Monaco rises from the Mediterranean - sounds dramatic but it will soon be the case as the principality is reclaiming a whole new district from the surrounding sea. The new development, named Portier Cove, is scheduled for completion in 2025 at a cost of €2 billion.
Surprisingly though, Monaco is mindful of the environment and is moving the marine life and the undersea world as opposed to just concreting over it. Added to this, 40% of Portier Cove’s energy will be provided by solar panels and pumps that use seawater to heat and cool buildings.
Further inland, Monaco’s landscape makes it a challenging place to develop. Beyond the coastal path it’s far from flat. From the sea, you walk up through Monaco until you pass into France (not that you would notice the border) before the cliffs make further progress impossible. Monaco has made remarkable use of this tiny piece of land – to get its citizens up and down the precipitous principality, the streets are riddled with hidden lifts, stairs and escalators that are outside, not in. Tunnels connect many of the principality’s wards, travelled by vehicle or by foot.
Monaco’s 38,400 residents make it one of the most densely populated countries in the world, but only 9000 of them are original citizens (Monégasques). The rest only reside here for three or six months of the year to comply with residency laws and to make use of the lack of personal income tax on individuals and the lack of inheritance tax on parents, spouses or children.
In order to get those benefits they will have deposited at least half a million euros in a Monaco bank and rented or bought some of the most expensive property in the world. The penthouse – a five-storey apartment – of the Odeon Tower was recently for sale at €350 million. It’s no surprise, then, that one in three of Monaco’s residents are millionaires, and more than a few billionaires call it home.
Being home to billionaires, there are plenty of ridiculous things to see – such as the previously mentioned Odeon Tower. You can’t miss it: it's the largest tower around and it’s blue. In Port Hercules you can see superyachts by the score, and out to sea the Dilbar or the Philippe Starck-designed M/Y A can be seen at anchor with guests indulging in... well, whatever it is you do on a €350 million superyacht. Anything you want, I guess.
Back on solid ground there’s Casino Square, the Golden Triangle, the F1 circuit... everything is set to 11.
Some things in Monaco are not what you might expect, though. The Carrefour supermarket at Fontvieille isn’t full of beluga caviar and Boërl & Kroff champagne. It’s the same rather dull assortment you’ll find down the coast in Nice. Starbucks has a couple of cafés, and the one next to the Fairmont Hairpin must have the best view of any Starbucks in the world. There’s a Spar – a really funny little place under the Hotel Metropole – although it’s the most expensive Spar in the world. McDonald’s has staked its claim as well.
Of course, all the luxury brands are here: Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, etc. Richard Mille has a boutique, and Ferrari and McLaren are represented.
Which brings us to cars. Monaco is a car spotter’s dream. You might glimpse Lewis Hamilton in his one-off purple Pagani Zonda 760LH (yes, that is what those initials stand for), Nico Rosberg in his black Porsche GT2RS, or Florian Merckx in a M90 camouflage pattern inspired LaFerrari. Something for everyone!
On the surface, Monaco is a noisy, busy place, but you can find solitude and even peace. It has three major green areas: the Japanese Garden (Jardin Japonais) with its amazing sea views; the Jardin Exotique which looks down on the principality from an outcrop; and Jardin Saint-Martin on Le Rocher. There are many other smaller parks, but they’re mostly in the residential areas above Larvotto where it’s quieter – perhaps because all the millionaires are away. Some of these areas remain quiet all year as the tourists rarely stray from the main attractions.
Le Rocher (The Rock) is also home to the Prince’s Palace, where the current Prince of Monaco resides and where you’ll find some of Monaco’s most impressive architecture. The House of Grimaldi was founded in Italy by Francesco Grimaldi who in 1297 took the lordship of Monaco. His successors have reigned to the present day.
The best views of the principality are from high above Le Rocher. Head to La Turbie and Tête de Chien, or for the most famous view go to the D51 near the Vista Palace Hotel. It’s a difficult place to park, there is no path and tourists pay no attention as they’re trying to get a selfie – so try not to get run over as you join the selfie-stick queue.
Monaco is a microcosm of most big cities; it takes all the ingredients and compresses them into 2km2. Sort of the espresso of countries. If you’re more of a latte person it’s perhaps not for you.