Monaco may be small, but it’s packed with fascinating sights and attractions.
Inaugurated in 1863 by Prince Charles III – who was frankly in need of a money spinner due to the loss of Menton and Roquebrune– and redesigned in 1879 by the famous French architect Charles Garnier after he completed the Paris Opera, this famous Monaco landmark is a rococo vision with onion-shaped domes and a constant stream of visitors eager to gaze at the stupendous interior and/or try their luck. A series of magnificent rooms feature marble pillars, gilded mirrors and 10-tonne chandeliers. Roulette tables, slot machines and the finery of the over-18 clientele (jackets for the men, please) add a devilish decadence. Not that the Casino is just about high rolling. Charles III also commissioned the adjoining Salle Garnier, a bijou theatre and opera house that seats 524 and opened in 1879 with a performance by the great Sarah Bernhardt dressed as a nymph. Now home to the Monte- Carlo Opéra, the official national company of Monaco, the house’s restored gilt- and red-velvet decor has played host to artists the calibre of Bryn Terfel, Herbie Hancock and the late great Prince Rainier III.
A natural marina at the foot of Le Rocher – that iconic ancestral Rock – the enormous Port Hercule is Monaco’s only port with deep water. Once used as a trading centre by the Greeks and Romans, it was modernised by Prince Rainier III and redeveloped again by Prince Albert II. It now offers mooring possibilities for up to 500 vessels; a modern extension welcomes yachts of up to 100 metres. Take time out at any of the bars and lounges surrounding the harbour for people- (and people-on-yacht) watching, and for crimson sunsets on shimmering horizons.
Monaco’s museum of marine sciences rises, a palatial monolith, from the side of the Rock in Monaco-Ville. Founded in 1910 by Prince Albert I, the great-great-grandfather of Prince Albert II, and a sea captain given to expeditions, this Monégasque landmark offers visitors a unique opportunity to understand and protect the oceans – a good idea, especially since oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth. Enjoy an immersive experience of a fully reconstructed living environment that reacts to your movements, while the aquarium has 90 tanks including a shark lagoon. In keeping with the first Prince Albert’s belief that art and science should work together, contemporary art exhibitions showcase some of the art world’s biggest hitters.
Prince’s Palace Apartments
Perched atop the Rock of Monaco is the Prince’s Palace, the private residence of the ruling prince, all salmon-pink exterior with original 1215 ramparts and solemn carabinieri who perform the changing of the guard at 11:55 a.m. every day. Inside, entered through the dramatic Mirror Gallery, the fully restored state apartments reveal a cornucopia of delights: Venetian chandeliers, 16th-century frescoes, a Blue Room lined with blue-and-gold silk brocade, and a Throne Room sporting an impressive Renaissance fireplace. Visitors are welcome, with tickets available from July to October.
Built in Roman-Byzantine style in 1875 – from white stone taken from La Turbie, a village overlooking Monaco – and situated on the site of a 13th-century church, the Cathedral is an imposing monument whose peaceful interior includes side chapels decorated with statues and paintings. Prince Rainier III (1923-2005) and Princess Grace (1929- 1982) were married and are buried here, along with several former sovereigns. Sung mass takes place each Sunday, by the stained- glass windows and under a soaring dome.
Visit an impressive botanical diversity at the gates of the Principality in the Botanical Centre. Created in the 1960s and attached to the Exotic Gardens, the greenhouses here are home to some significant heritage, containing some of the world’s most important collections of cacti and succulents. Over 10,500 cacti and exotic plants split over three levels are waiting to meet you from Tuesday to Saturday (guided tours possible) … watch out for their spikes!