Monaco is known for being the land of billionaires cruising yachts and white sandy beaches filled with models and starlets, and no place to go on a budget. However, when it’s high on your bucket list, you find a way. I knew I would probably only ever be able to afford one trip to Monte Carlo, so I knew I had to make this one count. I chose the month of May because I’m a lover of fast cars, award winning films and a good poker face. And I don’t say “month” lightly as I needed to stay at least three weeks in order to see everything I wanted to see.
May is the most exciting and beautiful month along the French Riviera, not only with events and weather but also people watching. Within a few short weeks, the area hosts the European Poker Tour Grand Finale, the Cannes International Film Festival and the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. The possible dollar signs made my head spin, but for this once in a lifetime trip, I was ready to sleep in the park and maintain a vendor food diet.
Flying to Nice Is Nice
Right away, I received my first surprise when booking airfare. I assumed from Heathrow to Nice, I would either pay some inflated cost to travel coach with the rich and famous or make six roundabout stops. When I was offered three options for a direct flight under £210, I knew this trip was meant to be. Mind you, I booked this ticket in March with fear that flights would already be sold out. Luckily, they actually add more flights during this busy season so there were many choices.
I was ready to plan my adventure. In 2016, the European Poker Tour was held at the Monte Carlo Casino April 28-May 6; Cannes was May 11-22, and the Monte Carlo Grand Prix was May 29. Three full weeks to feel like a millionaire on a shoestring budget. I flew in May 5th in order to catch the final day of the Poker Tour finale.
Making Base Camp Accommodations
First of all, there are absolutely no hostels in Monaco. I imagine some residents are so blue blood they may never have heard of them. If you are looking for long term accommodations without breaking the bank, look no further than your second destination, Nice. There are many affordable hostels in Nice, with my favorite being Hostel Myerbeer Beach. I say favorite having only actually stayed at two. I would have stayed at the one the entire time but their website only allows you to book a two week stay. So I packed up for the weekend and returned on Monday, wherein the owner laughed at me and said I should’ve just called if I wanted to stay longer. It was a lovely place.
Learning to Get Around
As my Monaco plans were to take place at the beginning and end of my journey, setting up base in Nice was perfect. There were many different route to get from Nice to Monaco from a bus ride costing £2 to a taxi costing upwards of £60. The train was my second favorite ringing in at around £10. My very favorite was meeting some other wonderful and friendly travelers and accepting a ride from them. This was not an uncommon occurrence and to be taken advantage of whenever available. Not only is it free, but you get to meet interesting people and, every once in a while, get invited out onto a yacht or to an amazing party. Yes, it can happen to anyone – it happened to me several times.
European Poker Tour Grand Finale
Having just arrived in Nice the previous day, I scrambled to arrive on time to witness some of the matches of the final day of this prestigious event. Little did I know at the time that this may very well be the last grand finale ever played at the Casino Monte Carlo as Season 13 of the European Poker Tour is scheduled to be the last.
Normally the casino opens at 2PM, but the event was scheduled to begin at 1PM, not that it mattered to me as I had been up very late celebrating my arrival to the lovely French Riviera. Luckily, coverage could be found online and I watched the initial matches on the train.. There were six players remaining and three were French, making the company on the train to Monaco a bit more lively.
It was 10 euro admission to the architecturally sublime casino and while I never got as close to the game as I would’ve liked, it was magical. If you have a love for pokers, as I do, the energy exchanged and the hands played were enough to keep anyone on the edge of their seat for the 9 hours of play. I will not bore you with the play by play, but watching Jan Bedik become the first Slovakian ever to win the EPT championship was a moment I’ll never forget. Needless to say, I never made it back to my hostel that night – it was a magical night in Monaco.
Cannes International Film Festival
My week between the EPT and Cannes was spent adventuring. From people watching in St. Tropez to cycling the roads above Monaco to kayaking the turquoise waters, if you look hard enough, it’s really not that expensive. Then my week with the stars…
I spent days standing and waiting and was not disappointed by sightings of Charlize Theron and Sean Penn, and my absolute favorite Helen Mirren. While I would loved to have seen The Last Face by Sean Penn or Elle by Paul Verhoeven, I was still ever so grateful to have somehow obtained a seat at the late screening of I, Daniel Blake by Ken Loach who later won the Best Film award.
Most pubs were standing room only and whether I could afford a restaurant or not, I wasn’t getting in. It was a week of street vendor food and market snacks, but I didn’t care. It was lovely.
Monte Carlo Grand Prix
My last week before the big race was spent hiking and walking the trails that surround Monaco as they prepared for the major race. The Alps literally drop into the sea in Monaco so they have many beautiful mapped and unmapped trails surrounding the tiny city. The views were breathtaking and the excitement built around the upcoming event was palpable.
The day of the race, the number of trains travelling from Nice seemed magically to have doubled, making it simple and quick to make the jaunt. While I could never afford the 300-400 plus euros to gain a seat in the grandstands, I did intend to purchase a 70 euro ticket for the hillside above the track. While the view was less than epic, you could still feel the energy of those beastly cars rounding the curves. After the race, they allow spectators to walk the track before opening it back up to traffic and I highly recommend it.
Following the race, and probably during it as well, Monaco is just one big party full of classy people dressed in white, including myself – of course. While again, I did not make it back to my hostel that night as the marvellous invitations were endless, I barely managed to make it back the next day to pack up and make my flight home. I must say, I was more than content and I would recommend this adventure to anyone. Cheers!