Q&A: To Monte Carlo (and not bust)

The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered


Q. We have been offered free use of a fully equipped house in Monte Carlo for two weeks in July. We'd love to use it but were wondering what affordable (if any) activities there are locally to amuse our five- and three-year-old daughters? Keeping busy is essential, so advice on day trips and eating out would be much appreciated.

Q. We have been offered free use of a fully equipped house in Monte Carlo for two weeks in July. We'd love to use it but were wondering what affordable (if any) activities there are locally to amuse our five- and three-year-old daughters? Keeping busy is essential, so advice on day trips and eating out would be much appreciated.

Alison and Kieran McHugh, High Wycombe

A. Lucky you! Monte Carlo is not exactly a bargain destination, as you are obviously well aware. However, if you don't have to pay for accommodation, then a large chunk of your budget has already been saved. (Cheap accommodation is virtually non-existent.)

You don't mention how you propose getting down there. Driving to Monaco would be one of the least expensive options; otherwise, you can fly with either easyJet (0870 6 000 000, www.easyJet.com) which has frequent flights to Nice from Luton - handy for you - or Go (0845 60 54321, www.go-fly-com) which is starting services from Stansted to Nice in May. Return flights with easyJet start at £92.90, while with Go you can fly for as little as £65 return.

From Nice airport you can catch a bus to Monaco, but you might want to hire a car for extra flexibility. There's a Hertz (0870 599 6699, www.hertz.com) pick-up point at the airport. Two weeks' car hire in July starts from £273.

Once in Monte Carlo, there are a few restaurants that won't break the bank in La Condamine, the port area. One the kids might like is Stars'n'Bars (6 Quai Antoine, 00 377 97 97 95 95). Although quite a popular hangout for Monaco's champagne and cocktail-swilling set, it is a remarkably relaxed place rather like a huge barn and serves enormous portions of burgers and nachos for about £6-8. It's not very French, however, as the staff are decked out in stars-and-stripes uniforms. Nearby, Le Texan (4 rue Suffren Reymond, 00 377 93 30 3454) is another themed restaurant ideal for kids, while Pizza e Pasta (17 avenue des Spelugues, 00377 9330 2628) and Pizza du Stade (11 avenue des Castelans, Fontveille, 00 377 9205 2255) serve inexpensive Italian meals. There are also dozens of small, relaxed restaurants in the Monaco Ville (the old town) which you can discover by strolling down from the Palace Square.

As for inexpensive, child-friendly activities, again, there are a few. Aquavision (00 377 92 16 15 15) is a 55-minute catamaran trip with two large windows in the hull which let you look straight down to the sea bed. Trips run from April to mid-October and the price is Fr70 (about £7) per adult and Fr50 for children aged three to 17.

Children usually love trains and the Azur Express (00 377 92 05 64 38) is a little tourist train that makes daily journeys from outside the Oceanographic Museum, and takes you around Monte Carlo, to the port, the Casino and its gardens, before returning to the Old Town and the Prince's Palace. The ride is 30 minutes, runs every day 10am-6pm during the summer and costs Fr37 per person (free for under-5s).

While you're there, another must is the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium itself (00 377 93 15 36 00). Considered one of the best aquariums in Europe, it has 90 seawater tanks holding a spellbinding display of fish and living coral. There's also an exhibition on the work of Jacques Cousteau, as well as other ocean explorers.

There are gardens and museums to visit in Monte Carlo, but not all are suitable for young children. The Japanese garden, for instance, doesn't allow games or picnicking. Which brings me to the favourite and cheapest activity of most three- and five-year-olds holidaying by the sea - building sandcastles. There are no public beaches in Monaco, but there is a long beach just before Villefranche with another lovely stretch of sand just before Nice; both a short drive from Monaco. For information call the Monaco Government Tourist and Convention Office in London (020-7352 9962; www.monaco-congres.com).

Q. My 11-year-old daughter is a keen cook and would love to learn more. Do you know of any, preferably vegetarian, cookery courses taking place over the summer holidays? We live in Leicestershire, so could easily get to Leicester, Nottingham, Derby or Birmingham on a daily basis, but would be prepared to think about a week in London if that's all there is. She wouldn't mind cookery lessons paired with other activities too.

Lucie Thacker, Ashby-de-la-Zouch

A. There are a couple of cookery schools which run courses for children, although these do not include the traditional summer activity camps and do tend to be for just one day. The renowned Leith's School of Food and Wine (020-7229 0177, www.leiths.com) in London is organising cookery classes for 11-14 year-olds during the summer aimed at learning how to make interesting, sophisticated but simple recipes. These will cost about £60 for the day, but dates have not yet been finalised.

Another place you might want to consider is The Vegetarian Cookery School (www.vegetariancookeryschool.com; 01225 789682) in Bath, which has cookery classes for children between nine and 12 years old and for teenagers from 13 to 16 years old. Courses are offered during the Easter, half-term and summer school holidays on set dates. "Kids in the kitchen" courses are set to take place on 18 April and 30 May while the "Teenagers in the kitchen" courses are scheduled for 19 April and 31 May. The dates for the summer holidays, again, have not been set yet. The children's courses cost £20 for a 9am-12pm or 2pm-5pm session including tuition, recipe folder, the use of all equipment, snacks and drinks; while for the teenagers, the price is £45 for a full day (10am-3pm). Accommodation is not included in these prices but Bath has no shortage of possibilities where beds are concerned. The school can supply a list of vegetarian-friendly bed and breakfasts on request.

If you would prefer a longer holiday you could try The Old Court House Vegetarian Guest House and Cookery School (01348 837095) in Pembrokeshire. The school runs cookery courses combined with walking holidays along the coastal path so you could have a family holiday by the sea. Bed and breakfast costs £22.50 per person (half-price for children). Cookery courses run from Tuesday to Friday with cooking classes all day Wednesday, Thursday and half of Friday and cost £195 per person including all meals and accommodation.

Send your family travel questions to S F Robinson, The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall,London E14 9RS Or crusoe@independent.co.uk

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