The luxury yachts moored at Monaco’s
Port Hercule intimidate as much as they impress -- their polished gleam reflecting
the tiny principality’s long-standing image as an exclusive home to millionaires
and a playground for high rollers. But even with the rampant glamour and luxury,
it is possible to afford a visit without winning big at the Casino de
It helps that many of Monaco’s major
attractions do not cost a cent. The shingly beaches at Larvotto
are free for all, as are most of the principality’s lavish public spaces. The Japanese
Garden along the waterfront and the Rose
Garden, which is dedicated to Princess Grace – formerly Hollywood idol
Grace Kelly – are particularly beautiful. Of course, the voyeuristic options of
ogling the yachts at Port Hercule or the Ferraris parked outside the casino do not
cost anything either.
When you have to pay to play, Monaco is
surprisingly reasonable. Adult entry to the Musée
Oceanographique – which acts as exhibition space, museum of ocean
exploration and world-class aquarium – costs around 14 euro. Meanwhile, a
self-guided tour around the predictably impressive State
Rooms at the Prince’s Palace costs an entirely reasonable eight euro.
Taxis, which are on the expensive side, are
largely unnecessary – it only takes 45 minutes to walk across the whole of
Monaco, and a day pass for the five bus routes that cover the principality
costs a mere five euro. Single fares cost two euro.
The real bargains, however, are to be
found at Monaco’s cultural institutions, thanks to reigning monarch Prince
Albert’s desire to prevent culture from being elitist. Tickets for home turf
performances by the Ballets de
Monte Carlo, which take place throughout the year, are kept deliberately
low at 33 euro. Meanwhile tickets for touring performances by the same company
overseas can often cost five or six times that amount. Performances for the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra can also be seen
throughout the year, starting at 19 euro.
Unfortunately, accommodation is the real
wallet-buster in Monaco -- budget hotels are non-existent. The Hotel de France is a reasonable if
uninspiring option, with doubles costing from 105 euro a night. Rooms are poky
but well maintained and it is a five minute walk to Port Hercule, one of Monaco’s
Prices are much lower, however, in the neighbouring
towns of Beausoleil and Cap d’Ail, both a five minute drive or 15 to 30 minute walk from
the centre of Monaco. Both are over the French border, but effectively act as
contiguous suburbs of the principality. For those on an ultra-tight budget, Cap
d’Ail has a youth hostel inside Villa Thalassa, where fairly spartan
dorm beds with breakfast cost 18.50 euro.
Perhaps the most sensible option,
however, is to do what many people who work in Monaco do – commute in from the
French city of Nice. The train journey takes just 20 minutes, with return
tickets costing 7.20 euro, and there is a glut of affordable accommodation here.
It is also worth bearing in mind that
Monaco’s hotel room prices are greatly affected by seasonality. The 602-room,
resort-style Fairmont hotel
sees the biggest fluctuations due to its size. A room that costs 375 euro in
August can drop to 225 euro in November. November is generally the quietest
month in Monaco due to the weather; although March and October tend to be the
best months for a weather/cost compromise.
Dining in Monaco is surprisingly
inexpensive too – as long as you step
back a few streets from the tourist-ridden Port Hercule and Casino Square. In a
sea of affordable pizzerias – there to serve the many Italian tourists that visit
Monaco -- the best find is the cosy and personable Pizzeria Monegasque ( 4 Rue
Terrazzani; 377-9330-1638), where full-sized, wood-fired pizzas cost 12 euro or less.
Nearby, the classy bakery L’Epi d’Or (6 Rue
Grimaldi; 377-9330-2345) has excellent 4.50 euro baguette sandwiches and offers
a diet-busting array of cakes and tarts starting at 3.50 euro.
Set menus can also be a bargain,
particularly in the old town where they are often available in the evening as
well as lunchtime. The Restaurant
St Nicholas, with its endearing small terrace that faces the St Nicholas cathedral, offers two course
meals – with mains including fresh salmon in tarragon cream – for just 15 euro.
The homely U Cavagnetu (14 rue Comte
Félix Gastaldi; 377-9798-2040) is a
firm local favourite, and its three course menu of Monegasque cuisine costs
25.50 euro. Hearty dishes include roast leg of lamb with olives and stuffed
Otherwise, sandwiches and salads are
available from the supermarkets – there is a Carrefour in the Fontvieille
Shopping Centre and a Spar
hidden under the luxury stores in the Metropole Shopping Centre. A trip to the supermarket will also show just how outrageous the
mark-ups on glasses of wine are in Monaco’s bars. Decent bottles from Spar cost
as little as three euro – small glasses in bars are rarely available for under
It pays, therefore, to scout out when
the happy hours are. At the perennially popular Stars ‘N’ Bars, cocktails drop from 10.50
euro to 5.30 euro between 5 pm and 7:30 pm, while happy hour at La Brasserie de Monaco runs from 5 pm
to 8 pm. During this period, the microbrewed beers produced on the premises,
such as the slightly spicy organic wheat beer, cost 3.50 euro rather than seven
euro. After all, Monaco has to cater to those who work on the yachts as well as
those who own them.