Known by many as a decadent playground for the rich, the principality of Monaco has its origins as a strategic stronghold for various groups throughout history, with the first signs of the present day state taking shape when the Italian city state of Genoa set up a fortress here.
Held by princes and various nobles since then, it has served as a holding of these royals to this day. With no taxes and other regulations that are friendly to business and high net worth individuals, walking around the world’s second smallest country is a rare opportunity to see how the top 0.1% lives.
Languages: French, English, Italian, Monegasque
What To Do
The best place to start in this tiny principality is at the Prince’s Palace of Monaco. It is here where the Prince rules over this Mediterranean microstate, but despite how exclusive sounding it is, much of this structure can be toured by visitors during the summer months.
Built in the late 12th century as a Genoese castle, it had been an object of desire for many centuries, as many of the city states of Italy, as well as nation states like Spain, France and England attempted to take the fortress, only to be rebuffed each time they attempted a complete takeover.
In addition to being able to tour much of the interior of the palace, its courtyard also plays host to outdoor performances of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in the warmer months of the year, so be sure to catch a show if you are lucky enough to be in the area if one is on the schedule.
Famous for the structure that contains it as much as the scientific knowledge contained within, Monaco’s Oceanographic Museum is another attraction that should be seen before moving on to other centres in the French Riviera.
Erected atop a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean in the Baroque Revival style, you’ll spend a good deal of time photographing this spectacular building, especially given its stunning natural backdrop.
Once inside, explore its extensive collection, which chronicles sea life sourced from the Mediterranean and around the world. Jacques Cousteau himself was a director at this museum from 1957 to 1988, which is a fact that does nothing but assure you that the exhibits here are nothing less than world class.
It might be a bit of a stereotype encouraged by more than a couple of James Bond movies, but the Monte Carlo Casino is a place that is certainly worth a look even if you don’t plan on placing your hopes and dreams in the hands of Lady Luck.
Built to help bring the principality of Monaco bounce back from the loss of two towns that declared themselves to be independent from Monaco to avoid paying taxes on their olive oil and fruit crops.
Both ended up ceding their territory to France little more than a decade later, and with the slow but steady gain in popularity in gaming from visitors outside the principality, the Monte Carlo Casino eventually became one of the bigger sources of revenue for the microstate.
Interestingly, residents of Monaco are barred from the gaming parlours here, meaning that its international reputation has drawn enough repeat business over centuries to not only remain solvent, but to also become one of the most iconic gaming centres in the world.
Indeed, the European Poker Tour holds a big tournament here every year, and with well-populated tables of games like Trente et Quarante, Blackjack and Baccarat in its pits, this status will be evident to you from the moment you step inside this opulent building.
Those wishing to spend time outdoors in Monaco will want to start by visiting the Jardin Exotique de Monaco, which is a cliff side garden featuring various types of cacti and other succulent plants that thrive in arid environments.
Brought to the principality from Mexico by Prince Albert I at the turn of the 20th century, this prickly paradise only became accessible to the public in 1950. Still, you can’t walk around by yourself, as a cave on the property contains prehistoric remains.
A guide serves to protect them and educate you on them, as well as the various types of dry climate flora found throughout the garden.
Want to relax by the Mediterranean Sea with the established rich residents of Monaco? If you want to get a first row seat to watch the wealthy as they go about their day in one of the more beautiful places in the world, Larvotto Beach is the place to be during the summer months.
While you’ll probably want to up your swimsuit game to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb here, you’ll be able to inhabit a sun lounger like anyone else (though the biggest power brokers will likely be looking down at you from exclusive beach clubs and super yachts in the harbour).
What To Eat
While Monaco is a microstate, there are a few dishes that are so well loved by its inhabitants, it makes sense to indulge in the following foods while you are in the principality.
Socca is is a flatbread made in local bakeries from chickpea flour that is eaten straight out of the oven with a generous sprinkling of black pepper. Enjoy some while you are out walking along the waterfront.
When it comes time for dinner, make a point of trying to order some Stocafi. It is a seafood dish that involves taking cod fish, tomatoes, garlic, and other seasoning and flavoring agents, and cooking it all in a pan with white wine. Simply magnificent!
Finally, have dessert by seeking out some Fougasse. Known in other parts as a bread, in Monaco, it is a pastry. Made like the bread, but with curacao liqueur, lemon peel, organge blossom water and other seasonings imbued into the dough, it is topped with powdered sugar and nuts when it is finished cooking, making it the perfect meal to end your day in this tiny country.