Walks in the South of France
From Monaco to a celebrated coastal spot
The stroll from Monaco to the near-by Mala Beach in Cap d’Ail is the classic family beach walk on the Riviera.
It may not be as rugged and spectacular as some of the others trails in the area – there is no jumping from rock to rock here: the beach path is asphalted throughout. But what it lacks in drama, it makes up through its easy access and tranquility.
In fact, the Mala Walk is the perfect promenade for groups that feature small children and old folks: we even came across some couples with prams. With a length of roughly 5 km, it is also not particularly taxing. And since the walk starts in Monaco, it can be easily integrated into a “great day out”.
So while in the morning, it’s off to the Palace for a chat with Bertie and the Grimaldi sisters, in the afternoon, you can saunter down to the Marquet beach – which is where, at the far end, the Sentier Littoral (“coastal path”) to Cap d’Ail begins.
Along the trail, the only place where you can get your shoes a little dirty is a small peninsula, about half way down, where you can leave the Sentier Littoral proper and explore the cliffs and their neighbouring fauna a little …
… but other than that, it’s like walking through a well-tended garden.
And while there is nothing wrong with that, you may feel – once or twice – that the “suburbanization” of this particular stretch of the Riviera coastline has gone too far. (Look closely.)
On the plus side, there are some rather impressive properties on the coast, some of them romantically neglected, and you cannot help wondering what stories are concealed behind their barbed-wire fences and crumbling stone walls.
Others properties, meanwhile, are just as impressively sumptuous. Many date from the early 20th century, which means that they are practically antique by local standards. (This one is called the Villa Paloma and dates from 1903, now as then in private hands.)
Another great thing about the Mala Walk is that it offers plenty of spaces for a family picnic: wooden benches and stone benches, sometimes even with a table attached, but always with a great view.
One word of warning, however: there is a large number of joggers around, and since the trail itself is rather narrow, no romantic hand-in-hand-walking with your beloved is recommended unless you want to get, rather unromantically, shoved out of the way.
I don’t know if it’s like that all of the time, but when we were there, traffic on the trail reminded me of a German autobahn: you got to keep to the right to get out of the way of all those folks who appear to be in so much more of a hurry than you.
Mala Beach at the end of the trail is one of the Riviera’s most celebrated coastal spots, located underneath a formerly grand hotel (the “Eden Rock”) and named after the legendary Russian prima ballerina Mala Kschessinskaya who came here repeatedly with various blue-blooded lovers, who included – it was rumoured at the time – Nicholas II, Russia’s last Czar.
No Russian aristocrats and beautiful ballerinas were waiting for us, however – only a couple of excitable Labradors, a mature backpacker and an old man who had fallen asleep over his newspaper.
In fairness, however, it is said that Mala Beach only really comes alive in the summer – that’s also when the restaurants are open – and that it is a great place for a swim, even after dark which is when the real party begins.
If, however, you can’t wait that long, take the “Mala Stairway” right up to Cap d’Ail and follow the signs to the Tourism Office which is located on the town’s (single) high street where you can find a small selection of shops and restaurants. This is also where you can take the bus (no. 100, frequent service) back to Monaco.
One last advice: Marquet beach, the starting point of the walk, can be most easily reached from the Place d’Armes bus stop of Monaco (also line no. 100, which connects Nice and Menton). The beach begins on the far side of Monaco’s football stadium, the Stade Louis II, just to the west of Cap d’Ail harbour (on the French side of the “border”).
If you plan to arrive by train, walk to the far side of Monaco’s yacht harbour, always looking for street signs to the stadium, the Monaco Heliport or the Fontvieille shopping centre which are all in the Marquet area.