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A guard at the palace of Prince Albert II of Monaco - photos by Jennifer Wattam Klit
A guard at the palace of Prince Albert II of Monaco -
photos by Jennifer Wattam Klit

Monaco for the Average Joe

By Jennifer Wattam Klit

WHAT & WHY GO?

Monaco is well known for glitz, glamour and grandeur but it’s also a very friendly, delightful place and not as expensive as one might think. Years of news reports about the royal family, gambling casino and yearly Grand Prix auto race have shaped a one-dimensional impression of this little country.

It is true that Monaco has more millionaires per capita than any other country in the world and residents of this little paradise enjoy a tax-free lifestyle.

However, Monaco has managed to sustain immense wealth and class, while maintaining a friendly down to earth vibe.

So what does Monaco have to offer to the average joe? The reality is that Monaco is every bit as glamorous as one might think but it’s also a charming country with diversified attractions that appeal to every walk of life.

Perhaps it’s the mix of Monegasque (Monacan), French, Italian and English cultures that is so appealing or is it the ocean views, exquisite rugged coastline and variety of perfectly maintained gardens that make this small land a destination must.

Monaco is located on the Mediterranean Sea, nestled into the Maritimes Alps, only minutes from Nice International Airport and the French and Italian Rivieras. It has a population of 32,409 and measures a mere .76 square miles (1.95 square kilometres). It is the most densely populated country in the world and the world's second smallest independent country. Monaco has a constitutional monarchy ruled by Prince Albert II and its economy is fuelled by industry and tourism. 

Overlooking Monaco's harbor and the Port of Hercules
Overlooking Monaco's harbor and the Port of Hercules

The people of Monaco (also known as “The Monegasque” or “Monacans”) are warm and polite. Monaco, in comparison to some other European countries, is very clean and well maintained. Architecturally, it is an immaculate mix of old and new styles, coexisting in perfect balance. The Mediterranean-style buildings with their pastel colours are meticulously kept. Houses dating back to the 12th century, located on narrow streets, have managed to maintain their medieval character.

Monaco consists of five areas: The old town, Monaco-Ville also known as "The Rock,” is situated on a high point of land at 60m (200 ft.) high. It is where you’ll find the Prince’s Palace and the Oceanographic Museum.

Just northwest of the royal palace close to bordering Cap d’Ail, France you’ll find Moneghetti, home of the Exotic Gardens. The newest area, Fontvieille, is also located west of Monaco-Ville and includes the industrial suburb as well as a man made waterfront, stadium and sports complex and the Princess Grace Rose Garden where a bronze statue of her stands proudly. At the base of the old town, called The Condamine you’ll find the Hercules Harbour. Just north of the harbour is the District of Monte Carlo home of the world famous Casino.

A garden located in The Saint Martin Gardens area where apparently the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire once found inspiration.
A garden located in The Saint Martin Gardens area
where the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire once
found inspiration.

History

Perhaps Monaco’s charm can be traced back in its past. The Rock of Monaco was once a shelter for primitive inhabitants. Traces of their occupation were discovered in a cave in the Saint Martin Gardens.

The first permanent residents of the region, the Ligures, are described as a mountain people, accustomed to hard work and frugality. Monegasque is a dialect of Ligurian and an Indo-European language still spoken by about 5,000 people in Monaco today.  The official language in Monaco is French but English is widely spoken.

The origin of the name "Monaco" has been subject to several theories. For some, the name comes from the Ligurian tribe, the Monoikos, who inhabited the Rock in the 6th century B.C. For others, the origin comes from the hero “Hercules” whose name was often linked to the expression "Herakles Monoikos," which means “Herakles alone.” This version is backed up by the fact that the modern name for Monaco's main port is the Port of Hercules.

Dressed as a Franciscan monk, Francois Grimaldi - an Italian pirate who robbed and pillaged his way along the rocky coast of what is now called the Riviera - captured the Rock of Monaco in 1297. Francois was greeted at the gates of a fortress built by the Genoese in 1215, and then seized the fortress with a gang of accomplices behind him.

A statue of Francois Grimaldi, the 'monk' with a sword under his habit
A statue of Francois Grimaldi, the 'monk '
with a sword under his habit.

A statue of Francois Grimaldi stands in close proximity of the Prince’s Palace. Prince Rainier the third, a descendant of the infamous Grimaldi family, ascended to the throne in 1949 and later attracted the world's interest with his fairy-tale marriage to American actress Grace Kelly. Their son, Prince Albert II is the reigning Prince of Monaco.

WHEN TO GO

Monaco is blessed with a mild climate, and is blanketed with more than 300 days of sunshine per year. Most summers are in the 80 degrees Fahrenheit or (27) degrees Celsius with hot spells for a week or so in July and August. It’s also the time of year when you’ll find the bulk of tourists. Not to worry though, there are plenty of parks with shade trees to sit under in Monaco.  In winter, temperatures average about 53 degrees Fahrenheit or (12) degrees Celsius with sunny days and cool nights.  

