As a direct result of the outbreak of Covid 19, the travel industry has been severely disrupted, but for those looking to a brighter future and busy planning their next escape, consider Monaco, the second smallest country in the world after the Vatican City.
Covering only 200 hectares, Monaco is subdivided into the districts of La Condamine, which includes the port; Monaco Ville, known as ‘The Rock’; Fontvielle and Monte Carlo. Situated on the French Riviera, overlooking the sparkling translucent waters of the Mediterranean, Monaco is a tax haven and has achieved the world’s highest GDP per capita.
Monaco is known for the glamorous Grimaldi royal family, now headed by Prince Albert II. In 1956 the world was captivated when the elegant Hollywood film star Grace Kelly married the dashing Prince Rainier III and since then the family has remained firmly in the public eye.
The Grimaldi descendants have ruled Monaco since 1297 when Francesco Grimaldi, disguised as a Franciscan monk, seized the fortress on the Rock of Monaco. In 1633, Honoré II, the first prince of Monaco, achieved independent sovereignty from Spain and in 1641 Louis XIII of France signed the Treaty of Péronne, leading to the Grimaldi family’s continuous rule, with the exception of two decades during the French Revolution when the family were exiled and the palace was seized and used as a military hospital.
The Prince’s Palace was returned to the Grimaldi family in 1814 and has been restored by each successor. Today, the state apartments are open to the public from April to October and include the striking Mirror Gallery, which is used during state visits.
The Red Room is sumptuously furnished in the style of Louis XV and leads onto the York Room where King George III’s younger brother Prince Edward Duke of York and Albany died in 1787 as a result of illness during a sea voyage bound for Genoa. The Blue Room, which is one of the highlights of the tour, is used for official functions and features portraits of the Grimaldi family hanging on walls lined with blue silk brocade and illuminated by the sparkling Venetian chandeliers suspended from the ornate ceiling.
After the tour, be sure to take a leisurely stroll along the Place du Palais where visitors gather to admire the striking palace exterior, which reflects a mixture of medieval fortifications and Renaissance architecture. Mingle with the crowds and view the changing of the guard, which takes place every day just before noon.
Descendants of the Grimaldi family, including Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III, are buried in Monaco’s Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Conception, Immaculate which is a short walk away from the palace. Consecrated in 1875, the magnificent cathedral was erected on the site of the first parish church, which was built in 1252.
Monte Carlo, the administrative district of Monaco, is the place to be seen, and appeals to a host of international celebrities, royalty and prominent figures on the world stage; all keen to attend popular events such as the annual Grand Prix motor race, which began in 1929.
It is said that the 3.2 kilometre Formula One circuit takes six weeks to erect and is the most challenging racing track due to its narrow tunnel, elevation changes and hairpin bends. Stages of the Monte Carlo Rally are also held in the principality and it is thought to be one of the most arduous rallying events attended by thousands of ardent fans.
For a more tranquil experience, head for the Terrasses de Fontvieille and view the personal collection of vintage cars owned by the late Prince Rainier III. Highlights include the champion William Grover-Williams’ Bugatti Type 35, which won the first Monaco Grand Prix in 1929 and the Citroen DS3 WRC, driven by Sébastien Loeb, the champion of the 2013 Monte Carlo Rally. The collection also includes some of the most celebrated models from Rolls Royce, Jaguar, Mercedes and Maserati.
Nature lovers will find a visit to Fontvieille Park and the Princess Grace Rose Garden of interest. The picturesque lake bordered by lush lawns, colourful flower beds, swaying palms and olive trees is the ideal spot for a breather. The garden features a meandering footpath with contemporary sculptures displayed along the way and the fragrance of 8,000 rose bushes hangs in the air.
Another attraction is the Jardin Exotique, which houses the world’s largest collection of succulents and cacti. Exhibits include species from Central and South America, South Africa, Eastern Arabia, and the USA. Note that the entry ticket for the Exotic Garden includes access to the Observatory Cave, 100 metres above sea level, at the foot of the cliff.
Another popular attraction is the Oceanographic Museum, located on the side of the Rock of Monaco. Founded in 1910 by Prince Albert I, the building resembles a palace, known as the temple of the sea. The palace reflects the architectural style of the Baroque Revival with a striking façade towering over the Mediterranean.
Visit the aquariums and view the extensive collection of marine life, which includes jellyfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, starfish and seahorses. Be sure to visit the six metre deep Shark’s Lagoon and Turtle’s island located on the terrace where you will also find a café with comfortable seating and while you enjoy your snack ‘alfresco’ you can admire the panoramic views across the ocean below.
For those with funds to spare and intent on ‘breaking the bank of Monte Carlo’, the Casino de Monte Carlo beckons, or you may prefer to splurge on a high end shopping experience at the Metropole Shopping Centre. Temptations include Max Mara, Kenzo, Tommy Hilfiger and Hugo Boss and if you are weighed down with purchases you won’t have far to go to relax as the Hotel Fairmont Monte Carlo is a short stroll away on Avenue des Spélugues.
The deluxe sea view rooms measurie 35 square metres and are luxuriously furnished. The comfortable beds, swathed in crisp, white linens and goose down pillows ensure a deep slumber and a morning dip in the fabulous pool should awaken party-goers who have perhaps burnt the candle at both ends.
For night birds, The Living Room Club, located on Avenue des Spélugues, is one of the ‘coolest’ places to be and the ideal spot to practice your dance moves. The music is an eclectic mixture of disco, summer hits and classics and the action begins at 23.00 hours and continues until sunrise or, should you prefer a more relaxed spot, head for the terrace, which overlooks the casino gardens. Or, for those seeking a quiet tipple and a jazz band, visit the Sass Café on Avenue Princess Grace.
Join the jet set and visit the Principality of Monaco for a taste of the finer things in life.
Top Tip – Accommodation
For more details of the Fairmont Monte Carlo please visit fairmont.com
Top Tip – Attractions
For more information on local attractions go to visitmonaco.com
Images (excluding yachts and hotel) courtesy Photos Monaco. Copyright Direction de la Communication-Michael Alesi.