This is really one of my favourite walks down the coast from Monaco into the town of Cap d’Ail just west (in the direction of Nice). This small and pleasant residential town, built in several layers between sea level and the mountainside of the Tête de Chien, is not just a dormitory town for people working in Monaco, even though it is only one station away by train: there are several noteworthy attractions, notably the nice beaches, Belle Epoque architecture and various rather luxurious villas with numerous famous residents over the years, such as Greta Garbo, Winston Churchill, Lord Beaverbrook, Sacha Guitry and the Lumière Brothers. If you’re interested in this, I’d advise to check out the Cap d’Ail Tourist Office website, which has quite a lot of decent information.
The Mala footpath
For me though, the main reason to head to Cap d’Ail though is the wonderful 3,6 km long coastal path which can comfortably be covered in just over an hour and stretches from the Plage Marquet (500m west of the border with Monaco at Fontvieille) to the splendid Plage de la Mala. This footpath, not to be used during days with rough seas, can easily be accessed by car or on foot from Monaco train station: most of it is pretty easy even if you’re not great hikers, apart from the last approach to the Mala beach which is slightly more strenuous. In the summer, there isn’t much shade and things can get rather warm, especially around midday, so, as with any coastal walks you do on the Riviera, bring plenty of suncream and more water than you think you will need. I would advise you to cover it starting from Monaco and ending at the Mala (leaving the best till last), although it can also be done in the opposite direction.
Leaving behind the wall of concrete that marks the border with Monaco and the port of Cap d’Ail, the vegetation suddenly turns wild and one follows a succession or rocky coves and bays, whilst passing underneath sumptuous Belle Epoque villas, where one can only imagine the sumptuous views enjoyed by the inhabitants. There are also plenty of little detours and easily accessible coves with secluded areas to swim in. Finally, the last bend round the cape and a beautiful but strenuous staircase bring you to what, in my humble opinion, is probably the most secluded, magical and beautiful beach in the whole Côte d’Azur, la Mala.
The turquoise deep water bay is surrounded by limestone cliffs with a view of the eastern coast of the Cap Ferrat peninsula in the distance and I used to describe it to my hotel guests as looking like Thailand. In summer, the water is dotted with yachts and the two rather exclusive beach bars are packed by some of the rich and famous (have bumped into one of the former James Bonds several times there, relaxing and having a beer, which is why one of my British friends visiting generally refers to la Mala as “Roger Moore Beach”). But out of the peak tourist season, the beach isn’t too crowded, the footpath is full of local families and the beauty of the area is just surreal. Note that even from the train, you can get a great view from above of la Mala, just before arriving in Cap d’Ail station (in the direction of Monaco and Ventimiglia/Italy).
Do note that you can also get to la Mala from Cap d’Ail railway station: just head towards the sea, you’ll get to the footpath and turn right: the beach is about 10 minutes away. But if you have the time it would be a shame not to follow the footpath which will be a really memorable highlight of your stay on the Riviera and something not always mentioned in guidebooks. For more details for French speakers on this itinerary, there is some excellent and detailed background information on the regional government website
Getting to Cap d’Ail
Cap d’Ail is rather sprawled out along the coast from east to west along 5 kms.
– By train: Cap d’Ail train station is located in the town centre, about 3 kms west of Monaco and 10 kms east of Nice. There are regular coastal trains from either point, but make not all trains stop there, so check the timetables beforehand (download timetable number 4 in the drop-down menu).
– By bus: Rapides Côte d’Azur line 100 provides services from Nice and Monaco approximately every 15 minutes. Allow during off peak hours about 15 minutes from Monaco and 35 from Nice, cost is only €1 for a single journey regardless of the distance (the same applies for any bus trip within the Alpes Maritimes region, a fantastic deal despite the travel times being much longer than the train).
Very important note on public transport in the region. Try to avoid travelling towards Monaco between 7.30am and 9am and away from Monaco between 5pm and 6.30pm as that’s when all the commuters do the same and you want to avoid being caught in rush hour hell.