GETTING THERE AND AROUND

Nice-Cote d’Azur International Airport www.nice.aeroport.fr  is a 30-minute drive or (17 miles) from Monaco. If driving, take the A8 highway east and exit A8 - RN7 coming from Nice. Trains to and from Nice run regularly and take approximately 25 minutes. . The underground train station in Monaco sncf.fr  is located on avenue Prince Pierre.

Tel: 1-800-4-EURAIL - information on trains in Europe
Tel.:  93 10 60 15 - Monaco train station information
COST: approximately 8 Euros return

One of the many beautiful buildings in Monte Carlo
One of the many beautiful buildings in Monte
Carlo.

If you’re in fairly good shape, the best way to get around Monaco is to walk, as there are many scenic hiking trails, and an abundance of diversified gardens, but be warned, there are some steep hills.

For those of us who are a little less ambitious there are the Azur Express Tourist Trains. These little red and white trains make daily journeys with commentary in English, Italian, German and French. You can catch one of these trains in front of the Oceanographic Museum & Aquarium.

During the trip you will discover the Monaco Port, the District of Monte Carlo and its palaces, the famous casino and its gardens, before returning to the Old Town with its City Hall and finally the magnificent Prince’s Palace:

Tel.: 92 05 64 38
Fax: 92 05 64 38
Cost (per person): 6 Euros

You can also use Monaco’s public bus system www.cam.mc. Tickets are sold onboard and you can purchase a “Daily Tourist Card” (no ride limit) for 3.60 Euros.

Taxis

Two main taxi stands are in operation round the clock at the Avenue de Monte Carlo (near the Casino) and the railway station. Other taxi stands are located at Place des Moulins, Avenue de la Costa, Fontvieille and Beach Plaza. A taxi to or from Nice airport for example could cost as much as 75 Euros and there aren’t enough to go around so if you’re planning on taking a taxi to the airport it’s best to book ahead.

View of the world famous Monte-CarloCasino
View of the world famous Monte-Carlo Casino

Tel: 93 50 56 28
Radio Tel: 93 15 01 01

BEST ATTRACTION

Monte-Carlo Casino

Even if you have champagne dreams on a soda pop budget the casino, set in the centre of Monte Carlo, should not be missed.  

Charles Garnier, the architect of the opera house in Paris, built the Casino in 1878. Its atrium is covered in marble and is enclosed by 28 Ionic columns in onyx. It leads into the auditorium of the opera, called the “Salle Garnier,” which is decorated in red and gold, with a cornucopia of bas-reliefs (images raised above the background of a flat surface), frescoes and sculptures.

Here, for more than a century, exceptional international performances of opera, ballet and concerts have been staged. The gaming rooms consist of a series of rooms featuring stained glass windows, decorations, sculptures, paintings and bronze lamps.

Persons under 18 not admitted
Dress code: Jacket and tie for men
Rate (per person): 10 Euros

Casino Gardens and Terraces

Opposite the casino are magnificent flowerbeds and carefully tended lawns dotted with ponds. The “Boulingrins Gardens” as they are called slope gently upwards in the direction of the shopping street of the town. The back of the casino, facing the sea, is bordered by sunny terraces.

Prince Albert's palace
Prince Albert's palace

BEST ACTIVITY OR TOUR

Prince’s Palace (State Apartments)

The Prince’s Palace and State Apartments www.palais.mc were built on the site of a fortress built by Italians from Genoa in 1215. Once the home of the beloved Princess Grace, the outstanding features of the palace that can be admired include an Italian style Gallery running alongside the south facade and the State Apartments that are filled with French period furniture. Famous paintings such as splendid frescoes by 16th century Genoese artists, depicting mythological scenes can be seen. There is also a striking family portrait of Prince Rainier, Princess Grace, and their children.

The main courtyard, paved with three million white and colored pebbles forming vast geometrical patterns, and its 17th century double revolution staircase in Carrara marble, is home to renowned summer concerts. This was once the central part of the fortress built in the 18th century. The Museum of Napoleon, situated on the ground floor in the south wing of the palace, includes objects belonging to Napoleon I. The Changing of the Guard takes place at 11:55 a.m. every day in front of the main entrance of the palace.

The Monaco Cathedral
The Monaco Cathedral

Prince’s Palace (State Apartments)
Place du Palais
MC 98000, Monaco
Tel.: 93 25 18 31
Fax: 93 50 81 73
Admission: 8 Euros (no cameras permitted inside)
Children from 8 to 14 years old: 3 Euros

OTHER ATTRACTIONS

Monaco Cathedral

Situated not far from the Prince’s Palace in Monaco-Ville is Monaco Cathedral. This magnificent cathedral was built in 1875 in the Romanesque-Byrzantine style from stone taken from nearby La Turbie, France - an area between Monte Carlo and Cap-díAil well liked by rock climbers. 

Several important 16th century paintings and a wooden altar dating from the Spanish Renaissance are located in Monaco Cathedral. The altar is very beautiful and large, made of marble with pillars of granite and there are mosaics on the windows. Monaco Cathedral is the final resting place of Princess Grace of Monaco, who died in a tragic car accident in 1982.  The tomb of Prince Rainier III, Princess Grace’s former husband is there as well as those of other deceased royals.

