Memories of a Tour to the Sovereign City State of Monaco

That day as I looked through the coach on at the passing scenery at the palm lined Mediterranean shore I listened and so did the other participants, twenty-four in all, to the pleasant voice of the charming tour guide as she rattled off a bit of information about the Principality of Monaco (who managed to make her voice heard above constant questioning by a few individuals) – Monaco lies on the French coast called the Riviera between the steep mountains of the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea. The Principality of Monaco is the second smallest sovereign state in the world, about the size of New York City’s Central Park (the smallest being the Holy See. The citizens of Monaco are called Monegasques and their language is Monegasques.

She continued, “The country has been ruled by the Grimaldi family since the 1200′s. Prince Rainier III, the royal personage who married Grace Kelly, was the thirty-second Grimaldi to rule; in the year 2005, after the  death of Prince Ranier III, after 56 years of reign, his eldest son, becomes Prince Albert II of Monaco. One of Monaco’s main sources of income is tourism; each year many are attracted to its casino and pleasant climate. (Monaco’s own citizens are not allowed to gamble in the casino.). And, off course, Monaco is a tax haven as Monaco levies no income tax on individuals. (That information perked up the ears of a few in the group.)”

Scenic view of the Monaco coast

Scenic view of the Monaco coast

The ride to Monaco ended pleasantly in the early afternoon and we arrived at our hotel, Hotel Alexandra, a luxurious residence that was convenient as it was located in walking distance to all the major tourist sites in the country. After we registered and settled in our rooms to bathe and rest a bit, we were called for a delicious dinner with all the trimmings. Then in the early evening we were invited to a short lecture, accompanied by a video that gave us additional information of the principality of Monaco, which included the weather, good restaurants, activities and current and future celebrations such as the Monaco Grand Prix automobile race that has been held annually in the streets of the principality. Booklets with information on the Principality of Monaco were accepted with gratitude.

Jardin Exotique de Monaco

Jardin Exotique de Monaco

The following morning around seven after filling breakfast we began eagerly our three day tour of the Principality of Monaco. The guide cautioned her twenty-odd tourists in her group to follow the little red flag which she held aloft, so our eyes were partially looking at the banner missing out at times the sight of a beautiful object and scene. So we followed on foot the flag to the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, the official residence of the Prince of Monaco – it is more than a tourist site or a museum but the working offices of the government. We followed the red flag through exquisite rooms and through part of the extensive and truly beautiful gardens, delayed only by voice or two saying a few times, “Mabel or Sybil take a picture me standing here”.

Our lunch was delayed as couple from the group didn’t follow the flag and got lost in the labyrinth of the splendid rooms allowed for tourists. So around two o’clock we sampled the delicious food of the principality of Monaco at one of the fine restaurants. The precious little time we had left we viewed H.S.H. the Prince of Monaco’s Collection of Classic Cars at the H.S.H. the Prince of Monaco’s Collection of Classic Cars at the Terraces of Fontvieille. Footsore and weary we followed the red flag back to hotel where a fine dinner awaited us and an invitation to visit the famous casino and gamble a bit of our savings. Yet, the day was quite tiresome for many us elders and many opted out the visit planned for the evening.

The second day was no different as we followed the red flag held aloft by the guide to the Oceanographic Museum that is home to exhibitions and collections of various species of sea fauna both stuffed and in skeletal form and including the museum’s holdings also include a great variety of sea related objects. Off course there were delays as someone called “Mabel take a picture of me near the shark.”  Lunch followed and afterwards we followed the red flag to the Naval Museum were we heard of the naval history of the country, the Coins and Stamp Museum where saw the four exhibitions of “100 stamps and philatelic documents among the rarest of the world “.  Again weary and footsore we followed the red flag to our hotel were a fine dinner awaited us and the pleasure of our company to a fashion show in the early evening.

