Monstrosities are common on the Côte d'Azur, but nowhere - not even Cannes - can outdo
. This tiny independent principality, no bigger than London's Hyde Park, has lived off gambling and catering for the desires of the idle international rich for the last hundred years. Meanwhile, it has become one of the greatest property speculation sites in the world - a sort of low-rise Manhattan-on-Sea with an incredibly dense concentration of
Edwardian hotels standing in for the skyscrapers.
The principality has been in the hands of the ruling Grimaldi family since the thirteenth century, and legally Monaco would once again become part of France were the royal line to die out. The current ruler, Prince Rainier, is the one constitutionally autocratic ruler left in Europe, under whose nose every French law is passed for approval prior to being applied to Monaco. There is a parliament, but with limited functions and elected only by Monegasque nationals - about sixteen percent of the population. But there is no opposition to the ruling family. The citizens and non-French residents pay no income tax and their riches are protected by rigorous security forces; Monaco has more police per square metre than any other country in the world.
One time to avoid Monaco - unless you're a motor-racing enthusiast - is the last week in May, when racing cars burn around the port and casino for the Formula 1
Monaco Grand Prix
. Every space in sight of the circuit is inaccessible without a ticket, making casual sightseeing out of the question.
The oldest part of the two-kilometre-long state is
, around the palace on the high rocky promontory, with the new suburb and marina of
in its western shadow.
is the old port quarter...
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