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Magnificent Monaco

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[Rotterdam is in Monte Carlo today.]

Part of the principality of Monaco, Monte-Carlo is named for the mountain on which the town stands, where the Maritime Alps meet the Mediterranean Sea. Monte Carlo is a small town with a permament population of 3,000 but with a global reputation for jet-setting fun. Modern glamour mingles between French medieval villages in this romantic kingdom where a prince once married a Hollywood star.

I began my sightseeing at the Jardin Exotique. The garden park is not only home to some surprisingly colorful species of cacti and agave from around the world but also perched on a cliff that offers a stunning views of Monaco. Jardin Exotique is a great place to begin a tour while getting an overview of the city below.

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To get Jardin Exotique from the city center, I hopped on bus # 2 and handed over 1 euro.

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From my vantage point, I could see nearly all of Monaco, which occupies only a single square mile and is the second smallest country in the world after Vatican City. In fact, Monaco is only three times the size of The Mall in Washington, D.C. or about as large as New York’s Central Park. Yet, within Monaco’s compact boundaries is as much glamour and culture as in New York or Washington

I spent 90 minutes admiring the views and touring Jardin Exotique, then decided to walk back to the city center. Along the way, I met an elegant man with a jacket draped over his shoulders, as if the jacket were a cape and he were royalty. For all I knew, he could have been. That’s the thing about Monaco. You never know if you’re meeting a prince or a pauper. Assume your own air of elegance and trod on.

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Certainly, you can do your best James Bond at the Casino de Monte Carlo, or if you prefer more refined pursuits, consider one of the world-class performances at the grand and historic Monaco Opera, situated inside the casino. Designed in 1878 by Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera, the casino is a must-see — even for those who do not gamble. With its rococo turrets, green copper cupolas and gold chandeliers, this elaborate structure is wonderfully nostalgic.

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Outside and nearby is the Café de Paris. And though it boasts a good food and wine selection, Café de Paris is the place to sit outside and enjoy the crowd, to see and be seen.

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Across the harbor and up the hill is the Rock of Monaco. It’s easy and perhaps preferable to walk as much as possible, and there are even elevators and escalators that operate daily year-round to ease access to differing elevations. Put your peds in motion and walk along the harbor and up the hill.

Once on top, watch the signs directing you to the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium. Monaco boasts a rich maritime history, and its ties to the sea, as well as some of the rarest fish in the seven seas, are displayed at the museum, once headed by Jacques Costeau.

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Exit the museum and head through the Princess Grace Rose Garden, which boasts 4,000 rose bushes planted among the palm and olive groves.

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A bit farther along is the magnificent Monaco Cathedral, the final resting place of Monaco’s beloved princess, Grace Kelly, who was killed in an auto crash in 1982 at the age of 51.

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Also nearby is the Prince’s Palace, an ornate Italianate structure with a Moorish tower that is the seat of the Grimaldi princes of Monaco (their reign stretches back to 1297, the year that Francois Grimaldi disguised himself as a monk and seized the castle).

In addition to the Gallery of Mirrors is the Throne Room, where state receptions are held, and the Louis XV Salon with 18th century artifacts. In the Main Courtyard — with its horseshoe-shaped, Carrara marble staircase — 3 million stones create dazzling geometric patterns. And the Museum of Napoleonic Souvenirs in the South Wing displays a collection of First Empire memorabilia. Try to time your visit to coincide with the Changing of the Guard, daily just before noon.

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