Located along the spectacular Côte d’Azur – named after the crystal clear azure waters of the Mediterranean – Monaco is the world’s smallest French speaking principality with a small but very friendly population of just 32,410. Just 18 kilometres east of Nice and a stone’s throw from the Italian border the principality’s two kilometre square area is small enough to squeeze in all its highlights in just one day, while big enough to provide enough activities to keep the average visitor entertained for many weeks.
With its warm, sunny climate and high temperatures reaching a glorious 26 degrees Celsius in July and August, Monaco is not the average coastal resort, with an eclectic mix of history and most importantly – glamour. It is a reputation rightly deserved, with reportedly more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world. If the number of flashy cars being driven around its streets and the impressive yachts in the harbour are anything to go by this rumour may well be true.
Tourism is Monaco’s main source of income, with an extension to the main harbour in 2001 allowing cruise ships to dock bringing plenty more visitors to its shores. A trip to Monaco is definitely not complete without a visit to Monte Carlo casino where the impressive marble and onyx decorated building has welcomed the rich and famous (and the inquisitive!) for many years. In the ornate baroque casino visitors can watch, or try their luck in the elegant European Rooms, with the ringing of slot machines in the Salle Blanche, as well as the thrill of roulette tables in the Salle Europe. But watch out if you’ve just stepped off the beach – flip flops and shorts are outlawed with a strict dress code of jacket and tie for men.
Monaco is richly steeped in history, obtaining its name from the Phocaean Greek colony of Marseille in sixth century BC and, according to ancient myth, Hercules was said to have passed through the Monaco area. Up on the Rocher de Monaco sits the impressive palace, located on the site of a fortress built by the Genoese in 1215, while the narrow streets of the old town have also retained their unique medieval character. Interconnected by a maze of charming vaulted passageways a wander through the maze-like network is a perfect way to while away an hour or two.
Monaco’s sovereignty was recognised by Franco-Monegasque Treaty of 1861, with the Treaty of Versailles signed in 1946, stating that Monegasque policy should be in line with French political, military and economic interests. In 1993, it became a fully fledged member of the United Nations. Sadly in 2005, monarch Prince Rainier III died after a reign of 56 years, with his son Albert II of Monaco, the son of the late actress Grace Kelly, quickly succeeding him. Interestingly, a treaty between France and the principality signed in 2002 states that if there are no future heirs to carry on the dynasty, Monaco will still remain an independent nation.
Renowned as an expensive place of luxury, Monaco is a tax haven, where chic designer boutiques and restaurants offer a million and one ways to spend any winnings from the Casino (or any holiday money left over from a small flutter!). Entertainment-wise, Monaco offers a host of cultural treats, from the Ballet de Monte-Carlo, launched by the late Princess Grace, to Monte-Carlo Opera, as well the principality’s own National Philharmonic Orchestra.
Perhaps most famous for its Grand Prix, one of the demanding tracks in the world, Monaco also offers a wealth of sporting activities. A trip to the Louis II stadium, the football ground of AS Monaco, is well worth a look as well as deep sea diving, water sports, golf, sailing and fishing trips.
Visitors to Monaco are in for a culinary treat, with food from Tex-Mex to Japanese and sublime dining in the three-star Louis XV restaurant to portside cafés. Monégasque specialties like barbiguan, a delicious mouthful of rice, spinach, leek and cheese, are often served as an appetizer.
However, with a very well-connected train line, a trip to the nearby towns of Nice, Cannes and St Tropez, is a must, particularly as the journey offers magnificent views over the Mediterranean following the curves of the coastline most of the way.