How To Visit Monaco On A Shoestring

If I had a euro for every time someone asked me ‘Is Monaco cheap to visit?’ I’d probably be able to buy a penthouse apartment there myself.

There’s no doubt about it that Monaco is a destination of legend – luxury everything from hotels to superyachts to fast cars is normal there.

Monaco is a place you’re more likely to see Prada than Primark, Mercedes than Mazdas and Moët & Chandon rather than Murphys Irish Stout (Not to say that you won’t find people clothed in Primark or drinking Murphy’s there, you’ll just find it not so prominent).

Monaco is definitely a destination where you can spend a lot of money in a short time – lunch at somewhere fancy, a flutter at the Casino de Monte-Carlo, a swish suite at a luxury hotel won’t get you much change back from €1000, if any at all.

But, it’s also a destination that can be visited on a low or limited budget.  Yes it’s possible – Monaco on a budget.

monaco on a budget

Monaco on a shoestring

MONACO ON A SHOESTRING

This post is for anyone who has asked me THAT question – backpackers, families on a budget, green yachties, intrepid travellers hoping to find out how to make their sightseeing money go further (you know the type – they weigh up the cost of a night out over buying food the next day and have stories of going on a bender then eating pot noodles for a week).

FREE OR CHEAP MONACO SIGHTSEEING

The first thing to mention for first-time visitors to Monaco is the topography.  Monaco/Monte Carlo is spread across a lot of hills, so if you’re not expecting that, are unfit or have restricted mobility you should be aware of that.

Luckily, the Principality has a network of public lifts and walkways (78 lifts, 35 escalators and 8 travelators) so you can get around without a great deal of effort, in less than an hour.  For a free map of where all the lifts and travelators are you can download it here: MonacoPublicLifts

Changing of the Guards

One of the most popular free things to do in Monaco is to watch the Changing of the Guards ceremony which takes place in the square in front of the Palais Princier at 11.55am daily.    The ceremony has not changed in more than a century; the guards wear white uniforms in summer and black in winter.

Changing of the Guards ceremony, Monaco (image: 1080)

Changing of the Guards ceremony, Monaco (image: 1080)

The Guards are not just military men, their roles include providing escorts for religious, civil and ceremonial processions, ensuring security for sports and other public events in the Principality, providing assistance to the Monaco Red Cross, assisting transportation of the disabled, helping children from the Saint Devote daycare center, and helping with relief and evacuation plans during any national emergency. Among the Guards are trained scuba divers that are charged with underwater security, monitoring water pollution levels and overseeing nautical events held in Monaco waters.

The Palais itself is the official residence of the ruling Prince of Monaco and has a vast history.  The Grimaldis, an aristocratic family from Genoa have fought to keep the Palais (and their independence) over centuries, waging wars with Italy, France, Spain, Germany, England and the Earls of Provence in order to do so.

Palais Princier, Monaco (image: Monaco.hr)

Palais Princier, Monaco (image: Monaco.hr)

The French Revolution significantly impacted the Palace and the Grimaldi reign when the National Convention ordered all occupied lands, including the Principality, be governed by independent administrations based on those of France.

The Palace was occupied and looted by the citizens of Monaco, Roquebrune and Menton and Monaco’s name changed to Fort d’Hercule. The Grimaldi possessions were sold at auction, the State Apartments were turned into a military hospital for the Italian army, the throne room was used as a kitchen and the rest of the Palace designated a Poorhouse.

Prince Rainier III is credited with restoring the Palais to its current state, and tourists can visit the State Apartments from March to October.  Entry is €8 adults / €4 kids (8-14 years), or buy a combined ticket for the State Apartments and the Private Collection of Antique Cars for €11,50 adults / €5 kids. Note:  The Apartments are not wheelchair accessible as there are stairs.

The Throne Room, Palais Princier (image: palais.mc)

The Throne Room, Palais Princier (image: palais.mc)

Saint Martin Gardens (Jardins Saint Martin)

Adjacent to the Monaco Oceanarium and with incredible views overlooking Port Fontvieille, these well-maintained public gardens are a pleasant place to wander with wide pathways, shaded benches under pines and olive trees and numerous sculptures including a bronze of Prince Albert I.

Japanese Garden (Jardin Japonais)

Created in 1994, the Japanese Garden is a municipal garden located on avenue Princesse Grace beside the Grimaldi Forum.

An unexpected surprise in an area of high-rise buildings, it’s a lovely place to visit and take a break among the maples, pines and shrubs.  True to Japanese garden aesthetics and symbolism, you can roam the pathways past lakes with koi, cascades and Zen gardens.

Jardin Japonais (Japanese Garden), Monaco (images: gardenso)

Jardin Japonais (Japanese Garden), Monaco (images: gardenso)

Stone Fountain’s (Fusen-Ishi) symbolize longevity to the Principality, arched bridges denote happiness and the path (Roji) to the Tea House leads to 5 water stones (Tsukubai) that invite visitors to purify and cleanse their mind and body with a ladle of water, a necessary preparation before entering the ornamental Tea House.

I recommend a visit to this garden when you go to Monaco, it is free to visit and open 9am until sunset.

The Champions Promenade

Free seafront pathway on the Promenade du Larvotto near the Japanese Garden and Grimaldi Forum with footprints of some top footballers including Pele, Diego Maradona, Ryan Giggs and more.

Champions Promenade, Monaco

Champions Promenade, Monaco

Princess Grace’s Legacy

Monaco Cathedral, is located in Monaco-Ville (Old Town) and known for the Bréa altarpiece, as well as the tombs of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace.  You can visit for free from 8.30am-7pm (6pm in winter) except during mass.

Monaco Cathedral

Monaco Cathedral

The Princess Grace Rose Gardens on avenue del Guelfes at Fontvieille were created in 1984 as a memorial garden to Princess Grace.  The gardens are free entry and have thousands of rose bushes with 300 varieties.

Princess Grace Rose Gardens, Monaco

Princess Grace Rose Gardens, Monaco

Afterwards, head to the Columbus Hotel adjacent to the Rose Gardens and try their ‘Grace cocktail’ that was inspired by the Princess’ fondness of the flower and whipped up from rose petals, rose liquor and Champagne. Even better, go back at Happy Hour when drinks are 50% off.

The ‘Parcours du Princesse Grace’ is a free pedestrian trail through the Principality covering 5.5 kilometres that features 25 points of interest significant to the Princess.  Each stop has a plaque with photograph and comments, there are some touching photos and interesting historical information. Pick up a free map from the Tourist Office at 2a boulevard des Moulins, 98000 Monaco.

things to do monaco

Parcours Princesse Grace follows 25 points of interest throughout Monaco

Larvotto Beach

Plage Larvotto is the main beach in Monaco and while it’s designated as public, there are also sections to hire beach chairs/loungers.

Go early on hot days as it gets busy!  Families will find a kids playground and there are kiosks for ice creams, drinks etc.

Plage Larvotto (Larvotto Beach) is Monaco's main beach

Plage Larvotto (Larvotto Beach) is Monaco’s main beach

Monaco’s Museums

Monaco has many diverse museums covering exhibits from maritime history to vintage toys to manuscripts from Napoléon.

The most visited museum is the Musée Oceanographic (Monaco Oceanarium) and I agree that it is a great place to take kids, but it always gets mentioned in travel posts about Monaco.

Some of Monaco’s lesser known museums offer cheaper sightseeing though they are somewhat special interest, so take your pick and visit a few if you are on a low budget:

  • Musée Naval (Esplanade Rainier II, Terrasses de Fontvieille) is an impressive collection of 250 model ships including the US battleship Missouri, the Titanic, submarines, and Viking ships.  Open every day except Christmas Day and New Years Day, entrance is €4 for adults and €2,50 for kids 8-14 years.
things to do monaco

Museé Naval, Monaco

  • Musée de la Chapelle de la Visitation has masterpieces by Rubens, Ribera and other Italian baroque masters. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-6pm. Adults €3 / Students €1,50 / Kids under 12 years are free
  • Musée Collection of Voitures Anciennes is the private collection of over 100 vintage cars of Prince Rainier III.  Open 7 days, 10am-6pm. Adults Adults €6,50 / Students & Kids 8-14 years €3.  Wheelchair-accessible.
car museum monaco

Cars in the Collection de Voitures de S.A.S. Le Prince de Monaco.

Free Sculpture Trail (Chemin des Sculptures)

Monaco is dotted with over 100 works from artists including Marseillais artist César, Colombian painter/sculptor Fernando Botero, Emma Sigaldi, and Lalanne.  A free sculpture path is in the Fontvieille district to allow visitors to discover some of the sculptures.

Chemin des Sculptures, Monaco

Chemin des Sculptures, Monaco

Monaco Open-Air Cinema

One of the best open-air cinemas I’ve seen, it’s the most expensive activity I’ve included in this blog article however the superb location on the Rock overlooking the sea can’t be beaten.

Open from June to September, films are screened in English (version originale) with French subtitles and to be honest once you sit on the padded chairs with a drink in hand as the sun sets over the sea you’ll agree that the €12 ticket price (€9 for students with I.D) is worth it.

Reservations aren’t possible so plan to arrive well in advance to ensure you get a seat.

Monaco Open Air Cinema (image: Cinema2Monaco)

Monaco Open Air Cinema (image: Cinema2Monaco)

Free concerts

Monaco / Monte Carlo hosts free music and concerts throughout summertime – in 2015, Robbie Williams played for free for Monagasque residents and place du Casino featured free concerts from Murray Head, the stars from the Commitments and Mika.

On 21 June each year, Fête de la Musique is a public event celebrated in both France and Monaco with free music performances from amateur and professional musicians – in Monaco, head to the main port where a stage is set up.

Free summer concerts at place du Casino, Monte Carlo

Free summer concerts at place du Casino, Monte Carlo

Free summer fireworks displays

Every year, the French Riviera is alive with regular free fireworks displays that form international competitions.

Cannes, Juan les Pins, Monaco all host displays in July and August – click on the hyperlink for dates in 2016 for Monaco fireworks.

Casino Square (place du Casino)

The iconic Casino Square is a great people watching area though the immediate cafeterias and restaurants are not for the budget traveller; regardless most people put a visit to Café de Paris and/or Casino de Monte-Carlo on their ‘must do’ list.  Sit in the gardens opposite the main Casino de Monte-Carlo and watch the supercars cruise past.

Casino Square is a great place for people watching

Casino Square is a great place for people watching

National Day of Monaco

As you walk around Monaco you’ll see many businesses with portraits of the Prince and Monagasque flags. For a small Principality, it is quite patriotic.

Every year on 19 November, the Sovereign Prince’s Day, also known as Fête Nationale or the National Day of Monaco is observed – if you’re in Monaco around this time, there is a free public fireworks display the evening before over Port Hercule.

The actual day involves a mass for royalty, dignatories and the Knights of Malta at the Monaco Cathedral followed by brass bands in the Palais Square and the royal family waving from the Palais.

National Day of Monaco celebrations each year on 19 November

National Day of Monaco celebrations each year on 19 November

Stade Louis II

Home to Monaco’s football team, AS Monaco, they host Ligue 1 French matches, and the occasional Europa or Champions League games e.g. against Tottenham Hotspurs last year.

Stade Louis II, Monaco

Stade Louis II, Monaco

Match tickets are a fraction of what you’d pay in the UK and if you buy in advance online via the AS Monaco website you get a 10% discount (you must take photo I.D when you present your ticket at the stadium).

Ticket discounts also apply if you want to go to a game with a group of 10 or more people.  The stadium rarely fills up, so you can usually grab a ticket at the gate too.

Pre-match, head to Monte Carlo Bar (1 avenue Prince Pierre) on the intersection near Place d’Armes which is a meeting spot for football fans, it’s open late and good for a beer and snack during Grand Prix too.

Access to Stade Louis II from Monaco train station - take exit 'Fontvieille'

Access to Stade Louis II from Monaco train station – take exit ‘Fontvieille’

MONACO GRAND PRIX ON A BUDGET

Monaco Grand Prix is one of my favourite events here on the French Riviera and it’s a complete myth you have to be stacked with cash to enjoy it (though that can help immensely!).

If you want to visit the Grand Prix, the main race is Sunday and there’s usually no way to get around the price of tickets, so unless you have hospitable friends with apartments or offices overlooking the circuit or plan to charter a superyacht , you’ll have to pay up.

I'm really lucky to get invited to Monaco Grand Prix each year, though I won't be winning any style awards for ear muffs :)

I’m really lucky to get invited to Monaco Grand Prix each year, though I won’t be winning any style awards for ear muffs 🙂

However, you can buy tickets for the Thursday practice day at a fraction of Sunday’s prices, or head to Monaco on the Friday for the free day.  FREE!  Same circuit, different cars but there are always lots of people around and I find the atmosphere is great the entire 4-days anyway.

If you’re a complete cheap skate, you can still get to Monaco and head to Place d’Armes on Sunday where they have free big screens relaying the race action and driver simulators, beer kiosks and other free entertainment so you can soak up the atmosphere.

Place d'Armes has big screens relaying race action and lots of places selling reasonably priced beer

Place d’Armes has big screens relaying race action and lots of places selling reasonably priced beer

If you’re hoping to get a free glimpse of the circuit up close, you’re out of luck – the fencing goes into place well in advance and entry to the stands is via gated security HOWEVER I have a super tip for somewhere in Monaco where you can watch a snippet of the live race for free and no I’m not referring to a pub television!   Stay tuned for my Grand Prix blog coming soon with more GP info….

At the end of each race day, they open up the circuit so you can walk on it.  Race merchandise can be bought any day for less than €15 (caps, t-shirts etc) and well-priced food and drinks including beer is sold everywhere.  The crowds in the bars are generally well behaved and I’ve never seen the local police turf anyone off the street for wandering around with a plastic beer cup in public during Grand Prix.

If you love motor racing, another option is to get a ticket for the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique which is held every 2 years in Monaco on the same circuit and always a few weeks before the F1 event.

In 2016, Grand Prix de Monaco Historique is held from 13-15 May, with the F1 Grand Prix from 26-29 May.   I actually prefer the GP Historique over the F1 racing as it features classic cars including F1 Grand Prix cars from the 1960’s and 1970’s as well as sports cars from the 1950’s such as Astons and Jags.

Historic Grand Prix Monaco

Grand Prix de Monaco Historique is held every 2 years

I will be posting another blog article in the coming weeks about tips specifically for Monaco Grand Prix, so stay tuned!

TRANSPORT TIPS

Regional train tickets

If you plan to travel by train on the French Riviera, there are a number of train ticket options you can get.

You can buy a single-use ticket (oneway or return) however the most economical option if you’re travelling to a few towns on the same day is to buy a ZOU ! Pass.

The ZOU ! Pass replaced the old Carte Isabelle and costs just €15 for unlimited train travel between Ventimiglia and St Raphael (including Monaco, and the trains to Grasse or Tende) so you can hop on and off as much as you like in one day.  It is available only in summer, between June and September from any ticket office or the ticket machines at the station.

The PASS Isabelle Famille is the same concept but costs €35 for one day’s unlimited train travel for 2 adults and 2 children.  It’s sold year round.

Monagasque red and white trains

Monagasque red and white trains

If you intend to stay in the region for longer, buy the ZOU ! Hebdo-Mensuel passes that are sold year round.  ZOU ! Hebdo is valid for 7 consecutive days; ZOU ! Mensuel for one month from the 1st day.  They give up to 75% fare discounts and are available to tourists or residents.  You have to specify your origin point and destination point – for example, Nice to Monaco, or Antibes to Cannes.  These passes are super handy if you’re in the region for longer events such as Monaco Grand Prix, Cannes Film Festival, MIPCOM, ILTM, MIPTV etc

TER SNCF, the regional train providers offer many different fare discounts including discounts if you’re under 26 years of age so ask at the train stations as they don’t willingly sell them unless you ask!  The TER trains are mostly blue and silver and the TER Monaco trains are white and red but all regional tickets can be used on both trains.

