MONACO: one of the most surreal places you can visit in Europe.
Monaco has to be one of the most surreal and strange places in the Western World.
Some have likened it to the facade of a Disney resort and others to the obscene and visible display of a Las Vegas. But for me it is neither, it is just a very strange place. And unless you are living there for tax purposes it is hard to see why you would want to live there.
The city and country (as at around 2km square it all is the same) largely comprises of uninspiring, large and very unimpressive tower blocks. The very tower blocks from the 50s, 60s and 70s that popped up post was across many European cities. The one difference being they cost outrageous sums of money.
Monaco is jam full of buildings. Space was limited, although some land reclamation and building into the sea helped expand the space a bit – but when they did they threw up more tall blocks.
Underneath most of the city there seems to be either vast parking garages or road tunnels. The whole underneath of the city seems to be a world for cars. This was driven by necessity as there would have had to be valuable building space given up, and also they needed to figure out how to get a lot of traffic in, around and out of the city.
I had never been sure what the difference between Monaco and Monte Carlo was – if anything. I discovered that Monte Carlo is a district within Monaco, with the country and capital both being called Monaco (as they are one and the same). The famous Formula 1 Grand Prix takes place each May in the Monte Carlo district, which is kind of the centre of the most know and visited area of Monaco where the Casino and Hotel De Paris are located.
Monaco is a strange quirk as it is ruled by the Grimaldi Family, who have done so for many hundred of years (since 13th century). It is an independent state, with only the Vatican being smaller. And although they have their own tax and business regime (there is no personal income tax) and run local affairs, the major things like defence and the such are set and guaranteed by France.
It is a place where locals are in the minority by far, with most residents being wealthy foreigners seeking the nil income tax. You have to be wealthy to be allowed to buy property. Apparently though you cannot be a French tax exile as this is an agreement with the French government.
The state is under pressure from many governments to be more open with their financial institutions, as there is a feeling that it is not only a place where the rich are using it for tax avoidance in their home countries, but also that it is used to launder money by organised crime and other illegal organisations.
As there is a lot of wealth, you see spectacular yachts (well more like ships) in the yacht basin, a lot of elderly wealthy people, over dressed over ostentatious people strolling about dressed to display wealth and very up-market stores to serve that all up.
It all is very conspicuous consumption. It is also outrageously expensive, both for hotels and food and drink.
Monaco also is obsessed with security. It has the largest number of police per capital (who are very visible) and the whole place is riddled with CCTV cameras. They literally are everywhere.
The other obsession is cleanliness. The place is kept very clean and very neat!
What are my tips?
#1 don’t stay, just day trip it
It is outrageously expensive to stay in Monaco. And on top of the room, costs for everything is hefty. A simple Cesar Salad in hotels will be around 20 euros at least.
There really is not a lot to do in Monaco, and a day trip from Nice or Cannes is very easy.
It takes about 30 minutes on the motorway from Nice, and the drive is quite pretty , and even prettier on the old winding route through the mountains. That has not toll, but the motorway has a toll getting in and out of Monaco and one on the A8 motorway.
There is also bus and train options.
As mentioned there are huge amounts of parking garages, that are not that expensive. And once parked you can walk everywhere you need to.
The best is to park in the Casino area in the easy to remember Avenue Du Casino!
There are some trolley train tours around the principality if you don’t feel like walking, as it is quite steep.
The currency is the Euro and you don’t need passports. It is just like driving to any city within France. And unless you know the history and arrangement you would have no idea.
When to go?
In May they have the vintage rally (start of May) and the Grand Prix (mid May). The Grand Prix is famous as goes right through and round the city streets, and it takes them almost 6 weeks to prepare all the roads, protective barriers etc.
There are also many congresses and shows held mostly at the Grimaldi Forum which is located on the beach front.
At christmas there is a small market held in the yacht basin.
#2 Casino and Hotel De Paris
The 2 most famous sights of Monaco. And at any time of the day and night, there will be a gaggle of tourists snapping pictures of both, and posing next to the massive and exotic cars that owners like to leave outside for people to oggle over.
You can see inside the casino if over 21 in the day even if in casual clothes, but will struggle to get into the hotel unless you staying there or dressed smartly and say you going to the bar to eat or for drinks (and in evening that means jacket, etc). The lobby is incredible and worth seeing.
I stayed at the hotel and have a video of the hotel and room, as well as a review on the blog.
As an aside, residents of Monaco are not allowed to gamble in the casino!
#3 Yacht Basin
From the casino area, walk down the winding hill to the left (or right) and go to the yacht basin.
This is incredible. The most jaw dropping ships are there. It is mind boggling the wealth that owners must have. It is really quite something.
In winter there is a christmas market and fair at the basin that is fun.
#4 walk round the cliffs to the museum
Walk through the yacht basin and round to the sea and follow the path along the sea and up to the oceanographic museum. There are great views and if you want can do the museum. There is bus station if you are tired of walking! But worth walking back.
#5 Aquarium and the Gardens
The 2 real tourist attractions is the aquarium (Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium) which is well respected and stocked (and I have never been!), and the gardens (Jardin Exotique) half way up the mountain (again I have never been)
There are also some small museums that include cars owned by the late monarch, one on Napolenic stuff and a stamp one.
Then that is Monaco done! Easily in a day trip.. Or less.
The Monaco Oceonagraphic Museum
Monte Carlo Casino
To see all my photos of Monaco and surrounding area: click here
Watch my video of the area around the Casino, Hotel de Paris (inside and one of the rooms) and the yacht basin: