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Monaco and the South of France

April 11th, 2023

The cloudy day with a few sprinkles continued as we approached the border with France and then it began to clear as we left the tunnel inside of which the border actually was – we are back in France!  Shortly after entering, we reached the border of Monaco.

Monaco, officially the Principality of Monaco is a sovereign city-state and microstate on the French Riviera, a few kilometres west of Italy in Western Europe, on the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by France to the north, east and west. The principality has a population of about 40,000 of which only a quarter are Monegasque nationals.  It is widely recognized as one of the most expensive and wealthiest places in the world.  The official language is French although, many residents speak Monegasque, English and Italian.

With an area of 2.1 km2 (0.81 sq mi), it is the second-smallest sovereign state in the world, after Vatican City. It is the most densely-populated sovereign state in the world. Monaco has a land border of 5.47 km / 3.40 mi and the world’s shortest coastline of approximately 3.83 km / 2.38 mi and its width that varies between 1,700 and 349 m / 5,577 and 1,145’. Through land reclamation, Monaco’s land mass has been expanded by twenty percent. 

The principality is governed under a form of constitutional monarchy with Prince Albert II as the head of state, who wields immense political power despite his constitutional status.  Monaco has a prime minister who is the head of the government and a governor who consults with the Government of France his/her before appointment. 

The House of Grimaldi has ruled Monaco, with brief interruptions, since 1297.  The state’s sovereignty was officially recognized by treaty in 1861 and Monaco became a full voting member of the UN in 1993.  Despite Monaco’s independence and separate foreign policy, its defense is the responsibility of France, besides maintenance of two small military units.

Economic development was spurred in the late 19th century with the opening of the state’s first casino, the Monte Carlo Casino. Since then, Monaco’s mild climate, scenery, and gambling facilities have contributed to the principality’s status as a tourist destination and recreation centre for the rich. In more recent years, Monaco has become a major banking centre and became famous as a tax haven; the principality has no personal income and low business taxes. Over 30% of the residents are millionaire with real estate prices reaching €100,000 ($116,374) per square metre in 2018.

Monaco is not formally a part of the EU but it participates in certain EU policies including customs and border controls. It is also the host of the annual street circuit motor race, the Monaco Grand Prix, one of the original Grands Prix of Formula One.

Red and white are the traditional colors of the House of Grimaldi, which established the Principality in 1339. These colors are claimed to represent positive human values, as red is believed to represent the flesh of the human body, while white represents purity in spiritual life.

 Diesel price:   we didn’t buy fuel so we didn’t notice the price to be honest

Currency: The Euro

License plate (no EU):   MC

Beer: La biere de Monaco

We knew Monaco was not “motorhome friendly” but our park4 night app gave us a few parking options.  The first two were on the east side of the principality and the other one was on the west side.  Well it turns out we have arrived here in the middle of the Rolex Tennis Open and parking for cars was at a premium, let alone something the size of Minou.  The first two places were chock-a-block full and we’d read the third could fill up quick and it was an expensive indoor bus parking area which we were not too keen on for the solar panels.

So Fran began looking at options enroute to Nice – and found what we hoped would be a good one in nearby Villefranche-sur-mer.  From there we hoped we could catch a bus/train back into Monte Carlo. While leaving the city, we saw this Ferrari get a ticket:

We arrived about 1pm  in Villefrance-sur-mer and it looked full but we saw a lady walking towards a spot and Fran ran over and asked – in French – if she was leaving.  She was, so we got her spot!  Doug backed Minou in and went over to see how much it would be at the parking lot metre.  There are no services except garbage bins but it has a great view over the Mediterranean Sea. Turns out you have to pay from 9-12 and then 2-7 so we first had brunch and decided we’d take the bus into Monte Carlo for the afternoon.   The sun was out and it was warming up nicely into the high teens C/  high 60sF.

We arrived in Monte Carlo in about twenty minutes on the local bus with our first stop being the casino square.  Here there is a “sky mirror” which has opposite reflections on either side:

Then of course, we had to take a photo of us in front of the famous casino:

and we saw this parked out front:

Anyone can enter the Monte-Carlo Casino building without showing ID to have a look in the atrium, which is admittedly grand in itself.  To get in, you must be 18 or older, properly attired (the more glamorous, the better) and you must pay an entry fee of €10. After that, it’s up to you as to how much money you want to lose, ahem spend, at roulette, blackjack, poker, etc.  (There are NO penny slots!!)

We didn’t go inside but walked around taking in the fancy hotels and views of the harbour.