Regional Buses to Monaco

From Nice to Monaco, there are a few bus options:

  • You can travel on the number 100 bus (Nice to Menton via Monaco) for the princely sum of €1,50 oneway.  Kids under 4 years are free.  The journey takes about 30-35 minutes. Note: Local regional buses are not particularly well set up for luggage storage and sometimes they’re tricky navigating with baby strollers, so bear that in mind if you are travelling with either lots of luggage or as a family with small children.
  • The 100x bus travels on the highway (autoroute) from Nice to Monaco.
  • You can take the Airport Express from Nice Airport to Monaco, it is Line 110.

For timetables for buses 100, 100x and the Airport Express you can see them here:  https://www.departement06.fr/vous-deplacer-en-bus/lignes-et-horaires-3029.html

Buses within Monaco

Within Monaco, the local buses with CAM cost just €1,50 per trip if you buy from a bus ticket agent, or €2 if you buy it from the driver.  You can change to any other CAM bus within 30 minutes of the first validation and continue your single trip around Monaco.

A Day Pass for unlimited bus travel in Monaco costs €5,50; a Weekly Pass is €15.  Kids under 5 years travel for free.  As an extension of the ‘road bus’ system, Bateau Bus is a solar electric 50-seat boat that shuttles across Port Hercule between Quai des Etats-Unis and Quai Rainier 1er every day from 8am to 8pm, so you use your bus ticket for the Bateau Bus in the same way.

buses in Monaco

Local buses in Monaco with CAM; The ‘Bateau Bus’ in Monaco is a cheap way to cross the harbour

For people with restricted mobility or who are wheelchair-bound, Monaco is phasing in ramps on all the fleet (currently about a third of Monaco buses have ramps). Line 5 is completely wheelchair accessible.

Timetables for CAM buses are found here: http://www.cam.mc/informations-pratiques.php?lang=en

Driving

Self-drive tourists should know that you can’t drive into Monaco-Ville (Old Town) – the only cars allowed are those having Monaco license plates or French license plates with the last two digits ’06’ from the Alpes Maritimes Department.   All other vehicles are strictly forbidden to drive to Monaco-Ville.  You can however  park in the ‘Parking des Pecheurs’ regardless of what license plate your car has…this carpark is under Monaco-Ville, then you simply take the elevator up to street level.

Another thing to note if families are driving to Monaco, it is law that children up to 10 years of age travel in the back seat of the car and wear a seat belt or are strapped into a proper child safety seat.  Only children over 10 years or adults can travel in the front passenger seat.  The only exception is when there are no rear seat belts.

For details of parking in Monaco, you can see the list and tariffs of the public carparks here:  https://www.monaco-parkings.mc/carpark

ACCOMMODATION TIPS

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you’re not booked into the Hôtel Hermitage or Hôtel de Paris.

While Monaco hotels can be super pricey, staying in the off-season and outside of Grand Prix and major events can mean great reductions on room rates.

Beausoleil is on the fringe of Monte-Carlo and has some cheap and clean – though not super modern – hotels.  Nice is just 25 minutes by train from Monaco and has lots of budget-friendly places to stay.  There are also accommodation options such as Homeaway or AirBNB.  A few options are:

Hotel de France, 6 rue de la Turbie, is centrally located in Monaco about 5 minutes walk from the main port. The airport bus stop is nearby, they have free Wifi and rooms are air-conditioned and clean. The pay-off for a budget hotel in a good location means there is no elevator.  Prices from €95 upwards.

Azur Hotel, 12 boulevard de la Republique, Beausoleil is within walking distance to Casino Square.  Their website says they are a 5-minute walk to the Monaco train station which is a bit misleading; it’s uphill from the station and takes at least 15-minutes’ walk so take a taxi if you have lots of luggage.  The upsides are the rooms are clean with air-conditioning, the location is near to restaurants and they have free Wifi. Prices from €79 excluding events.

Nice Garden Hotel, 11 rue du Congrès, 06600 Nice, is situated 2 blocks from the seafront and easy walking distance to Vieux Nice (Old Town) and the train station.  If you can see past the unappealing hotel entrance you’ll be pleased you made the effort.  It’s run by 3 generations of a warm and hospitable family and the 9 rooms all overlook a lovely garden with orange trees where you can eat breakfast if the weather’s nice.  Low season prices start at €59 per room per night (Simple Double); high season start at €75; Grand Prix from €150 p/nt.

cheap hotel Nice France

Nice Garden Hotel, budget-friendly hotel in Nice

Monaco doesn’t have a central hostel and although there is a Relais Jeunesse Villa Thalassa at nearby Cap d’Ail I recommend you read reviews first and decide if the property versus budget suits your needs.

GOOD VALUE PLACES TO EAT & DRINK IN MONACO

Cheap can sometimes equate to nasty in culinary terms and I’ve had my fair share of grease-laden, overcooked/undercooked meals in different destinations.

If your budget can’t extend to the Gourmet Menu (€310) at Le Louis XV at Hôtel de Paris, or Joël Robuchon’s €199 Menu Decouverte at Hôtel Metropole Monte-Carlo, then there are still other value-priced places to eat and drink in Monaco.

