A visit to Monaco

Well according to the CIA fact-book (yes I know) Monaco has the world’s lowest poverty rate, and the highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capita in the world. And at just 17 km away from Nice, which for you Novocastrian readers is the distance from Newcastle CBD to the airport, definitely worth a visit.

From Nice it’s pretty easy to get to Monaco by train so from our hotel took a short 40 minute train ride on the SNCF liner to Monaco. Hint, grab a seat on the right hand side of the carriage for the best views out across the mediterranean.

And arrived at our destination, the one train station on the 1.7 km of line that is the Monaco rail network.

Ah Monaco, from 19th century, “…moral cesspool” to EU tidy town, it lies like a neat little handkerchief tucked into the blazer of the french mediterranean coast.

Everywhere in Monaco is close by, so our first order of business was to visit the Grimaldi fortress down the southern (?) end of the harbour Hercule. As we walked up we found ourselves looking up the skirts of the old medieval fortress at the 19th century frippery of the palace above.

With a fractal stone watch-tower keeping an eye on the gate and its approaches, there’s just a touch of those odd perspectives of Hieronymus Bosch.

Passing through the gate you find the residence of the Grimaldi princes, looking suspiciously like a faux renaissance italian palace dropped on top of a 12th century crusader fortress. Because, well because it’s actually a faux renaissance italian palace dropped on top of a 12th century crusader fortress.

The Grimaldi princes have been owner builders here pretty much since they got booted out of Genoa in the 13th century and while the sun king might decamp from Paris to build his Versailles, the Grimaldi’s have been renovating the family home for about 700 odd years. Monaco is not that big a place.

And (as luck would have it) we arrived at the of the fortress just in time to catch the changing of the guard, right on noon by the Compagnie des Carabiniers du Prince. Man it was getting hot and we were baking in the reflected heat from the buildings and square, I can tell you it’s not terribly pleasant to parade in that sort of heat, so props guys.

We took a tour of the palace’s apartments that were open to the public and I’d definitely recommend it. Unlike other grand state houses you get the (nice) feeling that this is actually someone’s home. Although some of the later family portraits, well bad doesn’t really do them justice…

Walking back we took the north eastern way off the fort and headed down till we got to the Ave. de la Quarantine and a wooded park crowning the end of the souther edge of Port Hercule. A beautiful spot, and a great place to take five minutes out from the heat and humidity to soak up the beauty. Of course I managed to drop G’s camera, oops…

Then having taken in the view it was off on a quick walk along the harbour front to the Monte Carlo casino on the north side of the bay. If the over the top Faberge egg on steroids looks is familiar, it should be. Charles Garnier the architect of the Palais Garnier in Paris had a big hand in it. There was a little matter of the casino bailing out the Third Republic over some debts I believe.

Then walking up behind the casino we found a series of terraced gardens, fountains and sculptures. About this time we started to think about heading back to Nice so started to close the loop back to the train station.

Now about that camera…

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