The Monte Carlo Formula One Grand Prix is next month and they are setting up the stands everywhere.

We took a stroll up, up, up the hill to the area around the Prince’s Palace for more views walking past the Oceanography Centre:

We went through a small park with the statue of Princess Grace:

The Cathedral:

The Palace of Justice:

The palace:

Then we decided, as per our norm, we needed to have a beer from Monaco and sat in a small café outside the palace and did just that:

We wandered back down to the lower part of town out of the old castle walls and caught the bus back to Minou. A few hours here is enough and we enjoyed the warmth and the sunshine.

We got back to Minou around 6:30 taking the bus back.  We paid for parking until 9:18 tomorrow morning and had a pretty quiet night.

Today was an epic tunnel count day:  168!!!  Now not only was this a new record it was a record number in a shorter distance than the past record of 65.

Fun facts about Monaco:

1.     One in three people who live in Monaco are millionaires.  There are 12,261 millionaires per square mile in Monaco. \

2.   Monaco also has a poverty rate of zero. Most people who work in Monaco don’t actually live there. More than 30,000 French and 5,800 Italian nationals commute to Monaco to work every day

3.     Monaco has more police per capita than anywhere else in the world. Possibly one of the safest places in the world, Monaco has one police person per 73 residents. The police force includes a specialist unit that operates patrol and surveillance boats, as well as a militarized bodyguard unit for the palace. Safety standards are strict, with nationwide video surveillance, three police stations and facial recognition. Police are selected from the French police force and undergo an additional two year intensive training to serve in Monaco. Prosecution also usually carries maximum penalties.

4.     Monaco is smaller than Central Park. At 0.81 square miles, Monaco is the second smallest nation in the world, after the Vatican City.

5.     It’s also one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The country’s 38,000 residents are squeezed into a space that’s around the same size as Hyde Park in London. Over 3,500 of its residents live in Monte Carlo.

6.     Government rules ban residents from gambling. There are passport checks at the casino entrances and only foreigners can enter. Monaco hasn’t always been a refuge for the super wealthy. In the early 19th century, the population was made up of around 1000 farmers. The rulers of Monaco imposed huge taxes and, faced with either a possible uprising or bankruptcy, needed a quick solution. Charles III and his mother Princess Caroline convinced the casino magnate Francois Blanc’s to move his famous Bad Homburg Casino to Monaco. To ensure every single Monaegasque Franc stayed within the state, the state banned residents from gambling.

7.     Real estate is wildly expensive. Monaco is the most expensive luxury residential market in the world. The average price in the city state is double New York. $1 million will buy you around 90 square feet. What’s more, if you’re looking to rent an apartment, you’ll need to prove that you have at least 500,000 euros in a Monaco bank account.

Note:  we are beginning to see more and more other motorhomes on the road.


As we are only touring a small section of France on our way to Switzerland, we will do our usual country blurb when we spend more time in France.

So Wednesday, it looked cloudy but the forecast did not call for rain and last night we had decided to stay another day and spend today taking the train to Cannes and Nice since parking near those other Riviera cities would also be also difficult to park and we had a good thing here.

While the bus yesterday cost us €2.50 each, Cannes is much further away and the bus 607 only runs between Monte Carlo and Nice.  However, being Europe, there’s a train.  We walked the one click to the train station and for €8.95 each we bought tickets all the way to Cannes.

The trip took about 50 minutes but sadly a lot of the drive was in tunnels until near the end when we could see the sea.

The sun was out in Cannes and it was getting quite warm.  The Cannes Series Festival (not the famous film festival) starts in two days so things were getting busy and there was a great deal of construction going on.

It’s a lovely city, clean, taken care of and caters to tourists for sure.  There are a great deal of high end hotels and lots of restaurants.

We wandered by the main theatre where the film festival is held (a small festival is coming up in a couple of days but the main Cannes Film Festival is next month):

By the town hall – a lovely building:

Then towards the cute artist neighbourhood of Suquet with its old Notre Dame church:

Lastly we walked on the waterfront near the theatre:

Surrounding a construction site was a fence around a construction area where there were many posters of famous people – mostly from the past:

Around noon we returned to the station and caught the train to Nice. This city is older feeling and not as clean as Cannes but has a lot of nice interesting looking buildings to check out and a wonderful long waterfront called Promenade de Anglais with a really, really nice beach.

To begin with the train station itself is a lovely building:

We stopped for some chicken at a KFC as Doug has had a hankering for a while; it was different than in North America; only chicken tenders but lots of sauce choices so he was a bit disappointed.

