Eze and Monaco

On The Road Travel Essays

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Eze and Monaco

This is the typical excursion from Nice. It is a longish half day, made all the better if you can persuade your bus driver and group to linger a little longer and have a relaxed lunch in either Eze or Monaco. The minimum excursion should involve leaving Nice around 8.30am, visiting the Fragonard perfume factory only in Eze, continuing to Monaco in time for the changing of the guard at 11.00, then returning to Nice after an hour or so free time in Monaco, aiming to be back for lunch around 1.00pm or 1.30. Otherwise, it is very much up to you how you approach this day. The following presumes that you linger longer in both places, allowing for a visit to Eze-village and a brief look at the area of Monte-Carlo, eating lunch in Monaco. The changing of the guard is neither here nor there. Take the Moyenne Corniche to do Eze first and then continue to Monaco, returning to Nice by the motorway A8.

Leaving Nice by the Moyenne Corniche, the road rises above the east side of the Baie des Anges. After about a mile and a half there is a panoramic viewpoint where you can pull over for spectacular views over the bay. At a bend in the road a couple of miles beyond - it is hard to pinpoint exactly where - you pass the spot where Princess Grace was killed in a car accident in 1982. Stéphanie was driving. She lost control of the car and it plunged 45 feet down the cliff. (NB. There is some controversy among the writers of these notes as to whether it was here or at a similar bend in the road at Cap d'Ail on the border with Monaco that the accident happened. You can make your own choice, or if you any inside knowledge on the subject...) Continue on the same road towards towards Villefranche. Again you have an opportunity for a photo stop over the beautiful peninsula of St.-Jean Cap-Ferrat, inhabited by the beauest of the beau monde (The most famous villa is the villa Ephrussi-Rothschild. Among the luminaries who had residences here were Charlie Chaplin, Somerset Maugham, David Niven and King Leopold II of Belgium. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was filmed here.) There is a little stall at the overlook for postcards etc. The road continues to hug the cliffs over the Mediterranean, always offering stupendous views.

Eze  Eze is a classic medieval 'village perché' of which there are many examples in this region. It sits on a rock 1,550 ft. above the sea, built in such a way for reasons of security. Where the exotic garden is now, was once a castle dating back to the C12. It was torn down in 1706. Eze was a favourite destination of Friedrich Nietzsche who wrote much of Thus Spake Zarathustra on his solitary walks around the coast here. Walt Disney came here for two days on a touring holiday, fell in love with the place and stayed two weeks. The Chateau Eza at the foot of the rock is one of the top hotels on the Riviera.

After a few more miles you reach Eze-village rising on a rock immediately to the right of the road. Park first at the village parking. There are loos here. Then begin the climb up. There is really only one road, narrow, steep and with some steps. Follow the signs to 'Jardin Exotique.' (When the road forks towards the top, it doesn't matter which way you take.) The road is incredibly quaint and full of nice shops and bars etc. There is an entrance fee to the gardens (you pay), in the grounds of the former chateau. The plants are succulents and cacti. The views are stupendous. The group can linger in the shops and bars on the way down.

NB. If you have an older group, they may find the climb a bit of a strain. Please warn them in advance. There are a couple of cafes, a post office and postcard stalls by the parking.

Furthermore, if you are under pressure for time, eg. to return to Nice for lunch or to reach Monaco in time for the changing of the guard, it is best to ignore completely Eze-village and go straight to the Fragonard parking below.

The alternative reason for visiting Eze is made clear by the huge number of coaches parked at the Fragonard Perfume Factory just down the street. (The other one is Gallimard, on the other side of the road.) The loos are opposite the parking. These are coastal outlets of the Grasse parfumeries strategically located to snare all tourists on their way to Monaco. Pax are dignified with a coloured sticker on their clothes to identify them as yours. Then they are treated to a quick explanation about the history and manufacture of perfume in this region, followed by a long excursus into different methods of buying and why it's such good value. You then sit in the sickly, over-scented halls and watch the money roll in to your pocket. Don't forget the driver.

