Here’s why a trip to Monaco should be at the top of your bucket list
Monaco is the tiniest country to qualify as a kingdom and has Prince Albert II at the helm. Only the Vatican is smaller. On the Riviera and surrounded by France, with views of Italy, Monaco is a 1.9 square kilometre hobby farm-sized principality where the main crop is cash. The population is around 36,000 making it the most densely-populated country in the world. If any of the population is poor, it's only from making payments on both the Rolls and the Ferrari. Yet shopping here is cheaper than in neighbouring France or Italy.
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WYZA’s travel editor David and wife Sandra arriving in Monaco in style
Monaco is a destination where arriving by helicopter seems so right. Flying from the Nice airport to Monaco takes in spectacular coastline and stunning houses in the Mediterranean. As the many Australian sports stars who call it home will tell you, there’s a sense of style that is reminiscent of James Bond and Princess Grace. As a country largely based around a casino, a grand hotel, an F1 race track and a marina that functions as an aquatic billionaire’s play pen, that’s not so surprising.
1. Discover the history of the kingdom
Ever wondered what a country would be like if it was run by a corporation? Monaco is the place to go to discover the result of historical design. The Grimaldi family first came to Monaco in 1297 when it was a colony of Genoa. When nearby Nice became part of France in 1860, the Grimaldis hung onto Monaco. The economy was supported by the casino in the heart of the city of Monte Carlo - the name simply means Mount Charles.
When Prince Rainier came onto the throne in 1949, the state’s finances weren’t looking healthy. The prince and his council turned Monaco around so it is now a very appealing mixture of business and glamour, good weather and a very favourable tax climate. These days, gambling makes up a much smaller part of state revenue than tourism. The mainly state-owned Société des Bains de Mer runs the casino, most hotels and office blocks and the majority of leisure facilities.
Prince Albert II lives in the palace on the other side of the harbour from Monte Carlo and is celebrating his reign of ten years in 2015. In 1982 his mother, Princess Grace, died on the Grand Corniche, one of the roads threading their way up the steep hills behind the town. Despite that national tragedy, many locals regard the hill roads as extensions of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit - with dawdling tourists relegated to the role of mobile chicanes.
2. See the city on foot
Like so many cities in Europe Monte Carlo is not a destination where you need a car. Everything is in walking distance and each walk reveals new aspects of the city. A walk around the marina reveals how elaborate boats can be. Some street corners may seem curiously familiar until you realise you’ve seen them on telecasts of the F1 Monaco GP, the world’s great street circuit race.
One square in town that really stands out as the heart of the city and that’s Place du Casino. On one side there’s the casino and on another there’s the Hotel de Paris, the grand hotel of the city with an illustrious history dating back to 1863. This is where Prince Ranier proposed to Grace Kelly and the hotel still holds a bottle of cognac that Churchill left in the cellar for his next visit.
3. Experience one of the most glamorous hotels in the world
Monaco is a splurge destination so there’s a good case to stay at the Hotel du Paris if possible or at least visit for a drink. The rooms are stylish and some overlook the marina so the views inside and outside the hotel are very special. The grand lobby of marble colonades and crystal chandeliers makes you feel as if you’re staying in a palace. There’s no need to venture out for meals as Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV restaurant is on the ground floor. The décor is as ornate as the food is perfectly simple.
4. Don’t miss local attractions
Many of the local attractions are in Vieux (Old) Monaco and this is where you’ll find both the Prince’s Palace (don’t miss the changing of the guard) and St Nicholas Cathedral - both normally open for tours. The royal family has long supported ocean research so take a look at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, the Princess Grace Botanical Garden is a fittingly tranquil setting and there’s also Princess Grace Rose Garden at Fontvieille.
5. Car lovers rejoice
While anyone with an interest in cars will find it hard to tear themselves away from the endless parade of exotica at Place du Casino, there are a few museums that reveal Monaco’s fascinating with cars. The Museum of Antique Automobiles is in Fontvieille. The Private Collection of Antique Cars of H.S.H Prince Ranier III (next to the zoo) houses 100 vehicles ranging from F1 and rally cars to royal limos and a Sunbeam Alpine that may even be the one that starred alongside Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s 1955 To Catch a Thief.
Incidentally, it was while promoting that film that Grace Kelly came to Cannes the following year and met Prince Rainer. That fairy-tale romance has contributed greatly to Monaco’s tourism ever after. If you’d like to recreate your own version of the film visit Le stuff blog that has more information on each scene’s location than most of us could need.
Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie 'To Catch a Thief' - 1955
In a national framework Monaco really does prove that small is beautiful. To find out more visit this website or, on Twitter, follow @MonacoTourism.
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