We walked toward the waterfront and saw the Notre Dame Cathedral:

Then we strolled along the long and beautiful boardwalk along the Mediterranean Sea – what a lovely beach (although it’s pebbles not sand) that stretches a long way past a public beach where they were adding and spreading sand:

to past high end hotels with private beach sections:

We strolled along the boardwalk:

Around 2pm we decided we have a drink on the beach so we stopped at the Opera Plage Bar at the north end of the beach where it’s again public, and had some nonalcoholic drinks taking in the lovely turquoise waters with gentle waves.  It was even warmer sitting by the water as the breeze up on the boardwalk was nonexistent down there.  There were people in swimsuits sunbathing but no one was in the water.

We then took a short walk into the old section:

At 3 we’d had enough, and had decided we’d drive to Saint Tropez tomorrow.  Doug wanted to walk back to the parking lot as we were only 4 km / 2.8 mi from Minou. Fran was concerned that after 16K steps already there would be too much up and down for her knees so she took the bus back.  After some confusion about the location of the bus stop, 10 minutes later she got back on the 607 bus which took about 7 minutes and she got back to Minou about 6 minutes before Doug.

That night before bed, it began to rain and it lasted a few hours but by morning it was clear skies again.

No tunnels today (as we aren’t counting the ones on the trains!).

Thursday morning after our morning routine, we began the drive to Saint Tropez – a party  town for the rich and famous and it’s supposed to have quite a pretty harbour.  Well it seems we left too early (but we wanted to get out of our parking spot before 9 to avoid paying again) and we hit rush hour traffic going past Nice.  At times it was just a crawl.  Once we hit the toll road it didn’t improve and having to pay €8 for that privilege just seemed wrong!

Once we passed the Nice airport, it improved.  Then we left the highway for the minor highway to Saint Tropez.  That came to a standstill entering the small town of Saint Maxime and it was stop and go for a couple of kilometres.  The wind has really picked up today and it did reach nearly 50 kmph / 30 mph!

Now we knew Saint Tropez was not motorhome friendly, but our app helped us finding a few parking options within 2km of the marina.  At the fourth spot, the furthest of course, we got lucky.  It’s just roadside parking but it’s free.  Doug made breakfast even though it was only ten and we set out to walk into town.  The roads are narrow and much of the walk is without sidewalk or shoulder but there was not a lot of traffic.  We checked out the main square – not impressive and it’s dirt!  Then we walked down a narrow street/alley with shops towards the port.

The port was small (this used to be a fishing village until the mid 60’s) and it had several yachts and sailboats it it but the water was very choppy and it was struggle to walk at times.

There were no restaurants with outside seating with a view (probably partly to do with the wind but still, most just faced the boats) so we didn’t stop anywhere to have a drink unfortunately.  We took a walk on the “sea wall” on the edge of the port and got a few shots of the town from that angle.  Saint Tropez was not impressive to us; small buildings, not all that pretty but it was clean.  It’s supposed to have a hopping night life so maybe more shops restaurants open later in the day…? We weren’t the only tourists and we did see a couple of dozen motorhomes while on our walk into town.  The wind was something else though.  Although there are several beaches around the penisula upon which Saint Tropez is located, there is only one “local” beach.

We saw a good number of yachts though not as many big ones as other places:  we posted on FB that we were considering these three but couldn’t agree on which one, so we passed:

Our final spot to check was the closet beach as there isn’t one right in the town.  That was a struggle walking right into the wind and the beach just sandblasted us!

We walked the 1.5 km / 1 mi ish back to Minou and decided it wasn’t worth staying overnight parked on the side of this busy road so we left.   Fran had found one of the many French free “aires” about 80 km / 50 mi away and as it was till early afternoon, we made our way there.  Doug found the driving trying with the wind and at times the windy narrow roads, but we made it.  This place is in the small village of La Roquebrussanne and it offers enough room for about four rigs (if they park right) and there’s a black dump and fresh water available.  Apparently, there used to be power but someone broke it a couple of years ago, and it’s never been fixed.  We settled in, safe from the wind.

We heard from our friend, Bea, today and they are leaving for vacation tomorrow so we won’t be stopping to see her enroute to Switzerland; too bad!

Today we only passed through only one tunnel.

The wind continued overnight and temperatures dropped into the single digits but the sun came out once again.  We emptied our black and filled our fresh water before leaving for the drive to the city of Nimes northwest of here.

About a half hour into the drive, we saw a large hardware store chain we recognized from our early days in France, and stopped for a couple of things we needed although no urgently.  We managed to find everything; that hasn’t happened in a long time, then a quick brekkie at McDonald’s.  The terrain has become less mountainous, much flatter and there are a lot of fields of vines and fruit trees as well as other fields. The trees are almost all in full bloom and the area is definitely in springtime.

We were in Nimes by 1 (saying goodbye to the Mediterranean near Foss Sur Mer) and got parked in a shopping mall that has no “no overnight parking” signs that we’d found on our app and took a walk into the city.

Our first stop the City gate remains:

Then it was onto the amazing La Maison Carrée

The Maison Carrée (French for “square house”) is an ancient Roman temple in Nîmes, it is one of the best preserved Roman temples to survive in the territory of the former Roman Empire.

In about 4–7 AD, the Maison Carrée was dedicated or rededicated to Gaius and Lucius Caesar, grandsons and adopted heirs of Augustus who both died young. The inscription dedicating the temple to Gaius and Lucius was removed in medieval times. However, a local scholar, was able to reconstruct the inscription in 1758 from the order and number of the holes on the front frieze and architrave, to which the bronze letters had been affixed by projecting tines. According to his reconstruction, the text of the dedication read (in translation): “To Gaius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul; to Lucius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul designate; to the princes of youth.” 

The building has undergone extensive restoration over the centuries. Until the 19th century, it formed part of a larger complex of adjoining buildings. These were demolished when the Maison Carrée housed what is now the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nîmes (from 1821 to 1907), restoring it to the isolation it would have enjoyed in Roman times. In the early part of the 19th century a new ceiling was provided, designed in the Roman style. The present door was made in 1824.  It underwent a further restoration between 1988–1992, during which time it was re-roofed and the square around it was cleared, revealing the outlines of the forum. 

Before making our way to the Roman Arena – even more fantastic.

The Arena of Nîmes is a Roman amphitheatre, situated in the city of Nîmes. Built around 70 AD, shortly after the Colosseum of Rome, it is one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world. It is 133 meters long (145 yards) and 101 meters wide (110 yards), with an arena measuring 68 meters (74 yards) by 38 meters (32 yards). The outer façade is 21 m / 69’ with two stories of 60 arcades. It is among the 20 largest Roman amphitheatres of the 400 in existence. In Roman times, the building could hold 24,000 spectators, who were spread over 34 tiers of terraces divided into four self-contained zones. The arena served as a public event theatre built by the Romans as well as a gladiator fighting arena.

Today, the Arena of Nîmes is the site of two annual bullfights during the Feria de Nîmes, and it is also used for other public events like the reenactment of antiquity “The great Roman Games” and for concerts.

By now we were a bit peckish and saw a nice gelateria and it was so tasty and artistic.  They make a flower in the top of the cone out of the flavours you choose and we each got a large chocolate macaroon – so delicious.

While seated and eating our treat, we met a man from the Philippines with whom we chatted for a bit.  Michael is a nurse on vacation for a couple of weeks.  He’s been to France a few times and tours a different region for about two weeks each time.

There were a couple of interesting fountains in Nimes as well :

Our last stop was a piece of the old Roman wall.

On our way back to Minou, we stopped for a cold drink at McDonald’s and to use the Wi-Fi for a bit – it was not great so we didn’t stay long.

While getting a couple of things from the Lidl (grocery store) next door, we heard from Josh that the kids are on board with coming to the wedding next month (they live such isolated lives due to COVID and being home schooled they were quite apprehensive about going) so we are very happy they will join us!

Today was a tunnel-less day.

Surprisingly, we had a super quiet night in the parking lot of the shopping mall (we were parked at the back away from the road).  We wanted to get diesel today and we’d found a place at 1.75 (most places are up near 1.90) about 10 km / 6 mi in the direction we were going.  As luck would have it, it’s at a large supermarket with a set of 24hr laundry machines outside.  We filled up, Doug parked and Fran went over to do the washing while he did some repairs with the parts he’d purchased the day before.  We got new screens in two of the roof vents and he got the marker light working.  He managed to “repair” the hole in the tail light with red tape and we’ll have to see if that passes muster at Minou’s inspection in the fall.

We decided that although we had planned to grocery shop tomorrow, we were here at a “hypermarket” and went ahead and did our shopping.  We are heading to Switzerland next and things are supposed to be more expensive there so it was probably a wise decision.

