Monte Carlo is situated at the base of the Maritime Alps along the French Riviera. Its name is of Italian origin meaning “Mount Charles,” in honor of the then-reigning prince, Charles III. Monaco is a sovereign city-state, governed under a constitutional monarchy, currently held by Prince Albert II (a constitutional monarchy is a form of government in which the monarch is legally restricted within the boundaries of a constitution). Monaco is the second smallest country in the world next to the Vatican, and is also the most densely populated country in the world (with a population of 36,950 citizens within an area of 1mi2).
The principality’s mild climate, beautiful scenery and gambling casinos, have contributed to Monaco’s status as a premier tourist destination and haven for wealthy escapees. Monaco levies no income tax on individuals, thus attracting a considerable number of affluent “tax refugee residents” from European countries… who derive the majority of their income from activity outside of Monaco (ie: Ringo Starr). Monte Carlo is host to the Circuit de Monaco racetrack, on which the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix takes place. The lavish Casino de Monte-Carlo has been featured in numerous films, such as the James Bond series and Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief, starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly – the then future Princess of Monaco. There is a scene in To Catch A Thief, when Grace Kelly drives her car very fast and dangerously along the steep winding roads of Monaco – a sad coincidence to her actual death in 1982.
Worldwide glamor came to Monte Carlo when Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III in 1956. Together they restored Monaco both financially and structurally – lessening the country’s dependence on the income generated from gambling (this involved land reclamation, the development of new beaches and high-rise luxury housing). Princess Grace of Monaco predeceased her husband, dying in September 1982, in an automobile accident. The road that Grace and Stephanie, her daughter, were traveling, is called the Moyenne Corniche, which takes you into Monaco. Approximately 2 miles from La Turbie, there is an especially steep bend where you have to brake very hard and steer carefully to follow the road 150 degrees to the right. Grace missed that turn. The Rover slammed into the small retaining wall and went through it. The car somersaulted as it crashed 120 feet through branches of trees, careening off the slope. Stephanie – who was in the passenger seat, tried to regain control of the car but was unsuccessful. Stephanie told her sister Caroline, “Mommy kept saying, I can`t stop. The brakes don`t work. I can`t stop.” She said that Mommy was in a complete panic. She told me, “I pulled on the hand brake but it wouldn`t stop. I tried but I just couldn`t stop the car.” Despite Doctor’s efforts, Princess Grace’s head injuries – in addition to her fractured ribs, collarbone, and thigh – were irreparable. The following night, Princess Grace died at the age of 52, after Prince Rainier decided to take her off life support.
From Monte Carlo, we drove ten miles to the medieval village of Eze. The hike from the parking lot to the village, takes you up a steep stone pathway to the top. The hillside village sits like an eagle’s nest on a large rock 400 meters above the Mediterranean Sea. The view is stunning from the Jardin Exotique lookout point – a garden terrace with a collection of rare plant species from around the world. Many of the residents of Eze are artisans or work in the surrounding hotels and villas. Visitors can wander to their heart’s content in and out of the cave-like shops (if you have the Euros to back it up!).
On a final note: Our tour guide happened to mention that if you have a few extra bucks in your bank account, you can actually buy a lovely five-story, 35,500 sq. ft. penthouse with a private infinity pool and waterslide, personal chauffeur and butler (controlled by a touch screen) and floor to ceiling windows, with a heart-stopping view of the Mediterranean. The apartment is located at the Odeon Tower Sky Penthouse, which is the second tallest building on the European Mediterranean. The uber-exclusive Penthouse, with an estimated price tag of 387-million dollars, just might be the most expensive apartment in the world.
In case you are tempted, the phone number is +377 97 77 37 77
All photographs except 2, 4, 7, 8, taken by Ryan Oksenberg