Photo Courtesy of Gabriel LE NAOUR
The smallest member of the United Nations with a larger-than-life reputation, the Principality of Monaco is a jewel along the sun-drenched French Riviera with the world’s highest gross average income. Taken over by Grimaldis in 1297, SAS Prince Albert II continues the 700-year-old legacy, reigning o…ver a constitutional monarchy from his palace on the strategic Rocher de Monaco (Rock of Monaco) above the sea. It is a fairy-tale princedom where the jet set comes to play with super yachts and luxury cars, alongside an authentic scene of locals savoring the relaxed rhythms of the Côte d’Azur.
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Ensconced on the temperate French Riviera, Monaco never has a bad season. While temperatures drop and rain falls in the winter, there is still plenty going on, without the hordes of cruisers and day-trippers that make it difficult to get around in July and August. There are also huge crowds for the Grand Prix in May and the Yacht Show in September, making April and October the most ideal months to visit.
The principality is a country without an airport. Overseas visitors must fly to Nice, France, then transfer to Monaco by bus, car, taxi, or helicopter. From points within Europe, the French rail system stops at the Monaco Monte Carlo station several times every hour.
Monaco is less than 1 square mile, with only 2.5 kilometers (about a mile and a half) of coastline, so you can walk everywhere, even to France. Facing the Mediterranean, the principality lies exactly where the Alps fall into the sea, making for steep hikes from the shore to the hills above. As an alternative, there are over public 30 elevators, often hidden in parking lots, to ease the pain of the climb. Compagnie des Autobus de Monaco has a 5€ day pass that allows visitors unlimited use of its five bus lines and its solar electric boat service across the Port Hercule.
The Monegasque kitchen is pure Mediterranean, seasoned by the cuisines of neighboring Nice, Provence, and Italy. Brandamincium is a popular dish of pounded salt cod with garlic and cream. Locals rave about traditional sweet or savory chard pies, and Barbagiuan is a chard-stuffed fritter. A Monaco is beer with 7up and grenadine syrup, but the ultimate Monaco classic would have to be your martini—shaken, not stirred.
Most visits to Monaco include a tour of the Prince’s Palace and the neighboring Monaco Cathedral. The Oceanographic Museum is a must-see, and a night at the Garnier-designed Opera House is always a treat. A highlight of Monaco is the spectacular gardens, including the Exotic, Japanese, and Princess Grace rose gardens. Contemporary art lovers will enjoy the two sites of the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco.
The year begins with an International Circus Festival. Then the Princess Grace Foundation throws the Rose Ball, perhaps the world’s most prestigious fundraising event open to the public. Every May, the city shuts down for the Formula One Grand Prix. In July, the Monte-Carlo International Fireworks Festival explodes, with the Monaco Yacht Show sailing into town in September. November 19 sees celebrations for the National Holiday, which ends with a mass and a palatial wave from the royal family the next day. Year’s end is celebrated with concerts, galas, and parades, with Casino Square filling with revelers to ring in the New Year.
Monte Carlo is one of the principality’s 10 wards. Monégasque is the traditional language, but French is the official language, and most Monegasque speak English. The currency is the euro. Beachwear is forbidden in town, and before heading anywhere chic, check the dress code. Monaco earns much of its revenue from the very wealthy, so security is an important concern. Don’t be surprised to see a lot of Carabinieri, the local police, and remember, jokes about the royal family are not a joke. Should you run into Albert along the way, the proper greeting would be, “Enchanté, votre altesse sérénissime.”
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Sylvia is a French-American journalist and award winning photographer who left her home in San Francisco to follow her heart to Paris. She contributes regularly to The Girls Guide to Paris and HIP Paris and is Resident Editor for LUXE city guides. As curator for Only in Paris, Sylvia spends every free moment uncovering what keeps her city unique. While she loves adventuring her way across the globe, Sylvia's particular passion is for Africa.