On shore excursions from Monaco, you can choose to visit the hilltop villages of Saint Paul de Vence or Eze, tour Vieux (Old) Nice and its famed flower market, visit Villa Rothschild and its gardens in Cap Ferrat, or spend time absorbing the sights and sounds of Monte Carlo. And that’s just for starters.
In fact, if the timing works when your ship is in port, you could do two shore excursions in one day. For example, you could combine a tour to Eze with a visit to Villa Rothschild, thanks to the proximity of these two attractions. Sant Paul de Vence could be combined with a tour of Nice’s Old Town. You could do nearly any of the shore tours and add on a tour of Monte Carlo.
When it comes to which shore excursion to choose, or which to combine, that’s a difficult choice, but we do have a few favorites.
If you’re into gardens and flowers, you would not want to miss the flower market in Nice or the gardens at Villa Rothschild. If you enjoy the serendipity that comes with wandering around the maze of streets in Medieval villages, then you’d be happy in Eze or Saint Paul de Vence.
High rollers will enjoy the casino in Monte Carlo, while “The Rock,” that big hunk of perched earth you can see when your ship is docked or anchored in Monaco, features a variety of experiences, from the touring the Prince’s Palace and watching the changing of the guards, to strolling the Grace Kelly Gardens and stepping inside the cathedral where she was laid to rest. You could also visit the Oceanographic Museum, where Jacques Costeau was director between 1957 and 1988.
Need help deciding? Read on.
Visiting Vieux (Old) Nice & Its Flower Market
You could spend an entire day wandering about Vieux Nice, but you’ll want to start in the morning at Cours Saleya to visit the flower market. The profusion of flowers at Cours Saleya is a treat not only for the eyes but also for the nose. Take your time, talk with the vendors, stop and smell the roses — and the lavender, but plan accordingly: The flower market is open only until 1 p.m. and not at all on Mondays.
We spent two hours in the market during our visit this past Saturday. Afterward, we sat down for lunch and later strolled the narrow pedestrian-mainly streets of the Old Town. “Pedestrian-mainly” and not “pedestrian-only,” because sometimes a car and even the occasional truck will try to make its way through the narrow streets. Walk with caution.
We also walked the nearby Promenade des Anglais, the famous palm-lined boulevard that passes the legendary Negresco Hotel with is Rococo façade. Be sure to take time to climb (via steps) Castle Hill for panoramic views of the sea and city. Yes, you could spend a whole day touring Vieux Nice, but a few hours will likely satiate you. It did for us.
Tip: Visits to Nice also can be combined with other shore excursions, such as to Saint Paul de Vence, and with airport transfers for those who have late morning or afternoon flights as well as for those arriving at the Nice airport in the morning en route to their ships.
Hilltop Villages: Stunning Saint Paul de Vence, Enchanting Eze
We left Nice by way of the Promenade des Anglais on the way to our next destination: Saint Paul de Vence.
Saint Paul de Vence looks as though it came out of a fairy tale. Disney could not have provided a better setting for this medieval village perched on a hill.
On our approach, we stopped to snap several photos, and after reaching the village, proceeded through the ancient portal to wander the narrow streets. Contained within tall ramparts, Saint Paul de Vence radiates charm. Around every small bend were boutiques, art galleries, historic houses and cafés. No doubt that as you pass the hotels here, the thought will pass your mind that Saint Paul de Vence would not be such a bad place to return to and spend a couple of days. If you did return, you’d be following in good company. Writers and artists discovered Saint Paul de Vence in the 1920s, and many settled here.
While you’re wandering, be sure to step out to the edge for the panoramic views. The sea and the French Riviera are laid out below, and on some days, it’s even possible to see snow-capped mountains of the distant Alps.
The south of France has no shortage of beautiful medieval villages. Some would argue that Eze is even more beautiful than Saint Paul de Vence. Of course, that is completely subjective, and you would need to decide for yourself.
For me, choosing the most beautiful of the two would require the toss of a coin. Eze is certainly the more challenging of the two for the mobility impaired, as there appear to be many more steps in Eze than in Saint Paul de Vence. But don’t let the steps put you off. Eze is an exercise in serendipity and worth the exertion. Unless you’ve been to Eze many times, you never quite know what to expect around the next turn.
Tip: Make sure your camera batteries are fully charged. Even the most judicious photographers return from Eze with a few hundred photos. For some of the best photo opportunities, be sure to visit the so-called Exotic Gardens at the top of Eze for sweeping views of Villefranche, Cap Ferrat and Monaco.
Visiting Villa Rothschild
From Eze’s Exotic Garden, you can just make out the location of Villa Rothschild on Cap Ferrat, a promontory that ranks as one of the most exclusive pieces of land on the Côte d’Azur. Elton John has a home nearby. So does Tina Turner.
Long before the celebrities settled here, however, the daughter of the banker and major art collector Baron Alphonse de Rothschild fell in love with a plot of land that she discovered on Cap Ferrat. The parcel was no more than an arid rock crossed by a mule track, but Béatrice de Rothschild saw the land’s potential. In 1907, having inherited a fortune from her recently deceased father, she began construction on Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.
The villa, and the views over the bays of Villefranche and Beaulieu sur Mer, are simply stunning. Nine spectacular gardens complement the views. The gardens are beautiful and lively with singing fountains (musical waterworks every 20 minutes), hidden grottos and profusions of flora.
Tip: Combine a visit to Villa Rothschild with a visit to Eze.
‘The Rock’ & Monte Carlo
You could choose to stay in Monaco to visit “The Rock.” Perched on top of ‘The Rock’ is Monaco’s Old Town, where you can tour the Prince’s Palace and visit the Oceanographic Museum. You can also pay your respects at the cathedral containing the tombs of Princess Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III. You may recall that in 1982, the Princess died following an auto accident.
Descend The Rock, traveling along part of the Grand Prix circuit on the Grand Corniche, to the city of Monte Carlo and Casino Square. You have a couple of choices here: Sit down for a glass of champagne at the famed Café de Paris or stroll past the Porsches and Lamborghinis into the Grand Casino.
Tip: Combine a tour of Monte Carlo with nearly any of the shore excursions from Monaco.