Grace Kelly, Formula 1 Grand Prix, glitz and glamour, playground for the rich and famous are just some of the things that come to mind when I think of Monaco.
This tiny city-state of 0.81mi² (2.1km²) is one of the densest countries in the world. If you tried to fit Monaco in New York City’s Central Park it would take up only 60% of the space. Its border length is a mere 3.4mi (5.5km), with the world’s shortest coastline of 2.4mi (3.8km) and a width that varies from 5,577-1,145ft (1,700-349m). It is the second smallest country in the world after Vatican City.
Monaco has a population of 38,600 of which approximately 12,300 of them are classified as millionaires. A tax haven with luxurious buildings and relaxed lifestyle, Monaco has drawn the likes of Roger Moore (actor known for his James Bond roles during the 1970s), Bono (lead singer of U2) and Björn Borg (famous tennis player) to take up residency in Monaco. The most famous, however, is Grace Kelly, an American actress from the mid-20th century who married Rainier III, Prince of Monaco.
Member of the House of Grimaldi, Prince Rainier reigned Monaco for nearly 56 years. When he ascended the throne in 1949, as much as 95% of Monaco’s economy was derived from gambling houses with the first casino, Casino de Monte-Carlo, opening its doors in 1858. The casino was a huge success and within a decade it was making so much money that the city-state decided to stop collecting tax from its citizens and has remained that way ever since. During his reign, Rainier undertook extensive reforms and expanded Monaco’s economy beyond gambling to such an extent that today the city’s annual revenue from gambling is only three percent.
One of the most prestigious sporting events held in Monaco is the Formula 1 Grand Prix. With a narrow circuit, tight corners and a tunnel, it was once compared to cycling around a living room. The circuit has many elevation changes, largely due to Monaco’s rocky and steep location, making it one of the most demanding tracks in Formula 1 racing.
In the centre of Monaco is the district of La Condamine where the annual Yacht Show is held in Port Hercules and visited by over 30,000 people. An estimated 125 superyachts are on display featuring boats from 65-300ft (20-90m) in length. Here yacht enthusiasts, designers, builders and brokers gather to trade, explore or upgrade.
Complementing the superyachts in the harbour is the state-of-the-art yacht clubhouse. Opened in 2014, the clubhouse is shaped like a docked cruise-liner. It has 5 decks (floors) and built with eco principles in mind. Located at the foot of the harbour, it is 669ft (204m) long providing spectacular views of the ocean on one end, the F1 track down the other and across the superyachts in the port.
Across the port on the other side of the clubhouse is Monaco-Ville (Old town). Located up high on a promontory, it is the oldest district in Monaco and the location of the Prince’s Palace. The palace was originally built in 1191 and was seized in 1297 by François Grimaldi and his cousin, Rainier I. François had no heirs, so the Grimaldi family that currently rule are actually descendants of Rainier. The Palace has been the Grimaldi home for 700 years and its evolution is a direct reflection of the family’s and the country’s history.
Near the tip of the promontory is the Oceanographic Museum. What is truly fascinating is the building itself. At 279ft (85m) high the building towers over the edge of the cliff face. With a Baroque Revival architecture it is almost at odds with the rugged cliff face beneath it yet they complement one another. From the sea it looks monumental. From land it seems as it could topple into the sea.