Well, the third day we got a bit tired of  being herded about and following the red flag and the foibles of some of the group, so we made our excuses and bid the rest an interesting day. Then, after a leisurely breakfast, we took our bathing gear, sun lotion and a couple of hotel towels and headed for the inviting white sands of the Lavoretto Beach. There we hired a deck chair with a beach umbrella and claimed our spot. The cool and clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea were a delight to have a swim, a splash and we frolicked about for hour or two. Being elders were quite tuckered out and splashed sun lotion over our bodies, dropped into our deckchairs and cautiously invited the gentle sun to tan our skin for a quarter of an hour or so. There was a handy cafe nearby for a light lunch, which was quite appetizing.

The Casino - Monaco

The Casino – Monaco

Finding ourselves satiated and comfortably rested were we returned to our hotel were we showered and changed our clothes to suitable summer wear. Then again we left the premises and meandered leisurely through the thoroughfares of the Principality looking at the fine shops, historic buildings, the quaintness of the country and the charm of its citizens till we walked uphill to the Jardin Exotique de Monaco, a fabulously exotic garden which grows along the edge of a cliff overlooking the bay of Monaco. Not only did we enjoy the sight of hundreds of cacti and Mediterranean plants, there was at the top plateau of the garden a panoramic view including the Rock of Monaco, the Port of Monaco and Monte Carlo.

Comfortable benches were there to let visitors enjoy the panoramic view and we took an advantage of the sight and comfort and spent better part of the early afternoon. When we left the garden and the panoramic view we made our way to the bottom of the garden where there is a cavern full of stalactites and stalagmites, which we explored. To my wife and yours truly this would be a lasting impression of beautiful Monaco, as we enveloped the gardens and the panoramic view into colored snapshots and a video movie to be enjoyed in the coming years.

Our tour to the Principality of Monaco was wound up by a visit to the casino and through a small gamble we won the grand sum of hundred francs. But, we learned that in the future years we would never again follow the red flag held aloft by a guide when visiting a country.

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jim humberd
02 September 2010

The Principality of Monaco is located along the Mediterranean Sea on the Côte d’Azur (The French Riviera), nine miles west of the French city of Nice, five miles east of the Italian border, and is surrounded by France on three sides.

The city named Monte Carlo, with its beaches, gambling casino, and luxurious hotels, has long been a famous resort. The official capitol, Monaco-Ville, with the prince’s palace, government buildings, and the cathedral, is located about 200 feet above sea level on the flat top of a rocky promontory. Only 16% of the residents are natives, most of the rest are from France and Italy, and are here because of favorable tax policies.

We have visited the Principality of Monaco five different years, and it’s impossible to travel the French Riviera without crossing and re-crossing Monaco. Most of the city streets zigzag back and forth parallel to the Mediterranean, with flights of stairs going directly up and down the mountainside, from street to street. Often the yacht basin has impressive, sometimes very big and fancy nautical visitors tied to the dock.

During our first trip to Monaco we drove down the almost frightening, steep, switch back road where Princess Grace’s fatal car accident occurred some years later. When we tried to drive up the hill to the palace, where she then lived, the police stopped us and indicated we were not allowed. I informed the policeman that, “Princess Grace sure wasn’t treated this way, when she visited our hometown.” Boy was that policeman impressed (not). She did visit nearby Palm Springs, from time to time, but long before we lived in this area.

We always eat in a “new” restaurant, each anniversary, and for the 29th we ate dinner in a restaurant on the top floor of a Monaco hotel. Well, we hope it was just a bad night for them, but of the 53 dinners up to the year 2004, that one rates number 53. The picnic lunch on the sea-wall, next to the Loews Hotel one year, was a far better meal, with superior service. (Number 30, at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, always ranks number one.)

Later that night, in honor of our anniversary (or could that just have been a coincidence?) there was a massive fireworks display. It was as if a scheduled one hour exhibition, lasted a minute. A spectacular performance, proving that Monaco really does, or does not, know how to put on a fireworks show.