We spent our first night in Nice (after sitting through hours of traffic to get to our Airbnb from nearby Antibes) and nixed our plan of driving to different little towns along the coast and instead decided to take the train to Monaco, see how long we wanted to spend there, and then weigh our options based on how our morning went.
We ended up really loving Monaco and spending the whole morning there, eating lunch, and heading out around 2pm. I suppose it was everything you might expect from the world's richest place, whose people earn more per capita than in any other place in the world - big yachts, fancy cars, expensive food. Technically, Monaco is a city-state, but it's considered the world's second-smallest country, so do what you will with all these terms, but the bottom line is, it's a small, wealthy place.
Before hopping on the 30 minute train from Nice to Monaco, we grabbed some pastries from a bakery on our walk from our Airbnb to the train station. We tried out these chocolate chip bread sticks, for lack of a better word, and they were literally the best thing I ate all trip. The next day I got, I think, four for breakfast and that is all.
Our first stop off the train was the Jardin Exotique de Monaco, but on our way there we got a peek at just how beautiful some of the architecture is in Monaco. Classic styles, modern styles, details here, there, and everywhere - plus color! - Monaco knows what it's doing. We could have been happy just walking the streets and looking up and down at buildings all day long I think.
The Jardin Exotique de Monaco was stunning. We were the first visitors in the gates and spent an hour taking in the views over the harbor, the sea, and the city and marveling at the variety of plants (primarily cacti and succulents - the world's largest collection, in fact!). I definitely recommend a visit if you're ever in the area.
From the Jardin Exotique, we made our way to the Palais Princier de Monaco, or the Prince's Palace, which is the official residence of Monaco's royal family. We took a tour of the state apartments (no photos allowed), and then walked around the surrounding neighborhood before returning to the palace in time for the changing of the guard, which happens every day at 11:55am.
D - If you want to know what the neighborhood is like around the palace, just imagine Disneyland, except a real place. I know people throw that comparison around a lot about many different places, but I can pretty much guarantee that this place is the most Disneyland-esque of them all. Cute, complimentary architecture, zero trash, and peppy harpsichord music playing at all times (or were we just imagining that last part?).
You know the changing of the guard is about to happen when... ;)
Danny and I had never actually seen a changing of the guard ceremony before as I'd always thought we'd have to get there super early and have to fight through crowds of people (if we weren't some of the first to arrive)...and then it'd all be over in a few minutes. Well, that was what it was pretty much like, except we didn't have to be too early, maybe because we visited in April vs. the summer, and it was neat, but I don't think I'll be adding any other changing of the guards to upcoming itineraries.
Next up was Monaco's Prince Rainier's personal collection of classic cars, La Collection de Voitures Anciennes (or The Private Collection of Antique Cars), which he opened to the public in 1993. It's not exactly a museum, perhaps exhibition hall is a better word, as very little information is given on the cars, but it is a very diverse assortment, from Ferraris to Maseratis to Lamborghinis to Rolls Royces to various cars used for racing and even a polar expedition vehicle! Apparently a new space is being constructed and will be ready in a few years, which I think is a great idea, especially if it includes information on the vehicles.
D - I've never really been a car guy, but I really enjoyed ol' Ranier's collection. I especially liked seeing the really unique and weird ones. If there's a car where the doors open somewhat abnormally, I'm hooked.
As we made our way along the harbor, we came upon preparations for the Grand Prix, which took place at the end of May (we visited in mid-April). The Grand Prix is a Formula 1 race (maybe everyone knows this but me?), which I know pretty much nothing about, but a bit of basic research tells me that it consists of lap after lap through the streets of Monaco, for a total of 162 miles. Sounds a little hectic, dangerous, and loud to me.
We didn't dare go inside (there's a dress code!), but we felt fancy looking at the Casino de Monte-Carlo from the outside before heading to the nearby Eqvita Restaurant. It seemed to be the only vegan restaurant in Monaco, and also happens to be owned by tennis player Novak Djokovic, so since the prices were reasonable (for Monaco!) we enjoyed the atmosphere and the fun of eating at our first celebrity-owned restaurant before heading back to Nice.
See more from our road trip around southern France: our day in Toulouse here, and all of our stops on our first day: Cahors, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Bouzies, Rocamadour, Padirac Cave, Loubressac, and Figeac. We began our second day in Marcillac-Vallon and Belcastel, made a stop at the Viaduc de Millau before heading into the Gorges du Tarn, and finally checked out the lovely Sainte-Enimie. That night, we stayed in Le-Pont-de-Montvert.
We started our third day in Labeaume before driving through the Gorges de l'Ardeche and stopping afterwards in Aiguèze and then spending some time checking out Roman remains in Orange and staying the night in Vaison-la-Romaine. The next morning we explored Vaison-la-Romaine, drove on to Sisteron and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and through the Gorges du Verdon and stayed the night in Castellane.