I grew up with the story of the movie actress, Grace Kelly, marrying the handsome prince, Rainer and becoming the Princess of Monaco. I had the role models of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, so this real life fairy tale didn't seem far fetched since it happened right before my eyes! And, I grew up wanting to go to Monaco, and guess what? I did! Not just once but three times! Dreams really do come true! So, today, I tell you the story of Monaco and my time there.
A Bit About Monaco:
Right behind the Vatican, Monaco is the smallest sovereign state coming in at 2.1 square kilometers. Boasting the world's shortest coastline, it is situated on the Mediterranean Sea and bordered by France to the north, west, and east. Known as a tax haven for the wealthy and a playground for the rich and famous, Monaco is still a constitutional monarchy with Prince Albert II as head of state.
The Complex History with Stories of Curses, Betrayal, and Scandal:
Where did the Name Come From?
As many of you know by now, I love to explore the root of the names of my destinations. I know that might be weird but I find it interesting. Also, as many of you know, I am Greek. That being said, I can't resist the upcoming comparison of the root of the name "Monaco".
Monaco dates back to the 6th century BC and its name was appointed by a Phoenician colony. Originally it was named, using the Greek language, Monikos; "μόνος" (monos) "alone, single"+ "οἶκος" (oikos) "house". This seems to stipulate that even at its inception, Monaco was sovereign.
So, in the movie, 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding', when the character, Gus Portokalos said " You know, the root of the word Miller is a Greek word. Miller come from the Greek word "milo," which is mean "apple," so there you go. As many of you know, our name, Portokalos, is come from the Greek word "portokali," which mean "orange." So, okay? Here tonight, we have, ah, apple and orange. We all different, but in the end, we all fruit.", he wasn't far from wrong! And to further emphasize all words come from the Greek language, Gus also said " Kimono, kimono, kimono. Ha! Of course! Kimono is come from the Greek word himona, is mean winter. So, what do you wear in the wintertime to stay warm? A robe. You see: robe, kimono. There you go!"
The Turbulent History of Monaco in a Nutshell:
A family feud kept the Grimaldis in power. Francesco Grimaldi, from Genoa, fought for the Rock (where the palace is located) by disguising himself as a monk. A few years later, he fell from power but the struggle for the area continued for over 100 more years. Eventually, the Crown of Aragon over Corsica won the land but in 1419, the Grimaldi family purchased it back from Corsica.
It wasn't until 1612, that the heads of state began referring to themselves as "princes". Very few of the Princes lived in Monaco, instead opting for Paris where they could mix with French and Italian royalty.
In 1793, Monaco was captured and subsequently occupied by the French during the Revolution. In 1814, the Grimaldi came back into power only this time under the Kingdom of Sardinia.
It seems that Monaco had been used as a bargaining tool during this period of history. Several treaties later, by the early 20th century, Monaco finally got its sovereignty returned. The Monégasque Revolution of 1910 brought about the Constitution of Monaco which states, in addition to many other things, that the princes of Monaco were absolute rulers.
But wait! There's more!
In 1918 the Franco Monégasque Treaty was signed as a result of the Versailles treaty and this stipulated that Monaco would continue to be sovereign but under the protection of France and would align itself with the policies of France. (This would come back to haunt Prince Rainer III and Princess Grace when in 1963 Charles de Gaulle blockaded Monaco over Monaco's status as a tax haven for many wealthy French citizens and businesses. During this time, Rainer's sister and her husband were acting as spies passing on information to de Galle. When this was uncovered, both were banished forever from Monaco)
World War II came and the tiny country was invaded and occupied by Italian fascist forces. Then the Nazi German troops came. (The Monganesque people couldn't seem to get a break!)
Peace at Last?
Finally, with the world war over, sovereignty was once again restored and the Grimaldi family was back in power.
In 1956 Prince Rainer III married the film star Grace Kelly and that is where the modern-day fairy tale began. In 1982, Princess Grace was killed in a one-car traffic accident. It was tragic, very tragic.
The Curse of the Grimaldis:
At the time of the accident, there had been rumors of marital discord between Rainer and Grace. It is said that she missed Hollywood and wanted to make limited returns for movie roles and that Rainer forbid this. Then the tragic accident. I would be remiss in saying, however, that for every negative rumor, there were also stories of the great love they shared.
