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krisek Monaco-Ville - A travel report by Krys
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Monaco-Ville,  Monaco - flag Monaco
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krisek's travel reports

Charm of a small Mediterranean principality.

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Monaco is often associated with wealth, extravagant lifestyle, gambling, and car racing. But how many people realise that the capital, Monaco-Ville, perched on a rock rising from the sea, could be atmospheric and packed with narrow lanes and old mansions?

One of world’s smallest states, Principality of Monaco surprisingly has much to offer. It is an interesting and diverse place. The capital, Monaco Ville, is a pleasant little town, complete with the royal palace, city walls, grand buildings and overpriced restaurants. The other parts of the state are less picturesque. It is in fact a modern city state, which attracts rich gamblers and Formula 1 lovers.

However, many understand that it is just a big one-city-state. This is not entirely accurate. There are actually a few towns. Yes, they are adjacent to each other and it is impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins, but Monaco is not equivalent to Monte Carlo. There are four main districts of the country: Monaco-Ville, an historic seat of the Principality, located upon the rock where the Prince Palace stands;

Monte-Carlo, the district surrounding its famous casino; La Condamine, business and residential part around the Port Hercule harbouring world's largest and flashest yachts; and Fontvieille, the new industrial area built on ground reclaimed from the sea, but also containing modern combos and apartments.

I knew Monaco only from postcards depicting the modern high rise buildings and the facade of the Monte Carlo Casino. I was not aware that the capital was virtually an open-air museum, dramatically perched on a hill overlooking the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. I came on a dramatic hot day, which combined sun spells intermittent between brief showers falling from low hanging heavy-looking grey clouds. Not a typical Mediterranean weather... But browsing through and about the narrow lanes among rather flamboyant mansions and palaces made my day. I spent a couple of hours exploring the capital, and then I moved to see also other parts. I was impressed with the lifts hidden inside the rocky mountains on which the country is built, transporting pedestrians to the upper parts. I used them, and then walked down, back to the sea's shores.

Favourite spots:
Old part of Monaco-Ville
Old part of Monaco-Ville
The tip of the hilltop, where the Princely Palace is perched, is one of the most spectacularly looking spots on the Mediterranean. The palace is a celebrated place of the country. The residence has been called "the guardian of an ancient tradition". Its setting suggests that it has been constructed as a fortress. The structure dates back to the beginning of the 13th century. It was built by the Genoese, and therefore its architecture, exterior and interior, is in such an Italian style. Famous room, open to visitors, include a main gallery with 15th century frescoes, the Louis XVth yellow & gold lounge, the Blue room (it also has gold decorations!), the Mazarin room covered with multi-coloured wood-panels, the Throne Room with a magnificent Renaissance fireplace, the Palatine Chapel built in the 17th century, the St-Mary's Tower, built from the white stones of nearby La Turbie, the Main Courtyard and the 17th century Carrara marble double staircase. A truly princely home.

What's really great:
Cathedral of Monaco
Cathedral of Monaco
Monaco-Ville seriously surprised me! I did not expect to see such a lovely little capital packed with magnificent architecture, with some buildings looking so classic, and yet not dating many centuries back at all.

The Palais de Justice, for example, was only built in 1924, by Prince Louis II. The sea tuff, a grey and porous stone, was used for its construction, which was also used for the country's ramparts and fortifications. As the stone contains many small pebbles, and sometimes mollusc shells, it makes the facade look irregular. Not enough? The bust of the Sovereign Honoré II, dating back to 1568, is there, too.

The Oceanographic Museum, not only an exceptional museum but a masterpiece of architecture with dramatic location, overlooking the sea on top of a breathtaking drop of 85 meters. About 100,000 tonnes of massive La Turbie stones were used to built it. The stone is naturally light brown but acquires a pale grey patina under the effect of water. It was built in 1910!

Prince's Palace of Monaco
Prince's Palace of Monaco
The tiny town of Monaco-Ville has a few interesting places to see, apart from the palaces and princely courts.

The white-stone Monaco Cathedral built in 1875 in Roman-Byzantine style looks phenomenal. It is where the past princes are buried. Inside, one can admire an altar by the Niçois painter Louis Bréa dating back to 1500 as well as the high white-marble alter and the Episcopal throne.

The Fort Antoine built at the beginning of the 18th century is now an open air theatre; it was reconstructed in 1953 by the order of His Royal Highness Prince Rainier III after it has been destroyed in 1944. It retains its former military architecture, complete with the watchtower perched on a hill, making it look austere and inaccessible.

