I have been spending time in the French Riviera since I was a child. I would spend many summers and winters in the small town of Juan-les-Pins, especially in my teenage years, and it is in the French Riviera that I have made some of my fondest family memories.
It has been more than fifteen years since I first visited Monaco, and I have returned countless times over the years, both with my family and on my own. The Principality has always been a holiday destination long before Grace Kelly became a princess; in fact, the French Riviera was already quite popular in the 1920s, when Jazz Age writers and artists (including Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda) would spend periods of time devoted to creativity and rest on the French Mediterranean coast, before the advent of World War II, as evidenced by the Assouline volume “The French Riviera in the 1920s” (which is full of wonderful photographs, as are all the books by the luxury publishing house).
Monaco’s popularity is largely due to the inauguration of the world’s first casino-resort (Casino de Monte-Carlo), which became one of the most glamorous destinations as early as the Victorian era following the legalization of gambling in 1855, and which achieved iconic status among European resorts in the following decades. To this day, Monaco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the French Riviera, thanks in part to the various events that take place each year, such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco and the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters (which I would love to attend someday because I am a huge tennis fan).
Monaco is one of the cities in Europe that I know the most; my cousin works there and I also have many family friends in the French Riviera. These days I’m not going back very often because I promised myself I would visit new places (this was after realizing that I often tend to go back to cities I have already visited), but I think the city’s landmarks are especially worth seeing. So I decided to do a top five of the must-visit places in Monaco; I recommend going there in the spring months because the French Riviera can be incredibly crowded in the summertime, which may not make you fully appreciate your visit (besides the fact that summers are very hot in the Mediterranean area).
1) Place du Casino: the Place du Casino represents the center of the Principality of Monaco, mainly due to the presence of the imposing Belle Époque-style building built by the famous architect Charles Garnier (who also created the Paris Opera). The building houses the Casino de Monte-Carlo, the headquarters of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, and the Grand Théâtre de Monte-Carlo. Both the Casino and the adjacent Hotel de Paris are owned by Monaco SBM (Société des Bains de Mer), a company that owns a number of hotels, restaurants, and other venues in the Principality. The company also offers a loyalty program called MyMontecarlo, which through a card allows members to access a range of discounts and benefits at establishments operated by SBM (which I myself have been a member of in the past). The Casino has also been the location for a number of films over the years, such as Ocean’s Twelve (2004) and the 007 movie GoldenEye (1995). The square has undergone a total makeover in recent years, changing from a dome of turf to a total esplanade of tiles on which a number of palm trees have been planted; the Anish Kapoor mirror in the center, surrounded by a circular fountain, has been retained, and the square now looks very much as it did when it was first inaugurated in 1850. Café de Paris is located on the left side of the square looking at the Casino; it is ideal for coffee, orange juice, breakfast or lunch because of its privileged location that allows a wide view of the surrounding area, which now has a quieter atmosphere thanks to the pedestrianization of the square (although I retain a nostalgic memory of the old square, especially for the lighted trees during Christmas time). Also close to Place Du Casino is One Monte-Carlo (the new fashion district with 24 luxury boutiques, including French brands such as Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton), the Metropole Shopping Center, which, with its elegant marble corridors and crystal chandeliers, includes 80 boutiques and six restaurants, and Les Jardins et Terrasses du Casino, a curated green space in the center of the Principality.
2) Le Rocher: this neighborhood is located in the upper part of Monaco, near the Place du Palais, site of the Palais Princier (the Prince’s residence, where the changing of the guard of the Carabiniers du Prince takes place every day). The old town is characterized by narrow medieval streets in whose surroundings are architectural buildings such as the Palais de Justice, the Palais de la Poste and the Romanesque-Byzantine style Cathedral. Le Rocher is the historical center of the Principality and constitutes one of the main districts of Monaco, as well as the oldest. In the same place are the Town Hall and the Palais Princier, whose apartments are open to the public from April to October, and it is possible to admire an array of period furniture and paintings housed within the halls. Since the district is a promontory jutting out over the Mediterranean Sea and located in the upper part of the city, I recommend comfortable shoes if you want to reach the place on foot because the walk starting from the Rampe Major is slightly steep but really pleasant also thanks to the panoramic view over the Principality (it is during the walk that I took the photo which opens this article).
Le Rocher is indeed a quaint neighborhood, with its narrow streets, restaurants and typical shops, and it is very nice to visit; in fact, it is reminiscent of some of the old villages in the South of France because of its structure. The Old Town is located within the 16th-century ramparts, and its medieval alleys lead to some key places in the neighborhood, such as the Chapel of Mercy (Chapelle de la Miséricorde) and the Cathedral. Also near the Old Town are the Saint-Martin Gardens, which date back to 1816 and were the first public gardens opened in Monaco. They constitute a place of quietness that offers an exceptional view over the sea. Near the gardens is also the Oceanographic Museum, which I have visited several times over the years; in fact, I walked the narrow streets of Le Rocher during one of my last trips to the museum that was created by Prince Albert I in 1910. The other side of Le Rocher offers a view of Port Hercule and the rest of the Principality. I hope to visit Le Rocher more extensively in the future because it is a lovely place that you need to devote a good amount of time to.READ MORE
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