I want to believe that for many people, there comes a point in their life that they’re faced with the question: Why not go to Monaco? At least for those people who find themselves in the southeast corner of France. Because really, why not?
Monaco is a novelty to me, between its ritzy allure and its super small country status. It’s the second smallest country, smallest country with a coast line, and most densely populated country of the world. Nearly a third of its population are millionaires; it has the highest millionaires and billionaires per capita. It’s home to Monte Carlo and the Monaco Grand Prix. It’s ruled in part by a monarch; this is where Grace Kelly became Princess Grace. For all intents and purposes, you could just call it France—it’s a short and inexpensive bus ride away from Nice, but absolutely do not call it France. Monaco is its own thing.
And yet, I was underwhelmed. Rarely do I say that by a place. Maybe there’s something more to it than I saw or experienced. There’s no question it is the most dense country on the planet—the development was intense. Nice (France’s fifth most populous city) seemed so much smaller, at least in comparison. The glamorous side of Monaco (which is probably all sides of Monaco) felt without depth, as if the whole country were trying too hard. Almost as if it were a country built for tourists and tax evaders. I’m not a gambler, I’m not into car races, and I’m not really into luxury travel. So maybe it’s just not for me. And I can say that because I know the whole country: I basically walked from one end to the other.
On the bus ride back into Nice I made the executive decision to get off early and explore a bit of Nice’s neighbor, Villefranche-sur-Mer. What a counter-point to Monaco. Monaco was all big development, concrete and glass; Villefranche-sur-Mer was full of more traditional stucco buildings. Monaco bustled with people on the streets; we barely saw a soul in Villefranche. We took our time in Villefranche, we lingered, we wandered aimlessly. And when we finally walked back into Nice, we alongside the sea, above it on a cliff, and I felt so happy. It’s good to be in France.
I did manage to grab a bite to eat while in Monaco. I sought out a few specialties, namely Barbagiuan, but I wasn’t able to find anything. So I settled for a salade niçoise. Yes. I left Nice (the Niçoise in niçoise), I left France, and had the famous salad in a whole other country. I don’t think there is a definitive rule on what goes it a salade niçoise (or where you eat it), but the essence of it is that classic Mediterranean combination of seafood, olive oil, and fresh vegetables. Most versions of it that I’ve seen include potatoes, green beans, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, olives, anchovies and oil-packed tuna. Mine was missing potato and green beans, but perhaps that was because mine was in Monaco!