The road continues its spectacular, winding coastal route for about 7 or 8 miles until you first see the Principality of Monaco beneath you to the right. The driver will deal with all the outrageously expensive and absurdly complicated parking arrangements. Your only job, once the bus is parked in the underground parking below Monaco-ville, is to make sure the group knows what parking level they are parked on and to let the driver know what time you are planning to come back. You reach ground level by escalator and steps to emerge in front of the Musée Océanographique.

Monaco  This is a dazzling, if superficial, place and a potential highlight for most groups.

The Musée Océanographique is a splendid belle-époque building dating to the early C20. Until his recent death it was curated by the great French explorer Jacques Cousteau. The aqurium is excellent and there are superb views views from the terrace. (If you have the time it is well worth going in, though the entrance is expensive and they pay.) From here it is a short and pretty walk, either along the street past the C19 cathedral or through the gardens towards the Prince's palace, following signs to la vieille ville and the Place du Palais. (The cathedral, of no architectural interest whatsoever, is worth a glance inside to look at the tombs of the Grimaldi family, including Princess Grace, on the ambulatory floor. Her grave is always decorated with flowers.)

The Place du Palais is quite pretty. There are impressive views over two sides of the square looking out over the rock. As you face the palace, the view to the left overlooks the new industrial suburb of Fontvieille, 75 acres of land reclaimed from the sea over the last 25 years. There is a small marina here. The view to the right on the other side of the square looks down upon La Condamine, the residential and business district with the large port and marina. (Look out for the enormous yacht with Monaco's state flag: it belongs to Prince Albert.) Further over, you can see Monte Carlo and the impressive outline of the Casino. The cannons at these overlooks were given to the Prince of Monaco by Louis XIV. Behind you are the picturesque streets of the old town with shops, cafes and restaurants. The Palace itself, the residence of the royal family, dates back in part to the C13. Most of it is C15 and C16. In spite of this, it looks as though it were made yesterday out of lego. If you arrive before 11.00am, you should try to catch a glimpse, difficult through the crowds, of the decidedly underwhelming ceremony of the changing of the guard. If you have time, some people may want to join one of the tours of the palace (they pay).

If you are lingering and wish to see some of Monte Carlo, you can return to the bus and drive round to the second parking under the Casino. Take the elevator up which brings you out on to the expansive casino terrace. When you go round to the front, you will be confronted with the majestic, opulent ensemble of the 1878 Casino built by Charles Garnier, the architect of the Paris Opera House, the incredible luxury of the Hotel de Paris, endless smart cars and beautiful people and a general feeling of inadequacy and abject failure in your own life. You cannot enter any part of the casino underdressed or under 21. You will also need your passport.

Some facts, figures, curiosities and bits of incidental information:

The Principality of Monaco is under 500 acres in size (about 75 of those reclaimed from the sea in the last 25 years to create the industrial suburb of Fontvieille).

It has 2.5 miles of coastline.

There are 30,000 inhabitants of whom 5,000 are Monégasque, 12,000 French and 5,000 Italian. The rest are made up of a medley of 100 nationalities.

The total annual turnover of the Principality is about $6 billion these days.

The Casino is responsible for only about 5% of the national income.

It has been a member of the UN since 1993.

Monaco enjoys 300 sunny days a year.

1997 was the 700th anniversary of the ruling Grimaldi dynasty, the longest ruling dynasty in the world.

The ruling prince is Rainier III, born 1923, married to the late Grace Kelly on April 19, 1956. The oldest son is Prince Albert, the daughters are Caroline and Stéphanie.

Prince Albert, heir to the Principality, is unmarried and is also captain of the Monaco bobsleigh team.

Native Monégasques pay no taxes and do not have to do military service.

Monaco has its own coins but the usual currency is the French franc. They are interchangeable here.

Monaco has its own stamps which you can only use here (though French stamps are also valid in the Principality).

French is also the usual language though Italian is also standardly spoken here. The native language Monégu is taught in all the schools.

The education system is identical to that of France, plus studies in Monégasque history, language and culture.

The Monte Carlo Grand Prix, held annually in May since 1929, is the toughest and the best of them all. The Monte Carlo Rally is held annually in January.


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