Admission: Free

Oceanographic Museum & Aquarium

Close to the Monaco’s Cathedral and built on the edge of “The Rock” in 1910 the Oceanographic Museum & Aquarium www.oceano.mc museum of marine sciences has been touted as the best aquarium in Europe. It is an architectural tour de force with an extravagant facade rising grandly above the sea to a height of 279 feet (85 metres). It took 11 years to build, using 100,000 tons of stone from La Turbie.

The Shark Lagoon, an aquarium located in the basement of the Oceanographic Museum
The Shark Lagoon, an aquarium located in the
basement of Oceanographic Museum.

The rooms of the Museum, open to the public on two floors, have high ceilings and contain collections of marine fauna gathered by its founder, Prince Albert I, numerous specimens of sea creatures including the skeleton of a 70-foot (21-metre) whale caught off the coast of Newfoundland. Also included are models of Prince Albert’s laboratory ships.

In the basement is the world-famous aquarium with its extensive display of marine flora and fauna. With 4,000 species of fish and over 200 families of invertebrates and 90 seawater tanks, the aquarium exhibits an impressive display of the Mediterranean and tropical marine ecosystem. Enjoy the giant tank known as the “Shark Lagoon,” which demonstrates the diversity and extraordinary colours of the coral reef and its dwellers.

There's also a display on the work of the late, great Jacques Cousteau, as well as other ocean explorers. On the ground floor, exhibitions and various films are regularly presented in the “Conference Room.” Don’t miss out on the half-hour film about Monaco’s history.

Enjoy lunch on the top floor in the restaurant “La Terrasse” while viewing Monaco and the Italian Riviera. If you’d rather brownbag it, there is a picnic spot and playground at the base of the Oceanographic Museum.  A museum shop is also onsite.

Avenue Saint-Martin
MC 98000, Monaco
Tel: 93 15 36 00
Fax: 92 16 77 93

View of the Fort Antoine Theater and Monaco's Harbor
View of the Fort Antoine Theater and Monaco's Harbor

E-mail: rp@oceano.mc
Admission: 11 Euros
Ages 6 to 18 - 6 Euros
Children under 6 – Free

Fort Antoine Theater

Not far from the Oceanographic Museum you’ll find the Fort Antoine Theater. This early 18th century fortress, situated on the northeastern tip of the Rock, is used as an outdoor theater with the capacity to hold 350 spectators in tiered seating built in a semi-circle. Enjoy the view in a delightful setting. High quality performances are given during the summer season.

Avenue de la Quarantaine
MC 98000, Monaco
Tel.: 93 15 80 00
Fax: 93 50 66 94
Admission: Free (except during performances)

BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTION

Observatory Caves

200 feet below the Exotic Gardens www.jardin-exotique.mc  visitors can discover the immense chambers of the prehistoric Observatory Caves, whose chalky concretions with strange and mystical shapes, and limestone concretions are illuminated.


The Observatory Caves beneath the Exotic
Gardens.

Boulevard du Jardin-Exotique
MC 98000, Monaco
Tel.: 93 15 29 80
Fax:  93 15 29 81
E-mail: jardin-exotique@mairie.mc

Admission: 6, 90 Euros (includes Exotic Gardens, Observatory Caves and The Anthropology Museum)

BEST ALTERNATIVE

Because Monaco is conveniently placed on the Riviera between Provence and Italy, why not take advantage of the opportunity to visit the famous beaches of Nice and The Picasso Museum, or see the medieval villages of St. Paul de Vence, Italy’s ski slopes and the boutiques and markets of nearby San Remo.

HOTELS
 
Rooms in Monaco start at an affordable 55 Euros a night. There are 2 to 4 star deluxe hotels to choose from.

EATS

There are many diversified restaurants and cafes in Monaco in all price ranges. If you prefer to eat a traditional Monegasque (Monacan) meal try “barbagiuan,” a delicious tidbit of rice, spinach, leek and cheese, served as an appetizer.

LINKS AND HELPFUL INFORMATION

www.visitmonaco.com provides a wealth of information about hotels, restaurants, attractions in Monaco and surrounding areas etc. Tourist office

The Monaco Tourist Office is located in the District of Monte Carlo, across the park from the Casino:

Direction du Tourisme et des Congress de la Principauté de Monaco
2a Boulevard des Moulins
MC 98030 MONACO Cedex
Tel: 92 16 61 16
Fax: 92 16 60 00

www.nice.aeroport.fr – Nice International Airport

www.rca.tm.fr - Rapides Cote d’Azur bus service to Monaco from Nice Airport (22 Euros roundtrip)

 

Jennifer Wattam Klit



Jennifer Wattam Klit is a student and a film person. She is a Canadian who resides in Helsingor, Denmark.
Read more stories by Jennifer Wattam Klit:

Helsingor, Denmark: Hamlet's Home Town

Crete: Majesty, History, and Adventure

Crete Photo Gallery

 

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