March 26, 2020

Monte Carlo, Monaco

Aug 2006

Monaco is unique in several respects.

1.  Second smallest country in the world (next to Vatican).  Area 2 square km.
2.  Highest density of population.  20,000 per square km. (China 145; India 420)
3.  Highest density of millionaires.  30% of population.  (Singapore 17%, Qatar 14%, Kuwait 12%)
4.  Longest continuous monarchy.  Has been ruling since 1297 (740 years so far; minor interruptions)

It is a tax haven where the wealthy of the world park their wealth.  It is a tourist attraction where people come to watch the rich, the ones with fast cars and charming/beautiful spouses.

Monaco is best accessed by road or by train from Nice.

Monaco is a 2 km by 1 km stretch of land on the French rivera with a rock sprouting up at the edge of the Mediterranean coast where the palace, an oceanographic museum, and observation terraces are located; and the flat land housing a casino.

The rock is where the political power and spectacular views are.

Monaco's royal palace "Palais du Prince" atop the rock castle at Le Rocher

However, most of the action is in Monte Carlo, the small town on the French Riviera coast.

Monte Carlo Town and Marina

The most popular address in Monte Carlo is the Casino de Monte Carlo where the rich of the world come to indulge in gambling.  The Grimaldis offered a place to park your wealth tax free, a place to live well (with cool Mediterranean climate) and eat well (three Michelin starred restaurants in just 2 sq km),  and a place to indulge in gambling.  The French government was annoyed at this escape hatch within a short drive from a French city and blockaded Monaco (since it is surrounded entirely by France and the Mediterranean).  However Princess Grace ("Dial M for Murder" actor Grace Kelley who married the then ruler of Monaco) played a key role in warding off the blockade with her diplomacy.  The Casino is a favorite for most James Bond movies to place its villains.

Casino de Monte Carlo

The Casino has not changed a bit over time.  We had visited Monaco when we were much younger in 1994.  It had more flags outside and more Arabs inside.  No other difference.

Casino de Monte Carlo and Wife in 1994

Most of the tourist attractions are up above on the rock.  We have to climb a gradient pathway to reach the top.

Gradient pathway to the top of the Rock

At the top, the star attraction is the Palais du Prince, the private home of the Royal family.  From the terrace adjacent to the palace, one can enjoy spectacular views of the mountain right next and the sea below.

Guns at the Palace, trained toward sea to protect Rock and Town

View of the Mediterranean from above the Rock

The Prince and his grandfather shared one passion:  Oceanography.  The Musee Oceanographique in Monaco is one of the best in the world.  It has three aquariums.  And the building itself is a classic wonder with one side facing the Mediterranean.

Musee Oceanographique

And the terrace of the Museum offers a spectacular view of Monaco.

View of Monaco from atop Musee Oceanographique

The Prince's second passion was collecting antique cars.  He holds them all in a museum for visitors to see.

Antique Cars Collection of the Prince

It is this passion about cars that led the Prince to ensure Monaco is on the map of Formula 1 races.  This is the only car race in the world that takes place in City streets.

City street that converts into an F1 race track last week of every May

A hop on hop off tour bus can take you to one of the star attractions at one end of Monaco, Jardine Exotique.

Hop on hop off tour train

Jardine Exotique is a tropical garden (with lots of cacti) atop a hill that offers an awesome view of Monaco.

View of the Rock, the Palace, and the town from Jardine Exotique

Jardine Exotique has a grotto that goes quite deep into a spacious cave that has stalactites and stalagmites.  The climb down and climb up is strenuous; but the climate inside the cave is cool and the view breathtaking.

Grotto below Jardine Exotique

After you have seen and experienced the life of the rich, it is probably time to take the train to Nice in France and pay your taxes and worry about your mortgage!

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