Each year in late September, thousands of people converge on a tiny city-state on the French Riviera to see some of the world’s largest, most expensive, and most innovative superyachts.
The Monaco Yacht Show is one of the yachting industry’s premier events. This year’s show displayed more than $4.3 billion worth of yachts with an average price of about $41 million. The show is attended by industry insiders such as shipbuilders, designers, and brokers, as well as affluent people from all around the world who are looking to buy or charter a yacht.
This year, I was one of about 30,000 people who attended the Monaco Yacht Show.
Monaco is a country smaller than New York City’s Central Park, yet it’s one of the most lavishly wealthy nations in the world. An estimated one-third of Monaco residents are millionaires, and the GDP per capita is $166,021, the highest in the world after Lichtenstein. And according to the CIA World Factbook, no portion of Monaco’s population lives below the poverty line.
As a journalist with a decidedly non-millionaire salary, I expected to feel out of place in Monaco — but I couldn’t know to what extent until I got there.
Lamborghinis, Chanel, and Goyard: The wealth in Monaco is not exactly subtle
In Monte Carlo, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Range Rovers, BMWs, and other high-end cars were everywhere I looked. Seemingly every woman I saw was carrying a designer handbag, whether it was Chanel, Louis Vuitton, or the elusive but even more esteemed Goyard.
Indeed, most of the shopping in the district is catered to millionaires. There’s Métropole Shopping Monte-Carlo, an upscale underground shopping center with 80 high-end boutiques, steps from the famous casino. And in the other direction are shops like Cartier, Céline, Prada, and Balenciaga.
The only non-designer stores I saw in Monte Carlo were a Zara and a Nike boutique.
Nightly rates at the trifecta of luxury hotels in Monaco start at about $400
My first night in Monaco, I got to stay at the opulent Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo, where rooms start at $417 and cost upwards of $8,500 for the most luxurious suites. The hotel sits in the city’s glitzy Carré d’Or district that surrounds Monte Carlo’s Casino Square, named after the famous Casino de Monte Carlo, where gamblers have won more than $317 million over the past year.
My night at Hotel Metropole, with its five-star amenities and central location, was a luxurious experience made possible only by the media discount the hotel offered my company. At Monaco’s other hotels, such as Hotel Hermitage and Hotel de Paris, nightly rates start at almost $400.
The rest of the week, I stayed in the nearby French city of Nice in an Airbnb that cost less than $100 a night. From there, I commuted about 30 minutes into Monaco, which drastically changed my experience. Every evening, I had to walk to the Monaco train station, ride the train 20 minutes back to Nice, and then take a 10-minute Uber ride (or walk 35 minutes) back to my Airbnb. On a couple of occasions, I had to make that journey twice in one day.
With the trains stopping well before midnight, this made a night out in Monaco nearly impossible unless I wanted to spend €90 — almost $100 — on a taxi to take me the 14 miles back to Nice.
Getting around is exhausting for those without deep pockets
VIP guests of the yacht show — those with provable interest and means to buy or charter a yacht — could hitch rides around Monaco thanks to the yacht show’s courtesy cars.
For the rest of us, transportation was trickier. While Monaco is small, it’s full of steep hills, cobblestone streets, and many, many stairs, making walking everywhere exhausting. Uber does not exist in Monaco, and I learned the hard way that the elusive taxis are as expensive as everything else in Monaco.
When I checked out of Hotel Metropole, I asked the hotel to call me a taxi to take me to the train station, so I could check in and drop off my luggage at my Airbnb in Nice. That was when I learned of the €15 (about $16.50) minimum charge for taking a taxi anywhere within Monaco, even a three-minute drive to the train station. As a reminder, Monaco spans just 0.78 square miles.
And taking a taxi to somewhere outside Monaco will cost you €90.
Monaco does have city buses, but they never showed up as an option on Google Maps — which I, and many people, rely on to navigate a city these days — and they stop running at 9:30 p.m. On weekends, a night bus runs until 4 a.m., but as it wouldn’t take me back to Nice, that didn’t help me much.
I felt this lack of transportation options acutely throughout my stay, especially after I attended a ritzy kickoff gala the night before the yacht show. After the gala, private cars and yacht-show courtesy cars were parked outside the venue to drive VIPs the four or five minutes back to their hotels like the Metropole.
But as a non-VIP and a non-millionaire unable to shell out $100 for a taxi back to Nice, I walked uphill and up seemingly endless stairs to the train station, finally making it back to my Airbnb over an hour after leaving the party.
Monaco really is a playground for millionaires
Other parts of Monaco seemed a bit more low-key, but around the Monte Carlo district and Port Hercules, where all the hustle and bustle for the yacht show was taking place, the city was an exhibition of lavish wealth.
I felt strangely relieved to get back to Nice every night — back to what felt like the “real world,” with its regular people not decked in head-to-toe designer duds or driving Ferraris.
While it was fun getting a peek into the glamorous Monaco lifestyle, the outrageously high prices —and the presence of so many people who can actually afford them — made it clear that Monaco is not quite meant for someone like me.