Welcome back to my blog. I'm going to try and do a '12 Days of Christmas' thing to speed me through the rest of Europe and get on to Australia and Asia! Today it's Monaco!
Above: Monaco (specifically the ward of Monte Carlo) with the famous casino on the top right.
Officially the Principality of Monaco, this city state is located on the French Riviera in Western Europe. Bordered by France on three sides, with one side bordering the Mediterranean Sea, its centre is about 10 miles from Italy, and is only 8 miles north east of Nice, France. It has an area of 0.79 square miles, and a population of 36,371, making Monaco the second smallest, and the most densely populated country in the world. The country is subdivided into ten Wards, the most famous of which is Monte Carlo.
Above: The density of the high rises is fairly astonishing!
Monaco is a principality governed under a form of constitutional monarchy, with Prince Albert II as head of state. Even though Prince Albert II is a constitutional monarch, he still has immense political power; the House of Grimaldi have ruled Monaco, with brief interruptions, since 1297. Despite Monaco's independence and separate foreign policy, its defence is the responsibility of France. Whilst Monaco is not a member of the European Union, it is very closely linked via a customs union with France, and as such, its currency is the same as that of France, the euro.
Above: The Palace of Monaco.
Economic development was spurred in the late 19th century with a railroad line to France, and the opening of the first casino, Monte Carlo. Since then, the principality's mild climate, splendid scenery, and gambling facilities have made Monaco world-famous as a tourist and recreation centre for the rich and famous. However, in more recent years Monaco has become a major banking centre holding over €100 billion worth of funds and is well known for being a tax haven. Some of its famous residents include Roger Moore, Novak Djokovic, Shirley Bassey, Lewis Hamilton and Ringo Starr.
Above: A panoramic shot of Monaco, with the Palace to the left, Monte Carlo in the centre and our ship on the far right.
Whilst in Moncao, I took a tour (again!) as an escort on an overview of the country with stops at the Palace, the Cathedral and of course, the Grand Casino. In Saint Nicholas Cathedral, we were shown the graves of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly and told their story: on 19 April 1956, Prince Rainier married American actress Grace Kelly; the event was widely televised and covered in the popular press, focusing the world's attention on the tiny principality.
Above: Saint Nicholas Cathedral, the location of Grace Kelly's marriage.
Kelly died in 1982 after suffering a stroke and consequently crashing the car she was driving along the steep winding roads of Monaco. Prince Rainier never re-married and was buried next to his wife when he died on 6 April 2005 after a reign of 56 years. Their son Prince Albert II, is now the ruling monarch of Monaco.
Above: Grace Kelly's grave inside Saint Nicholas Cathedral.
Above: This alcove runs around the back of the altar and is where all of the graves are located.
Driving in Monaco is fairly crazy as the traffic is always very busy but we eventually made it over to Monte Carlo to explore the Grand Casino! 'Le Grand Casino de Monte Carlo' opened in 1858, and the casino benefited from the tourist traffic the newly built French railway system created. Due to the combination of the casino and the railroads, Monaco finally recovered from the previous half century of economic slump, and the principality's success attracted other businesses.
Above: The Grand Casino, mirrored in a fountain.
By 1869, the casino was making such a vast sum of money that the principality could afford not to collect tax from the Monegasques; a master stroke that was to attract affluent residents from all over Europe. Today, Société des bains de mer de Monaco, which owns Le Grand Casino still operates in the original building, and has since been joined by several other casinos. Curiously, Monaco's own citizens are not allowed to gamble in the casino.
Above: The Grand Casino
We were allowed inside the Casino but we could not take pictures and the bouncers did not want anyone looking too 'touristy' - so no shorts, excursion stickers, hats etc! It was incredibly opulent with many rooms, including a bar with a piano trio set up - I want that gig! Just on the right of the photo above is The Hôtel de Paris, established in 1864 by Charles III of Monaco and one of the most famous hotels in the country.
Above: Some of the cars, parked outside the The Hôtel de Paris. The chauffer would start the engine, drive the car two feet forward and then get out and hand the keys to the guest!
One of my favourite part of visiting a new place is to find out what films have been filmed there! Hitchcock's 'To Catch a Thief' (1954) and 'GoldenEye' (1995) feature scenes in Monaco and 'Iron Man 2' (2010) featured a set piece at the Grand Prix. Since 1955, the Monaco Grand Prix has been held annually in the streets of Monaco. The circuit has many elevation changes and tight corners, along with a tunnel and it takes six weeks to set up, and three to pack down!
Above: One of the Grand Prix corners close by the Casino.
Thanks for reading - I really enjoyed my visit to Monaco; it is such a unique destination being so small and so wealthy!