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Monaco

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Did You Know …?

  • The Grimaldis have ruled Monaco since 1297, making theirs Europe’s longest-reigning dynasty.
  • Monte-Carlo is named for Monaco’s 19th century Prince Charles III who opened the first casino.
  • If Prince Albert II had had no male heir, Monaco would have become French.
  • Monegasques don’t pay income taxes; the principality also has the world’s lowest unemployment rate: 0%.
  • At some points, Monaco extends only 382 yards inland from the Mediterranean.

Glamour on the rocks

Monaco is a very small place with a great big reputation. It is so tiny (485 acres), it would fit into New York’s Central Park (843 acres) with room to spare. But it is the well-earned reputation for glamour that counts more.

The principality, which has been ruled by the Grimaldi family, with some interruptions, for more than 700 years, became a much smaller place when, in the 19th century, it gave up half its territory to France in exchange for money and independence. In that deal, it also gave up all its natural resources.

The future looked bleak, except for the brainchild of Prince Charles III who decided to build a casino — and an elegant one at that — on the Monegasque outcropping now called Monte-Carlo. It was a brilliant move. For one thing, the principality had the entire French market to itself because gaming rooms were illegal in France at the time.

In addition, Monaco sits on the French Riviera, boasts more than 300 days of sunshine a year, has a natural harbor (for yachts, of course) and, because of its steep rocky terrain, is beautiful to behold.

The lure of an elegant casino combined with these natural features produced the perfect getaway for the rich and famous — and for the rest of us, too.

Today, visitors come for a piece of the glamour. They want to gamble in a sumptuous casino, sample the oft-pricey nightlife, wander narrow medieval streets, tour a fairytale palace, waterski or swim in the Mediterranean’s clear blue waters and just soak up the atmosphere while dining on French cuisine and watching the yachts float by.

In the event guilt says a holiday should involve a little less self-involved pampering and a little more serious content, Monaco offers its ballets, operas, theaters and museums. It is home to the world-famous Oceanographic Museum. Short drives (on mountainous roads) lead to villages noted for their art collections, perfume factories (Grasse) or medieval roots (Eze). Such excursions can be educational despite the fact each village is more lovely than the last. There is, literally, no escaping the area’s charms.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Come to Monaco for its world-famous Grand Prix, held each May. The Automobile Club of Monaco sells the tickets for the 3,000 available seats. Book well ahead and expect to pay dearly for the whole experience.
  • Sample local food specialties, which include barbaguiuan (pastry with rice and pumpkin), socca (pancakes made with chickpea flour) and stocafi (dried cod with tomatoes).
  • Monaco is noted for its glitzy and lively nightlife. Sample a few of the bars and nightclubs available to you. One establishment, Moods, describes itself as the hippest music bar on the French Riviera. Judge for yourself.
  • Rent a bicycle and cycle your way around the principality. Considering the up-and-down nature of terrain, this could be some work (or very good exercise). There also is a permanent cycle path between the port and Larvotto Beach.
  • Go diving using the services of the Monaco Underwater Exploration Club. Alternatively, waterskiing and windsurfing are among your above-the-water options.
  • Rent a car and head into the rugged mountains around Monaco where destination choices range widely, from the medieval village of Eze on a rocky peak; the town known for its perfumes — Grasse, and several towns known for their museums such as Saint-Paul-de-Vence (the Maeght Foundation) and Menton (Jean Cocteau museum). In winter, this could be a ski trip to French or Italian resorts.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Gamble in Monte-Carlo’s fabled casino. For this, there is a dress code to ensure denizons of its halls look (almost) as good as the belle epoque interior. The casino was designed by Charles Garnier, also the designer of Paris’ 19th century Opera Garnier.
  • Take a boat excursion to see whales and dolphins in the Mediterranean.
  • Book seats to attend a world-renowned entertainer at the Salle des Etoiles (literally, Room of the Stars) at Le Sporting Monte-Carlo. The stars in the name refers to the stars you may see in the sky when the sliding ceiling is drawn back for an unencumbered view of the outdoors.
  • If you are visiting another city on the Riviera, treat yourself to a day in Monaco, which is easily accessible by frequent train service.
  • Go to the theater or to the opera in Monte-Carlo.
  • Visit the principality’s world-renowned Oceanographic Museum, which had its origins with the early 20th century Prince Albert I. The Aquarium houses rare fish species, and the Shark Lagoon shows off coral reef and the creatures that live with it.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Watch the changing of the guard in front of the Prince’s Palace, i.e., the royal palace occupied by Prince Albert II. Also, tour the palace if it is open to the public when you are there. It is open from April 2 to Oct. 31.
  • If a flower lover, spend time acquainting yourself with the specimens in the Princess Grace Rose Garden.
  • Walk the port’s promenades and ogle all those yachts.
  • Visit Princess Grace’s tomb in the Monaco Cathedral. Prince Rainier now lies there, as well.
  • Stay at one of Monte-Carlo’s over-the-top hotels, the Hotel de Paris or Hotel Hermitage. The latter features a foyer topped with a glass roof designed by Gustave Eiffel.
  • If you are to ever splurge on a spa treatment, this is the place to do it.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Monaco Government Tourist and Convention Bureau at www.visitmonaco.com and select your language if necessary.