Welcome to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
That’s immediately what came to mind as our train approached Monaco. We could practically hear Robin Leach describing the enormous yachts in the Port Hercule. Only a half hour train ride from Nice, France, Monaco is a nearby day trip that feels a million miles away. Upon arrival, it doesn’t take long to realize that people living in this glamorous port destination are in a vastly different financial bracket than the rest of the world.
At less than two square miles, tiny Monaco is about the same size as New York’s Central Park. In addition to being the second smallest nation in the world (after Vatican City), it’s also one of the richest. Disproportionate wealth started back in 1869. That year, Monaco did away with income taxes, offering significant tax breaks to companies. Not surprisingly, well-to-do individuals from all over the globe began flocking to the glitzy city-state. They hoped to take advantage of a system very much in their favor.
From the port to the shopping districts to the residential areas, Monaco oozes wealth.
Monte Carlo is the main principality of Monaco. It consists of pristine neighborhoods, exquisite parks, upscale boutiques and many well-to-do folks. We lost count of the number of fur-clad ladies we saw, each with a matching pooch (the kind that are perfect for fitting into Louis Vuitton purses.)
Despite a close proximity to France and Italy, it’s difficult to pinpoint the average Monegasque (someone born in Monaco). In fact, less than 20% of Monaco’s population are true natives. Most citizens are French and Italian, but there are 125 other nationalities as well. These individuals, born outside Monaco but now residents, are called Monacoians. Regardless, everyone seemed rather fancy. After a leisurely picnic, we took our decidedly un-fancy selves to the town’s best known landmark.
Monte Carlo Casino is hard to miss, centered at the end of a row of fountains and flanked by countless flags.
Charles Garnier, the architect responsible for the Paris and Monaco Opera Houses, designed the beautiful Belle Epoque building. In 1929, the Monte Carlo Casinogarnered worldwide attention with the debut of the Monaco Grand Prix (Formula 1). Every year, Monte Carlo turns into a racetrack for the weekend. We can only imagine the debauchery and lavish soirées when adrenaline is added to the mix of this elite free-for-all.
Passing by a group of chatty Chinese businessmen, we entered the grand lobby. Inside, stately marble columns, ornate, gilded walls and an enormous glass ceiling towered above us. Like most European architecture, every detail appears thought out and built to withstand the test of time. In contrast, quick, cheap construction in America often fails at recreating European masterpieces. Las Vegas anyone?
We opted not to gamble and instead, set out to explore Monte Carlo’s other sights.
Monaco Cathedral, a Roman-Byzantine style church houses the burial places of past princes, as well as former American actress and Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly. While the Palais Princier remains the official residence of Monaco royalty. This is also where the infamous House of Grimaldi has impressively ruled for the last seven centuries.
Content from a full day, we headed to the idyllic, hilltop park of Les Jardins St. Martin. Among the exotic plants and interesting sculptures, we found a shaded bench to enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the Mediterranean.
It’s true, Monaco costs a small fortune to live in. But the luxury of simply sitting in a park and soaking up all the natural beauty didn’t cost us a thing. And because of that, we felt extremely rich.