I plonked myself down on a bench, hoping it wasn’t an art installation (I hadn’t figured out the European sense of art quite yet), and found myself in the middle of a weekly flower market in Monaco, the world’s second smallest country. The country is small only in terms of geography, Monaco is home to several billionaires and boasts an very enviable GDP. It was a pleasant October day, and the flower market was a fragrant place to be in; the Monégasques love flowers and there were an amazing number of species, all neatly arranged in bouquets.
I reached the Principality of Monaco after a 20-minute scenic train ride from Nice, in the south of France. After exiting the Monte Carlo station, I stopped to take in the vibe of the place. At first glance, Monaco appeared like a richer, more sophisticated France. There were swanky cars zipping by; impeccably dressed women taking a walk along the harbour front with their equally impeccably dressed partners; gleaming buildings with flowers on their balconies, and in the sea, the expensive masts of gleaming yachts.
Walk This Way
Monte Carlo, a tourist-friendly place, opens out to the Place St Devote bus stop. I took the bus to Monaco-Ville, instead of the 40-minute walk up the hill, La Rocher. This is the neighbourhood of museums, gardens, esplanades and expos. I took a quick walk through St Martin Jardinière and Saint Nicholas Cathedral, where the late members of the royal family of Monaco are buried, wishing I had the time to visit the impressive, century-old Oceanographic Museum. There’s also the Esplanade Rainer III with a huge sundial and inscriptions on the walls, and it is from here, in Monaco-Ville, that you can see the fortress Palais Princier, where the royal family resides.
I could have taken the old-fashioned red train which takes tourists through Monaco, but I walked down La Rocher instead. It’s beautifully organised - the road has a distinctly marked area for pedestrians and designated spots for people to take photos of the harbour. At the foot of the climb, at Place du Canton, is where the Saturday flower market is held, and that’s where I stopped to sit down at last. All the walking had helped me work up quite an appetite and I was glad to spot the rows of restaurants and cafés.
After a satisfying Italian lunch, I walked down Rue Grimaldi, named after the royal family, back to Place St Devote (names for the patron saint of Monaco). Along the way were flowers everywhere, on the balconies of homes, at the entrances to restaurants, everywhere! Most buildings were painted in bright colours, with no sign of wear and tear. It was a sleepy afternoon in the residential area, and the only people on the street were tourists and locals out for a walk with their dogs.
Yacht A View
After reaching Place St Devote, I crossed the street to be greeted by the Mediterranean Sea. Numerous yachts – all luxurious – dotted the harbour, along with a few cruise liners. Impeccably looked after, the boats were shiny enough to reflect the clouds in the sky. The sunbeds on their decks beckoned to those with serious money to spare. My pleasures were simpler, I took the two-Euro boat ride to the other side of the harbour front, which houses the famous Yacht Club de Monaco.
I had an expensive early dinner at a pizzeria overlooking the harbour front (Monaco is tiny, but never cheap). The activity on the street outside decreased as people moved indoors into the night clubs. The party scene in Monaco is vibrant – often, locals from the south of France get to Monaco on Friday evenings, party the nights away and return home on Saturday mornings.
Back at the train station, I went over to the tourist information counter to thank the lady for providing me with maps and directions that morning. I joked about how I was disappointed that there’s no separate visa needed to visit Monaco. I’m not sure about you, but when I visit a foreign country, I love getting a stamp on my passport to validate the journey. Perhaps they know how I feel. The woman smiled and stamped my passport with a free, Monacan visa souvenir stamp! What more could I ask for? Monaco had truly bowled me over.
Need To Know
How to get there: Unless you’re sailing on a cruise ship, your entry to Monaco is via the south of France. The closest airport is Nice Ville. A few airlines such as Jet and Turkish Airlines offer direct flights from Delhi and Mumbai to Nice. Etihad Airways offers the option of a stopover at Abu Dhabi and then continues onward to France. Direct buses are easily available from Nice airport to Monaco.
Visa and currency: A Schengen visa with multiple entries is necessary. Euro is what you’ll be spending here.
Getting around: Monaco is a fairly small country with a strong network of buses and trains. You can find your way on foot as well.
Travel tips: Get free maps and help with directions at the tourism office located on level 1 of the Monte Carlo train station. Do not forget to get your passports stamped there.
From HT Brunch, January 20
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