If you do want to experience a meal at the luxury restaurants, dine at lunch where the set menus are better value and still offer a few choices for starters, mains and desserts.  If you want to drink in style, head to the Fairmont Monte Carlo where Nobu restaurant has 50% off cocktails at daily Happy Hour from 6pm-8pm and L’Horizon Deck has a champagne Happy Hour daily from 6pm-8pm.

happy hour monaco

The Fairmont Monte Carlo has daily Happy Hour so you can enjoy this view with a cocktail or champagne!

For the ultimate do-it-yourself food option, grab a sandwich from the supermarkets – try the Casino supermarket on boulevard Albert 1er near Port Hercule or the Carrefour Monaco at Centre Commercial Fontvieille.

Boulangeries (bakeries) also have good value snacks such as slices of pizza, focaccia,  pissaladière (pizza-type tart with caramelised onions, olives and anchovies), or barbajuan which is a Monagasque specialty and best described as a fried pastry package filled with chard, cheese and egg.  The best barbajuans are from Costa’s; you’ll find 8 Costa Boulangerie’s throughout Monaco but you can easily head to the Marche de la Condamine to find them there and a bargain price at €1,30 each.

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Le Petit Bar is situated on Le Rocher at 35 rue Basse (a good dining choice if you’re visiting the Palais Princier or Monaco Oceanarium) and it gets a mention from me because Fafa (Fabrice) and Lolo (Laurent) the owners serve a tasty menu with good prices.  The tapas plates are excellent, the mains are all priced under €15 and most desserts are €5.  Make a reservation for dinner as the place is small and gets busy quickly, especially in summer.

cheap restaurant Monaco

Le Petit Bar, Monaco-Ville

Constantine, located at Fontvieille port is awesome for people who have both carnivores and vegetarians in their group (not always easy to satisfy both sides when dining). Their menus are good value and include a glass of wine or soft drink, water and coffee.  Open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner;  Saturday and Sunday for dinner only.

Gerhard’s Café is a German-themed pub open 7 days for lunch and dinner (their lunch menus are the better value with most food options costing €8 or less). If you like spirits and cocktails, their large Long Island iced tea is a third of the price cheaper than what you’ll pay over the other side of Monaco near Larvotto.  They have free Wifi and are a fun place to go for drinks during Grand Prix or during their annual Oktoberfest complete with sauerkraut and Paulaner beer.

Thanks for reading my blog post about Monaco on a shoestring!  You can now take all these best bits of Monaco in your pocket with my GPSmyCity Monaco on a Shoestring app found here

If you appreciate my research and found it informative or have any comments, I’d love to hear from you.  Please share this post on social media including Facebook or Twitter. thanks!

Sources:  Palais.mc, Visit Monaco, Gouvernement Princier, Monte-Carlo.mc

Lou Messugo

 

 

12 Days of Christmas on the French Riviera

Ho ho ho! The festive season has crept up on me once again and I’ve been so busy with my kids picking up every cough or virus found on a school playground, and juggling lots of Christmas events that I didn’t get around to compiling my annual Christmas Market list.

Not to worry, I have put my candy cane-where-my-mouth-is and have been inspired to write a new post. If you are visiting the French  Riviera during the festive season, here is Access Riviera’s take on ‘12 Days of Christmas’ with travel tips, things I like and a few sneaky gift ideas (I promise there will be no partridges in pear trees, or geese-a-laying!).

Joyeux Noel!

1.  Visit the Christmas Markets (Marchés du Noel)

I was slow off the mark in compiling my Christmas Market list this year, however most towns will have a Christmas Market leading up to Christmas Day and some even extend until early January.

We usually visit Antibes and Cannes; other impressive markets are held at Nice and Monaco. For next year, if you want to visit a more traditional market head to Le Rouret (which has already passed a few weeks ago).

animer_marche_noel.jpg

Christmas Markets are great for the whole family with wooden chalets selling everything from tree decorations to candy floss and woollen scarves. There are often amusement rides for children, ice skating rinks or luges.

This link has an overview of some of the region’s best markets:

http://sortircotedazur.com/agenda/les-marches-de-noel-sur-la-cote-dazur/

  1. Buy some delicious macarons in Cagnes-sur-Mer

Macarons are quintessentially French, and the flavour combinations can be quite surprising. I have to quickly walk past one of our local patisseries because every time we pass by the shop assistant shouts out ‘Bonjour’ to my eldest son who dashes in and immediately starts ordering ‘une fraise et vanille macaron, s’il vous plait’. You know you spend too much time in a patisserie when they are on a first name basis with your child 🙂

If you love macarons, don’t fight the temptation any more – head along to Mic Mac Macaron in Cagnes-sur-Mer for amazing creations from Bruno Laffargue.

Flavours include the classics such as lemon, vanilla, salted caramel and passionfruit through to the more exciting combinations of licorice, apple and cinnamon and chestnut and litchee. Monsieur Laffargue even whips up savoury macarons with notes of truffle and parmesan.

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  1. Relax in Juan les Pins

Winter is quiet season in Juan les Pins; if there were tumbleweeds available you would definitely see them rolling down the street. So, it’s the perfect time to take advantage of having the seafront promenade, parks and restaurants all to yourself.

I recommend a meal at the beautiful La Passagère at the Hôtel Belles Rives, and if you return to Juan les Pins and want a low-key suggestion for somewhere to stay in warmer months that has good hospitality, book a room at La Villa. La Villa is within walking distance to Port Gallice and Juan les Pins and has modern rooms, free Wifi and free carparking. Don’t forget to ask to buy a bottle of champagne as the hotel owner Vincent is originally from the Champagne region and he and his brother own 2 vineyards there and sell the champagne to hotel guests.

