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The pearl of the Côte d'Azur

Welcome to France 's “blue coastline”, the Côte d'Azur - a name which instantly makes you think of sun, sea and luxury. And top of the glamour stakes is of course Monaco, and it's here in the sightseeing “Azur Express” that I shall begin our unique trip through the principality.

It's always a treat to get greetings from Monte Carlo - and not just when the Formula 1 drivers or world-famous tennis players are in town. The international circus festival also takes place here each year and I of course does not want to miss this dazzling show. See now Nathalie's Special Feature "Monaco Circus Festival".

The Palace
First of all, however, we are going to explore this Mediterranean paradise so that you can learn more about its fascinating history while seeing the 700-year-old principality from a whole different angle. If you think or hope you are about to hear a bit more scandal in the saga surrounding Prince Rainier's children Caroline, Stephanie and Albert, then you are going to be disappointed. However, their home, the Grimaldi Palace, is a must on every sightseeing tour. The changing of the guard takes every day in front of the castle gates, punctually at 11:55. This strictly regimented military ceremony has not altered in over a hundred years. The principal task of the splendidly attired household guard is to ensure the round-the-clock safety of the Prince and his family, but it also serves as a guard of honour and escort while the 26-man military band also plays at public events.

The flag is flying which means Prince Rainier is in residence. Security has top priority in this tiny city state which is also under the protection of the French army. The principality's special police force is regarded as one of the most modern and efficient in Europe. Thanks to numerous hidden cameras, there are no bank robberies or even muggings, so that one can quite happily walk Monaco 's streets at night.

Historic Wax-Figure Cabinet
The old part of the town is an architectural dream. Flowered courtyards, shaded from the sun, and narrow intertwining passageways lend the city a picturesque, medieval flair. Here, high on the Grimaldi rock we discover the true face of Monte Carlo - far from the elegant surroundings of the Casino. In the romantic “rue Basse” a path takes us to the historic wax-figure cabinet, since what would the two square-kilometre principality be without its fascinating and colourful past.

The real “Monte Carlo Story”, which you can see as a multimedia show in the old part of the town, began in 1297 when Francois Grimaldi from Genoa, disguised as a monk, knocked on the castle gates. The guards let the supposed monk in ... Shortly afterwards Francois with the help of his men captured the rock fortress in order to liberate Monaco from the tyranny of the Ghibellines. In 1304 Rainier I ordered his French fleet to attack the Flemish forces. He was victorious and made Grand Admiral of France . 100 years later, thanks to Jean I, the continuity of the dynasty was assured. In his will, he stipulated that should there be no male heir, then the husband or male heir of a Grimaldi daughter can take the throne of Monaco .

24 historic scenes in Monaco 's wax museum recount the most important episodes in the royal family's history. In 1506 Lucien Grimaldi defended his besieged castle from the Genoese Army with just 600 men and the help of God, and went down as a hero in Monacan history. In the 17th century, King Louis XIII of France finally confirmed the title “sovereign” Prince of Monaco and presented the Order of the Holy Ghost and the official documents of sovereignty to the Grimaldi heir Honore II in the presence of Cardinal Richelieu. There is no doubt that most of Prince Rainier of Monaco's ancestors can look back on a successful reign, but it was actually Charles III who set up the casino that gave Monaco 's capital the name Monte Carlo and turned the country into a popular destination for the international jet set.

The Casino
The roulette wheels have been spinning in Monaco 's chic casino since 1863. The Societé des Bains de Mer runs the casino, all the luxury hotels and restaurants and is one of the most important tourist institutions in the principality. Albert I was well aware of the value of foreign visitors and promoted tourism in his own singular way. Trained not only in matters of state, but also as a naval office and oceanographer, the scholarly Prince devoted every moment he could to his hobby and founded the world-famous Oceanographic Museum in 1910. The museum's palatial 85- metre facade is clearly distinguishable along the coast.

Oceanographic Museum
It took 11 years and 100,000 tons of ashlar to build the Oceanographic Museum. In the basement there is a spectacular aquarium which provides the visitor with a unique view of subterranean fauna - and flora. Rare species of fish, from all over the world's oceans, dart round the 90 pools which are fed sea water directly from the source. Jacques Cousteau made an important contribution to this project during his 9 year position as Director. The reef which you can admire in this basin of 40,000 litres of water is made of live coral developing in a closed ecological habitat. This was achieved, on the one hand, by the creation of a near-natural environment kept at the proper temperatures and, on the other, by the use of biological water-cleaning system.

Our walk is really quite fascinating. Have you ever seen the world's first submarine? Here it is - and that is only one example of the many extraordinary sights painstakingly collected during the rule of Prince Albert I. Finally I enter the imposing “Salle Albert Premier” on the second floor of the museum. In the middle of the room is a perfect reproduction of the learned sovereign's research laboratory which was installed on his legendary sailing vessel the Hirondelle at the end of the 19th century. Photographs, documents, the first cameras, models of the Prince's research ships and tenders can be seen, as well as numerous examples of stuffed sea animals and skeletons, including that of an imposing 20-metre whale Prince Albert himself killed.

The Monte-Carlo Story
The Monte-Carlo story goes a lot further. Near the Oceanographic Museum , below the park terraces, the authentic and highly moving story of the Princess of Monaco is told using the latest projection techniques. The multimedia show lasts 35 minutes and is projected on to a 9-metre wide screen in any of 5 languages. Here you will experience the golden age of the principality firsthand. It was during this period that cinema beauty Grace Kelly gave the small state of Monaco an almost mythical status. The Hollywood mixture of true love, sport, play, fun and glittering jet-set has always been irresistible for visitors from all over the world.

In the distance a few cruising and fishing vessels go sailing slowly by. There are still some traditional fisherman here. We find them in Fontvielle next to the Heliport, directly below the soaring Grimaldi rock. The 5,500 Monacans adore “Son Altesse”, his Highness Prince Rainier III. Although Monaco is the last absolute monarchy in Europe , the Prince in no way regards his duty as being “simply” to rule his subjects. “I am”, as he likes to say himself, “the CEO of a company called Monaco”. Safety, security, a clean environment and tax exemption are bonuses that make life in this part of the Cote d'Azur particularly pleasant.

National Museum
Another amusing place, for example, is the National Museum. Enter an impressive world of game machines and dolls, a collection which was put together by the Monegasque citizen Madeleine de Galea. Would you have known that there were such curiosities to be seen in Monaco ? But, as already mentioned, only those visitors who actually bother to look will discover the other side of the principality - for example the annual international circus festival, presented in miniature. We were at the real event and would like to tell you more about this colourful, entrancing show. Please click here...

Monte Carlo is always worth a trip. Each year in May the actual Event Season starts with the Monte Carlo Rally, followed by the Spring Festival, the Monaco Tennis Open, the Monaco Yacht Show and many other interesting events which stretch out over the rest of the year.

Monte Carlo is a place in the sun! Naturally, like everywhere else, there is suffering, pain and sorrow behind the scenes - and that is true for the royal family too, of course. But the Mediterranean flair of this area makes it easier than elsewhere to forget the misery.

Monaco Tourist Information


* This special feature "Monaco" has been one of more than 300 Portraits, produced by Nathalie Gütermann for her TV-Shows 'Nathalie's Lifestyle' and 'Nathalie's Art of Living' that were broadcasted between 1990 - 2003 in Germany and in 15 countries world-wide. The content has been updated with actual information in 2004 for © 1990 - 2004. The reproduction or other use of any text, photographs, layout etc. needs the prior written permission of the Chief Publisher.

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