the travels & travails of an escaped lab rat

Monaco: Monte Carlo

Monaco’s largest (and only) city is Monaco. The principality is, in actuality, a city-state.

Monaco-Ville and Monte Carlo (the two names suggested most often when one is asked, “what’s the main city in Monaco called?” are two of the currently ten wards (an 11th was announced but plans for its construction are currently on hold) that make up the city.

For all intents, most people concern themselves with the four traditional quarters of Monaco: Monaco-Ville, the old city on the rocky promontory (Le Rocher) extending into the Mediterranean; La Condamine, the second oldest ward, famous for its wide harbour (the Port of Hercules) and the egregiously expensive yachts that moor there; Fontvieille, a ward constructed in the 1970s on land reclaimed from the sea; and Monte Carlo, the principal residential and resort area of Monaco.

Monte Carlo is where you’ll find the Golden Circle — home to the old Casino, the Hôtel de Paris, the Café de Paris,  the Opéra de Monte-Carlo, and storefronts for every major luxury-brand that’s been lucky enough to squeeze out a toehold in the area surrounding these landmarks.

If you think “luxury and glamour” when you think of Monaco, odds are the picture you have in mind is of Monte Carlo.

Architecturally very much in the Belle Époque style, Monte Carlo is quite beautiful during the day. But it’s at night when the place becomes magical.

The Casino and Opera of Monte Carlo were both designed by Charles Garnier.

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Monaco has been my home in Europe since I started working abroad in 2006.

Ideally situated on the Mediterranean and nestled at the foot of the Alps where France meets Italy, Monaco has proven an excellent jumping-off point for numerous adventurous day-trips and forays into the surrounding area (with Nice, Marseilles, San Remo, Genova, Milano, and several smaller towns and villages all within explorable driving distance).

Monaco enjoys nearly 300 days of sunshine and experiences extremely mild and pleasant weather, with average daily lows and highs hovering between 13 and 20 °C for the year.

Most people know Monaco’s a small place, but I don’t think that they understand just how small it really is. At less than 2 square kilometres (1.95 if I’m being exact), the city-state of Monaco could easily fit into the contiguous area occupied by Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London (2.53 square kilometres) and would practically rattle around inside of Central Park in New York (3.41 square kilometres). It is the second smallest country in the world — Vatican City being the smallest (at 0.44 square kilometres).

Monaco has a population of roughly 33,000, nearly 80% of which are ex-pat tax-exiles/refugees. The principality’s policy of not levying income tax on individuals makes residency in Monaco a sought-after status (and pushes rents and real estate prices into the stratosphere, as there are only so many physical places to live in such a small geographical area).

Intrigue and gossip are the national pastime and sport. Monaco has no significant natural resources, save for rich veins of extraordinarily wealthy individuals that can be found concentrated in luxury condominium block formations by the seaside.

If it sounds as if I’m getting down on Monaco, I’m not. I really like it here. It’s just that I feel the need to impress upon you all that Monaco just isn’t a place like any other.

Here’s an example of what I mean: Say, after an evening of fine dining in Beverly Hills, I was walking up to the valet to retrieve my car. I could say, “It’s the Bentley,” and they’d smile and run off to fetch it for me. In Monaco, if I said, “It’s the Bentley,” they’d look at me blankly unless I added, “…the black one…” and it would help even moreso if I also offered, “…the one with the fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror and small nick on the left-rear panel.”

Normal in Monaco is simply not “normal” anywhere else.

And despite all its glitz and glamour, Monaco is still at heart a small town. You can’t help but eventually bump into everyone who lives here, given enough time. The Monegasque (native citizens of Monaco) are a very friendly people; Monacoians (non-permanent, non-citizen residents of Monaco) are a bit more transient (and mercenary) in their demeanor.

Living in Monaco is like having a bit of the surreal off-handedly injected into every facet of day-to-day life — interesting and just a little unsettling all at the same time.

Still, it beats the crap out of having to shovel snow just to get to your car every morning.

Bond…James Bond.

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