From the moment my train from Marseille arrived in Monaco, I was transported. New buildings (or old but incredibly well upkept) were each more stunning than the last. Manicured gardens filled with public art projects lined the wide boulevards along a waterfront vista rivaling any in the world. Palatial homes, expensive cars, yachts filling the harbor… this is pretty much anyone’s definition of paradise. I hated it almost immediately.
Hate might be a strong word. The truth is that Monaco, the world’s second smallest country at less than a single square mile, has a fascinating history and incredible natural beauty, two of the things I love most. However, above all that, filling every lovely vista and overpowering a storied past is the stench of opulence. It is something a visitor will feel at every moment of every day. This is a place in which money rules, and where only the wealthy truly matter.
There is no denying the beauty of Monaco.
Monaco as a state was founded by the Grimaldi family of Genoese nobility in 1297 and, with some periods of their sovereignty overturned, the family has ruled it since. The 1861 Franco-Monegasque Treaty accepted the permanent existence of the principality, surrounded entirely by French territory (and with France in charge of Monaco’s defense), but 95% of Monegasque (the official word for things related to Monaco) territory was annexed by France due to their reluctance to pay the exorbitant taxes of the time. (The joke is on them as Monaco currently has no income tax at all.)
Crises have occurred at a couple periods as the result of uncertainty of an heir, and in fact if there were to ever be no heir to the Monegasque throne, Monaco would become a protectorate of France. Prince Louis, the heir apparent, was at the end of World War One 48 years old and single. Next in line to the throne would have been a German cousin, but France worried that this would make Monaco a U-Boat base basically inside French territory, so an illegitimate daughter, Charlotte, was legitimized, and a 1918 treaty specified that only one of French or Monegasque birth could ascend the throne. There was considerable outcry from the German side of the family, and Charlotte renounced her claims in 1944, with her son Rainier III succeeding the throne of his grandfather. (Rainier married Grace Kelly, and she is the single most revered person today in Monaco, with monuments everywhere.)
A monument to Princess Grace.
See? Fascinating! However, modern Monaco doesn’t seem to celebrate this history at all. Rather, what is celebrated is wealth. Monegasque real estate is the most expensive in the world, with prices per square foot more than three times those of New York or London, capped by the €325 million penthouse of the Tour Odeon, Monaco’s tallest building. Rental prices are similarly outrageous. While few people become citizens of Monaco (it requires renouncing all current citizenships), the city-state is a playground for European elite from all over.
The newer Fontvieille development.
Expensive cars fill the streets. While visitors could pay €8 per person to view Prince Albert II’s collection of twelve Ferraris, I saw more than that simply by walking around the city, along with the regular Rolls-Royce, Bentley, and other assorted vehicles costing more than I will ever make in a year or three. And, if expensive autos are not your thing, strolling the harbor-front will give you incredible views of nine-figure yachts.
This yacht cost its Russian oligarch owner $200 million, according to its Wikipedia page.
Even the famous Casino de Monte Carlo is a haven only for the wealthy, as it costs €17 just to enter! A majority of the casino is closed to the public, being restricted to high-rollers, and those peons like myself who are able to play blackjack at the single “low limit” table with a €25 per hand minimum are not even graced with cocktail servers, let alone the complimentary beverages provided by most casinos to those who will likely be leaving with their wallets a bit thinner. (To be fair, the admission does come with a €10 bet credit, though it is still highway robbery to charge people before then taking their money. Also, for full disclosure, I ended up winning €300, so this isn’t just bitterness at losing money.)
A casino this beautiful should at least allow visitors to enter and marvel free of charge.
For a country that is as rich as rich can be (one in every 56 residents is worth more than $30 million), it feels like the country is also out to nickel and dime visitors. The only free activity is to walk around. There wasn’t (to my knowledge) a single free museum. The nation seems to scream, “If you don’t have money, you are not welcome here!” And as I mentioned, even Monaco’s billionaire ruler will charge you to gaze at his Ferrari collection.
The joke’s on you, Albert! I saw this beauty for free!!
If one can afford it, the combination of beauty, safety, and lack of anything resembling a poor class would make this an appealing place to live for those who would wish to raise children among other elites, in a place as culturally diverse as the Republican Congressional caucus, unburdened by the cares of the world. They could drive their new Porsches around Monaco’s famous hairpin turns (I’d like to think that new drivers here would only receive $100,000 automobiles to wreck, rather than the $250,000+ vehicles their parents drive) between school and yacht club, not even realizing that elsewhere in the world, just a few miles away even, there are those who struggle to eat.
Well, I am not to be counted among those who love a place like this. I will likely not be back.
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