Monaco is the world’s second smallest country, located on the French Riviera, between France and the Mediterranean Sea. It is tiny, with only one major city and loads of luxury, all squeezed into less than one square mile. Monaco is considered to be one of the most expensive places to live in the world, with average real estate prices hovering around $8,000 per square foot. It has the highest GDP per capita and over 70% of the population are millionaires, most from generational wealth.
The Principality of Monaco
Monte Carlo is the administrative head, the capital city and the largest district of the Principality. Monaco has approximately 39,000 residents and the densest population in the world. The country is one of the world’s most notorious tax havens, yet does not levy income taxes on its residents. Government income comes from taxes on commercial transactions, luxury tourism, state-run radio, banking, television, gambling institutions, state-operated tobacco companies, postage stamps and sales taxes. Interestingly, Monaco has no national army and all defense falls under France. They have a murder rate of 0%, making it extremely safe for both tourists and locals.
Prince Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi
Exploring the history of the Grimaldi family, who have been in power since the 13th century, was absolutely fascinating to us. We were most impressed by the reign of Prince Rainier III, whose rule spanned a remarkable 56 years until his death in 2005. He was responsible for the complete transformation of Monaco’s economy, creating their status as a tax haven and a lavish cultural destination. Prince Rainier was a leader and a great visionary in turning Monaco into a billionaire’s playground. He famously married American film star, Grace Kelly, which added to the allure of glamour and prestige. Together, they had 3 children: Caroline, Albert and Stephanie. Prince Albert is currently the reigning monarch of the Principality of Monaco today.
Incredible Topography and Views
The location of Monte Carlo is stunning. It is situated on a permanent escarpment along the French Riviera and the Alps. The “Rock,” or the Old Town, is the highest point of Monte Carlo overlooking the Mediterranean. Monaco has the shortest coastline in the world, but the waters are a haven of luxury and elegance. We thought that the combination of dramatic cliffs, incredible marinas, and fabulous architecture create a breathtaking coastal masterpiece.
Monte Carlo Casino
One of the most iconic landmarks in Monaco is the Monte Carlo Casino, established in 1863. Its elegant architecture and opulent interiors blend the Belle Époque and Beaux-Arts styles, featuring intricate detailing and grand facades. The Casino offers a wide array of gaming options, including slot machines. They also enforce a strict dress code, requiring visitors to dress elegantly, especially in the evenings.
Adding to its allure and worldwide recognition, the Casino was featured in two James Bond films: Never Say Never Again, starring Sean Connery in 1983, and Golden Eye, starring Pierce Brosnan in 1995. We enjoyed the ambience and the elegance of the casino. Additionally, to top it off, we left as small (but happy) winners! 🙂 It is interesting to note that gambling is totally forbidden to all residents of Monte Carlo. Monaco’s monarch acknowledges the ill effects of gambling, therefore all local citizens are barred from entering the gaming rooms completely.
Shopping the Golden Square
The Carré d’Or, or the Golden Square, is built around the Placé du Casino, and includes many beautiful gardens, cafes, and the famous Hôtel du Pariś, but it is especially known for its exclusive shopping. This small and compact area offers a refined and indulgent shopping experience which exudes pure luxury. High-end boutiques, renowned designer labels, and exquisite jewelry are available in glamorous settings, and we enjoyed shopping. My special purchase was a gorgeous Dior scarf, which will always remind me of our time in Monaco.
This picturesque marina is known for its stunning views and luxurious yachts from around the world. It attracts the most impressive and extravagant vessels owned by billionaires, celebrities and royalty. We thought the views of the surrounding landscape, with the rocky cliffs of Monaco against the backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea, were just breathtaking.
The harbor is also famous for being a key location in the annual Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix. The circuit winds its way through the streets of Monaco, including a section along the harbor. In addition, the harbor also hosts various events and festivals which attract celebrity attention. From sailing regattas to fireworks displays and cultural celebrations, the Monaco Harbor is a hub of activity. The harbor is surrounded by a variety of upscale restaurants and cafes, offering a perfect setting for dining while overlooking the stunning yachts and waters.
Le Rocher – Old Town
The Rock, or “Le Rocher,” is the historic old town of Monaco. Perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, it is one of the most charming neighborhoods to explore. The winding streets end at the highest point in the city, which is the Prince’s Palace. Built in 1191, it is the official residence of the ruling Grimaldi family of Monaco. The palace’s courtyard offers stunning panoramic views of the sea and Monte Carlo. Changing of the guard can be seen daily at 11:55 am and we enjoyed the pageantry of the ceremony. The traditional military ritual has been performed for decades with perfect coordination.
Additionally, the Rock is home to the Monaco Cathedral,
also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. This Roman-Byzantine-style cathedral was the wedding venue and the final resting place of numerous members of the royal family, including Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Monaco, home to a notable pipe organ, and contains intricate mosaics and beautiful stained glass windows. It was touching to walk through the cathedral, imagining the pomp and circumstances held in this special place.
The food – oh the food – was amazing. Fresh and plentiful, the cuisine we experienced in the French Riviera will long be remembered. These were our top two favorites.
is a seaside restaurant on Larvotto Beach, which offers terrace seating perfect for watching the sunset. The vibe is causal and the food is fresh and locally sourced, with a Mediterranean-Italian flair. We thought the fabulous setting and the amazing food made the ideal combination.
Pavyllon Monte Carlo
is an exquisite restaurant, headed by the renowned chef, Yannick Alléno. The setting is elegant and sophisticated, and the food is truly divine. Alléno is a Michelin-starred chef and known for his innovative approach to French cuisine. He blends tradition with modernity, elevating his classic flavors with a contemporary twist. We chose this restaurant certainly due to its food and reputation, but also because of its setting. Located on the terrace of the famous Hôtel Hermitage
, the views of the marina were absolutely spectacular.
In our opinion, Monte Carlo is totally over-the-top in luxury. There are designer stores everywhere you look, expensive cars, mega yachts, and gorgeous hotels.
Situated right next to the casino, one of the most remarkable hotels is the Hôtel de Pariś, built in 1864. Its rooftop penthouse is the Prince Rainier III Diamond Suite, commanding a rate of approx. 34,000 euros per night. While the hotel is certainly spectacular, its reputation is grounded in two distinct areas: an unwavering dedication to discretion and privacy for its renowned guests and an iconic horse in the lobby.
Louis XIV, sitting on a bronze horse, has been welcoming visitors at the entrance to the Hôtel de Paris since 1910. It is tradition to rub the horse’s hoof for good luck and it attracts both tourists and superstitious gamblers. In our case, the luck really helped. 🙂 Just to share a bit of insider knowledge from our research… It’s 15 euros to get into the casino, but if you have a player card (which is free) from MyMonteCarlo.com, you can get into the casino for free. You can pick up your player cards at Hôtel Pariś, quickly rub the knee of the horse for good luck, then head into the casino.
Our time in Monaco was truly captivating. The trip was a mix of luxury and natural beauty as we discovered a different world along the coast of the French Riviera.
Au Revoir, Monaco. We will remember you always.