Monaco, the glamorous city-state on the French Riviera, is known for casinos, the Grand Prix, and Grace Kelly, but there is more to this principality than meets the eye.
Monaco is the second smallest country in the world – Vatican City is the only country smaller. The majority of its income nowadays comes from tourism, a big change from when Ranier III, the country’s most famous monarch, came to power in 1949. At that time, 95% of the country’s revenue was from gambling – a dangerous hobby for your citizens to take up, especially if you are only a small country! For this reason, residents are now forbidden from the gaming rooms of the country’s casinos. The Casino de Monte-Carlo is the grandest of the country’s casinos, has been the backdrop to many Bond movies and was actually what Ian Fleming had in mind when he wrote Casino Royale. When I visited the casino it was as grand and impressive as I had expected, with many interesting people and a lot more slot machines than I had thought there would be. While playing blackjack I was very impressed by the dealers’ deftness with the cards and their ability to add each player’s hand and determine the outcome of the game in less than a second.
The Hotel de Paris sits alongside the Casino de Monte-Carlo and is even more splendorous. The lobby features a huge display of flowers underneath a sparkling chandelier, with a bar to the left complete with live band. There is a mirror lined corridor on the right containing glass cases of high fashion leading to the most spectacular dining room with a large fresco on the back wall, guilded columns and tuxedoed waiters. I ordered a lychee martini before being taken to my table on the terrace, where I ate a pea soup appetiser, smoked salmon entrée and lamb main, followed by a dessert of petit fours. All the food we were served was delicious and the waiters very friendly and polite, but the highlight was my lamb, which was tender and perfectly cooked. The only critique I could make was the outdated sexism in service – men were given menus with prices and women had menus without prices. As I was not the person paying for the meal I didn’t want to order something ridiculously priced, and so had to peek at one of the male menus to make sure what I was planning on ordering wasn’t the most expensive item on the menu. We were also explicitly told that the petit fours they brought out were ‘for the ladies’. I do love my dessert, but it would have been more enjoyable if everyone at the table could have tried some.
The morning after our meal we walked up to Monaco’s old town, Monaco-Ville, where the cathedral and palace of the country are located. The cathedral is where Grace Kelly was married and where she is now buried, next to her husband. Kelly began acting at the age of twenty and quit only seven years later, when she married Prince Ranier III who she had met the year before when she visited the Riviera for the Cannes film festival. The old town capitalises massively on Princess Grace and the Grand Prix, as all tourist traps do with their main attractions.
Monaco is overall an exciting city to visit, but since it is so small you would only need a couple of days there. Outside of Monaco-Ville and Monte-Carlo, most of the country is packed full of apartment buildings for tax evaders to claim as their residence (since Monaco does not charge income tax). Pavarotti used the country for this purpose, although it was proven that he could not possibly live there since he could not physically fit in the bathroom of the apartment he claimed he lived in. Despite its unattractive outer area, Monte Carlo and particularly Casino Square are impressive to visit, especially if you like admiring expensive cars. The old town is gorgeous but if you plan to climb the stairs up to it on a hot day, bring water! And take a walk down to one of the city’s ports, some of the yachts moored there are truly breathtaking.
Image credit: https://b.geolocation.ws/img/014/738/424-F.jpg (Image shows Casino de Monte-Carlo in background and Hotel de Paris on right.)