Port of Monaco (Monte Carlo)
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Monaco is a self-governed sovereign nation under the protection of France. It has been ruled by the Grimaldi family for the past 700 years (with a slight diversion during the French Revolution), and its 1918 treaty with France decreed that if the prince -- any Grimaldi prince -- failed to produce a son, the territory would be ceded back to France upon his death. This was changed in 2002. If Albert II, the current prince, fails to produce a male heir, the throne will be passed to his sister Caroline.
Monaco, which comprises a miniscule 485 acres in total, and is Europe's smallest state after the Vatican, is barely west of the Italian border and surrounded by France on all sides except for the 2.5 miles of coastline. If you are looking at Monaco from your ship in the harbor, you can't tell where the principality ends and France begins. (Hint: Somewhere around the Middle Corniche.) As tiny as it is, it contains five sectors, of which Monte Carlo is the best-known. The principality, which is home to the most millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world, has no natural resources; its national economy is based on tourism and banking.
The two go hand in hand in this idyllic slice of the Cote d'Azur. The wealthy Europeans who do their banking here expect -- no, demand -- the best, and cost be damned. This makes it harder for workaday folks to enjoy a stay (rooms go for an average of $700 a night in a nice hotel), but coming in on a cruise ship for the day gives one a sense of James Bond cool.
If you're lucky enough to be in Monaco during the third week in May, you can actually see part of the Grand Prix Formula One race from the comfort of your cruise ship. We were surprised to see that the track is actually in the middle of the city and goes under an overpass within direct view of the cruise ship dock.
However, whenever you are fortunate enough to visit Monaco and the dazzling district of Monte Carlo, you'll find plenty to do. In fact, these 485 acres offer so much, you'll need to come back to explore again.
Top Monaco (Monte Carlo) Itineraries
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Where You're Docked
Opened in 2003, the modern cruise ship pier (Nouvelle Digue de Monaco) is located next to the yacht harbor in the Port of Monaco (Hercules Port), just east of the Palais Princier, the home of Prince Albert, and just below the sector of Monte Carlo. Although the 352 meter dock can accommodate several ships in port, there will be the odd occasion where it's booked up and tenders will need to be utilized.
There's very little at the pier itself. When you get to the gate at the end of the pier, you can walk along the seawall adjacent to the yacht harbor to get into the center of Monte Carlo (about a mile from the ship) or take an elevator and stairs (about 500 yards) to Old Town (Monaco-Ville) where you will find the Palais Princier and the Oceanographic Museum.
Good to Know
Streets are steep, nearly vertical in some places. However, several elevators and "travelators" are available to help negotiate the inclines in the following areas:
Between the Place des Moulins and the beaches; between the Princess Grace Hospital Centre and the Exotic Garden; between the harbor and the Avenue de la Costa; between the Place St. Devote and the area of Moneghetti; between the terraces of the casino, the Congress Centre Auditorium and the Boulevard Louis II; between the Avenue des Citronniers and the Avenue Grande-Bretagne between the highway and the Larvotto Boulevard.
Taxis come to the end of the pier (just outside the gates) until approximately 6 p.m. Buses stop at 7 p.m. near the dock but run until 9 p.m. in the principality -- except on weekends when they have a less frequent schedule. The bus system is extensive, but it's quite a long walk to the bus stop from the ship docks. The Monaco bus company, CAM, operates a network of six routes that cover all the main attractions. There are 142 bus stops around the principality, so you never have to walk far to find one. The conductor onboard the bus sells tickets, but you need exact change. Fares are shown at the bus stops.
If you are staying overnight, or have plenty of time in port, the number 100 Rapide Cote D'Azur (RCA) connects Monaco with the chic French Riviera resort of Nice. The journey takes around half an hour and follows a very scenic route along the coast. Halfway between Monaco and Nice is the pretty medieval village of Eze, which can be reached on buses operated by Ligne d'Azur.
A fun way to cross the harbor is on the electric water bus, which runs between the cruise terminal and the city center, near the casino, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
If you're physically fit, you can walk around the principality, but be warned: It's steep, almost everywhere. However, the good news is that you never need worry about safety because Monaco has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency in Monaco is the euro. There is a bank (and ATM) on nearly every corner. For updated currency-conversion figures, visit oanda.com or xe.com. Traveler's checks must be exchanged at banks or at one of the two bureaux de change -- Compagnie Monegasque de Change (Parking des Pecheurs, Avenue de la Quarantaine) or Monafinances (17 Avenue des Spelugues) -- because most businesses will not accept them. Banks are generally open from 9 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., with some staying open during lunchtime. Credit Foncier de Monaco, located near the casino, is open daily -- including Sundays and holidays -- from noon to 11 p.m.
The official language of Monaco is French, but because of the international nature of the place, and its proximity to Italy, Italian, English and Spanish are all widely spoken and understood. There is also a Monegasque dialect, derived from Italian and spoken by around 20 percent of the population.
Food and Drink
You could find a budget restaurant in Monaco. But why? This is one of those places meant for a splurge, whether you choose the world-famous Cafe de Paris or one of the other see-and-be-seen spots in Monte Carlo. If you're on the go, you can find -- in the center of Monte Carlo and in the Old City -- vendors selling socca, which is made from chickpea flour and resembles a pancake, or bakeries selling another Monegasque specialty, fougasse, a sweet pastry with almonds and anise seed. Most of the restaurants are open for lunch from noon to 2:30 p.m.; brasseries and cafes are open from about 11 a.m. until late.
Quai des Artistes: This brasserie is one of the closest dining spots to the cruise ship dock, along the quay to the yacht harbor. It isn't as expensive as some (you can get "moules marinieres" -- mussels in wine -- for about 12 euros) but it isn't cheap, either. Its draw is that it's close to the ship, offers plenty of outdoor seating and overlooks the yachts in the harbor. (4 Quai Antoine 1er; +377-97-97-97-77)
Zebra Square: Just a few minutes south of the casinos and the center of Monte Carlo, this restaurant offers sweeping views from its dining terrace. It's a trendy bar and features elegant inside seating. Don't be surprised if you see literary and artsy notables sitting beside you and enjoying the view. It's open for lunch, tea time and supper. (10 Avenue Princesse Grace; +377-99-99-25-50)
Cafe de Paris: Undoubtedly a tourist trap, Cafe de Paris is a scene regardless. You can pop in for a beer or a cafe creme, or you can enjoy a full-blown lunch indoors or out (advance reservations highly recommended). Although a bowl of ice cream will set you back about 12 euros, it's worth paying for one of the best people-watching spots in town. The historic building incorporates the best of the old Belle Epoque style of Paris -- and also the kind of haughty, condescending service staff you've feared you'll find in France! (At the Monte Carlo Casino; +377-92-16-20-00)
Stars 'N' Bars: Tired of that rich cruise ship cuisine? Longing for a taste of home? This Tex-Mex eatery doesn't just cater to the Yankee crowd; Monegasques, Italians and visitors from other countries love it, too, especially the line dancing and country boot-stomping music. The venue offers a playroom for kids and Monaco's main cybercafe. It's located next door to the Quai des Artistes, so you can have your chili cheeseburger and go next door for an apres-midi aperitif. (6 Quai Antoine 1er; +377 97-97-95-95)
A casino chip from the Casino Monte Carlo or a coaster from the famed Cafe de Paris.