Once we got the tools, food, and clean clothes put away, it was nearly noon and we carried on the 15 km / 8 miles to a village camping aire near Pont du Gard.  Here for €14 you get power and water, access to dumping and a gated camping area.  (Bonus:  we could pick up a free Wi-Fi signal from the construction material business up the street!) We parked, had brunch and walked over to see the Pont du Gard.  Fran had read they charge €9 to park and €6.50 each to enter but it was about a mile walk over so we needed the steps anyway.

Upon arriving, we were told it was free to see the aqueduct and you only had to pay if you wanted to visit the museum! – bonus.  The fellow suggested we walk over first and then pay if we decided we wanted information about the building etc.  Of course, all the info is available online and Doug read much of it while we walked over and while we viewed it.

It’s quite amazing that it’s still standing.

The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge built in the first century AD to carry water over 50 km (31 mi) to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes). It crosses the river Gardon near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard. The Pont du Gard is the tallest of all Roman aqueduct bridges, as well as one of the best preserved. It was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites in 1985 because of its exceptional preservation, historical importance, and architectural ingenuity.

The aqueduct formerly carried an estimated 40,000 m3 (8,800,000 imp gal) of water a day over 50 km / 31 mi to the fountains, baths and homes of the citizens of Nîmes. It may have been in use as late as the 6th century, with some parts used for significantly longer, but lack of maintenance after the 4th century led to clogging by mineral deposits and debris that eventually stopped the flow of water.

In 1703 the local authorities renovated the Pont du Gard to repair cracks, fill in ruts and replace the stones lost in the previous century. A new bridge was built in 1743–47 next to the arches of the lower level, so that the road traffic could cross on a purpose-built bridge.

Built on three levels, the Pont is 49 m / 161’ high above the river at low water and 274 m / 899’ long. Its width varies from 9 m / 30’ at the bottom to 3 m / 9.8’ at the top. The three levels of arches are recessed, with the main piers in line one above another. The span of the arches varies slightly, as each was constructed independently to provide flexibility to protect against subsidence. Each level has a differing number of arches:  The lower level has six, middle has eleven and the top has thirty-five.

We started taking pictures as we approached, more as we walked across and even more from two places on the other side.

We walked back to the Aire and had a quiet afternoon.   The days are definitely longer now with dark mornings and the sun setting at 8:30pm!  We are now about the same latitude as Joshua at around 44º north.

Another tunnel-less day.

Sunday was another beautiful but windy sunny day – we’ll take that wind over the wet stuff any day!  Doug went for his long run and after showering we decided to make it day without driving and stay here in the aire another night.  Fran could catch up on photos, uploading and blogging.  She likes to upload all our photos to Shutterfly as well as our external hard drives, but the former needs internet – preferably not phone data.

After brunch we did take a walk into the nearby town of Remoulins and on the way back realized we may have gone to see the wrong nearby village!  We’d read on a post on park4night that the village was cute but we didn’t’ think the one we toured was – oh well.  Not that it was ugly, but it didn’t have a lot of character; a rather small old town and it was pretty dead (granted it was Sunday).  Oh well, Fran got her steps and enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine – a break from sitting.

We were up on the early side Monday morning and after washing dishes and having tea, we drove up to the dump and fill spot before leaving.  Doug checked the propane level and one tank was on E so we will look to fill it today as it could be pricier in Switzerland.

It was going to be a longish drive and taking tolls roads looked like the better way to go time-wise so off we went.  After paying the first toll of €27 going only about 100 km, we thought, that’s too expensive and we have the time so we got off before the next toll section.  The speed limits on the toll roads are 110 in France and we rarely go over 90 so taking lesser highways is not that much slower (except in towns and having to deal with roundabouts).

It’s very still very windy today and the sun was out this morning but as we got closer to the border, it began to cloud over.  The high today is 15 C / 59 F but with the “wind chill” it’s a bit cooler.

Here’s  short video as we passed through the small village of St. Thibaud de Couz – there are so many cute villages with character in France!

We stopped to have some brekkie in St. Laurent du Pont at a camping aire and since Doug was still feeling okay to continue driving we pushed for the border.

We did stop once again for propane outside Annecy and then got the cheapest diesel we could find before the border on the other side of the same city.

As we will still be in the Schengen, there will be no border crossing per se, but we do need to stop to get a toll road vignette – mandatory.  For 40CHF (Swiss francs) sold by two people outside the old immigration buildings, we were on our way!

We travelled a total of 779 km / 484 mi in France including Monaco.

France we will be back in about a month to leave Minou for the summer.  À bientôt!