Travel guide to Monaco – more than just the Grand Prix
Monaco may just be a sliver of 2 km², yet it is crammed with millionaires, showy glamour, 300 days of sunshine every year.
It also has awesome architecture, an improbable number of spotlessly-lush parks, and one of the smallest royals-to-commoners ratios in the world. You’d be forgiven for thinking Monaco is something dreamt up as a vehicle for a Grace Kelly film – the actress, incidentally, married Prince Rainier, bringing to glow with her.
The best way to see this most elegant strip of the Côte d’Azur is on foot. Its mix of bustling streets, quiet lanes, and floral parks separating its two great landmarks: the Prince’s Palace and the Casino at Monte Carlo are easy to reach. The latter, incidentally, built in a gorgeous rococo style with onion domes and marble columns, was the brainchild of Princess Caroline to attract tourists – citizens are not allowed to enter and gamble there.
The locals seem to spend their time riding around in open-top Bentleys and strolling around casually. It’s not good to work up a sweat in chinos and Ralph Lauren.
This is not a place to be under-dressed, unless you want to seriously stand out. Being an extra here means making an extra effort if you want any chance of blending in.
The only concession worth making is shoes; ones that’ll help you get up and down hills. Of which there are a lot.
A leisurely afternoon can take you from the Palace at what is the gateway to the principality to the Casino in Monte Carlo, the ritzier and most famous of its seven districts, just across the spectacular drop to the harbour. And it’s a similarly manageable stroll to get down to those yachts below.
While the place may be ridiculously pompous (its 35,000 population even has a local dialect and holiday), it is a safe place to be a tourist. Plain-clothed police patrol the tourist spots and they’re big on – cameras are everywhere.
So, a starting point. It’s a steep slog from the center of town up to the Palace, but you’ve stunning views with every step before you reach the square on which is played another sign of pomp: the midday changing of the guard.
And if you’re one of those that don’t do palaces, take a tip and do this one. You get to see the Throne Room, the Palatine Chapel, and, most importantly, the private apartments; all aided by audio guides in English which help you get a taste of the Grimaldi lifestyle as you soak up the Renaissance architecture of the courtyard.
The Nouveau Musée de Monaco is spread over two buildings: Villa Paloma and Villa Sauber. The latter displays the original architectural plans for the Casino, the Opera, and the hotels, and their eventual expansion by Henri Schmidt.
Alongside are the spectacular St Martin Gardens and the cathedral which houses the tombs of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. But it’s the old-town feel of Monaco-Ville, with its narrow streets and leafy squares, that gives you the sense that you are somewhere special. It’s worth stopping for lunch in one of the open-air cafes – and visiting the chocolate shop. It helps if you speak just a little French.