Have you ever gambled in a casino?Or maybe you like collecting stamps? Are you a fan of late Grace Kelly? If so, you might want to visit Monaco.
The tiny Principality of Monaco is completely surrounded by France.You could literally be with one foot in Monaco and with another in France 😉 Why is Monaco so famous and rich? Well, the rulers of Monaco were very smart and introduced no tax policy which attracted the wealthy people & businesses from all around the world. And those wealthy people needed to spend their money too hence the casino of Monte-Carlo.
It is thought that the marriage of Monaco’s prince Rainer III with the Oscar-winning American actress Grace Kelly brought international fame to this small Mediterranean country. It is in fact the second smallest country in the world (Vatican is the smallest country) ! Today, the son of Grace Kelly ,Prince Albert II is the current ruler. He finally got married in 2011 and has recently baptized his twins.
I’ve been to French Riviera a couple of times in the past five years so I also visited Monaco. The most recent visit was in October. So what could an average traveller see in this city-state? First of all, Monaco state consists of 6 main quartiers or wards. The oldest one is Monaco-Ville (to differentiate it from the name of the country) situated on a rock. This is where you can find the Cathedral, the Prince’s palace and the Oceanographic museum. From this rock you can admire the part of Monaco called Fontvieille where you can see the football stadium ( FC Monaco plays in the French league) and where the International Circus Festival is held. From another viewpoint, just right from the palace you see the port (and yachts) and the road where the starting position of Formula 1 Grand Prix race is. That part is called la Condamine. You can also see the condos of Moneghetti (the residential area let’s say) and the cupola of Monte-Carlo casino. What you can’t see is the last part of the country and that’s Larvotto and there’s where you can lie on the beach.
I don’t think that you need to spend more than half a day in Monaco unless you want to visit the Oceanographic museum. So if you’re staying somewhere at the French Riviera (because frankly unless you’re filthy rich you probably won’t be staying at the country’s most luxurious hotel Hotel de Paris in Monte-Carlo) you might want to take a day trip or even better a half day trip to Monaco. You can arrive here by car or by train from Nice, for example. If you arrive by car the best option is to park in the underground garage which is just under the rock of Monaco-Ville. Then you take the escalators and the lift to the surface and find yourself in front of the Oceanographic museum which was founded in 1910.
From there you just walk straight on to the 19th century cathedral. Or you can go through the park Saint Martin’s garden. The royal weddings, christenings and burials are held in the cathedral of St.Nicholas. If it’s open you could see Grace Kelly’s resting place on the left side of the altar. All Monaco rulers are buried there. The cute building next to the cathedral is the court-house and you just keep on walking straight passed it and you’ll come to the main square Place du Palais. This is where the Prince’s palace is. If you’re very lucky and arrive before lunch you’ll see the short ceremony of the changing of the guard which takes place every day at 11.55 am. I once even saw Prince Albert II himself in the car leaving the palace.
The statue of the man who founded the House of Grimaldi which has been ruling over Monaco for the past 700 years is also at the main square. His name is Franceso Grimaldi and he was exiled from the Republic of Genoa in the 13 th century. He came here because this is where one Genoese fortress used to be. Pretending that he was a monk he managed to enter the fortress, killed everyone with the help of his friends and took over the fortress. And that’s how Monaco came to being. Interesting, right? After you’ve taken photos of the palace and went to the left and right side viewpoints to see the rest of the country you could stroll around this part and do some souvenir shopping. There are a few bars where you can eat/drink something. Then you should go back to your car and drive a couple of minutes to Monte-Carlo. But more on that in my next post.
A few tips: If you like stamps then you might want to buy a stamp with Grace Kelly or any other normal Monaco stamp. If you want to send a postcard and you put a stamp on it but somehow forgot to put it in the post box then if you want to send it from France (it’s 13km from Nice) or Italy (it’s just 16 km away) then you need to buy French or Italian stamp and put it on.If you don’t, your postcard won’t be sent! There’s a free public toilet in the parking garage. The official language is French but Italian and English are widely understood. Of course, you pay in euros. Monaco doesn’t have its own currency.
What’s my opinion of Monaco? Well, I’m not overly impressed with it. I found it to be sterile (it’s soooo clean) and lifeless. Depending on the time of the day of your visit of Monaco-Ville (where the palace is) you’ll probably either come across a number of tourist groups or you will find a deserted main square. Monaco is very specific and you should visit it some time but unless you are able to gamble millions or attend opera at Monte-Carlo Casino there isn’t really much for you to do. If you’re a big Formula 1 fan then you might consider visiting Monaco when the race is on (it’s usually in May).
ps. stay tuned for my next post on Monte-Carlo!
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