Monaco - Andrew, Jacqui, their Mums, her Aunt & Uncle - 2008
The tiny principality of Monaco is surrounded on all sides by the Côte d'Azur of France, although the Italian influence is quite strong also.
The main part of town is Monte Carlo, famed for its Grand Prix and Casino.
Monaco's heyday was in the 1950s and 1960s when the attraction of Princess Grace (Grace Kelly) brought Hollywood's rich and famous to the area leaving the whole of the Côte d'Azur with a sheen of glamour which it retains to this day.
Monaco - Cruise 2008 Part 6 - Andrew, Jacqui, their Mums & her Aunt and Uncle - 2008
One of the places on our Brilliance of the Seas cruise we were most looking forward to was Monaco. The ship actually docked at Villefranche (in France) and we decided to go for the guided tour option.
Im glad we did as Monaco is pretty hilly and we certainly saw more this way than we would have had we gone under our own steam. After driving along the switchback cornice road you arrive in the newest part of Monaco, Fontvielle. It was a surprise to us to find that Monaco and Monte Carlo were not one and the same thing, but that Monaco was made up of at least four distinct areas.
From Fontvielle we turned towards the big rock which separates out the two main ports of Monaco. On the top of this rock a castle was built in the early 1100s which was captured and rebuilt by the Grimaldis around 1297. Around this castle grew up Monaco Ville, the old town of Monaco. The coach stop is, interestingly, in an underground car park. Here you take a lift which brings you up to street level an interesting way to arrive.
The first major building you encounter is the Oceanographic Museum housed in a huge municipal building. Beyond that a curving road leads up past some of the Monacos premier properties (Princess Caroline has her Monaco residence here) to Monaco Cathedral.
The Cathedral is a relatively new addition to the buildings of Monaco Ville, it was consecrated in 1865, although an earlier church did stand here. The interior is typical of Catholic Cathedrals, dark spaces with splashes of light and gilding. The main attraction if that is the right word in Monaco Cathedral are the tombs side by side as in life of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace which always have a few fresh flowers on them. The late Royal couple are still held in awe by the Monegasque people.
Monaco-Ville - The Old Town
From here we followed the road around to the Place du Palais, a small open space which is dominated on one side by the massive Palace of the Grimaldis and on the other by a series of fine fronted buildings which were originally barracks and some of which are now shops.
From the Place du Palais a fantastic view can be had down to the main harbour of Monaco, across La Condamine to Monte Carlo. This is the archetypal view of Monaco expensive yachts bobbing in the harbour and the crush of buildings squeezed along the tiny sliver of land which is the whole country before the land sweeps upwards to the surrounding hills (which are mainly in France). We had arrived only a few days after the Grand Prix and the stands and barriers were still up around town and can be seen in my photos of the view from Place du Palais.
The Grimaldi Palace stands along the entirety of the north side of the Place du Palais. This is the site of the original castle and the eastern end of the Palace is still recognisably castle-like and a little bit fortified.
We shopped a little here for our Monaco souvenirs and then walked back down to the Oceanographic Museum and the lift back to the coach.
The coach then drove along La Condamine the broad sweep of bay which separates Monaco Ville from Monte Carlo before dropping us on the opposite side the Harbour. Here we got some good views back to the Rock with Monaco Ville at its top complete with expensive yachts in the harbour. You could see from here how the Rock is fortified still and also appreciate how easily defendable it must have been.
It was another short walk from here up to the main square of Monte Carlo outside the famous Casino.
The buildings here are a riot of Art Nouveau of the finest quality. The Hotel de Paris, one of Europes greatest hotels, is fronted with elegant sculptures of mermaid-like figures. Directly across is a small casino with a sweeping Art Nouveau entrance and, most famous of all, is the Grand Casino itself. Iron-work designed by Gustav Eiffel canopies the main entrance a glimpse in through the doors showed an interior every bit as elaborate as the exterior but out of bounds to us in our regular clothes.
In the centre of the square outside the Casino was a big reflective ball thing and I got a very interesting photograph of the Casino reflected in it.
We wandered around the area of the Casino for a while, seeing more examples of superb Art Nouveau architecture and were surprised at how relaxed and refined it all seemed. I had expected much more ostentatious richness to be on show perhaps you needed to actually go inside to see such things.
Around the back of the Casino are some gardens which overlook the Mediterranean and also give good views across to Monaco Ville. We spent a little while here before heading back to the coach for the journey back to Villefranche and the Brilliance of the Seas.
Monaco was a very pleasant place more so than I had expected having read tales of it being a concrete jungle full of posers in the end wed had a good time in the Worlds second smallest country.
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