The small Sainte-Dévote Church, dating back to the 11th century, is a pretty chapel dedicated to the Principality's and Princely family's Patron Saint. Apparently, it was built in the place where during the 4th century Sainte Dévote's boat ran aground.

La Condamine and the harbour
La Condamine and the harbour
One could try finding cheap accommodation in Monaco, say below €80, but actually finding one is nothing short of a miracle, or a luck at least as good as hitting 'zero' on a roulette ten times in a row. I tried to find a hostel there, but somehow Monaco is not a kind of place to invest in this sort of accommodation. So, unless one has a nice fat wallet, for the best value for money hotels, and hostels, it is better to look in France (Nice) or Italy (Ventimiglia).

The cheapest option in the country that I could find was Hotel Ambassador, that charged about €80 for a single, which was not too bad for what you could get... The cheaper options in France were: Hotel Suisse (sic!) in Nice for €30, and Hotel Eza Vista for €50 in Eze, almost immediately at the border with the principality.

Monaco Ville seen from La Condamine
Monaco Ville seen from La Condamine
Monaco, for a long time, has enjoyed a strong reputation for providing a wide variety of evening activities suitable for all ages, ranging from its famous casino in Monte Carlo to one of the most extravagant and expensive nightclubs in the World, Jimmy'z situated on Avenue Princess Grace. Recently, a number of competitors have sprung up, including Karement (forming a part of the Grimaldi Forum) but all feel rather upper class. It is a small place and there is not much choice. Not all inhabitants are super rich, and there must be places that cater for smaller than a million euro budget, but there one has to know where to go. I did not stay in Monaco long enough to find out.

Old Monaco Ville
Old Monaco Ville
I was happy hanging out in the capital, amongst the narrow lanes. The hilltop offered great views towards the rest of the country, and its ever expanding harbours. There was a nice park running along the rim of the hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, complete with benches set among colourful flowers and palm trees. Many seagulls like the place walking calmly on the walls, staring at the passers by and at the sea, lurking for dinner. Surprisingly, there were no bars or cafes there whose tables would offer the same.

Not in Monaco-Ville but in the higher parts of Fontvieille, Moneghetti and La Colle, there were a few parks and spots offering magnificent views of Monaco in the southern direction with the capital and the Prince's Palace perched on the hill in the centre of the exposure. Would there be a better place to wander about and shoot pictures for a photographer?

One of the old town squares in Monaco Ville
One of the old town squares in Monaco Ville
The narrow stone-laid lanes of the old town hide a number of very atmospheric little eateries offering a range of dishes from both the French and the Italian cuisines, with a slight dominance of the former. There is little for the lower budget holders however, as Monaco has not geared for backpackers. And the outlook is not very promising. Anyway, I am not going to recommend any specific restaurants, though. There is plenty to choose from and none of them I saw, stood up in any particular way. I stopped a few hundred yards behind the cathedral in one of the narrow back streets, at a restaurant with tables outside and a swift service. What I cared for was a cold drink as the day was hot. High temperatures diminish my appetite, but I ordered a small fish dish, which was adequate, but nothing spectacular. The beer was cold and that made me happy.

Other recommendations:
Looking up from La Condamine
Looking up from La Condamine
One of the more interesting and slightly over-the-top ways to reach Monaco is via helicopter from the Nice airport. Of course it is expensive, but it is the fastest way to reach the principality for an independent traveller without own transport. It takes only about 7 minutes and costs about €100 one way. And the views from the copter must be rather spectacular. I was definitely considering this option as it looked very tempting. There are two or three companies offering the flights, one of them being Heli Air Monaco. There was not much discrepancy in their ticket prices. The scheduled flights, however did not fit my itinerary well, and by the time the next flight was leaving, I would have been almost there, anyway. And I was not prepared to spend much more for a solo flight within their charter service. So I chose to keep my €100 and take a coach leaving right from the front of the airport's terminal.

Published on Sunday February 22th, 2009

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Sun, Feb 22 2009 - 06:23 PM rating by jacko1

You are right about the prices, I also found it better to take a day trip from Nice and have a heavier wallet to spend in France.

Sun, Feb 22 2009 - 02:43 PM rating by jorgesanchez

charming report

Sun, Feb 22 2009 - 02:06 PM rating by pesu

Nice that non exotic sites can still impress you. Have you been in the casino? ;-)

Sun, Feb 22 2009 - 01:29 PM rating by porto

Another superb report Krys,I hope by the time I get there hostelworld will have accomodation!

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