Perched atop a hill on the Place du Casino, overlooking the regal port where a community of multi-millionaires dock their extravagant yachts, the plush facade of the Casino de Monte-Carlo gleams like a jewel pinned to the lapel of the Mediterranean, embodying the decadent spirit of the wealthiest city on Earth. But, aside from its symbolic value as an emblem of wealth and luxury, the casino is little more than a banal tourist trap.
After paying the (unjustified) entrance fee of 10 Euros, and posing for the mandatory picture in the vestibule, I sauntered into the central gambling room, like some sort of James Bond tribute act. I expected to walk into an opulent scene from a 1930s Hollywood export; instead, I found an array of flashing slot machines and the stench of disappointment.
Admittedly, the decor of the building was impressive: I was wowed by the ornate doorways, the sparkling chandeliers and the marvelously patterned wallpaper. However, it felt more like a tedious homage to the decadence of yesteryear. Even Monte-Carlo Casino had lost authenticity and bowed down to the consumptive demand of touristic commercialism.
While the casino was, to be perfectly candid, more disappointing than Jurassic World (which, en passant, I’m still coming to terms with), the rest of the tourist attractions in Monte Carlo were altogether more absorbing.
While the golden streets of Monte Carlo are a playground for the rich and famous, and it’s common for a property to fetch 8 digits, the lavish city also accommodates those of us who choose to travel on a shoestring. Here are 3 attractions that are a must-do for any cultureholic.
1. The Oceanographic museum, for example, was a fascinating nod to the nautical aspects which characterize Monaco. Perched precariously overlooking the sea, the impressive building comprises an aquarium and a few floors of an extremely interesting maritime exhibit, making the oceanographic museum two attractions for the (extremely reasonable) price of one. Moreover, from the vast roof terrace, visitors can admire a panoramic view of Monte-Carlo, including the expanse of buildings which extend up the mountainside.
2. At the top of this mountainside, and towards the Westerly entrance of the city, the Exotic Gardens is a must-see for tourists and botanists alike. Undoubtedly my favourite place in the Principality, if not the World, the Exotic Gardens present every shape of cactus imaginable and can be explored by a long, winding path, which scales the side of the cliff face.
At the bottom of the cliffs lies an entrance to the jaw-dropping underground caves. The caves delve hundreds of meters beneath the gardens, and wow the droves of guests who embark upon the 45-minute hike into their depths. Entrance to the caves is included in the price of entrance to the Gardens.
The Gardens cost roughly 8 Euros to enter – an affordable and fair price for such an awe-inspiring attraction. From backpackers to those with a little more to spend, the attraction deserves your time. The fair price reflects the concerted efforts from the Monacan Government to maintain the touristic interest in the principality.
3. Simply walking the streets of Monte-Carlo is an event in itself: the streets are lined with orange trees, the area surrounding the port is teaming with captivating sights and the breathtaking views over the city never fail to amaze. The Medieval alleyways of the old town are capable of draining time, due to their charming nature and the inviting shops which line them. The magnificent cathedral is the destination for most tourists who visit the Old Town area; its beautiful architecture and stunning views justifies the lengthy walk from either port.
Forget the helicopter entrance. Who needs an Aston Martin? Diamonds and designer brands are overrated. Monte-Carlo is, and should remain, a place we can all enjoy!
Learn more about the Cote d’Azur with my candid portrayal of Cannes!