What we call the French Riviera is called the Cote d’Azur in France. Near the eastern end of the region is the Principality of Monaco, which is about one square mile and ruled by Prince Albert II. The harbors along this area of France are small, so cruise ships have a challenge docking. Monaco has a small terminal where we docked. Our tour ran from 9am to 6pm first visiting the eagle’s nest village of Eze, and the regional capital of Nice before returning to Monaco.
One of the attractions of the area is the dramatic geography with the Southern Alps which rising precipitously from the Mediterranean coast and with rocky peninsulas jutting out protecting small bays.
Going along the middle corniche (road parallel to the coast) you arrive at the entrance to Eze. This is similar to town of Les Baux des Provence which we visited in May during our Rhone cruise. Only Eze overlooks the sea. It is a tiny medieval stone village topped with the ruins of a fortress. There are two five-star hotels along with shops and cafés along the steep and narrow pedestrian. We were lucky to have cool weather! The highest point is an arid cactus garden that has a 6 Euro admittance. I think it was worth it because of the incredible views of the coast and the garden. Our guide did not mention that Walt Disney was a big fan of Eze. The pictures will tell you why.
Driving to Nice still on the middle corniche, you pass above the port of Villefranche-sur-Mer, which is where the larger ships dock in the area. Passengers tender in because they have not built a dock. There are two more small peninsulas before reaching Nice and between those is the tiny Nice harbor were only a few of the smallest cruise ships dock. The last peninsula is called Castle Hill (Colline du Chateau) where the city was first established and where Elton John owns a house. Unlike the rest of the area Nice sits on a large coastal plane. The old city is in the morning shadow of Castle Hill up to an old riverbed which has recently been converted to a series of parks. Beyond the parks is the new city where rich English started to vacation starting in the 18th Century. Here you will find the English Promenade and classic Nice hotels, such as the ornate Negresco Hotel. Across the promenade is the rocky beach. (Security has been added with strong posts preventing vehicles from driving down the promenade and French military patrolling regularly.} After driving along this area we headed back to the old town to Massena Square which served as our meeting point after free time exploring the old town, the flower market and the beach along United States Quay (in honor of American efforts during World War II). The flower market was beautiful. I had a lovely Baguette, Brie and Ham sandwich in the Old Town.
Driving back we traveling along the coast and got a closer look at Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu-sur-Mer, where Bono has a beach home. Between the two beach towns is the exclusive Cap Ferrat (peninsula) where the Rolling Stones recorded Exile on Main Street and took a lot of drugs. The only mansion that is open to the public is Villa which houses a Rothschild art collection.
In the afternoon we returned to Monaco. I confess that I am not particularly interested in the tax haven principality. But I admit it’s a personal issue. There are interesting things to see there. We parked in a garage below The Rock (Old Monaco) where the Monaco Palace and Cathedral are located. Taking two escalators and an elevator, we found ourselves next to the famous Monaco Oceanographic Museum (once managed by Jacques Cousteau). Walking to the top of the Rock, we passed the houses of Princess Caroline and Stephanie before reaching a small square with the also small cathedral and the Monaco court. Between the court and the palace square is a network of narrow lanes with nice shopping and restaurants. The large palace square offers stunning views of the city.
Then we walked back to the bus and rode to Monte Carlo part of the way along the Grand Prix route. It was a bit surprising to see a kid’s carnival with fun houses and rides occupying the spot where the grandstands for the race will be. We parked in an underground garage and walked to the Casino along the hairpin turn that is part of the Grand Prix route. There was not much going on at the Casino at 5pm in the afternoon. I did not go in but wandered the area seeing designer boutiques and small urban parks. Monaco was about what I expected – densely populated and very clean.
This was our cruise line tour with all the plusses and minuses that go with that. It was nice to see such a wide variety of places and to have an expert guide.