It seems like only yesterday that I was walking along the beach in the magical country of Monaco, admiring multi-million-dollar yachts and exclusive waterfront casinos while gazing into the distance at those majestic Southern Alps and the Mediterranean Sea.
My getaway to Monaco began last summer when a friend and I flew from Los Angeles to Nice, France and then took a bus to Monaco, where we checked into the beautiful Fairmont Monte-Carlo Hotel. Once acquainted with our room, we took another bus and toured the hilltop village of Eze. This 13th century town was literally constructed like a maze to confuse enemy intruders. The tour began with a scenic drive along the Mediterranean Coast, with memorable vistas of Nice and Monte-Carlo. While in Eze, we had a guided tour of a traditional perfumery.
Back in Monaco, we walked around the old town and visited the Prince’s Palace. Located on the Rock of Monaco, the palace was built on the site of a fortress erected by the Genoese in the year 1215. During our visit, we explored its Italian-style gallery, 15th century frescoes, the Louis XV lounge decked in yellow and gold, its Mazarin room covered with multicolored wood-paneling, and the Throne Room, decorated with an impressive Renaissance fireplace.
Touring the Palace is a journey through history, from the Renaissance to the Napoleonic period. The best time to visit the Palace is exactly 11:55 a.m., when the ceremonial “Changing of the Guard” takes place. This is a grand and interesting spectacle of soldiers in colorful uniforms with rifles.
From the Palace on the hill, we got a great view of the streets used for the famous Monaco Grand Prix, held in May. We also got a good perspective on the country’s location and size. Located in the heart of Mediterranean Europe, the Principality of Monaco is bounded by the French Riviera to the west and the Italian Riviera to the east. Only three miles long and a half-mile wide, Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, after Vatican City.
The country is a constitutional monarchy ruled by Prince Albert II. One commune – Monaco – is divided into four areas: Monaco-Ville, the old fortified city on the Rock which includes the Prince’s Palace, Cathedral, and Oceanographic Museum; the Condamine, or port quarter; Fontvieille, a man-made waterfront area for recreation and light industry; and Monte-Carlo, the business and recreation district.
In Monte-Carlo, we strolled past the legendary Monte-Carlo Casino, where the world’s rich and famous roll dice, spin wheels, and sip martinis while their yachts rest in the harbor a few hundred yards away. Charles Garnier, the architect of the opera house in Paris, built the Casino in 1878. The building is highlighted by an atrium paved in marble and surrounded by 28 Ionic columns made of onyx.
While the Monte-Carlo Casino architecture is incredible, there is another structure in Monaco that stands out even more for its iconic presence: the Oceanographic Museum.
Built into the side of the mythical Rock of Monaco, 280 feet above the ocean, the Oceanographic Museum took 11 years to build, using 100,000 tons of stone. It was founded by Prince Albert I and was designed as a palace entirely dedicated to art and science. From its ornamental facades to the adornments in the salons, everything in the Museum’s architecture evokes the marine world.
Since its inauguration in 1910, this “temple of the sea” has positioned itself as an international gallery of knowledge. Highlights of the museum include colorful aquariums and natural history collections, including a Shark Lagoon and Turtle Island, and a large variety of sea related objects such as model ships, sea animal skeletons, tools, weapons, etc.