AN UNEXPECTED ADVENTURE IN MONTE CARLO
Regatta recently called on the glittering city of Monte Carlo in the tiny principality of Monaco. When I think of Monte Carlo, I think of James Bond and movie stars in tuxedos and gowns. Monaco is where the rich and famous convene to play high-stakes poker, or race fast cars, or simply lounge on lavish yachts. Monaco certainly lives up to its reputation as a playground for the wealthy, but what really impressed me was how charming it was and how much there is to do for people like me. (Unfortunately, my role as Blogger-at-Large has not yet catapulted me into international fame.)
Granted, when Regatta docked in the famed Monte Carlo harbor, the million-dollar yachts were hard to miss, and the view was spectacular. There are several cafés on the docks near these impressive vessels, and if you linger there a while, you may spot a celebrity or two.
Also living up to its hype is the opulent Monte Carlo Grand Casino – there is a reason all those films were made here. Decorated with marble, onyx, frescoes and sculptures, this casino was clearly built for high rollers.
While Monte Carlo was certainly everything I’d ever imagined, I soon realized there was far more to Monaco than glitz and glamour. Perched atop the sheer cliff face at a height of 279 feet is the Oceanographic Museum, which was founded in 1901 by Monaco’s Prince Albert I, and where Jacques Cousteau served as director for many years. The building itself took 11 years to build using over 100,000 tons of stone. There are several live exhibits as well as impressive skeletons of marine mammals.
Near the Oceanographic Museum is St. Nicholas Cathedral, which contains the tombs of the Monaco royal family, including Princess Grace and Prince Rainier. It remains a pilgrimage site for fans of actress Grace Kelly, who became the princess of Monaco after her fairytale marriage to Rainier in 1956.
Although much smaller than the cathedral, the Church of St. Charles makes up for in beauty what it lacks in size. Its bell tower reaches a height of 108 feet above sea level and is purported to be the highest bell tower in the area.
The Palace of the Prince is an impressive compound with wonderful views of Monaco and the surrounding seas. While much of the palace grounds are open to the public, the royal family does maintain a private residence here, as evidenced by the sentries standing guard. If you can get to the palace by 11:55 am, you can watch the changing of the guard, a popular attraction.
Monte Carlo is a wonderful place to just wander the streets and get a sense of the city’s personality. Beneath the resort façade is a culture of centuries-old traditions and deep spirituality. During my meanderings, I stumbled upon Sainte-Dévote Chapel, an adorable little church tucked into the cliff face overlooking the harbor. I soon learned that the church is quite literally adored, as it is one of the most venerated religious sites in Monaco. Dating from before 1070, the church is dedicated to Saint Dévote, the patron saint of Monaco. By tradition, the bride of the Sovereign Prince of Monaco leaves her bouquet here after the wedding ceremony.
I was so charmed by the architecture, the city streets and the stunning views of the Mediterranean that the waning daylight took me by surprise. As I began to head back to the ship, I realized I had not visited the new modern art museum or the Jardin Exotique, a beautiful garden with one of the most extensive cactus collections in Europe. It quickly became clear that I would need to visit Monte Carlo again on another Oceania Cruises voyage! Until then, I would treasure the memory of my day here, which came to a perfect ending as I watched the moon rise over the sparkling lights of the city.