Monte Carlo, Monaco – the home and playground of the rich and famous. Luxury yachts, fast cars, royalty, exquisite gardens, glamour, casinos, jet setters. How does a rucksack traveller in jeans fit in with this opulent lifestyle?
Pretty well actually. Of course the chosen attire (naturally nothing else!) meant no gaming at the legendary Casino de Monte-Carlo, no fine dining in a luxurious restaurant, and no sophisticated cocktails on board an obscenely expensive yacht. I didn’t even have a Ferrari to leave at the first roadside garage I saw. Never mind, I was busy tracing a certain race track.
You see, I used to be obsessed with Formula 1 and watched the races even if it meant staying up till/waking up at silly o’clock. Although I’m no longer an avid fan, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to walk the Monaco street circuit and see with my own eyes all those places so familiar from TV. It’s as if places feel more real if you have been there yourself. The circuit isn’t too long either so a walk around it was a perfect activity for someone who’d only popped in on a day trip from Nice.
True to my usual holiday style, climbing was involved right from the start as the walk along Avenue d’Ostende towards the casino meant heading uphill. If you ever follow the same route, don’t forget to look back occasionally: the views are quite spectacular!
As legendary as the casino might be, going in and paying for the privilege didn’t interest me, even if my jeans hadn’t been a problem. (I liked the the funky Sky Mirror sculpture in front of it though.) I think I was more intrigued by the black tyremarks on the kerbs – maybe left by one of my own racing idols!
Once I had walked through the famous Fairmont hairpin and the tunnel on my own two feet I felt I had achieved what I had come for. The rest of the tour was more about taking in the harbourside scenery and wondering what it’s like for staff/crew to work on any of the very expensive looking yachts gleaming in the sun. I even had a chance to hop in a racing car myself at the Juan Manuel Fangio memorial statue. I definitely wasn’t going to get caught for speeding in this vehicle!
After all the hiking my next challenge was to find a cold drink and a reasonably priced place to eat. Carrying a basic picnic set in the rucksack has been useful on my travels and Monaco was no exception. Instead of paying a small fortune in a restaurant, I ended up having a slightly less glamorous al fresco lunch from a supermarket. When you are hungry, anything tastes wonderful though, especially on holiday in the sun.
Had I done some research in advance, I would have known about and visited the beautiful Jardin Exotique and the Observatory Cave with its striking stalagmites and stalactites. I could have done some more climbing too for the view! A lesson learned: although wandering without guidebooks and a specific destination is often the most rewarding way to explore, you may also miss some pretty interesting places and activities.