Fabulously wealthy and gilded by history, the Principality of Monaco lies on the French Riviera in Western Europe. Smaller than New York’s Central Park, this graceful destination is bordered by France and the sparkling Mediterranean sea. With ancient streets full of exotic cars, a natural harbour filled with super yachts and a glittering royal legacy, Monaco is a tiny relic of medieval Europe that has made itself at home in the 21st century. It draws the rich, the famous and those seeking the kind of lifestyle usually only found on the silver screen. There is no glamour quite like the old world style still to be found under the soaring chandeliers of Monaco’s magnificent Casino de Monte-Carlo. Although it is open for tours during the day, the real James Bond magic begins here as the sun goes down and the roulette wheels start to spin. This architectural masterpiece, with its wickedly decadent Opera Hall was dreamed up by the wife of Prince Florestan the first in the late 19th century, as the royal family teetered on the edge of bankruptcy.
With gambling illegal in Italy and France, the Casino became a triumph. Known as a “health spa” to protect it from church criticism, the cream of European society flocked to try their luck with lady fortune. Times may have changed but not the nature of Monte Carlo. International visitors are still lured here by the balmy weather and a calendar packed with star-studded events. Nearby streets in the Carré d’Or remain a magnet for lovers of high-end fashion, luxury jewellery and bespoke perfumes. Follow ancient footfalls further back in time down medieval alleyways into the old town.
This is where, 700 years ago, Francois Grimaldi disguised himself as a monk, murdered the guard and captured the fortress. On that night, it became a Grimaldi stronghold and a dynasty was born. Intimately connected to the Grimaldis, the fortress protected the family from foreign powers for many generations before being transformed into the luxurious Princely Palace in the 16th century. It remains the royal residence, with a ceremony still taking place every morning at the changing of the guard. The Oceanography Museum, is a more recent royal legacy. It was created in 1910 by Prince Albert the first, who was known as the “Prince of the Seas.” Built into the side of The Rock of Monaco and almost 90 metres above sea level, this ground-breaking institute was set up to share knowledge and protect the earth’s fragile oceans. It features many of the discoveries of Jaques Cousteau. Head downhill to the harbor that for centuries provided a natural barrier that helped shore up Monaco’s uneasy alliances.
Today, Hercules Port is the place to watch mega yachts jostle for space, especially during the city’s most famous event, the Monaco Grand Prix. Although it is one of the most famous race tracks in the world, it is also one of the world’s most accessible. When the formula one drivers aren’t in town, anyone can experience the tight corners of the street circuit. But no legacy is quite as glamorous as that of Grace Kelly, the Academy award winning hollywood actress who wrote her own story when she married Prince Rainier III and became Princess of Monaco. Princess Grace’s influence lives on throughout the principality, in the streets which were lined with crowds on her wedding day in 1956 and in the neoclassical Monaco Cathedral where the fairytale couple were married and where they now rest together, forever. For many visitors, Monaco’s magnetic attraction lies in its chic reputation, its A-list residents, and its high-profile events but her magic goes far deeper than that. Small in size, but expansive in its vision this is the perfect place to don your dark sunglasses, slip on your driving gloves and step into the world of the powerful characters whose stories have kept Monaco at the forefront of the world’s imagination for centuries.