If you want to feel like you are in a fairy tale, but still – a very real and luxurious one, Monaco is the right place for you! Still a principality, governed by prince who inherits the throne from his father, Monaco is at the same time one of the wealthiest, most expensive and most prestigious countries to live in in Europe.
With only 2 sq km land, the principality has a lot to show and to offer to its visitors. First of all, there are several ways to get to Monaco. It only borders France and the sea, so you can either come from France by plane to the nearest airport Aéroport Nice Côte d’Azur, by car or by bus, or from the Mediterranean sea by cruise. If you come with a car, I recommend taking the Moyenne corniche coming from Nice – it is the most picturesque way to get to Monaco. Of course you can hire your own helicopter or yacht and arrive directly to the principality. It’s your choice 😛
Once you’ve arrived, the first thing you would notice is that the space in Monaco is very limited, but very well used. There are several big underground parking lots for cars and buses. Some of them have several levels, so a lot of vehicles can park here. That’s how the principality manages to have all its guests all at the same time. There is a good public transport system as well and the price of bus ticket is about 2 euro.
Monaco is divided in several quarters, but I will take you trough the four most famous if them: the old part – Monaco Ville, situated on the rock (‘la rocher’); Monte Carlo, where one of the most famous casinos in the world is situated; Fontvieille with Louis II stadium and Condamine – the central quarter with the port.
You have to decide what you want to do and see – because Monaco is small, but 1 day is not enough to see everything.
My advice is to start with Monaco Ville. It is situated on a high rock and here you can see the three biggest sights in Monaco – The Castle, The Oceanographic museum and the Cathedral. When Francesco Grimaldi conquered the city at the end of XIIIc., he took the former Genoese fortress as a residency. (In fact, Grimaldi is an Italian family, who was exiled from Genoa. Francesco Grimaldi managed to enter Monaco dressed like a monk. After a period of Genoa and Aragon rule, Grimaldi took back the government in 1419 and rule the principality ever since). Today the Eastern part of the Castle, ‘’Palais Princier’’, imitates the old Genoese fortress. The prince and his family live in the Palais, but part of it is open for visitors. The entrance fee includes audio-guide in different languages that would get you trough the palace and its history. You can buy tickets just in front of the castle – there are tockets only for the Castle or combined tickets for the Oceanographic Museum and the Castle.
Actually the possibility to see the Prince himself (Prince Albert II) is very big – you have to be searching for an escort for a car with dark windows and the flag of Monaco. The prince lives in the castle, but he goes out of it every day, so you may be lucky to see him (and maybe his wife and little twins). From this point – on the rock in front of the castle, you have a good view to Fontvieille and Condamine. Just opposite the castle, there is the residence of the guards of the principality. Their job is to protect the Prince, his family and the castle – this is the army of Monaco. There are 515 policemen who are responsible for the order in the principality and the safety of its citizens – this makes Monaco one of the countries with most police forces per capita. But don’t make a mistake – the presence of so many policemen is not scary and does not ruin the scenery. Most of them are very helpful and you can ask them anything about the surroundings, transport, etc.
Here in Monaco Ville is the Cathedral – Saint Nicolas. It is in Romanesque – Byzantine style. This is the place where the community celebrates. Here are the graves of some of the members of Grimaldi family, including Renier III and Grace Kelly – the most loved figures in the history of Monaco.
Grace Kelly was a famous American actress, who came on the French Riviera to shoot a movie. Passing through Moyenne corniche, she noticed the beautiful gardens of the principality. Only if she knew that soon the gardens will be hers… In the same year – 1954 – she met Prince Renier III for the first time, 2 years later they married each other. She left the glamorous Holywood life to become a princess. She was very popular with the citizens of Monaco because she was close to them – she organized charity and cultural events, opened hospitals, etc. In the meantime her husband, Renier III, accepted new Constitution, enlarged the land of the principality in the sea, developed the banks, tourism and high technologies. Unfortunately, in 1982 Grace Kelly had a carcrash and lost his life in it. Renier III continued his rule until 2005 – he is the longest ruler of Monaco – 56 years as a prince, which makes him the second longest ruling monarch in the world.
Beside the Castle, Princes an Princesses
On the other end of La Rocher is situated the Oceanographic museum. You can walk the way from the Cathedral to the museum trough the beautiful gardens of St Martin’s. The museum was opened during the reign of Albert I – 1906 – as an exploration center and a museum. He was very fond of oceanography. Nowadays the museum shows rich collection of model ships, sea animal skeletons, tools,
weapons etc., as well as a collection of material culture. In the same building is also the Aquarium with more than 4000 sea species and even a pool with baby sharks, which you can touch. It is also a must-visit. On the top floor you get beautiful panorama to Condamine and Monte Carlo.
On this end of La Rocher is situated Monaco’s prison – yes, people do crime here as well. The best view to it you can get from the entrance of Chemin Des Pecheurs Parking. And the view that the prisoners get from the cells you will get from me:
In When in Monaco Part 2 I will tell you about Monte Carlo, Condamine, Fontvieille and Monaco Grand Prix. To be continued …