28 FEB 2018: Let's not mince words. I think it highly unlikely that any of us will be going to Monte Carlo for a long vacation any time soon. Having said that - what do I know? Perhaps you have friends with a yacht? Perhaps a pied a terre? Perhaps tickets to this year's Formula I race? What I do know is that Monaco/Monte Carlo is easily reached from both the French and Italian Rivieras and if you are nearby, a day trip to this unique city state is well worth taking.  

As mentioned in my last column, my husband and I drove through the Principality en route to Nice earlier this year. This famous coastal road, known as the Moyenne Corniche, is magnificent with incomparable views. But in the Principality itself we had to admit that driving a motorhome is far from 'cool' and far from easy with its steep narrow streets. In addition, we realized it would be almost impossible to park. However, on that first visit we drove the FI circuit and gawped out of the windows at the soaring development of this tiny state. "I'd like to go back for a closer look, but not in the camper," said husband as we drove away, and so we did.

There's regular train service from San Remo, where we were staying, into Monte Carlo. Ditto from locations along the French coast. The fact that this city state is over-the-top wealthy becomes apparent even at the railway station. It's bright and clean under its glass roofs, trains from France and Italy come and go, escalators and elevators are smooth and modern, there are glimpses through the soaring windows of the fabled city below.

We found our way out and discovered that one can explore the hillside city via a system of public elevators and escalators. We descended in this manner to the harbour where, of course, my husband was keen to look at the mega yachts moored there. With soaring skyscraper apartments buildings behind us and the luxurious boats in front of us it was easy to believe that Monaco - a tax haven - boasts that its residents have the highest per capita income in the world.

Our walk from the harbour to Place du Casino took us along part of the FI Grand Prix route, a route that will be familiar to fans of the race that is held here every May.

'Casino bend' is a landmark! The Grand Casino and its beautiful gardens give a splendid view over the city and harbour. Anyone can enter and play the slot machines if they wish but our guide book informed us that only big spenders can gain access to the exclusive gaming rooms. It is this casino that has accounted for the Principality's fame and wealth. Our guidebook also told us it was instituted in 1878 by Prince Charles III to save himself from bankruptcy and became so successful that within a few years his was able to abolish taxation for all his people.

The famous old Hotel de Paris stands adjacent to the casino and we wandered in for a quick look. It certainly is a beautiful building and no doubt sees its fair share of the rich and famous. Being neither, we left and found a pretty cafe overlooking the square where we sat down with a coffee and our guidebook to plan the rest of our day.

I've mentioned the words 'day trip' several times, but in fact there is too much to see in Monte Carlo in one day and it's hard to believe the tiny country covers just 1.9 sq km - an area smaller than New York's Central Park. The Palais Princier, both the seat of government and the home of the Royal Family is only open in the summer, a fact that disappointed us as we know it contains priceless furniture and frescoes. Our second choice was the Musee Oceanographique which is a fine aquarium founded in 1910 by Prince Albert I. It holds soaring underwater exhibits, fed with sea water, containing rare creatures and marine plants as well as a collection of old and new diving equipment and model ships. Highly recommended.

One museum is enough for a day and, in any case, our day was flying by. (For those with longer, or different interests, Monaco/Monte Carlo also offers a Musee des Souvenirs Napoleoniens, a Nouveau Musee National de Monaco and a Musee d'Anthropologie Prehistorique.) But we still wanted to wander through some of the region's lovely gardens and to have a quick peek at how luxurious the shops might be!

Even in winter the gardens and squares here are lovely ... seemingly newly-planted (no doubt often!) and lovingly tended. And as for the shops ... need I elaborate? Jewels, yes! Couture outfits, yes! Expensive leather goods, oh yes!

But I carried no expensive shopping bags and my back-pack was as I had arrived (just sans our sandwiches) when we boarded the train back to San Remo, our temporary home across the border in Italy. Monaco/Monte Carlo is certainly worth a visit and offers enough to amaze, entertain and interest for several days.

 

 

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Ann Wallace

Ann Wallace is living a writer's dream currently writing of her adventures as she and her husband sail their boat around Europe.

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