I spent 5 days in a French Riviera city known for its lavish wealth, and I was surprised by how ugly it was
- Monaco is a tiny yet lavishly wealthy city-state on the French Riviera with a glamorous reputation.
- It's been called a playground for millionaires - and indeed, an estimated one-third of the population are millionaires.
- From a distance, Monaco's backdrop of Mediterranean coastal landscape and its port full of sailboats and yachts make it look somewhat pretty.
- But up close, I found Monaco to be mostly full of drab, outdated architecture.
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At the end of September, I traveled for work from New York City to Monaco, a tiny yet lavishly wealthy city-state on the French Riviera.
Monaco is a peculiar place. It's been called a playground for millionaires - an estimated one-third of its roughly 38,000 residents are millionaires. It's smaller than New York City's Central Park. Each year, it plays host to glamorous events like the Monaco Grand Prix and the Monaco Yacht Show, which attract wealthy visitors from all over the world to the already highly affluent principality.Read more: 15 astounding facts about Monaco, the tiny French Riviera city-state where 32% of the population is made up of millionaires
I attended this year's Monaco Yacht Show, where I got on board multimillion-dollar superyachts, toured luxury hotels, and spent a lot of time running around Monaco.
Monaco is full of ugly, outdated architecture
From a distance, such as from out on a yacht in the harbor - a view I was lucky enough to get - Monaco is vaguely pretty, with its background of dramatic, rocky hills.
But up close, I found it to be straight-up ugly.I think Lonely Planet summed it up well: "Despite its prodigious wealth, Monaco is far from being the French Riviera's prettiest town. World-famous Monte Carlo is basically an ode to concrete and glass, dominated by high-rise hotels, superyachts and apartment blocks that rise into the hills like ranks of dominoes, plonked into an utterly bewildering street layout seemingly designed to confound lowly pedestrians."
With a few exceptions such as its iconic Beaux Arts casino and palm trees that make everything look a little nicer, Monaco's famous Monte Carlo district was not particularly attractive.
And the other parts of Monaco were even less so, full of drab, outdated high-rises.
According to real-estate consultancy firm Knight Frank, "much of Monaco was built between the 1950s and 1970s, and, in many cases, has seen little modernization since."
Monte Carlo's beach left much to be desired
Then there's Monaco's one and only public beach. To be fair, my visit was in late September - not quite peak beach season. But I was completely unimpressed by Monte Carlo's Larvotto Beach, which was far from glamorous. It was very small, and instead of sand, there were small pebbles, which looked and felt more or less like gravel.
The few beachfront bars and restaurants seemed rather outdated, and they were mostly closed except for one ice cream shop. The view of the water was obstructed by an unattractive concrete barrier, which was reportedly put in place to keep out jellyfish - although I still spotted one.
Monaco isn't completely hideous, but there are much prettier cities on the French Riviera
Monaco had its moments. I was a fan of its Old Town, which is perched up on a hill and is home to the Prince's Palace, a 17th-century chapel, and picturesque side streets. There were, of course, still Ferraris.
Old Town was full of narrow, cobblestoned streets lined with ice cream shops, restaurants, and small businesses.
I found Monaco's Old Town to be much more down to earth - even though it's literally on a hill - and charming than most of the city. It reminded me of nearby Nice, France, a city that's a 20-minute train ride away and much prettier than Monaco, in my opinion.
Monaco is by no means the ugliest city I've visited. But for its global reputation of lavish wealth, glitz, and old Hollywood glam (American actress Grace Kelly was its princess, after all) I had expected it to be much more aesthetically pleasing.