Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo: The Most Glamorous Quarter of the Principality of Monaco

Monte Carlo is the wealthiest and most famous quarter in the Principality of Monaco, not to mention on the Côte d’Azur. Monaco, ruled for the last 700 years by the Grimaldi heirs, is the second smallest independent state in the world, after the Vatican. Located at the foot of the Southern Alps, Monte Carlo sits on the French Riviera only a short distance from Nice and Genoa, surrounded by France, with La Turbie and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin directly bordering it. Although here the official language is French, both Italian and English are also widely spoken, with natives speaking the local dialect, le monegù, as well. Monte Carlo has a population of about 30,000, made up mostly of locals, called Monegasque, French nationals and Italians. One can fly into Nice-Côte d’Azur International Airport which is only 22km away and then catch a bus to Monte Carlo, or for the more affluent, helicopter trips leave regularly for Monte Carlo from the airport. The city is also accessible by train, car or ship. With two major ports, many cruise ships depart from Monte Carlo and there are always numerous private yachts docked off shore. Once in the city, one can get around well on foot, taking advantage of the escalators and elevators that help visitors get up and down the steep terrain. For longer trips, taxis and the local bus are the best bet, or for the more adventurous there is the option of renting a motor scooter. The ideal Mediterranean climate and location on the sea with only an hours drive to the ski slopes in the Alps, not to mention the Grand Prix and world class casinos, has made Monte Carlo a hot spot for the rich and famous for generations. The added glamour of the royal family only enhances the city’s popularity. People come from around the globe to soak in the sun, enjoy the sea, and experience first hand the elegance of the French Riviera here in Monte Carlo.

Excavations have shown that the area of Monte Carlo, or the Rock of Monaco, was inhabited by prehistoric tribes, with the cave in the Gardens of Saint-Martin revealing itself to be a primary shelter. By the 6th century BC, the area was inhabited by the Ligures Tribe, and later it was held by the Romans until the fall of the Empire in the 5th century. In 1215, Fulco des Cassello was granted the sovereignty of Monaco by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. To attract new settlers, he gave away land and offered attractive tax exemptions. In 1297, the Genoese Francois Grimaldi came to the fortress dressed as a Franciscan monk and was invited into the castle where he and his army outside were able to take control of the city, leading to the 700 year reign of his family over the principality. In 1489 the Grimaldi family gained the official recognition as the sovereigns of Monaco from both the King of France and The Dukes of Savoy, and in 1641 the Grimaldi hears were awarded equality with the highest French nobles as the protective friendship with France grew allowing this small principality to remain independent among the ever larger nations that border it. In 1911 Monaco was made a constitutional monarchy, and in 1929 Monte Carlo caught the world’s attention when it hosted its first Grand Prix. The public once again was dazzled by Monte Carlo when the American actress, Grace Kelly, and Prince Rainier III of Monaco were married at Monaco’s Cathedral, in what seemed a fairytale come to life. The tragic car accident that led to the death of Princess Grace in 1982 once again caught the world’s attention. Their son, Prince Albert, now reigns over the glamorous principality.

Main Attractions

The Princes Palace and State Apartments

Construction of the palace may have begun as early as 1191, although numerous additions and renovations have been undertaken over the centuries. The Grimaldi family has lived here since 1297. The palace is unique since it was initially intended to act as a fortress. Here one can tour the royal family’s home, watch the changing of the guard, and take in the amazing views of the harbor below. Within the palace one also finds the Napoleon Museum which houses the personal collection of Prince Louis II made up of letters, documents, relics and personal articles that belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte.

Saint Nicholas Cathedral

Monaco’s cathedral was built in 1875 over what had been a parish church since 1252. The Great Altar dates from c. 1500 and the Episcopal throne is made of the famous white Carrara marble. It was here that Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III were married in 1956, and it was here that they were both buried.

The Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium

Over 4,000 species of fish and 200 families of invertebrates are housed in this aquarium, which is a great place for the whole family to learn about the wonders of the Mediterranean Sea. There is even a skeleton of a 66 ft whale on display. On the roof is a wonderful restaurant which offers a great view of the area in addition to a meal.

National Museum of Dolls and Automatons of Yesteryear

This museum is housed in a 19th century villa that was designed by Charles Garnier, who also designed the Paris and Monte Carlo Opera Houses. Within is housed an exquisite collection of dolls, mostly Parisian from the second half of the 19th century. The dolls are presented in period costumes, with period furniture and porcelain and other house hold items all to scale.

The Exotic Garden and the Observatory Cave

This is a great place to get out and enjoy the walking tours. The gardens are filled with exotic and rare plants, and the grotto is worth exploring. From here there is also another great view of Monte Carlo.

The Casinos

Monte Carlo’s casinos are world famous. The first one opened in 1861 and they have been owned by a private company, the Société des Bains de Mer, of which the government is the biggest share holder. The casinos are one of the main industries in Monaco, and while citizens still benefit from the historic tax exemptions established back in 1215, they are also forbidden to enter the gaming rooms. Most of the casinos impose a strict dress code for entrance as well as an entrance fee, but it is said even if you don’t intend to play, it is still worth the fee to see the glamorous rooms and players. The Casino de Paris is said to be the most beautiful.

The Grand Prix

The world all watches when the Grand Prix happens in Monte Carlo. If you happen to be there when it is going on, it is surly a sight to be seen. If not, and you have the money to spend, it can often be arranged to be driven in one of the race cars, such as a Lamborghini or Ferrari, around the course. The fees are steep, though, so this is reserved for the very wealthy. Otherwise, you may just be able to see some of the drivers practicing the course, which can be a thrill in itself.

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