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Day 2 South of France: Monaco, Monte Carlo and Eze - 15 May


As the Cannes film festival is on at the moment, we decided to give Cannes a very wide berth - the town would be celebrity and paparazzi packed and the roads and parking stations overrun with Lamborghinis and Ferraris. We planned visits to Monaco, Monte Carlo, and the perched villages of Eze instead.

Checking out the local supermaket:
First thing's first, a detour to Leclerc supermarket for some amenities.... it never ceases to amaze us when we do a price comparison to similar goods and fresh produce in our home town of Sydney how much we overpay in Australia for goods and services. Robbed blind when we buy Fernet Branca, a digestive licquer, at AU$75 from Kemeny’s at Bondi, it was available for 20 Euros in Leclerc. Walking through the fresh produce and delicatessen sections, we shook our heads in amazement when we realized the premium we paid back home for fresh produce. And let’s not get started on fashion, parking in the city, or real estate! One can purchase a beautiful 3 bedroom home with stunning views close to Saint-Paul de Vence, a prestigious neighborhood in the South of France, for $1.3 million. And yet the same amount would purchase a dump of a semi-detached 2 bedroom home in desperate need of renovation in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. As we live in a global market, Australia’s distance from the rest of the world and its taxes can no longer be justified.

Anyhow, I’m going to step off my soapbox now and proceed to Monaco.

Monaco & Monte Carlo:
No more than a 40 minute drive away from Saint-Paul de Vence - there are no real distances here in the French Riviera - Monaco was like a jewel that revealed itself as we began driving down the palm-tree-lined Avenue Prince Rainier III. We gazed hypnotically at the glittering ocean to the right and spotted “The Rock” of Monaco jutting out dramatically from the coastline, with two natural ports on either side. This is where the Royal palace and cathedral of Monaco sits; the sight was breathtaking. The city of Monte Carlo stretched out further to the left. Parking our car at the parking station across the road from the Jardin Exotique, Peter and I explored the botanical gardens (which was filled with cacti and other exotic plants, hence the name), admired the expansive views of Monaco and Monte Carlo, and stretched our legs in the process. While most of the museums in Nice have free admittance, we found out that nothing in Monaco is free. Entry to the Jardin Exotique was 7,00 Euros each, a very expensive 30 minutes for us.

Jumping into our car again, we drove further down to a parking station in the area of La Condamine, located just at the foot of “The Rock”. Its lovely plaza and open air market hosted a multitude of stands that were filled to the brim with fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers, a visionary feast.

Close to lunchtime, we thought it would be wise to have our lunch in this area rather than up the top in “The Rock”, where we suspected the restaurants to be very touristy and overpriced. We were right on that score. I have learnt from Peter in our travels that the better restaurants that the locals frequent are usually in the backstreets, away from the main drags. Once again, a wise decision. The great bar/restaurant that we found was a few streets back from the main plaza area of La Condamine and was filled with locals - always a good sign. For a fixed price of 17,00 Euros, we had a delicious salad for starters, a delicious asparagus ravioli with a pumpkin sauce for the main, and fresh strawberries for dessert. La Provence, 22 bis, rue Grimaldi, Monaco. www.restaurant@laprovence.mc.

Refueled and refreshed, it was time to climb “The Rock.” The Rock of Monaco and its natural harbor witnessed settlement of a primitive population, followed by the ancient Phoenicians and the Romans. Various invasions and wars followed. On the 8th January, 1297, Francois Grimaldi, a member of the rich Genoa family in exile, took the castle of Monaco “by surprise”, a more polite way of saying “slaughtered”. And so began the history of the Grimaldi family, who have presided over the Principality of Monaco for 7 centuries.

Exploring “The Rock” of Monaco, we delighted in its cobblestoned streets and character filled buildings. We were awe inspired by the vistas at the precipice and humbled in the cathedral when we saw where Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco where buried. However, we found Monaco to have an almost surreal quality. Like a land of enchantment, where everything is pristine, pretty, and its citizens privileged, it seemed removed from reality and untouched by the problems of the world. 

In downtown Monte Carlo, the atmosphere was one of major banks, big money and bling, where the uber-rich parked their mega-yachts at the port, drove their fast cars, and spent their money - or someone else’s for that matter - at the casino and designer stores. Not really our scene, we were happy to breeze through Monte Carlo and drive upwards towards the perched medieval village of Eze.

Village of Eze:
Eze is a fascinating medieval village situated about half way between Nice and Monte Carlo. Perched at 429 meters above sea level, it overlooks one of the world’s most beautiful panoramas. The climb from the parking area up the narrow winding pathways to the top of the rock is steep, but the view from the top is its own reward. A “must see” after the madness of Monte Carlo!

Sadly, we did not spot many true artisans at Eze. Rummaging through the various souvenir shops, the majority of ceramic and clothing goods on offer were made in China or Bangladesh. However, we did find one of the tiny little shop that is well worth your patronage. Called L’Herminette Ezasque, the owner lovingly and skillfully carves his masterpieces out of olive wood. Producing accessories for the home and kitchen, his workmanship is excellent. l’Herminette Ezasque, 1 rue Principale, Eze-Village.

Driving tip: While the distances may not be huge in the French Riviera, we had hit 3 tolls within a 40 minute timeframe between Saint-Paul de Vence and Monaco alone. The majority of the tolls are automated and do not accept Euro bills. While most of them accept Mastercard and Visa, the tolls rejected our Australian Visa, despite us having no problems with our card at stores. The moral of the story is to always have plenty of change, specifically coins, with you when driving!

Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 15th May, 2012 | Trackbacks
Categories: France
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