A Cruise Stop in Monaco
Arriving in Monaco
Monaco is a strange place to visit. Firstly, it is a place of money. Serious money. I could feel this even when still at sea. The harbour is filled with yachts—the type which take a crew of twenty to run. Everything is sparkling and clean, with crewmen washing down the decks as we sailed past, while smaller boats docked alongside delivering supplies. As I caught the tender to shore, fish skimmed across the surface of the water and dolphins came to play beside us.
Monaco is also a beautiful place, especially up around the old area of Monaco-Ville. Wandering around the alleyways is a bit like wandering through a make-believe playground, with quaint streets and toy soldiers with their pristine white uniforms. The only other people I saw were tourists. Somewhere behind these buildings exists the real world where every day Monégasques live, but like a parallel universe it lay totally hidden from my view.
Monaco and the Grimaldis
Monaco has been under the Grimaldi rule since 1297 (aside from a few periods of annexation by France). Monte Carlo especially has long been associated with glamour. It has a casino complete with its Suicide Terrace, is packed with monied tourists, is playground to holidaying royalty and the seriously wealthy and even even wealthier locals—with the country thriving off gambling and tourism, Monégasques do not pay tax.
We sailed in just after dawn. Buildings the same colour as the hillside stretched along the coastline, one town blending into the next. Monaco is a principality of hills. These were largely barren rocks the colour of sand, with a covering of scrub. From the water I could see the coastal road and, as we neared Monte Carlo, the three corniches, with small cars speeding along them.
Despite the barren hillsides, Monte Carlo is filled with greenery. Along with a few small parks, trees are squeezed into any spare spot, and many of the buildings are covered with vertical gardens. No space is wasted in town—the real estate is far too expensive.
Yet one can visit Monte Carlo and spend very little. From the port, I caught the bus to the palace. It is possible to walk up a flight of (very steep) stairs form the port to Monaco Ville, but with the bus winding through the town I managed to have a tour of Monte Carlo as well. As an added bonus, the driver had no concept of breaking, and so we were treated to a grand-prix style tour.
Cafes stretched along gracious boulevards, and the squares were lined with expensive shops. I could barely afford to look in the windows. I forewent the lure of the casino and continued to the Palace. It is in the heart of Monaco-Ville, perched on a promontory high above the port. The area here is simply picture-perfect; cobbled alleyways wind every which way, lined with quaint buildings, complete with flags fluttering. It is full of little tourist-type shops, cafes, and artisan shops, all perfect for window shopping.
From near the Palace a flight of stairs leads down from the Place du Palais to the cathedral and the Palaise du Justice—the most beautiful police station I have ever seen. The cathedral is stunning, and filled with so much artwork I felt I was in an art gallery. It includes a Pieta by the master artist Louis Brea from Nice, as well as some 16th C works, 12th C stained glass and a gilded wooden altar from the Spanish Renaissance. Soft light tumbles from the windows, blending elegantly with the white Carrara marble and the pillars of granite and porphyry. Dedicated to Saint Nicolas and the Immaculate Conception, the cathedral marks the first parish of Monaco, established in 1252.
The past rulers of Monaco are buried here, with Grace Kelly buried alongside her husband. Her tombstone is distinguished by the abundance of flowers.
Changing of the guard is a daily event outside the palace, and always attracts an abundance of tourists. It is impossible to miss; should you be anywhere in the vicinity there is a strong chance you'll be caught out by the barricades blocking the streets. For a 10 minute ceremony La Place du Palais was impressively crowded. The guards are ridiculously cute, decked completely in white with gold tassels and pointed helmets. They marched from a building on the far side of the square to the palace, where are change took place and then they marched back across the square and out of sight.
A Cup of Coffee in Monaco
A bus will take you into town, but for the more energetic a flight of stairs leads down a shaded walk back to sea level. Dining is never a cheap option here, especially the closer you get to the centre of Monte Carlo. For the price of a cup of coffee, however, I had a quiet place to sit on the balcony at Gloria Jeans and enjoy the stunning view.
Then, unfortunately, it was time to leave. Adieu, Monaco, until next time.
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© 2017 Anne Harrison