Monaco may just be a sliver of 2 km, yet it is crammed with millionaires, showy glamour, 300 days of sunshine every year.
It also has awesome architecture, an improbable number of spotlessly-lush parks and one of the smallest royals-to-commoners ratios in the world. You’d be forgiven for thinking Monaco is something dreamt up as a vehicle for a film – the actress, incidentally, married Prince Rainier, bringing a Hollywood to glow with her.
The best way to see this most elegant strip of the Côte d’Azur is on foot. Its mix of bustling streets, quiet lanes, and floral parks separate its great landmark: the Prince’s Palace. The latter, incidentally, built in a gorgeous rococo style with onion domes and marble columns, was the brainchild of Princess Caroline to attract tourists – citizens are not allowed to enter.
The locals seem to spend their time riding around in open-top Bentleys and strolling around casually. It’s not good to work up a sweat in chinos and Ralph Lauren.
This is not a place to be under-dressed unless you want to seriously stand out. Being an extra here means making an extra effort if you want any chance of blending in.
The only concession worth making is shoes; ones that’ll help you get up and downhills. Of which there are a lot.
A leisurely afternoon can take you from the Palace at what is the gateway to the principality to the ritzier and most famous of its seven districts, just across the spectacular drop to the harbor. And it’s a similarly manageable stroll to get down to those yachts below.
While the place may be ridiculously pompous (its 35,000 population even have a local dialect and national holiday), it is a safe place to be a tourist. Plain-clothed police patrol the tourist spots and they’re big on CCTV – cameras are everywhere.
So, a starting point. It’s a steep slog from the center of town up to the Palace, but you’ve stunning views with every step before you reach the square on which is played another sign of pomp: the midday changing of the guard.
It’s worth taking a detour along the winding and undulating alleyways that sit behind the main roads of La Condamine if you want a sense of how ordinary Monegasques live. You’ll pass front doors and occasionally reach an end. But no one will mind you finding a shortcut.
Just don’t expect decent service from waiters who make it clear they’ve enjoyed better clientele before harrying you out of your seat as soon as they spot an empty cup or a clean plate. The cafe does have its own free area, ideal for low-rollers who prefer slot machines to roulette tables. But that cheapens the experience.
From any of the vantage points, Monaco appears a thriving hub of high rises, but there’s a lot of greenery set in among all that concrete. And it’s pleasingly green, thanks to all the trees and shrubbery that line the pavements.