  1. Art and indulgence in Mougins

Mougins is filled with top notch restaurants and interesting art galleries and has attracted many creative types – it has been a visiting place for Cocteau, Leger, Man Rey and most famously Pablo Picasso who spent the last 12 years of his life there.

My suggestion is to roam the streets as there are plenty of galleries to see just walking around, or if you prefer a more structured tour visit this link courtesy of the Mougins Tourist Office website here for directions to the town’s galleries and workshops.

I recommend any art / history enthusiast visit the excellent Mougins Museum of Classical Art – highly under rated as an attraction in this region with eclectic collections of Greek and Roman coins and busts, armoury and contemporary art including Damien Hirst’s ‘Happy Head’ skull, ‘Birth of Venus’ by Andy Warhol and ‘Venue Bleue’, the striking blue torso by Yves Klein who is buried in La Colle sur Loup.

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After a morning of art overload, head to the 5-star surrounds of Le Mas Candille where you can enjoy a meal at Le Candille overlooking the Mougins valley, or be pampered at their Shiseido Spa with facials or a massage. Check their website prior to booking as they have special offers for the Spa, hotel and restaurant.

  1. Scents of France

The French are renowned for perfume creation, and if you have a tendency for olfactory purchases you’ll find it difficult to visit the French Riviera without acquiring a bottle of parfum or two.

Most tourists make a bee line for Grasse, the historic perfume-making centre where you can visit the Musée International de la Parfumerie, or tour one of the perfume factories to learn the process and perhaps join a workshop to blend your very own scent.

If you want to buy perfume you don’t have to look far anywhere on the French Riviera for shelves stocked with major brands as well as limited edition fragrances from exclusive perfume houses. While I know it’s perfectly fine to buy off the shelf at Fragonard, Molinard, Marionnaud and Galeries Lafayette, here are my shopping suggestions if you want something a bit special:

  • Parfums Gaglewski is a small perfume shop located on a cobblestoned Grasse street, non-descript it could be a boutique in any French town but the difference lies in the man who owns it. Didier Gaglewski is beyond passionate about perfume and if you’re seeking an authentic and personal experience, this is a good place to start.
  • Parfumerie Tanagra on rue Alphonse Kerr in Nice is part of an Institut de Beauté that retails cosmetics, jewellery and leather goods as well as major brands and rare brands of perfumes.
  • In Monaco, the chic Paris8 retails all the luxury perfume brands you may need (Chanel, Guerlain, Hermes, D&G etc) as well as rare fragrances (they also have gift sets and gift cards if you need to buy a birthday, Valentines or Christmas present for your significant other). They are also a stockist for the Arquiste Parfumeur range, so if you can grab a bottle of their Fleur de Louis perfume do it before word gets out.
  1. Dine in a historic abbey in La Colle sur Loup

Open daily (except Monday and Tuesday in winter), Le 541 is the restaurant of the Hôtel l’Abbaye La Colle sur Loup and is a perfect place to dine in the cloister on a crisp winters day or by the fireplace when the temperature cools down.

This historically-listed monument (formerly known as Abbaye du Canadel) is popular for weddings in the 12th-century chapel (rumour has it Brigitte Bardot held one of her marriage ceremonies in the chapel) and has a rich history being owned over the centuries by Bishops, Lords, the monks of the Lérins Islands and a former Head Chef of the Negresco Hotel.

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  1. Spend the day with the kids in Monaco

Monaco has a great Christmas market and often has some of the best festive decorations and lights, especially at place du Casino.

Start the day watching the free Changing of the Guards ceremony outside the Palais Princier at 11.55am sharp, before heading to either the Monaco Oceanarium or Monaco Top Cars.

The Monaco Oceanarium has enough sea life displays to keep even the smallest members of your family entertained and a play area, turtle enclosure and cafeteria on the rooftop offer a nice place to have a break if things start to go pear-shaped inside the museum.

Highlights include the shark lagoon and watching the staff feeding the fish during school holidays. There is a touch pool which is a nice interactive activity for small children – it can’t be pre-booked online but ask at the Ticket Office; an additional €6 fee applies.

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Monaco Top Cars located on the Terrasses de Fontvieille is open 10am-6pm daily (except on Christmas Day) and is a superb vehicle collection curated by H.S.H. Prince Rainier III of Monaco with displays across categories such as military, sports cars, vintage, and prestige – there are even horse-drawn carriages to see.

Cool cars for little ones to spot include a 1921 Peugeot Quadrilette, 1928 Hispano Suiza, 1953 Cadillac, 1986 Lamborghini Countach and Maserati. The exhibition space is accessible for families with baby strollers, or persons with restricted mobility.

To finish, treat the kids to some delicious chocolates – my recommendation is the Chocolaterie et Confiserie de Monaco located not far from the Monaco Oceanarium. Kids will be charmed by the Grand Prix and Monaco Circus-themed chocolate boxes, or win them over with yummy chocolates fit for any Petit Prince or Princess shaped like Monagasque crowns.

My Top Tip: If you want to visit the Monaco Oceanarium AND inside the Palais Princier there is a combined ticket available at either Ticket Office.

  1. Coffee and culture in Saint Paul de Vence

Saint Paul de Vence is one of the most popular villages in the region, and it’s a ‘go-to’ place if you want to visit somewhere with the right mix of art, culture, authenticity and tourism.

