Carlo - the royal way of gambling

We visited Monte Carlo during Easter 2015.

Amazing view of the Monte Carlo port


Monte Carlo, or rather Monaco does not have it own airport. So the closest airport for all practical purposes is Nice, France. It takes about 45 minutes by car or bus from Nice to Monte Carlo, and you can get express buses from the airport to Monte Carlo which cost 20Euros one way (and 30 Euros return).

You can also take a train from Nice train station to Monte Carlo - takes about 30 mins - and costs 8 Euros. Of course, the problem here is that then you would have to again take a taxi / bus from the station to your hotel. In this regard, the buses (from Nice Airport) seem more flexible as they drop you at the Casino - from where most hotels are within walking distance - or you can also request the driver to drop you in front of your hotel if it is on the way (might depend on the driver's mood though).

We also noticed quite a few hotels in Monte Carlo offering helicopter rides from Nice airport to Monte Carlo. We did not dig deeper to get the prices and all, but it might be an option if you want to start the sightseeing process as soon as you land -:).

Both Nice and Monte Carlo are on the Mediterranean sea coast - so there are many ferries as well connecting the two cities.

While Monaco is a separate country - from a Visa point of view - it can be considered as a part of France. So apply Schengen Visa policies to decide if you need a Visa to visit Monaco. That is, if you are arriving via Nice; your Schengen Visa will not be stamped again while entering Monte Carlo.

Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo is a city for the rich and famous - so you will see plenty of luxury yachts docked at the port. The fact that it is close to Nice and Cannes only adds to its attraction for the privileged lot.

Luxury yachts galore at Monte Carlo port

Monte Carlo is also famous for its Casino. The whole area around he Casino together with Café de Paris and Hotel de Paris can be considered as the center of activity in Monte Carlo. (Incidentally, all three establishments seem to be owned by the same group: SBM Monaco). This is where the crowd gathers as soon as the sun sets in Monte Carlo - some to play and dine in luxury - others to marvel at the flashy cars parked in front of the Casino.

Gorgeous Casino de Monte Carlo and Hotel de Paris at night

Size wise, the Casino is quite small - as compared to say the Casinos in Las Vegas. However, the old style opulent interior decorated with wall sized frescoes provide the additional "luxury" quotient.

For people interested in taking pics of the Casino interiors, try visiting it in the morning 10-12. There is a 10 Euros entrance fee - but it is waived if you are staying in certain hotels in Monte Carlo - so check that before paying. The 10 Euros entrance fee also applies if you are visiting in the evening when the Casino is open, but then you are not allowed to take a camera inside anyway due to obvious privacy reasons.

Majestic Monte Carlo casino


Given the rather small size of the city, one can still find accommodation of all types - ranging from the budget B&B to the ultra luxury hotels. As our goal in this trip was to splurge in "man-made luxury" - rather than running around in scenically beautiful, but "difficult to reach" parts of the world - we decided to stay in one of the ultra-luxury hotels in Monte Carlo: Hôtel Hermitage.

From the foyer designed by Gustavo Eiffel (below), to the magnificent port view from the Crystal Bar terrace, to the Bvlgari (Bulgari) toiletries in the washrooms  - the hotel is luxury personified. We were even given a personal tour of the hotel upon arrival which was unlike any hotel we had stayed before (including the Hiltons, Radissons, of the world).

Nice, France

"Blue" coastline of Nice

We spent only a day in Nice, so we did not get a chance to explore the city in depth. The city is famous for its azure (Mediterranean) coastline. The coastline is rather stunning and it is easy to spend the whole day just walking along the coast - which stretches into many kilometers.

This is clearly also the main touristic part of the city. If you are looking for a street name to tell the taxi driver, try 'Promenade des Anglais'.

Speaking of taxi drivers, beware of them!! One would expect that given this one of the most expensive localities in France, the taxi drivers would at least go by meter price. However, that is clearly not the case - may be because of the economic downturn or the influx of immigrants - but if you see a taxi driver trying to be overly friendly (talking too much), keep your eyes on the meter or at least verify that he is going by fixed or meter price (if you haven't already).

Colorful Mediterranean sea during sunset

If you keep walking along the coast (more or less after the statue below), you will start seeing streets full of shops, malls, and restaurants - ideal for evening walks.

For quick sightseeing tours, there are both the Hop-on / Hop-off buses and the "Petit" (small) touristic train / tram (below) - both having stops along the 'Promenade des Anglais'.

The train is recommended esp. if you are interested in capturing panoramas of the city and coastline - as it gives a 10 min stop at a viewpoint on top of the hills from where you can get a magnificent view of the city and coastline below.

A few more pics to finish with ...