Monaco: Destination of the week
If you can afford it, Monte Carlo and its surroundings are the perfect place to take a walk and catch some eye-popping sights.
Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 10:34 AM
Photo: ZUMA Press
Monaco is a tiny, independent city-state on the Mediterranean, surrounded by the French Riviera. It is famous for its glitzy casinos, Grand Prix race and impossibly wealthy population. Still ruled by a prince (it has been a constitutional monarchy for the past century), Monaco draws tourists from all over the world despite the fact that its total area measures less than one square mile. Monte Carlo, the country's main tourist district, is home to some of the world's most lavish hotels and casinos.
How could it be possible to have a green-themed vacation in a place like this?
Monaco has developed a green scene in recent years. Expensive sports cars still drive the streets, but more and more people are relying on public transit because of the country's useful and low-priced bus service. Marine conservation efforts, the development of bicycle-friendly and pedestrian-centered features, and green initiatives by some of the world's most luxurious hotels and casinos have earned Monaco a respectable amount of credibility when it comes to the environment.
Green-minded travelers who want to cross this famous city-state off their wish list can find enough eco-friendliness to create a low-impact itinerary. Monaco is also ideal for tourists whose idea of a perfect vacation is wandering by foot from upscale neighborhoods like Monte Carlo to Old World streets like those found in the Monaco Ville district to the rural landscapes and historic villages on the French side of the border.
Driving is not advisable in Monaco. Sure, you'd love to rent a two-seater and take on the winding, hilly roads of the Cote d'Azur, but parking in Monaco is difficult. Since it covers such a small area, the principality can be negotiated easily on foot. Changes in elevation pose some issues for pedestrians who want to avoid strenuous walks. However, Monaco's public escalators and elevators, placed in especially steep high-traffic areas, can make it easier to arrive at your destination without breaking a sweat.
Five regular bus routes (as well as a bus boat) run between major parts of Monaco, including the casino area of Monte Carlo, the main train station, the cruise terminal and the most popular seaside areas. Monaco increased bus ridership by offering one-euro fares (that's about $1.40).
A bike route between the port and Larvotto is open to the public, with a special route open each Sunday. Electric bikes are available, free of charge, at car parking areas around the city.
Some of the largest, most glamorous hotels in Monaco are making strides toward sustainability. The Hotel Metropole and Fairmont Monte Carlo have both launched sustainability programs aimed at conserving water and energy. The Fairmont aids organizations and groups in making their conferences and events greener. The Metropole has a Green Committee made up of hotel employees who devise and implement energy-, water- and waste-reduction strategies. Another high-end property, Le Meridian Monte Carlo, has taken steps to make the environment as important as luxury. Guests have the option of reusing linens, and energy saving measures such as not turning on television and lighting before a guest arrives, have given this notoriously luxurious property a greener tint.
Monaco is not a place for cheap hostels or reasonable bed-and-breakfasts. There are numerous budget options in Nice, France (both bed-and-breakfasts and hostels), which is only about half an hour from Monaco by bus. You can even pitch your tent at places like Camping Les Romarins. Reserving a spot is cheap and, since few people associate the Cote d'Azur with roughing it, campgrounds are usually quiet.
It is possible to get your ingredients very close to the source in Monaco at markets. The Marche de Monte Carlo and Marche de la Condamine are open daily and have stalls selling fresh produce, bakery, deli and dairy products.
There are plenty of small, independently owned cafes and restaurants in Monaco. The Old World eatery Polpetta offers food made from ingredients delivered to the kitchen fresh daily. The centrally located Cafe Llorca serves food created by a Michelin Star-winning chef using locally bought market products as the main ingredients.
In general, Monaco is an expensive place to eat. However, most restaurants associate quality with freshness, so locally grown or sourced materials are commonplace in many restaurant kitchens.
Monaco's showcase museum is the Oceanographic Museum. Perched on a hilltop in Monaco's Old Town, overlooking the Mediterranean, it has been in operation for a century and enjoyed a long association with famed ocean explorer and conservationist Jacques Cousteau. The museum features marine history and includes skeletons and artifacts from the sea. A huge on-site aquarium houses everything from seahorses and starfish to sharks, manta rays and squid.
Some of the sea life in Monaco is not kept behind glass. The Larvotto Marine Preserve is one of two protected areas in Monaco Bay. It covers thirty hectares and its submarine landscape is mainly made up of a type of seagrass called Posidonia.
Gardens are a major part of the tourist landscape in Monaco. The Exotic Garden (Jardin Exotique) sits on a hill overlooking Monaco. It features plant life from arid regions, with different species of cacti lining much of the walkways. There is also a cave that features rock formations and stalactites and stalagmites.
The Japanese Garden of Monaco is a unique piece of urban greenspace. The style and furnishings, from lanterns to buildings, is purely Japanese, though plants are mainly from the Mediterranean regions. The garden was conceived and commissioned by Prince Rainier III, who died in 2005 after more than 55 years as Monaco's ruler.
For tourists seeking some non-casino experiences, Monaco's true magic can be found only on foot. Despite its glamorous image, Monaco's back streets, pedestrian shopping thoroughfares and the hiking opportunities in the principality and across the border in France make this a thoroughly enjoyable place to walk. The area is quite compact so trekking through historic towns in southern France in the morning and strolling down shop-lined side streets in Monaco in the afternoon is entirely possible.
One standout section of coastline is near the beach at La Mala, where a two-plus-mile footpath passes the rocky, wild-looking coastline typical of the Cote d'Azur. The trail is just outside of Cap d'Ail, between Monaco and Nice.
Monaco is a glamorous and expensive destination. But it is also a decent eco-friendly option, especially given its recent attention to sustainability, conservation and greener transportation. Perhaps some environmentally conscious tourists can use the principality's green ambitions as an excuse to experience the glamour firsthand. Of course, you can have a great, green time without even setting foot in a casino, racecourse or yacht.
Related on MNN: Visit our other destinations of the week.
MNN homepage photo: Kristian Golding/Flickr