Many people, when asked the one place in the world they would want to travel to but don’t think they can afford, would say Monte Carlo. From the sun-drenched white beaches to the James Bond glamour of the Monte Carlo Casino, to the roar of the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, Monaco seems to have everything a holiday-maker could ever want. Yet it is also imagined that most of the tourists arrive on their yachts or private jets as this French Riviera fantasyland is considered the home away from home for the rich and famous.
What most don’t know is that Monaco is as accessible for the average traveller as any small town in Europe, if you plan it well. While there is a fine line between high season and low season, it may surprise you to know that, as an example, flights from New York can be found for under $600 and flights from London Heathrow for as little as £120 or €140. Of course, you must fly into Nice and travel by road for the last 22 kilometres, but there is a variety of transportation available and Nice offers its own attractions as well.
When it comes to accommodation, you should think outside the box, meaning outside Monte Carlo’s city limits. This is because you will not find an inexpensive hotel in town. Neighbouring towns Beausoleil and Ca d’Ail on the French Border are only a 5-10 minute drive and B&B rooms can be found for as little as €18.50 a night. There are also plenty of affordable hostels in Nice as well. Trains, buses and taxis are available to shuttle you to Monte Carlo 24/7 and can range from €2 to €60, based on your preferences. Finally, dining can be as inexpensive as you please. There are many delicious street vendors along the beaches of Monaco and the streets of Cannes. There are also many quaint pizzerias and bakeries, featuring an affordable array of baguette sandwiches, salads, croissants and other delicacies.
Monte Carlo is fairly temperate year-round, however, April to May is prime time for the region as they host their three biggest events of the year. What was once the European Poker Tour’s grand finale is now the PokerStars Championship Monte Carlo, and it takes place from 25th April to 5th May at the Monte Carlo Casino. If you are fortunate enough to get to watch any of the championship, PokerStars is expecting to pay out over €30 million in prizes over the course of the event. The 2016 tournament came to an exciting close when Jan Bendik surprised everyone with his first-place win, becoming the first Slovakian ever to win the championship.
The Monte Carlo Casino is a games and entertainment mecca. While Las Vegas may hold more neon than any city has the right to, the sheer elegance of this casino is unrivalled. Unlike Las Vegas or Macau, there is a dress code for entry as well as an admission fee of €10 per person. If you visit in the morning hours, you can get a tour of the historic casino included in your admission. In addition to the casino, there is the Grand Theatre de Monte Carlo and the office of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo.
Following the high-rolling tournament, the 2017 Cannes Film Festival takes place in nearby Nice from 17th to 28th May. Cannes Film Festival is an amazing venue for star gazing. It was recently announced that director Luc Besson will premiere his $200 million space epic, Valerian, and it will be the hottest ticket in town. Sophia Coppola will also premiere her remake of Clint Eastwood’s Southern Gothic film The Beguiled, starring Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Colin Ferrell and Kirsten Dunst. Pubs and restaurants are standing room only, but if you are fortunate enough to get into one of the many parties, eating and drinking is free!
The festival overlaps with the final May event, the famous Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco, which takes place 25th to 28th May. It is exciting to watch as Monte Carlo gears up for the Grand Prix. While tickets to this famous annual event go for €300+ a seat, hillside space can be found at a more reasonable €70. The course of this Formula 1 race is 3.34 kilometres through the picturesque streets and rolling hills of a town about the size of Central Park. It takes about six weeks of preparation, 1100 tons of grandstands, 900 tons of pit garages, 20 miles of safety barrier and 50 engineers who are kept extraordinarily busy creating the event.
You might think that transportation prices would skyrocket for the month while all this is happening, but in reality additional flights are always added and public transportation usually ramps up and extends its hours, making travel easier to plan and even more reasonably priced than usual.
Besides all these exciting events, Monaco is the home of the Plage du Larvatto, one of the most beautiful public (and free) beaches in the world. It is a great place to people watch and enjoy the Riviera sunshine. Biking in the hills above Monaco is quite an adventure, as well as the many water activities the beaches offer. So, while it may seem that Monte Carlo was made only for the elite rich, it doesn’t really have to cost much at all. The most exciting activities involve only watching events from a (free) distance while you rub elbows with the wealthy, and the entire adventure can be surprisingly affordable for anyone. So there’s no time like this moment to plan your unimaginable Monaco vacation.