Travel: Monte Carlo or bust

It is possible to enjoy Monaco on a budget, provided you know how. Anna Rockall offers a guide
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The Independent Travel
"Les jeux sont faites," said the slick croupier in the main room of the breathtakingly opulent Monte Carlo Casino. "Rien ne va plus."

After sustaining losses of 200 francs, I had decided to blow the last of my money in one go, and then return to my hotel to sulk. I looked warily at my 50-franc chip sitting squarely on the number five. It was my highest bet ever in a casino, and enough to get the adrenalin well and truly pumping. The roulette ball spun, bounced off the slope, around the dial, and eventually landed on a number. Unbelievably, it slotted neatly on to the five. Almost apoplectic with excitement - but trying to maintain a Bond-like sophistication - I collected my 1,800-franc winnings and skipped off into the Monegasque night.

Easy come, easy go; I spent it all in two hours with no problem at all, and nothing to show for it except a hangover. It needn't have been like that.

Monaco can be frighteningly expensive, and there are plenty of people willing to relieve you of your money at every turn. But with a little attention, almost everything it has to offer - except the fantasy hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants - can be enjoyed within a reasonable budget.

In Monaco-Ville, perched high on a rock, is the Prince's Palace. The maze of winding streets below is almost exclusively the domain of tourists, but it's worth joining the throng to explore the alleys and churches, and watch the changing of the guard - not as grandiose as the British version but just as solemn - at 11.55am. There are plenty of little restaurants around there, but for a really cheap lunch, you can purchase a great picnic from the market on the Place d'Armes on the way down from Monaco-Ville.

If you want to catch some sun, eat your picnic on Larvotto, a beach running along Avenue Princesse Grace. Although this is not the most idyllic bit of coast on the Cote d'Azur (the sand has the consistency of ground pebbles), it is free - the only other beach option is the extraordinarily expensive Monte Carlo Beach Club.

If you want to go yacht-spotting, Fontvieille, a new area built on reclaimed land, has a pretty and peaceful port with some fabulous boats. There are several good-value restaurants here, the most popular (and reasonable) of which is La Saliere. The food is Italian and there is a broad range of choices, the pizzas generally being the best value.

The port of Monaco is grander than that of Fontvieille, and is a must- see - it harbours some of the most magnificent yachts in the world. There are several bars where you can stop for a drink or an ice-cream, and some fairly pricey restaurants. But the noisy, easy-going American-style restaurant Stars and Bars at the far end of Quai Antoine 1er, is inexpensive and very trendy among the young Monegasques.

At the heart of Monaco is the Place de la Casino, surrounded by the celebrated Hotel de Paris, the Monte Carlo Casino and the Cafe de Paris. On the fourth side there are gardens in which sculpture is exhibited.

No visit to Monte Carlo would be complete unless you have had at least one drink outside the Cafe de Paris, and watched the world go by in diamonds and Ferraris. Drinks here don't come cheap but the casino is less expensive than the main one (which charges an entrance fee of 50 francs). At the Cafe de Paris you can have a flutter with a few 5-franc chips.

Clubbing in Monaco is difficult on a budget. Two of the most popular clubs, Parady'z and Jimmy'z, both on Avenue Princesse Grace, have no entrance fee, but charge a heart-stopping flat rate of 350 francs per drink. However, if you turn up after midnight and are prepared not to drink or to take a table, it is possible to dance the night away for free.

MONACO: THE FACTS

Getting there: Easyjet (0990 29 29 29) has return flights to Nice from pounds 108, including tax. A bus from Nice airport to Monte Carlo costs Fr17.50.

Getting around: Taxis are expensive, but buses are excellent and cheap, at Fr8.50 for anywhere in the principality. Walking is safe even at night - Monte Carlo has the highest number of police per capita in the world.

Getting information: Ask the Monaco Tourist Office(0171 352 9962) or the Direction du Tourisme, 2a Bd des Moulins, Monte Carlo (92 16 61 16).

Where to stay: One of the cheapest hotels in town is the Cosmopolite, 4 rue de la Turbie (93 30 16 95) which has doubles with bathroom from Fr310. Try also the central, two-star Hotel Helvetia (behind the port), Ibis rue Grimaldi (93 30 21 71) which has doubles with bathroom from Fr340.

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