During our two week trip touring from Venice to Tuscany to French Riviera and we stopped for a day in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Visiting this luxurious destination for über-rich with your family is a MUST DO for anyone’s bucket list.
Monaco is the second smallest country in the world (right after Vatican) and has 0% unemployment and 0% income tax for its residents, but there is nothing else small about Monaco. This income tax free heaven on earth is nested in French Riviera, with over 4 miles coastline on Mediterranean Sea, between Nice, France and Italian border. The country is for rich and famous, and the playground for European royalty, and has the highest GDP nominal per capita in the world, and the most expensive real estate in the world. Monaco also has the highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capita in the world. Monte Carlo is the administrative part of Monaco, and the main tourist attraction for visitors with the world famous Monte Carlo Casino.
If you truly want to experience Monaco, add a few zeros to your typical vacation budget, but we were pleasantly surprised that the prices weren’t even higher (and I say this after living close to New York City, now in Sweden and visiting Monte Carlo on the same trip as Venice — all these three places are expensive travel destinations as well). We had done very little research prior our visit, we love exploring and finding new things as we go, but now in retrospect a better planning probably would have given us a more glorious experience. We had been driving most of the day from Tuscany, and would have liked to find a nice restaurant for early dinner. I was ready to pay for the most expensive meal of our lives, but we learned that most restaurants opened for dinner very late, and were not in the walking distance of our hotel.
We Stayed at: Le Méridien Beach Plaza, Monte Carlo
We stayed at the Le Meridien Beach Plaza hotel, close to the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, both about one mile from the marina area and little less from the Casino. We paid around $400 for the night, and it was the cheapest place we were able to find on last minute. The room was fairly small for a double, but the bathroom was luxurious with wooden floor, and the room had a gorgeous balcony with a view. The room was gorgeous with a stunning view.
However, overall it was not a luxurious experience, and definitely not what you would expect when visiting Monte Carlo. The customer service was bad in the entire hotel, and the food in the hotel restaurant was so bad we didn’t even finish it all (call us food snobs, but I think you are allowed to in a place like Monte Carlo). I wouldn’t recommend Le Meridien Beach Plaza hotel if you are looking for a luxury experience, and I probably won’t return the next time I am visiting Monte Carlo.
Luxury Yachts & Cars Galore
Is anyone else obsessed with boats? In case you love boats like I do, Monte Carlo is like candy store for kids for luxury yacht sightings. Same goes for car enthusiast – if you want to see Ferraris, McLarens, Porches and Lamborghinis in their natural habitat, Monte Carlo it is. And I am not just talking about the Formula-1 weekend each year – the F1 Monaco Grand Prix is on 24-27 May 2012- but any day of the year.
The ideal Monte Carlo experience would be of course watching the high octane F-1 race from a luxurious yacht. But if you don’t have the zeros to add to your vacation budget, visiting off season and when there are no large events can be thrilling as well.
Monte Carlo Sights
When walking the marina and the streets of Monte Carlo close to the famous Monte Carlo Casino and the famous Hotel de Paris, you couldn’t but feel like you were in a movie, and James Bond could drive by in any minute. Fifth Avenue in New York comes second when it comes to shopping – you could even buy a million dollar car with your casino winnings right from the luxury car stores close to the Monte Carlo Casino.
Monte Carlo is full of museums and historic buildings. Our visit was so short, that unfortunately we didn’t visit any museums. Most of the museums are located in the Monaco-Ville area, and while looking from the map it looks like from a walking distance from the Casino area, it is on the top of a huge hill, and we didn’t even think of walking it with the kids after all of the traveling we had already done. Driving around Monte Carlo might be mission impossible unless you have a GPS, which made it easy to find parking halls etc. and adventure out from the walking distance of the hotel.
Every day at precisely 11:55am the changing of the guard takes place in front of the Princely Palace, and we enjoyed seeing our second royal guard change within a month.
We visited the Monaco-Ville area on the second day of our visit, and the touristy shopping streets and cheap cafe galore surprised me. You CAN do Monte Carlo on a budget, and this was the area where the majority of the tourists were hanging out. Now, this wasn’t the Monte Carlo I wanted to see, but it was a relief to see Monte Carlo had so much to offer even for those of us who travel with a limited budget.