Monaco. There are cities that do not fulfil preconceptions. Cue Naples which I visited several years ago and where I had my expectations of the city dashed by the reality. I immediately realised why the classic It Started in Naples was actually mostly set on Capri. But Monaco is nothing like this. It met every expectation, good and bad.
It seemed three types of people dominated Monte Carlo. The tourist, complete with camera and baseball cap; the affluent, clad in fur and designer-wear; and the wannabe wealthy, sporting low quality faux fur and designer knockoffs. Oh, and of course the security guards. There were swarms of them. Since I visited in the colder months, the city was much emptier than I imagine it normally is and at times the security guards outnumbered the visitors. I suppose that doesn’t leave a category for myself. There was a moment when I thought the baseball cap crew had mistaken me for someone of import when a group of them turned their iPhone cameras my way. If I am honest though, in reality they were more interested in videoing my dog who is, if a little scruffy, very adorable.
Monte Carlo is in its own way beautiful. It is stretched along the coast and you can walk along the ocean almost from one side of the city to the other. There is only one tiny beach in the actual city which Californians would more likely call a spit of sand. But the view is breath taking, enhanced or marred, depending on personal opinion, by the endless mass of yachts docked in the harbour. And I mean endless which, considering these boats are probably only used about twenty per cent of the year, seems ridiculous. The city itself is an eclectic mix of sky high four and five star hotels and ugly sixties motels. Both leave an impression of equal measure – the first on the skyline, the second on the city’s aesthetic. One particular monstrosity, the Fairmont, attempts to hide its concrete hideousness with an enormous billboard featuring a quote from Kate Winslet about the hotel’s Nobu restaurant – “Heaven on Earth and sex on a plate”. Evidently they are trying to compensate. The quote and the billboard seem to have been blown a bit out of proportion.
Monaco clearly is no longer Grace Kelly’s Monaco. It has been commercialised and built-up. Nonetheless, there are still gems reminding visitors that it will always be classic. The Palace of Monaco overlooks the ocean and the city from atop a hill. The paradoxically named Hotel de Paris is timelessly beautiful and sits on the square in front of the world famous Casino de Monte-Carlo. The Casino is perhaps the only thing that rivals the magnificent ocean view as the main event. It makes every Las Vegas hotel casino look tacky and poorly overdone. You can definitely imagine it as a setting fit for James Bond. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a setting for me. The security guards gave me a look which told me they knew that I was only there to ogle and not to spend money. I decided not to brave the metal detectors so the interior of the Casino remains a mystery to me. Would I go back to Monaco? Yes, definitely. Would I maybe wait for a wealthy husband to take me? Probably.
Photography by Savannah Hayes