Busy in summer, it is still worthwhile to visit in autumn and winter when the paved streets aren’t so frenetic and you can wander at your own pace without fear of being mowed down by a tourist on a hurried shopping trip before they embark on their tour bus.

For a suggested free tour, read my previous blog post where I designed 2 discovery tours of the village – the first tour is aimed at families who have baby strollers and allows for a few stairs that are manageable; the second tour is aimed at wheelchair-bound tourists and avoids the village’s stairs and tries as much as possible to stick to flat ground.   Feedback is welcome! https://accessriviera.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/sightseeing-saint-paul-de-vence/

These tours in no way replace the excellent guided tours offered by the Saint Paul de Vence Tourist Information Office but are merely my suggestions from on-the-ground knowledge to allow all tourists to experience the village.

Afterwards, stop at the Café de la Place at the village entrance where you can enjoy a coffee as you watch the locals play boules (if you fancy learning what pieds tanqués or cochonnet means, you can hire a boules set from the Tourist Office for €4 per person).

Another excellent attraction is the Fondation Maeght, an art museum surrounded by nature, exhibiting a collection of modern and contemporary paintings and sculptures. The modern architecture of Catalan architect Josep Lluis Sert surrounds the artworks of Giacometti, Adami, Braque, Chagall, Léger, and Calder. The garden encircling the main building is an open-air gallery, where Mediterranean trees coexist with sculptures by Giacometti and Miró, mosaics by Chagall, the pool by Braque, and many other artworks.

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My Top Tip: A Côte d’Azur Card gives you free entrance to the Fondation Maeght, the Folon Chapel and the Museum of Local History, plus a tour of the village with a guide from the Saint Paul de Vence Tourist Information Office. The Cards are available for sale at regional Tourist Offices and other sightseeing locations and are worthwhile if you are doing lots of sightseeing.

  1. Nice Off The Beaten Path

Nice is a wonderful city with vibrant events, a buzzing Old Town (Vieux Nice) firmly entrenched with Italian heritage, superb restaurants and bars and the longest seafront promenade along the whole French Riviera coast. It also hosts one of the best and biggest regional Christmas markets.

So, how do you find those hidden gems in a city that attracts millions of tourists each year?

Here are a few of my suggestions:

Market life: Every visitor to Nice knows about the flower/fruit/veges/brocante market on Cours Saleya, and many are aware of the fish markets on Place Saint-François and at Marché de la Liberation.

However, in my opinion, 2 of the most interesting markets are found away from Cours Saleya at nearby Place du Palais de Justice.

Here, you’ll find a Book Market (Marché aux livres anciens et d’occasion) held on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month (Hours: 7am-5pm in winter and 7am-7pm in summer) with second-hand novels, old mariner’s manuals and rare books, complete with dusty and faded patinas.

The last Saturday of each month is a vintage Postcard Market (Marché aux cartes postale anciennes) where you can buy Edwardian postcards of Nice. Keep an eye out for Editions Gilletta postcards, or if you want a collection of vintage keepsakes you can buy one of their books here http://www.editionsgilletta.com/livre/promenade-des-anglais-vues-anciennes

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Artisan: Atelier de Reliure is a unique shop indeed. They specialize in using traditional methods to repair old books or photo albums by hand, adapting their working processes depending on the era of the book, leather, paper used, mounting and the binding. They can also create bespoke boxes and cases adorned with gold leaf, family crests or company logos.

Kids: Nice has some excellent children’s stores and my recommendations if you’re looking for funky kids décor, furniture, toys or storage is to head to Emilie & Compagnie or Vibel Nature.

Photography: Anyone interested in photography should make a date to visit Darkroom Galerie on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday or Saturday. They have rotating exhibitions of established and emerging photographers, and offer art tours of Nice as well as online sales of photographs.

Gifts: Located close to Place Rossetti is a fabulous shop for gifts for women (Take note my male readers because this shop will score you brownie points for life). La Boutique du Flacon is something out of a Moulin Rouge-Marie Antoinette dream with glass and crystal perfume atomizers, hand-crafted crystal music boxes, Murano jewellery, fine glass bonbonneries and bathroom jars, pretty photo frames, evening bags and hand-painted contemporary and vintage perfume bottles. Divine!

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Cascade de Gairaut: Situated on a hill above Nice, this is a peaceful place for a casual walk beside a canal that passes olive and fig trees.

The cascade is an artificial waterfall that oxygenated the water from the Vésubie before being distributed in the city and was a popular tour stopover in the early 20th century.

The whole site is listed as a Historic Monument and includes an Austrian-style chalet overlooking the cascade and drop pools with caves complete with fake stalactites – it’s an odd sight in the hills of Nice, but the view is excellent.

For a map and directions for this walk, download the free pdf here (Boucle découverte – Gairaut / Rimiez) https://www.nice.fr/fr/visites-decouverte-de-nice/boucles-decouvertes

  1. Venture to Valbonne

Valbonne, literally translated as the ‘good valley’ as it was known as Vallis Bona in past years, is comprised of 2 parts – the old 16th-century village in the northwest, and the commercial / technological area of Sophia Antipolis in the east, the French Riviera’s equivalent of California’s Silicon Valley.

The village is laid out in a grid pattern and has some lovely shops and restaurants with L’Auberge Provençal at the Valbonne Square an excellent place to sit with a drink and people watch.

