The Larvotto is the best public beach in Monaco. Actually it's the only public beach in Monaco. But it's still pretty good. It's a man-made beach, laid in front of the pre-existing sea-front some time after the Second World War. It comprises three concrete jetties, protected by large boulders and a gravel beach.
In the last few years, the restaurants and bars at the back of the beach have grown substantially, both in size and quality, so there's pretty much something for all tastes. Most are now open all year round. The Larvotto is a nice place to go to in the winter without the crowds. It's popular with nannies and young parents as it's a great place for toddlers to run around.
The water is swimmable from late June to early September. In the summer the beach gets very busy and you've got to go early if you want to avoid the crowds.
One of the great attractions of the Larvotto for young and old is the marine life. The most hazardous marine forms used to be sea urchins - you had to be careful when climbing on the rocks or standing in the sea, as sea urchin needles can take months to work their way out of a foot or hand. But I haven't seen one near the beach for years. Jellyfish are now the major problem - that'll be the whole Mediterranean not just Monaco - so check the flag first. In 2007, for the first year ever, the authorities stretched a net across the bay, which catches most of them. Global warming, overfishing and organic pollutants are the causes.
It's well worth bringing swimming goggles or a mask and snorkel. Or just buy them at the beach. There are loads of fish, which swim around in great shoals. They're maybe not as colourful as tropical fish, but fascinating nevertheless.
I read somewhere on the internet that the Larvotto is where the jet set hang out and beautiful women strut around in diamond encrusted bikinis ogled by hairy middle aged millionaires. Er, no. That would be Le Beach, which is a private beach about 500m towards Italy. The Larvotto is where old and young, students and workers, locals and tourists all hang out. The beautiful and not-so-beautiful all together in a relaxed environment.
There are a few things to do other than lounge, swim, eat and drink, for those so inclined. At the eastern end (towards Italy) there's volleyball and a kids' trampoline. Nearer the centre there's a new fitness gym. By the central jetty there's a jazz bar and devices for lowering disabled people into the water. At the western end there are watersports: jetski, windsurf, parachute and a long plastic sausage. Down that end there's also a scuba diving school. On the upper level, kids rollerblade, skateboard and ride trick bikes. There's a creche near the western end and a playground for toddlers near the eastern end. All the bars have "transats", which are deckchairs and parasols for hire.
The one thing that's missing
Nobody sells newspapers. Walk out of the Larvotto complex heading East for about two hundred metres. There's a hotel there with a shop selling most international titles.
The lifeguard watchtower in the centre of the beach is only manned in July and August, from 10 am to 6 pm. They post a flag indicating the danger level of the sea. Green = OK. Orange = Warning. Red = Danger. An orange flag usually indicates the presence of jellyfish, but can mean the waves are high or, I suppose, a container ship has dumped its toxic cargo offshore and it's moving inland. The police station is by the tower next to the toilets. It's a good idea to check the flag before entering the water. You can spot tourists who don't know about the flag because they're the ones merrily splashing around out at sea when everyone else is quickly getting out of the water.
There are no tides or tidal currents to speak of. In fact, there are no strong currents at all unless you swim well out to sea.
The main danger, other than human foolishness, the obvious perils of water, or the recent plague of jellyfish, must be the rocks and the waves. So, I guess, avoid both unless you know what you're doing.
The water in the Larvotto is not exactly crystal clear. Statistics are posted daily at the Police post, if you can decipher them. The beach is strewn with a fairly typical quantity of cigarette butts. Dogs are not allowed, but some dog-lovers will always try it on.
Just walk along the seafront eastwards (towards Italy) until you see a beach. Or take the number 4 or 6 bus.