On a beautiful part of the French Riviera coast, with mountains dropping down into the sea, sits the anomaly that is Monaco. Only two miles long, Monaco counts as a country, and as there is no tax to be paid here its residents are the upper layer of the world’s super-wealthy. This means that Monaco is overbuilt, very clean and very safe. This is a country with more members of its Philharmonic Orchestra than its army.
Monaco or Monte Carlo? The two are interchangeable but Monte Carlo is a district of Monaco, along with La Condamine which is the harbour area, Monaco-Ville above the harbour, and the new district of Fontvieille at the western end.
You do not have to be a billionaire tax-dodger to enjoy Monaco, and you can see more of it from the bus than from a gleaming yacht. The glitz of the casino, the glamorous beaches, the thrills of the Monaco Grand Prix are open to all.
This Belle Epoque building, superbly perched on a cliff right above the sea, was founded to house the underwater finds of Prince Albert 1 of Monaco 100 years ago. It has an aquarium with 90 tanks and a shark lagoon, and in its main hall the skeleton of a whale hangs overhead. This is where Jacques Cousteau based himself and oceanographic research continues in the inaccessible parts of the building. There is a carpark at the bottom of the rock and a lift up.
Palais Princier (Prince’s Palace)
This dominates the rock above the harbour, and is close by the Oceanographic Museum. You can visit some royal apartments from April to October. When the Royals are in residence you can only visit a collection of mementoes at the Musee du Palais du Prince. At 11.55am every day there is a changing of the guard in the square outside. To the right of the palace you have the best view of Monaco, with France and Italy beyond.
Built to separate the rich from their riches, Monaco is the place in Europe to lose your shirt. Although not literally. Dress code is relaxed for the slot machines as you enter, but to go beyond and rub shoulders with high rollers, you need jacket and tie, as well as a passport. 10 euros gets you into the glittering Salon d’Europe and 20 euros for the private gaming rooms beyond. (If you really want to just gamble, the American-style Loew’s Casino next door has no entrance fee). Also on Casino Square it’s fun to sit at the Cafe de Paris and watch the comings and goings, you will see the world’s most expensive roadcars parking up and a catwalk show of the well-heeled.
Worth a jaunt if you like cacti and other succulents, there are over 1,000 species, or if you like a towering sea view over to Italy. The Jardin Exotique is a municipal garden in Monaco-Ville, up by the Moyenne Corniche. Entrance includes access to a grotto.
Monaco Grand Prix
At the end of May the eyes of the world are on Monaco for the Grand Prix – the most legendary of Formula 1 car races. Whereas other races are held on custom-built circuits with wide tracks and long straights, the Monaco Grand Prix is a complete anachronism. The most powerful race cars in the world pick their way around the harbour, Casino square, through a tunnel, all on the same roads you drive on to get around Monaco. It is quite a spectacle, and if it didn’t already exist they certainly wouldn’t invent it.