As a result of the accident, the theory of "The Grimaldi Curse" resurfaced. The story of the curse goes like this: Prince Rainier I allegedly kidnapped a Flemish woman in the 13th century. In turn, the woman cursed the prince and all of his descendants with the words: “never will a Grimaldi find happiness in marriage.” The daughters of Rainer and Grace have also had their share of ill-fated luck in love relationships. I'm not sure I really believe in curses but it seems, even as the recent headlines have emerged with Prince Albert and Princess Charlene, there could be something to the curse!
Monaco has five quarters with Monte Carlo being the one most popular with visitors. Monte Carlo is home to the world-renowned Monte Carlo Casino, the Hotel de Paris, and Café de Paris. In another quarter, Monaco Ville is home to the Pink Palace, the official royal residence, and the Oceanographic Museum. Yearly, the Monaco Gran Prix is run on the streets of Monaco, the principality is also for its yearly Charity Jubilee, the numerous luxury yachts moored in its harbor, the championship round of the World Poker Tour, and numerous boxing events. The Monaco Yacht Show is also a yearly event.
(I used the online booking app for tours, Viator. They offer so much pre-tour information, which allows you to "know before you go"! The vouchers are easy to download to your phone and you are all set! I used TripAdvisor for the reviews and past guest comments, which I found very helpful! And of course, for the hotel and flights, I got great deals using Kiwi.com. I highly recommend all three of those vendors when booking your next trip!)
- THE TOP 10 Monaco-Ville Tours & Excursions in 2022
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Tourism is the primary source of revenue in Monaco, but here are some additional interesting tidbits of information:
- Monaco has the world's highest GDP nominal per capita at US$185,742
- 19,009 inhabitants per square kilometer (49,230/sq mi) make it the most densely populated country in the world
- Recently 510 acres of land were reclaimed from the sea to add additional landmass for housing and businesses. There are plans to do the same again.
- Because the views are so spectacular, there is a building story limitation of five floors.
- Monaco has never taxed the income of individuals but there is a 20% VAT and social insurance is very high.
My Time in Monaco:
Each time I have had the pleasure of being in Monaco, it has been fabulous! It's a cool place and depending on how much time you have to spend, there is plenty to see and do.
The first time I was there, of course, my traveling companion and I did all the "tourists" things. We went to the Palace, the Princess Grace Rose Garden, and the Oceanographic Museum. We had a grand evening planned, so we wanted a snack and found ourselves with a box of pizza in the grassy area by the harbor.
Now, this sounds ridiculous but it was fun. As we enjoyed this makeshift picnic, we watched Lamborghini after Lamborghini, and Maserati after Maserati speed down the main street. We saw Bentleys cruising up and back. It was quite the show. But, we also watched the spectator seating being erected for the upcoming Monaco Gran Prix. To get back to the cruise ship, we had to walk through the harbor and gazed at one spectacular yacht after another. That day we had the pleasure of seeing the Lady Moura moored in the harbor. At the time she was the 15th largest yacht in the world.
Casino de Monte-Carlo
I had my own real-life fairy tale that evening. The ship was anchored a bit outside of the harbor. Not being scheduled to leave until 1 AM, we had all evening in Monte Carlo. The plan was to have an extravagant dinner and then try our luck at the Casino. The butler had arranged for a water taxi to pick us up at the cruise ship and ferry us into the port. So, we are on this private water taxi dressed to the 9's. I'm in an eggplant-colored chiffon evening dress, my companion in a tux wearing dark glasses flying across the water like celebrities! It was awesome! The whole thing was reminiscent of a James Bond movie.
Being across the square from the casino, the butler had arranged dinner at the Hotel De Paris. We feasted on caviar, sea bass with asparagus, and a heavenly chocolate torte for dessert. After a lovely dinner, we wandered across to the casino. Walking in the Casino de Monte-Carlo is nothing like any other casino I have been in! It's quiet, very subdued, with no slot machine bells ringing; all very sedate. The table games were all located in private rooms. I imagine the players attending those private room events had much bigger pocketbooks that were at my disposal!
We did not walk out of the casino with loads of cash. In fact, we lost! But the loss is nothing compared to the experience, which was fabulous!
A little girl's dream came true that first evening in Monte Carlo! I did not intend for the length of this article to be so long. You have not yet been told about the palace or the museum, the lovely rose garden. I have not yet told you about taking the train to Nice or any of the spectacular shopping. In my next installment, I will give you the details of those attractions along with some travel tips for making the most of your time in Monaco.
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© 2022 Dee Serkin