Monaco is the second-smallest independent state in the world. It’s a playground for tourists and a haven for the wealthy. The concept of Monaco may evoke images of towering skyscrapers in close proximity to one another but the various quarters of Monaco vary enormously in architecture and atmosphere. Tourism drives Monaco’s economy, gamblers flock to its Casino, and every May, the Principality hosts the Monaco Grand Prix. The country is also a major banking centre and closely guards the privacy of its clients. Monaco does not levy income tax on its residents.
The land of the rich and famous, my 38th country, left me in awe at both the beauty and elegance of the place. You don’t need a car to visit Monaco – just walk and plan a big half day, as I did. Just park your car when you arrive and go around on foot. However, be prepared to pay a fortune as public car parks cost about 2.5/3.5 euros per hour and private car parks are even more expensive! In my case, I parked my hired car at the Chemin des Pêcheurs car park as I wanted to be close to the Rock of Monaco but any public car park will do as the place is small enough to walk around.
After exiting the car park, I found myself in the beautiful St Martin Gardens. Opened in 1816, the gardens are made up of a series of paths on the south west face of the Rock of Monaco. Exceptional plants and sculptures sit side by side in harmony in this unique location with fabulous views out across the sea. I enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of this garden sitting on one of the benches while having a quick bite and admiring the view out to sea.
I then ventured into the old town on the Rock of Monaco. There, I purposely got lost wandering around the pretty narrow streets with attractive 16th to 18th century houses all painted in the same bright salmon pink! The old town is the heart of the Principality and home to Monaco’s main attractions: the Musée Océanographique, the Chapelle de la Visitation, the cathedral and the palace. It can be very touristy, especially near the Palace, but if you can find a quieter street, it’s a great chance to take some colourful photos!
My relaxing walk around the old town led me to the exceptional view from Rue des Remparts, right by the palace, offering a great perspective over Monte Carlo and Port Hercule. Expect this part to be pretty crowded with everyone and his aunt snapping happily away! There are plenty of souvenir shops in this area and although I found them to be no more expensive than what one pays for in the rest of western Europe, you can expect to pay 5 euros for a cappuccino or for a slice of Quiche Lorraine!
After that, with a smug look on my face at getting my own set of snaps, I walked down the steps towards Port Hercule as I wanted to go and see the Casino, just from the outside, mind you! No visit to Monaco is complete without a walk along the shores of Port Hercule as it’s home to the most expensive yachts on the planet! There was also a pretty large ice rink right down by the port. It’s the Stade Nautique Rainier III, an Olympic-length heated seawater swimming pool that’s converted into an ice rink in winter!
Eventually, after walking to the far end of Port Hercule, I arrived at the Monte Carlo Casino. If you want to live a little like James Bond and take a peek into the world of the rich and famous, this is the perfect place to do it! You can stand a few paces away and gawp as people arrive looking fabulous in fancy cars! Unfortunately, there was some renovation work going on in front of the Casino so I couldn’t enjoy it to the full, but never mind!
Monaco may be better known for its fast-paced and expensive lifestyle of casinos, restaurants and bars, but with so many beautiful parks and green spaces to explore, it’s also a great place to relax and unwind. The gardens in front of the Casino are no exception as they offer an oasis of peace and tranquillity in a world of madness!
Monaco is one of the most fascinating countries I’ve ever visited. Gardens are perfectly kept, the sea glistens, rubbish is non-existent and there’s an atmosphere of elegance wherever you go! Despite being home to the uber wealthy, it’s surprisingly accessible – you can stroll past yachts worth millions, park your car beside a Ferrari or a McLaren and wander right beside the Palace! And there’s something going on all the time!