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Stop into L.A. Galerie to view Ada Loumani’s beautiful glass vases that are both functional and sculptural, or visit Création Boselli – L’Olivieroi, a shop where Jean Pierre Boselli makes products such as mortars, trays, fruit bowls and unique perfume bottles from precious wood.

Afterwards, take a walk along the River Brague that falls under the designation of the Parc Départmental de la Brague; the park contains the remains of the Roman aqueduct that fed Antibes however the remains are unmarked and unsigned (which is actually one of the charms of many of the walks in the region as you stumble across ruins all the time). The trails are pleasant, cool and shaded (so make sure you come back in warmer months when you need to escape the summer heat!).

Another option is to hire vintage motorbikes and explore the Arriere-Pays from Valbonne. Motorent offer a range of classic or retro motorbikes including the 1950’s styling of a Royal Enfield, Triumph Bonneville T100 or a Ducati Scrambler. Specific conditions apply for rentals – if you are an international visitor you will need an international license plus proof of hotel etc – and you will need to check the minimum age and security deposit required.

Suggested scenic itineraries could be the Gorges du Loup, Col de Bleine, the Vésubie and Tinée Valleys, the red rock-lined roads of the Gorges du Cians with a detour to Entrevaux (between June and September, you can visit the free Motorcycle Museum ) or the Gorges de l’Estaron where heading to St Auban you pass a surprising chapel grotto cut into the rock.

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  1. Grab your holiday essentials in Cannes

Christmas is a busy period for travel, with people arriving and departing by car, plane, bus or train to visit friends and family for the festive season.

If you’re heading somewhere over the holiday break, Cannes is a great place to stock up on last-minute gifts or any holiday essentials you’ll need for a getaway.

Tumi opened its first luggage store (24 rue du Commandant André) in Cannes earlier this year, and if you’re a frequent jetsetter you’ll easily find a stylish overnight bag or suitcase that will take the knocks and bumps that come with travelling. Grab some luggage then cross the road for lunch or coffee at Bobo Bistro.

Treat your body to goodies from French chain L’Occitane, who make things easy at Christmas with a large range of pre-packaged gift sets, then skip along to Pharmacie Anglo-Française who retail the amazing Marvis toothpaste imported from Italy. If you’ve never tried Marvis toothpaste, the apothecary-inspired tubes are beautiful and it has a range with flavours such as Ginger Mint and Amarelli Licorice. Conveniently they come in standard size and travel sized miniatures. If there was ever a time to rave about toothpaste this is my chance.

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For fun, colourful and kitschy gifts, Pylones on rue d’Antibes has everything from astronaut lamps to quirky earbuds and bento boxes. A great place for stocking fillers if you can’t be bothered with the €2 Shops or Maxi Bazaars.

Slick and modern, Projecteurs name drops Dries van Noten, Marni and Giambattista Valli among its list of designers represented in their contemporary store. Retailing clothing, shoes, skincare, accessories and jewellery for both men and women you can pick up high-end designer items pricing hundreds of euros upwards or stocking stuffers including cartoon-themed USB sticks for under €20. Check out their website as they add end-of-line stock under the ‘Outlet’ section where you can often buy designer goods at 50% discount.

I love StyleJunky’s byline – Babies Welcome, Dogs Welcome, Beginners Welcome, Try on something you can’t afford – spend now, worry later. It’s a fitting mantra for a cool store that seamlessly makes fashion more than just about style. They stock international and emerging designers as well as skin care from Mad et Len and outrageous sneakers from Golden Goose Deluxe Brand that are sure to get your feet noticed.

  1. Hit the slopes

The Alpes-Maritimes region has 15 ski resorts to suit all abilities with most set up with accommodation, ski schools, ski hire shops and restaurants. The closest resort to the coast is Gréolières-des-Neiges, though more reliable snow and more facilities are found at Isola 2000, Auron, Valberg and La Foux d’Allos which has the most extensive network in the region (180 kms of pistes).

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You can hire skis, snowboards, helmets up at the resorts though its advisable to take your own ski clothing if possible especially during school holidays when demand is high. Nothing kills a ski trip faster than having no gear.

For webcams, weather and resort info for Isola 2000: http://hiver.isola2000.com/webcam

For webcams, weather and resort info for Auron: http://hiver.auron.com/

If you prefer, you can also hire equipment down on the coast and transport it with you; sometimes the rates can be cheaper than at the resorts. A few suggested hire shops are Aventure Cote d’Azur (Nice) and Newrider (Antibes).

My Top Tips: Departing from outside the main train station in Nice, Lignes Azur operate a ‘100% Neige’ bus service that goes daily to Auron, Isola 2000, Valberg** and on weekends to La Colmiane**, and Le Boréon**. (** Valberg, La Colmiane, Le Boréon service commences 19 December). The journeys take 2 hours plus so bear that in mind.

Tickets can be pre-booked online at www.lignesazur.com from the French website as the English version doesn’t have the booking facility – cost: €4 oneway / €8 return online, instead of €5 / €10 with no pre-booking. The bus timetables are found here: http://www.lignesdazur.com/ftp/documents_FR/FlyerDec2015_100p100neigeBD.pdf

Isola and Auron have Vente Flash (Flash Sales) on Tuesdays after 8 pm where you can get lift tickets for half price, go to their websites to snap up the deals each Tuesday night as passes are limited.

Thanks for reading my ’12 Days of Christmas’ blog post! If you liked it, please share on Facebook or Twitter.

Joyeux Noel to all my readers and best wishes for a happy and prosperous 2016 from Becks at Access Riviera.

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