You should really arrive in Monaco to the whir of chopper blades, with shades, swirling strings, and a hunk or a stunner by your side. The glitz image demands no less.
It’s an extraordinary spot, the only place in Europe where you must immediately suspend disbelief. The principality is, after all, tiny. It would fit into New York’s Central Park with much space left over. And yet it’s a full member of the UN and has a completely-staffed royal family: one prince, two princesses, one palace and more deference on the streets than the British royals have managed in decades.
Packed in around their Serene Highnesses are the famous, the fabulous, the financiers and the simply super-rich, all co-existing in a swirl of superlatives and security. Monaco has been attracting them since Prince Rainier III married actress Grace Kelly in 1956.
Beauty and the tax breaks
Her beauty and his tax-breaks sent out the right message to the planet’s well-dressed and well-heeled. Now 32,000 residents cram in, stacked up in grandiose high-rises that elbow one another out of the way for a better sea view.
Monaco’s triumph has been to keep a fizz of glamour buzzing about such a tangle of world-class civil engineering. It’s a self-sustaining bubble of extravagance – and a hell of a show. The setting helps, with mountains sharp behind and a spangled acreage of Med out front. But the production has its own magnificence.
Decades of big money
In Monte-Carlo – one of the principality’s five districts – bespoke-tailored gardens studded with statuary descend to a Casino square awash with Bentleys, ornate façades and blokes in uniform keeping the rich life trouble-free. Up on the Rock, where Monaco started, the palace lords it over a pristine medieval centre. History rings true but highly-polished.
That’s the Monaco way. Decades of big money have buffed up the veneer. Luxury shops jostle for space with clubs where the uncool are unmasked the moment we open our wallets. A pride of statuesque hotels outdo one another with the sumptuousness of their spas, bars and guest-stars.
Law and no disorder
And the What’s On calendar reads like a page torn from a wannabe wish-list: Grand Prix in May, Tennis Open in April, and rock concerts at the Monte Carlo Sporting Club. All the while, you will encounter no muggers, drunks or beggars. It would be a headstrong have-not who tangled with the Monégasque law and order. Once you’re in public here, you’re under scrutiny. Vast wealth has its standards.
And vast wealth runs the Monaco show. But visitors can have walk-on parts in the never-never-land spectacle, buying into the fantasy for a night or two. Monaco is an astonishing little state. It should be seen at least once. Just don’t confuse it with reality, that’s all.