by Douglas Clarkson,
The article describes the sights and impressions of a day trip to Monaco and Monte Carlo from Nice, with a focus on impressions of the harbour and promenade.
The spring weather was at last breaking through on the French Riviera. Outside the railway station in Nice, the majestic chestnut trees had only recently fully opened their large green leaves to the promise of a new season. The train journey between Nice and Monaco is quite short, past marinas with their compliment of white craft.
Disembarking from the station in Monaco, we follow in the general direction of fellow travellers who appear to know where they are going. This invariably leads towards the west side of the harbour. This is where Monaco announces itself to new arrivals by way of the boats in the harbour. There is a subtle blend of the need to secure
private space on the waterfront balanced by the wish to exude an aura of life in the fast lane.
Proceeding east along the harbour, the view opens up of the Italian Riviera. A cruise ship hovers some way off the coast, with small boats ferrying passengers to and from the delights of the Principality. Preparations were underway for the ‘Classic’ race or ‘Grand prix de Monaco Historique’, which is in fact a biennial classic event. This race is a prelude to the main Formula One event in the years in which it is run. Proceeding along an enclosed road section, engineers from EDF, the French energy company, are busily engaged in installing lighting systems to illuminate the tunnel section. Meanwhile intrepid motorists experience the thrill of the section of the F1 track in their Ferraris and Porches. In the process we pass through the administrative District of Monte Carlo – famous for its casino and exclusive hotels.
Continuing, the view of Monaco reveals more detail. There is massive competition for space. High rise apartment blocks cascade down from the backdrop of limestone hills like dominoes. Million-euro apartments may only have a view of the towering block behind or in front of them. The promenade is crafted with amazing workmanship – its marble surface is incredibly smooth – a skateboarder’s paradise.
You cannot miss ‘football corner’ where famous footballers record their footprints for posterity in bronze. George Best is here and also Zinedine Zidane among others. Various sculptures adorn the walkway – adding to the impression of the richness of the built environment. From the hills behind, hang gliders weave their way around the cascading buildings to the shore line below. The more secluded locations on the hill must despise their unannounced intrusion.
Across the Harbour
Retracing steps to the harbour, a short boat trip gives access to its western edge. We are, in fact, sharing the small ferry with a choir from France. They spontaneously break into song, expressing in some measure the, ‘joi de vivre’ of the Gallic character. This is the realm of the sailing boat, where sleek, smooth sailed craft prepare for the open sea or are made secure for a stay ashore. It is then that the Formula 1 track is encountered in its central waterfront location. Preparations are in hand for the ‘Classic’ race, which should be noted was a key feature of the film, Iron Man 2’.
Most of the close action, however, was undertaken in a Hollywood film studio. Row upon row of temporary seating rise up from the harbour edge. There is complete freedom of access to wander at will on the track and the pit stop areas – which seems quite at odds with the pre-occupation about security in other countries. There is, however, the perception of the risk of fast cars and people in relatively close proximity.
At the end of the visit, we find our way back to the railway station, accessed through long marble lined tunnels which reach far into the nestling hills. On the return journey we take a seat on the upper level of the train, in order to better observe the scenery and quietly reflect on the sights and sounds of a memorable day.