0620 The Darker Side of Monaco (Monaco 001—new)

Monaco Travel Blog

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Let’s backtrack a few days to my first day in Nice and my day trip to the nation of Monaco.


Visiting a new country is for the very first time is always an exciting event.  An event that I enjoyed quite frequently from 2004 to 2007 when I visited about 50 countries for the first time.  Nowadays I enjoy this experience quite infrequently, so I want to make the most of every New Country experience… even if it’s a tiny little country like Monaco.


Monaco is the world’s second smallest country--  only 2 kilometers square, so there’s not a whole lot to explore… but I’m determined to soak in every inch of this country and find out what makes this place tick.

  It’s also one of wealthiest countries in the world (per capita) and most expensive.  For me, ironically it will be the cheapest, as the bus from Nice here costs me only one Euro, and I’m carrying my lunch with me in a plastic bag.  So I’m going to see if I can explore this “nation of millionaires” without spending a cent.


The bus goes through a tunnel and suddenly… here I am.  The first thing I notice is the railing, chain link fencing and seating being set up everywhere in preparation for the Monaco Grand Prix which is still several weeks away, but it turns out Monaco spends a good chunk of every year preparing for and tearing down after its big race… Kind of mars the landscape, but I guess it is a big part of Monacan culture. 


The second thing I notice are these big, ugly skyscrapers everywhere, interspersed with magnificent baroque palace style buildings.

  It seems like Monaco unfortunately got its big building boom back in the 70s or something, which was really the “Dark Ages” of architectural design.  It gives the city a cluttered, sort of shoddy look in my opinion if you compare it to the gleaming skylines of New York or Singapore.  But let’s not judge the city too quick… I must say, the sheer cliff as a backdrop does look pretty cool.


I continue on to past the harbour, where I take my video clip with a couple of “super yachts” in the background.  I know they’re really obsessed with security here and I don’t know if folks appreciate some hobo taking video clips of their yachts, but no one seemed to really mind or notice me…

From there I reach a little boardwalk/beach strip--  a pretty stoney beach at that.  When I look at the African construction workers and the waiters and and boutique salespeople I wonder,  do these people all live here or do they just commute in from France every day?  Can anyone afford to live here that isn’t superrich?


Then, there’s a big hotel and… suddenly a sign that welcomes me to “Roquebrune, France”.

  That was it!  I know I must have missed some important stuff, but since I’m already here I figure I’ll explore Roquebrune and come back to Monaco later.




After spending a good chunk of the day exploring Roquebrune and Beausoleil, I find myself back in Monaco again, this time coming down the steep mountainside into the “heart” of the city.  Here you find narrow streets lined with super expensive boutiques and ancient but crisply maintained buildings.  Even though the city is built on a steep hillside, you needn’t worry about climbing stairs, as you’ve got shiny elevators that whisk you from one street level down to the next street level.

Very classy old couples stroll the street and a policeman stands at the crosswalk insuring that nothing happens to any of Monaco’s very valuable citizens…


I’m sorry but I’m just really not feeling the charm of this unique culture though.  I just can’t help but look at the going by with their fancy suits and jewelry and not see “tax evader” stamped on his forehead.  The fact is, 84% of the people here are not really Monacans--  they’re just rich folks from other countries who become Monacan citizens for quite questionable reasons--  which makes me wonder if there really is a “Monacan” culture…


Anyways, I continue to explore the city.  I head down to the pleasant Japanese Gardens… up to the main Casino--  which I’m obviously not dressed up well enough to enter… and a beautiful walkway with a fountain at the top… I notice everywhere there are plaques about Princess Grace… Princess Grace walked here… Princess Grace visited a school here… Princess Grace got married here… I don’t know if they’re really so obsessed with their late American-movie-star-turned-princess or if these are more for the benefit of American tourists who are still fascinated by that sort of Hollywood movie become real life.


Then suddenly I come across something that really disturbs me.

I’m passing the Hermitage, one of the fanciest hotels in the city and I notice to guys taking a photo of a license plate on a car.  I’m curious so I go to see what the big deal is.  It’s a Maserati, parked in front of the Hermitage, with Liberian license plates! 


Now that just doesn’t settle right at all with me.  The thought of rich Europeans coming here to hide tax money from their rich European countries is, well, not that big of a deal--  I mean, if their countries really wanted the money back, they could get it…  But to think that someone might be siphoning the wealth of Liberia, stashing it away here in Monaco, and leaving the country utterly destitute, now that’s just really messed up… Suddenly I have a much darker feeling about this whole place…


I continue to ponder this as I wander through town, up to the Old City and Palace perched on a peninsula overlooking the harbour.

   There I find the statue of Grimaldi, with a plaque explaining how Monaco was first established.  What happened was, in the 1400s, this guy Grimaldi came dressed himself up as a a friar and conned his way into the castle gates, overpowered the guards, and with the help of his clan, overtook the castle and started his own little kingdom.


So Grimaldi is the national hero--  a sort of the “George Washington” of Monaco.  Which basically means that this whole country was built on a foundation of deception. 


A guess that sort of explains why it is what it is today…


So how does Monaco differ from, say Switzerland, which also gets much of its wealth from shady banking practices?   Well, in Switzerland I got the feeling that if you took away all their banks, you’d still have a tough, proud, and resilient culture of people who are willing to work hard, live of the land, and defend their country to the last man.

  Here in Monaco, if you shut down the banks, you’ll end up with a ghost town of ugly skyscrapers.


So I finish my tour with a stroll around the peaceful Old Town with it’s narrow streets and almost too well-maintained old buildings and enjoy a full view of the forest of skyscrapers with the massive cliffs in the background.

Then I head down an elevator shaft to a shopping center, where a suit and tie security guard stands at the entrance to the public restroom… and into an industrial zone--  an area of land reclaimed from the sea, where there are actually a couple of factories--  Monaco’s attempt to “diversify” its economy.  But I’m still confused as to how a factory worker could afford to live here in Monaco…


And that’s it, my first and quite possibly my last visit to the Independent Principality of Monaco.

  An eye opening experience.   It certainly has it’s bright spots.  But the darker spots are what will stick in my memory the most.

v10 says:
Welcome to the world where money is played!

I see from your profile that you play music. In a way, the same thing. We do not all like all styles of music, or all the tunes, but in the end, we all enjoy.

Same with money. We may not like, or agree with the way it is played by all, yet we can hardly live without it. And the way it is played is a fact of life. Not much we can do about it, except for having to suffer, and sometimes enjoy, the consequences.

Congratulations for actually telling the way you experienced Monaco. I have met more that feel the same but was not brave enough to share their honest opinions.

Like you, I prefer the music side.
Faure, in a sunny Cape Town.
Posted on: Jul 23, 2010
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