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A member of the UN, a tiny sovereign state with a surface area of only 2km² (a 4km strip along the seafront just 1km in width), the principality of Monaco is comprised of: Le Rocher, the old town; Monte-Carlo, the ‘new’ town, created in 1860; between them the port area, La Condamine, which is also the commercial district where you will find the market and the Hercule harbour; then to the west is the Fontvielle district, known for its service sector and industries, as well as being a residential area; and finally the Larvotto to the east, with its manmade beaches.

Hemmed in on its 195 hectares, about 25% of its total area has been reclaimed from the sea, for example 31 hectares of the Fontvielle district. An American style city, whose highest building currently is 170 metres tall, this is a town which is over the top in every sense. Every square metre is sought-after, even below ground, which is developed for vehicular access, underground parking, and even tunnels and networks of escalators and lifts (over a hundred!) between the different districts. The principality has about 32,000 inhabitants.


Personified by its royal family, Monaco is known the world over, and not only for its Formula One Grand Prix which takes place in May, over Ascension weekend. The race has been held since 1929 and involves 78 laps of a 3.367km circuit through the town. Indeed the atmosphere is always pretty surreal here, overlaid with the highest security because of the fortunes represented in its palaces and casinos.

Le Rocher Monaco

On the headland of Le Rocher, you can walk along the ramparts, overlooking the Mediterranean, and admire the beautiful facades, often in ochre and pink hues, of the 16th to 18th century villas in the elegant narrow streets. A stroll around the Place du Palais is a must, to see the changing of the guard every day at 11:55. The guards are dressed in black in winter, white in summer. The Palace itself is a magnificent building, to the glory of the Grimaldi family, more beautiful than real it could be said, with a superb view of the port from the parapet of the square, with its cannons and cannonballs.

The Oceanographic Museum makes for an interesting visit. It was established in 1910 by Prince Albert I, who led 28 oceanographic expeditions between 1885 and 1915. This exceptional museum is housed in perhaps the most impressive building in the principality, decorated like a palace. From 1957 to 1989 it was directed by none other than Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the famous oceanographer and filmmaker. The museum’s main attractions are its aquariums containing 6,000 specimens and its permanent collections, and its displays are always up to the minute in terms of current research and innovation, and always with an educational aim.

Monte Carlophoto Drozdin Vladimir / Shutterstock.com

Monte-Carlo, its automobile rally and its four casinos, are famous around the world. The new town was created mainly in 1863 by the Société des Bains de Mer, and it made the fortune of the State of Monaco. Monte Carlo Casino was built by Charles Garnier in 1878 and comprises several buildings, one of which is the theatre-opera house which hosted Russian ballets from 1917 until 1962. The concert hall, the gaming rooms, the boudoir-fumoir, the terrace overlooking the sea, all the spaces are truly unique and splendid, the décor harbouring multiple masterpieces; the word luxury has never been more apt.

Casino de Monte-Carlo

There are many museums and other things to see and do in Monaco. You will surely want to marvel at the cacti and semi-desert plants (typical of Mexico and southern Africa) in the exotic garden, which clings to the rocky hillside. Its 7,000 plus specimens thrive in this location, some for over 100 years, since 1913. The panoramic view from here is superb, over both the principality and to the nearby Italian Riviera. Combine this visit with the cave at the bottom of the gardens, La Grotte de l’Observatoire, or discover the Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology close by. Garden lovers will also undoubtedly wish to see the Japanese Garden in the Larvotto district, where Yasuo Beppu has transformed 7,000m² according to Shintoist principles, including a Zen garden, the completion of which fulfilled a dream expressed by Princess Grace of Monaco.