Less than one square mile in size (and therefore a smidgen bigger than Vatican City) and surrounded by France on three sides and the Mediterranean Sea on the other, the Principality of Monaco has been largely governed by the House of Grimaldi since 1297.
On Sunday, we joined numerous other not so rich and famous people in this tax haven that draws some of the world’s wealthiest people.
Monaco is best known to many people as the home of the late actress turned Princess Grace Kelly and her late husband Prince Rainier.
Getting there is part of the fun. The double-decker train ride from Nice, through several panoramic French Riviera towns, costs only about four euros per person, each way. It runs along the water and through several mountain tunnels before boring into the cliff above Monaco.
Monte Carlo is a well-known area of this tiny country because it houses the world famous Place du Casino, a gambling spot for the truly rich. If you have seen James Bond movies, you have seen the casino because he frequented the place in several films. More recently, it was featured in Oceans Twelve.
Our walk to the casino required darting out of the way of many Bentleys and Ferraris. Everything was spic and span. Even the park signs warning you to have a dog on a leash look like ornate palace signage.
The square, where the casino is located, has always been one of the most photographed spots in Monte Carlo. Bordered on one side by a very grand looking cafe, on the second side by the palatial Casino; and the third side by the very swanky Hotel de Paris, always, including Sunday, with exotic autos parked in front. The fourth side now has a new and surprising eyesore in the form of a group of silver geodesic domes. They were built in what used to be gardens to the casino, and they house Rodeo Drive style shops. Absolutely not in keeping with this once gorgeous spot.
We left the casino area and went down to the waterfront where numerous mega yachts are always moored. They didn’t measure up to the two cruise ships sitting in the harbor, but they were quite showy nonetheless. One had a Jeep, with Monaco license plates, in its rear section. The local yacht club was built in the scale and size of a cruise ship, maybe bigger. And, of course, there were fancy cars all along its front. The best space was taken by a classic tiny Fiat; perhaps one wealthy member’s way of showing his individuality or maybe his solidarity with the Pope.
Although Monaco is prim and proper in nearly every way, we noticed one bit of what some of the zillionaires might consider tacky. Down by the waterfront, there is a public swimming pool, with large water slide sitting high above the expensive gleaming yachts. But even more surprising was a huge, obviously temporary, carnival and midway right smack on the waterfront. It seemed odd to see people hovering in the sky on some type of woop-de-woop ride, with the royal castle up on the hillside above it. It was a busy carnival, but we wondered how many of the attendees were actually locals, most of whom presumably have to be millionaires or better.
Up on the hill, the old town, fortress and royal palace is where most of the cruise ship passengers head to. Fortunately, by the time, we arrived, it was time for them to be back on board their ships. The palace is best known to most people as the home of of the late actress turned Princess Grace Kelly and her husband, the late Prince Rainier. His ancestors, the Grimaldis, have ruled there since 1297, currently via Prince Albert II.
We toured one smaller church with magnificent detailing, statues, ceilings and lighting. And, then on to the cathedral that rivals those found in most major cities. It had relics of Monaco’s patron saint (Saint Devote) and is the final resting place for royalty including Kelly and Rainier. Flowers, large marble floor plaques and royal seals mark the location that still brings in lots of visitors.
There is a long climb, aided by stairs, escalators, and elevators to the cliffside tunnel where trains pick up and discharge passengers.The last sight before the climb is a small chapel named for Saint Devote. It’s been there for a 1,000 years, although it has been restored or re-made a few times since. Local tradition has the bride of the Prince (such as Grace Kelly) drop off her bridal bouquet there after her Cathedral wedding. Its bells are rung for the Monaco Grand Prix and the name of the chapel identifies the first corner of the race. The only odd thing that caught our attention is there is the usual list of prohibited and allowed things on the church. Cell phones and dogs have lines through them, signifying a prohibition, but a cigarette has no line. Perhaps not so odd in Europe where so many people still smoke.