On any Holland America Line cruise in Europe, guests are taken to an incredibly diverse array of ports. From those that are scenically stunning to historical meccas, each region has its landmark calls that are not to be missed.
Along the French Riviera, ports feature an abundance of chic residents and tourists strolling the streets in glamorous attire, seaside eateries serving the catch of the day and sun-kissed skies beyond a simple shade of blue. Among the ports nestled along this gorgeous strip of coastline is Monte Carlo, the Riviera’s crown jewel.
The most recent issue of Mariner Magazine for our Mariner Society members showcases Monte Carlo and the excitement that comes with visiting this city.
For those of you who don’t receive Mariner Magazine, you can check out the edition online by clicking HERE.
High Rolling in Monte Carlo
By Jordan Rane
You don’t have to be a movie star to shine in the French Riviera’s grandest port…but you will need a decent dinner jacket.
Fade in. A silver 1956 Mercedes-Benz convertible whizzes past pine-studded cliffs and cobblestoned hill towns high above the glistening Mediterranean. The road? The Grande Corniche — one of Europe’s most dramatic routes since the Roman era—noodling through the French Riviera hills.
The driver? An affable fellow named Antons, who happens to be a former glider champion from Latvia, exactly the kind of guy you want behind the wheel of a sweet ride in a sweet setting like this.
The passenger? Well, not exactly James Bond. More like an amazed visitor smiling in admiration at miles of stunning coastline from 1,476 feet up, but it’s a panorama that’d give Sean Connery, Roger Moore, or Daniel Craig pause as well.
The destination? Where else? Monte Carlo.
The car stops at a rocky overlook called La Tête de Chien (The dog’s head) and there it is — the magnet for the rich and famous and even richer and even more famous — twinkling below, wedged into its barely larger principality of Monaco like a diamond in a gem-crusted mount.
“I’ve done the Monaco helicopter tour, and this is just as good,” Antons says before gunning the engine and wheeling the classic Benz back onto the road.
Act I: Elegant Setup
About 20 steep downhill minutes later, we’re in a fabled city.
First stop is a quick drink at the historic Café de Paris. On its timeless terrace I lounge with a digestif and square of Gâteau de Mille-Feuilles while watching stylish cars and fashionable couples on the Place du Casino. It’s an excellent place to get a feel for the fairy-tale essence of one of the poshest cities in the world.
Suitably oriented, it’s time for a walk across the entire country. Monaco is the only place on earth where you can do this — beachcomb, window-shop, café laze, yacht gawk, car ogle, museum marvel, and ramble from border to border in a single afternoon without really even calling it exercise.
Surrounded by southeastern France — the Côte d’azur city of Nice is just 11 miles away, the Picassos of Antibes not much farther and Marseille and Aix-en-Provence are a few hours by train. Monaco offers a microcosm of the Riviera experience. The world’s second-smallest country (after Vatican City), it occupies less than a single square mile of sunny Mediterranean seafront. Monaco’s compact citizenry (population 37,000) is fortified by more than 4 million annual visitors.
Act II: World’s swankiest cross-country walk
My cross-country amble starts in the east end of Monaco at Larvotto Beach. The sweeping crescent of pebbly sand filled with lounge-chair and parasol crowds more than lives up to its reputation for ritzy beach style.
Carrying on west along avenue Princesse Grace — past the Grimaldi Forum and a humble mom-and-pop Rolls-Royce dealership — the scene gets even more elite, if that’s possible. Lamborghinis and other high-performance cars rumble by, briefly cranking into high gear before downshifting back into Monte Carlo’s hills, hairpin turns, and window-shopping streets. Amazingly, these same streets are transformed into a world-famous racetrack every May.
The Formula One Monaco Grand Prix is a brutally demanding loop through this haute couture neighborhood. Racing legend Nelson Piquet once likened driving it to “riding a bicycle around your living room.”
Monaco’s famed Port Hercule offers any number of gaudy photo ops. Its otherworldly status is evident aboard the Bateau-Bus, an eco-friendly, electric water taxi that ferries passengers across the port. The ride provides close-ups of some of the most gargantuan yachts you’ll ever lay eyes (if not deck shoes) on. An ad for a 164-foot Mondo Marine superyacht boasts that the price has just been reduced…to an affordable $29 million!
From here I walk up a set of stairs to the crest of a giant promontory called Le Rocher (“The Rock”) and the original Monaco-Ville, Monaco’s old town. Walk along the shop-lined, medieval pedestrian lanes here and you’ll find the Musée Océanographique de Monaco.
In a magnificent cliff-hugging building dubbed the Temple of the Sea, Monaco’s aquarium holds more than 6,000 specimens and a 119,000-gallon shark lagoon with creatures great (giant guitarfish), small (spotted garden eel), and just plain odd (bignose unicornfish).
Down a set of steps and around a corner hides the principality’s newest and westernmost quarter, Fontvielle. This is where you’ll find Prince Rainier III’s startling antique-car collection, housed unobtrusively inside a little mall museum. It’s a Monaco-worthy auto exhibit — probably the only place where a 1903 de Dion–Bouton shares polished floor space with a 2004 Venturi Fétish. It’s also where I begin formulating my blockbuster final act of this picture.
Act III: Hello, high rollers
Cut to — no, still not exactly James Bond, but a dapper-enough gent ascending the steps of the Casino de Monte Carlo. According to house rules, proper evening attire is required after 8 p.m. in the casino’s sumptuous Salles. Who doesn’t already know this, even just from watching GoldenEye or Ocean’s Twelve? No one arriving tonight had to be asked by his querulous date: “Is that what you’re wearing?”
Inside, our hero pauses to appreciate the marble atrium. He enters the casino’s even more eye-popping Salle Europe. Chandeliers. Frescoes. Crowds of high rollers.
He approaches the roulette table and lays a stack of chips on his lucky number. He watches that silver ball go round and round and hears the tuxedoed croupier announce, “Rien ne va plus” (“no more bets”; literally “nothing goes anymore”), as they’ve been doing in this grand place for more than 150 years.
The ball slows. It plinks over blacks and reds, odds and evens. Past his lucky number — which is coming around again. What a classic Monte Carlo ending. This could be good…
Wish me bonne chance.
Have you visited Monte Carlo? What was your favorite thing to do there?