Affordable French Riviera

Live it up for less in Monte Carlo.

By Bree Sposato

This storied stretch of coastline is blessed with postcard-perfect towns. Monte Carlo, the capital of Monaco, the world’s second-smallest country, is the most famous, and just a 30-minute drive north from your base in Nice, France. While Nice is beloved for its stunning beaches, Provencal food, and artistic legacy, glamour is Monte Carlo’s calling card. Wild, unabashed glamour. At only .75 square miles, the tiny town has a reputation for wealth and is one of the world’s most notorious tax havens. It’s where Monaco’s Prince Rainier III married American actress Grace Kelly to fanfare in the ’50s. And it’s home to the prestigious Formula One Grand Prix, which takes over the narrow, twisting streets once a year in May, and has been a see-and-be-seen affair among elites the world over since 1929. To take it all in, you don’t need to don a couture gown, reserve a private table, or arrive in one of the mega-yachts that park in the scenic harbor. Simply follow this guide, and consider visiting during the fall, when the weather is still pleasantly warm, the crowds are blissfully fewer, and the prices are more wallet friendly.

Window Shop ’til You Drop

All of the major French designer fashion labels are here. Enjoy the eye candy—Yves Saint Laurent clutches, Chanel suits, Dior pumps—but resist opening your wallet until you reach the lively Condamine Market on Rue Grimaldi for food and traditional crafts, or the Chocolaterie de Monaco on Place de la Visitation. The chocolate shop first opened its doors in 1920 and stocks lots of beautifully wrapped gifts.

Play Royalty at the Palais Princier de Monaco

Monaco’s old town, Le Rocher, was built as a fortress atop a headland in the Mediterranean Sea in the 13th century, and is an eight-minute drive or 20-minute walk from Monte Carlo’s main square. The fortress’s crowning palace was restored by Prince Rainier III and is now the private residence of the Grimaldi family, but you can tour the sumptuous state apartments, filled with 16th-century frescoes, Florentine furniture, and one Empire-style royal throne. Buy tickets ($9*) in advance, and time your visit for 11:55 a.m. to see the changing of the guards. Around the palace, there are lots of little restaurants you can get crepes or pizza for about $10.** 011-377-93-25-18-31; palais.mc

Channel James Bond at the Casino de Monte Carlo

Sip a glass of French wine ($14) and people watch from Le Bar Salle Blanche at Monte Carlo’s legendary Belle Epoque casino. The casino appears in many films, such as James Bond’s GoldenEye and, more recently, Ocean’s Twelve. In the surprisingly intimate main gaming room, opulently dressed in marble and gold, people huddle over blackjack, baccarat, English and European roulette, and Texas Hold ‘Em poker, beneath soaring ceilings strung with chandeliers. Place du Casino; 011-98-06-21-21; montecarlosbm.com

Tuck in for the Night

Right next door to the casino is the Hôtel de Paris Monte Carlo, so close that you can wave to the bellhop from one gilded entrance to the other. Rather than return to Nice in the evening, tuck into one of the 19th-century-style rooms. Historically, the hotel catered to such illustrious guests as Winston Churchill and Princess Grace. There’s a wine cellar with Napoleon brandy, and an Alain Ducasse restaurant, but you can be part of the scene without breaking the bank—opt to eat instead at the bar off the lobby where singers croon Fever from a stage. In the fall, rooms are 60 percent less than usual. Place du Casino; 011-377-98-06-30-00; montecarlosbm.com

  • *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars.
  • **Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: October 2019