Monte Carlo, a feast for the senses
No trip around the ports of the Mediterranean would, in my opinion, not be complete without a stop in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Out journey aboard the ms Noordam, of Holland America Line, would be very incomplete with a port of call to this crown jewel of the French Riviera.
Perched on the cliffs of the Cote ‘azure, Monte Carlo is the epitome of wealth from the plethora of mega-yachts nestled into its tiny harbor to the opulence of the Grand Casino, almost everything about this destination screams (quietly, of course) money!
Monaco, the principality, was purchased by the Grimaldi family in 1309 from the Genoese. This makes the Grimaldi family the oldest ruling family in Europe. The Palace remains one of the prime tourist attractions and is open for visits from June to October.
The Grand Casino, the city’s most famous, and probably most photographed building was built in 1878 by the architect of the Paris Opera, Charles Garnier, and the casino reflects the opulent wedding cake style of his other masterpiece in Paris and the opera house in Nice, as well.
Begin your day in Monte Carlo by going uphill to visit the Palace and the 19th century Cathedral that holds the remains of Princess Grace, the adjacent Jardin Exotique is worth a visit, as it is considered to be the finest garden in Europe. If Gardens delight you make sure to also visit the recently established Japanese Garden close to the cruise pier. This is a pocket of quiet and serenity in a hectic city.
My only disappointment with Monte Carlo was in the Grand Casino. I had done my homework, well, I thought, and had watched many a James Bond film. Imagine my disappointment to discover a distressing similarity to most Las Vegas casinos. Where was all the style? The tuxedoed men ordering their martinis shaken, not stirred? On the upper floors, where it would appear the casual visitor does not get to venture without an invitation.
Are you a fan of Formula One racing? Then you will want to walk, or better yet, drive, the famous racing course of the Grand Prix of Monaco.At almost 4km long and including a tunnel the only parts that are open for walking are some of the main streets, but you can readily get to the Monte Carlo Fairmont Hotel with is advantageous setting on “the hairpin” turn of the course. In my dreams I imagine a champagne breakfast in a room with a view from which to watch this classic race.
A visit to the market at Place d’Armes is a must for any foodie visiting the Riviera; it is open daily in the mornings. And just what are the local food specialties of Monaco? Bouillabaisse (fish soup is a totally inadequate description of this seafood composition), grilled sea bass with fennel, salad Nicoise (a salad with eggs, anchovies, tuna and olives), with Tarte au citron (lemon tart) for dessert.
A visit to Monte Carlo will feed all your senses, feel the warmth of the Mediterranean Sun on your skin, dazzle your eyes with the beauty of the Riviera, pamper your taste buds with an amazing array of foods, and listen for the sounds of racing legends, pushing their vehicles to the limit.