When I think of the Alps, I tend to think of the snow-capped mountains of Austria and Switzerland. I certainly don’t think of palm trees.
But on our month-long European road trip, we drove through the Mediterranean Alps of France on our way to Monaco. This portion of the 746-mile (1200 km) mountain range is a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site for its geological features and its location, which is part terrestrial and part maritime.
Almost immediately after crossing the border into Monaco, we were hit with opulence. Lamborghinis, Rolls Royces, Maseratis, Bentleys, and Aston Martins were everywhere. In fact, Porsches and BMWs seemed to be the knockaround cars as we drove closer and closer to the center of Monte Carlo.
We weren’t dressed for the Monte Carlo Casino, so we secured a sidewalk table for lunch at the Café de Paris and set our eyes on the passersby.
The Café de Paris has been Monte Carlo’s best people-watching spot since it opened in 1868. It’s next door to the casino and across the street from the famed Hotel de Paris, and the cul-de-sac is filled with an endless parade of luxury automobiles and their colorful drivers. Our favorite was a powder blue Bentley convertible driven by an elderly man wearing a matching baby blue sport coat and cap.
We enjoyed a lunch of grilled sea bass with fennel for Mike, lamb chops for Ben, and farfalle with fresh seafood in a light cream sauce for me accompanied by a crisp blanc de blanc from Provence, followed by cappuccino for Mike and the famous Café de Paris ice cream for Ben. (Thank goodness the meal was delicious, because it cost us $215 USD.)
As we savored our food and watched the fascinating people come and go, a summer thundershower rolled in. While we couldn’t afford to gamble at the Monte Carlo Casino, we did place a bet of sorts: we decided to stay comfortably dry at the cafe, wait out the rain, and hope that we wouldn’t get a parking ticket for our expired meter.
Grateful that we were under an awning, we watched perfectly made-up women begin to melt as they scurried down the sidewalk toward shops and hotels.
After the shower had passed and the sun came out again, we walked back by the casino, where a uniformed guard watched over the tourists ogling the sports cars parked out front.
We left the opulence of the casino and wound back through the streets to our tiny Volkswagen rental car, hoping we’d won our bet. As we rounded the corner, Mike broke into a run.
Did our gamble pay off?
It did! No parking ticket. And we might have won more than many of the high rollers at the casino, truth be told.
After breakfast in France and lunch in Monaco, we were on our way to dinner in Italy before heading to Switzerland. Join us!