“Always leave the best for last” goes the old adage. I left the places I wanted to visit most in the Riviera for our last full day in the region, the principality of Monaco and the Trophee de Augustus at La Turbie. And it almost came back to bite me in the rear. The weather finally caught up with us, there was no sun to be seen and it was dull, cold and windy, but the saving grace was that there was no rain. So our sightseeing was not hampered, we had to just grit our teeth and bear the cold wind and adjust the slr settings for a dull day.
We had breakfast, started early and caught the bus to Monaco from Villefranche sur Mer. The bus from Nice to Monaco is in effect two buses joined together by a vestibule and manoeuvring this bus on the narrow base corniche is a tricky job. And sure enough we had to wait in traffic jams for 15-20 minutes when two buses came face to face at a narrow part of the road. But because it was not India you didn’t have drivers trying to overtake the bus from the opposite lane and block the whole stretch for hours. The traffic police cleared it in a orderly manner and we were on our way again. When we finally reached Monaco we got off at the Place D’Armes stop for Monaco Ville where most of the attractions of Monaco are located.
Monaco Ville, the oldest part of the principality is located on a Hill & accessible either on foot or by a ridiculously expensive tourist train. Obviously being budget tourists we soldiered up the stairs, taking photos along the way to catch our breath. We reached the top and found our way to our first target, the famous Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium of Monaco. As is our habit reaching early meant we were one of the first people to enter the Aquarium. The aquarium is a splendid example of a well maintained aquarium with a huge variety of fish and other aquatic life from the mediterranean and the world. Sharks, piranhas, moray eels, sea horses, luminous jellyfish and so many multicoloured fish that you never want to leave the place. Plus there is no barrier between you and the tanks and you can actually put your camera lens to the glass and makes for great photos. After we had our fill of the fishes we went to the museum upstairs which shows the history of oceanography, interactive shark exhibits & has skeletons of the larger fishes mounted on the ceiling with a periodic sound and light show which looks spectacular. We went to the roof top of this Cliff hugging building and saw the Mediterranean stretch out in front of us. The lack of sun and wind meant that we were soon ducking for cover.
The other main tourist attraction at Monaco Ville is the Royal Palace. We were scheduled to go to the king of all palaces at Versailles later in our itinerary we decided to skip this one. After a quick visit to the beautiful cathedral that houses the grave of Princess Grace ( No, I didn’t take a photo!) and other deceased Monagesque royalty we ate a take away Calzone and Sandwich from one of the numerous shops in old town & descended from Monaco ville.
We walked through the famous harbour and I had images of Schumacher racing along the harbour and entering the tunnel in my head. The famous casino at Monte Carlo was fully boarded up for large scale renovations and I’m not a gambling man anyway, so we skipped it altogether. We reached the bus stop for La Turbie with some difficulty as the signage near the Casino was very poor.
The road to La Turbie is called the Grand Corniche. Monaco and Nice are connected by three roads at different heights, the Base corniche at sea level, the Moyenne (middle) corniche running just below Eze le village and the Grand Corniche capping the cliffs built by Napoleon for the transport of his army and giving a magnificent view of the coast. As we travelled I wondered how Napoleon must have built this road without any modern equipment all those years ago.
As we approached La Turbie , The Trophee de Augustus, a monument built by Augustus Caesar to commemorate his victory over the last resistant tribes in the region & providing a safe passage for the Roman forces from Rome to Gaul, dwarfs the hill top village. The monument is not on the usual tourist trail and we were the only ones there.
Up close the monument is not comprising of any fine carvings but is a huge imposing structure. We climbed up the structure for birds eye views of Monaco and beyond till the Italian Coast. There is a small museum below the monument which shows the history of the monument and a video reconstruction of how it originally looked, available in English, very concise and informative. I was glad I chose La Turbie over another palace!!
We had to rush back for our bus back as there are only 6 buses per day for this location to Villefranche. After we reached our hotel we freshened up and left for a sunset stroll along the Villefranche citadel base which has a great pedestrian path. Dinner was multiple tapas and a glass of wine for me at a cosy seaside cafe at the Old town to celebrate the successful completion of the first leg of our France sojourn.
Next day was a train journey to Annecy, a picturesque lake town and a gateway to the French Alps, but that is a topic for another post and another day.
Hope you enjoyed our whirlwind journey through the French Riviera. We certainly did!!
Till next time. Au Revoir!!