When someone mentions the word 'Monaco' to you, what pops into your head? Perhaps royalty -- Princess Grace and Prince Rainier? The grand Casino? Images of affluence? Fashion? Playboys driving fancy cars, accompanied by women in furs?
If the answer to the above is 'yes', you are hardly alone, but you aren't correct. While Monaco is indeed a wealthy little republic on the Meditteranean coastline, and many of its denizens and expatriates are quite well-off, Monaco, and Monte Carlo in particular, is more than just a pile of money waiting to be spent. It is a thriving port city laden with great architecture and a wonderful atmosphere soaking under the Meditteranean sun.
But of course, when one talks about Monte Carlo, one thing sticks out immediately, its world-famous Casino, pictured here. The Casino is an extraordinary work of architecture, elaborately and jaw-droppingly decorated, so one does not have to be a gambler to enjoy it. There are several nearby shopping malls that cater to a sophisticated audience, carrying top-line brands of clothing and trinkets from all over the world (warning: top-line prices to match).
The surrounding area is quite picturesque. In front, the Place de Casino is a small but marvelous park with perfectly sculpted bushes and pretty fountains. The rear of the casino grounds has a huge walkway built on top of a massive hotel overlooking the sea.
Speaking of pretty, the Casino is near Monte Carlo's other main attraction, La Condamine, the country's major port. Compared with the marinas at nearby Nice or Marseille, La Condamine is more orderly and clean, yet certainly no less busy or packed with places to eat or things to do. It is virtually surrounded by great vantage points such as in this photo, taken from the castle grounds of Monaco-Ville, or in the various criss-crossing streets in the mountains behind. La Condamine is also great if you have a few spare million Euros and are in the market for a yacht. :-)
Monte Carlo has a number of classy touches to it that add to both the elegance and the scenery, especially as you work your way toward higher ground. Starting near the shore, a short distance from the casino, is the Japanese Garden, shown here. This garden is almost an oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of the shore line and the skyscrapers and major highway inland. The koi pond, waterfalls, rocks, and bridges are welcome peaceful sight.
Monte Carlo has several major roads that run parallel across the cliff face above the Garden and Casino. Each of these are lined with beautifully sculpted buildings with picturesque balconies and windows. Those in good shape will find the climb across Boulevard des Moulins to Boulevard Princess Charlotte to Boulevard de Jardin Exotique to be a great pleasure -- along with all the small streets in between. This photo merely shows a representative sample of what awaits.
The high ground is also home to several churches and houses of worship. The final picture shows the Church of Saint-Charles, located just about the Boulevard des Moulins. Further west, you'll find the Church of Sainte-Dévote, and in the higher hills you'll find a few houses that have been converted for use as synagogues and mosques. The exterior decor of all these buildings is ornate and rich in color.
Finally, one other thing that probably crosses your mind when you think Monte Carlo is the annual Grand Prix, usually held in mid-to-late May. Monaco is loaded with souvenir stands with a racing theme, and you'll often see Formula 1 cars on display somewhere in Monte Carlo. You can also by maps of the race course (perhaps even walk it yourself if you desire).
From top to bottom, Monte Carlo and the other districts of northeastern Monaco are wonders to behold. Be sure NOT to spend all your time in the Casino district, or you might miss more than your realize!
Trip taken 16 February 2002 -- Page last updated 16 October 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin