As Monaco’s future heir to the throne (and his big sister) make their long-awaited entrance, I take a look at the Principality’s principal attractions.
All eyes descended on the Mediterranean principality of Monaco yesterday when Prince Albert and Princess Charlene welcomed their twin babies, a girl and a boy, to the Grimaldi dynasty. With a rousing 42-shot gun salute ringing out over Monaco, Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella will take their places as ‘heir and spare’ to the throne, the baby boy usurping his sister in ascendency despite her being born two minutes before her brother.
With an area of just 200 hectares, Monaco is the world’s second smallest country (only Vatican City is smaller) although the most densely populated and yet whilst diminutive in size, it certainly packs a punch when it comes to pizazz and privilege. Like many of its neighbours on the Côte d’Azur, Monaco oozes opulence and sophistication and attracts the upper echelons of the social glitterati looking to rub shoulders with the rich and famous in the bars, clubs and distinctive Casino de Monte Carlo, or on race day at the legendary Grand Prix. And yet, whilst it’s fair to say it’s not a budget short break destination, there’s plenty there to see and do to make it a worthwhile and memorable contender on the city break circuit.
With its origins in the 12th century, Monaco is divided into four distinct districts of which Monte-Carlo, Monaco’s most exclusive quartier, is the most well known. The other principal areas include Monaco-Ville, otherwise known as the Old Town or Le Rocher (the Rock), and the port area of La Condamine, Monaco’s second oldest district and home to some utterly fabulous yachts and vast cruise liners. Last but by no means least is Fontvieille, perhaps most famous for its Princess Grace Rose Garden, home to over 180 varieties of rose, the Naval Museum, the Museum of Stamps and Coins and Prince Rainier’s private collection of over 100 classic cars (Collection de Voitures Anciennes), including a black London taxi gifted to Grace Kelly and a Bugatti 1929, the first Formula One racing car to win the Monaco Grand Prix.
Starting point for most Monaco visitors is medieval Monaco-Ville, a beautiful pedestrianized area packed full with shops, restaurants and Monaco’s main attractions. At its heart is the Place du Palais where you’ll find the early-13th-century Palais Princier overlooking the Port and Monte-Carlo. Here, you can either visit the beautiful State Apartments including the Throne Room, or just enjoy the changing of the guard performed daily at 11.55am by the Carabiniers.
Another Grimaldi connection in Monaco-Ville is Monaco’s Cathedral, built in 1875 and Romanesque-Byzantine in style and perhaps most famous as the venue for the marriage of Prince Rainier of Monaco to the American actress, Grace Kelly. Today it hold their remains and outside of July and August, holds a special Sunday mass at 10am featuring ‘Les Petits Chanteurs de Monaco’. Close by, other must-sees include the Jardin Exotique, home to the world’s largest collection of cacti, and the world-renowned Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium, with some 4,000 species of fish and 200 invertebrates on display.
Over in Monte-Carlo meanwhile are some of the principality’s most striking landmarks, from the illustrious Hôtel de Paris steeped in history to the majestic Monaco Opera House, also known as Salle Garnier, its interior swathed in sumptuous reds and golds with some striking paintings. Connected to the Opera House by a series of onyx statues is the principality’s crown jewel, the legendary Casino de Monte Carlo, a grand establishment bedecked in marble and gold where high rollers and high society come to play. Don your poker face and best attire and don’t forget to bring your passport, you won’t get in without it!