Monaco…Heart of the Riviera by Marci DeWolf

Photography provided by the Monaco Tourist Office: © Tomas Abreu Photography, © Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo, © Monte-Carlo SBM

Cover photo: Monaco Port Hercule

In l956, Grace Kelly dazzled New York at a stylish “Night in MonteCarlo” ball to mark her engagement to Prince Rainier III. Sixty years later, this wealthy Riviera port is still the wealthy playground for the world’s beautiful people.

While Monaco’s image bears the standard of dreams and glamour, it is above all, a tourist destination with a remarkable heritage and variety of outstanding museums, gardens, and Michelin starred restaurants.

“This is where you discover how poor you really are,” said the Holland America cruise director, pointing to the length and breadth of stunning mega yachts lining the harbor at Port Hercule.

The dramatic heights of Monte-Carlo are the best known areas of the Principality of Monaco, ruled by the Grimaldis, the world’s oldest ruling family. From the harbor it’s a ten minute stroll to the famous Grand Casino.  Monte-Carolo’s most famous building, it was built in l878 by Paris Opera architect Charles Garnier.

That era’s opulent Belle Epoque style is echoed in the Hotel de Paris adjacent to the casino…a symbol of elegant bygone eras combined with high tech advantages.


Lobby – Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo

Walking the Old City

Located in the southwestern part of Europe, the principality is divided into three areas: the port area, the old city with the palace and museums, and Monaco through the Grand Prix race track. It’s easy to walk around to see the sights and feel the magic.  In some places, you can walk from one country to another—France to Italy and back.  The Via Alpina offers spectacular views of the city below.

The Prince’s Palace and state apartments on the Rock of Monaco, part of a 13th century fortress, are the main attraction.  Open from April to October, the palace contains 1,000 treasures, a majestic staircase, and courtyard.  At precisely ll:55 a.m. daily visitors can see the unchanging ritual of the changing of the Palace Guard resplendent in their crisp white uniforms.

A short stroll away is the Princess Grace Irish Library and a behind the scenes look at her life and charity work. Grace’s collection of Irish books that lined the walls of her Palace office form the heart of the library’s collections.  Some 12,000 books have been acquired, including a modern version of the Book of Kells.

Princess Grace brought her own personal charm and elegance to her position at the palace. Visitors can admire her full length portrait by Mohammed Drisi.

The library is free and open to the public Monday to Fridays 9 to 5 p.m. (4 p.m. on Friday) and is closed from November to February..

The legend of Monaco continues at the new National Museum showcasing Monaco’s heritage and providing a platform for contemporary art. This initiative has its roots in a unique region of the world whose culture has long been influenced by artists.  The museum is housed in the l9th century La Villa Sauber constructed by Charles Garnier.

The Grimaldi family’s love of nature and respect for the oceans are evident in the Oceanographic Museum. Situated on a cliff overlooking the ocean, the museum is a crossroads between art and science that invites the public to dive into the discovery of 6,000 specimens doing their water ballet in a 400,000 litre lagoon.


Odyssey – Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo

Nature in the City

In keeping with the botanical theme, the principality has a number of unique parks and gardens. The casino’s gardens contain sumptuous flowerbeds set in impeccably tended lawns, embellished with fountains back-dropped by the Mediterranean.

I was enchanted with the Fontvielille Landscaped Park and Princess Grace Rose Garden. On the banks of a little lake, plants from around the world sprawl across four acres, while 8,000 roses of 300 different varieties infuse the rose garden with luxurious fragrance.


Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort

Hotel Elegance

Stopping by Monaco’s world class hotels should be on the visitor’s tour list. The Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo is renowned for its gourmet offerings.  The Joel Robuchon Restaurant, with two Michelin stars, signifies a refined menu with local flavors.  Diners can sit at long tables close to the kitchen to observe the chefs in action.  The hotel has 126 rooms.

The Monte-Carlo Beach Relais and Chateaux has retained much of its 1930s glamour and glory, as the Art Deco period is portrayed in design and architecture. Gastronomy is at the core of the Elsa Restaurant featuring l00% organic fare by Michelin starred Chef Paolo Sari.  The 40-room hotel has resort amenities, including an Olympic size pool, a spa and private cabanas.

L’Hotel Hermitage is an architectural beauty built in l900 at the height of the Belle Epoque style. It features rose marble columns and a frescoed ceiling as well as a winter garden and dome designed by Gustave Eiffel.


Monte-Carlo Beach

Tourist Circuits

Tours on the Little Train are popular with visitors for an overview of the area, followed by leisurely walking tours of the old town. The train runs every day except November to February.  Check:

The major cruise lines dock at Monaco as a port destination, giving passengers several hours to see the sights. It is also accessible by train from Paris.

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