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Monaco

Monte Carlo is a master study in elegant excess. Highly styled and perfectly formed, it sits on the edge of the Mediterranean on the Cote D’Azur, not too far away from the border with Italy.

All of the cliches you’ve ever heard about Monte Carlo are true. Former starlets send their limos to meet helicopters flying in fresh supplies of fillet steak for their little pet dogs. Yachts the size of a small cathedral loom into the perfect natural bay of Monaco like so many preening swans. Movie stars and arms dealers dine at astronomically expensive restaurants, hiding behind sun glasses worth the entire national debt of a small third world country.

And yet, there is another side to this tiny, fairy tale principality, once the home of the late Princess Grace. The world famous casino is still a belle epoque masterpiece writ large, with an overly fussed art nouveau façade, and stunningly beautiful gardens. But don’t be too disappointed if you don’t find James Bond inside.

Nearby, the Café De Paris offers costly cappuccinos and priceless views out over the sparkling, hibiscus framed bay far below. The hills around the bay are a riot of beautiful Italianate architecture, fringed by flower filled lanes giving shade to a casually parked Rolls Royce here, or a Lamborghini there. In Monaco, beauty and money have long been cozy bedfellows.

For lovers of marine life, the Oceanographic Institute is well worth a few hours’ of anybody’s time, with its numerous links to the legendary French explorer, Jacques Cousteau. And, if you want something a little less full on than the turbo charged, Ferrari fuelled area that surrounds the lower port, then the old town of Monaco Ville- which also contains the Oceanographic Museum- will come as a welcome surprise.

Set on a rocky headland, Monaco Ville is perched in the very heart of Monaco, the most densely crowded urban space on earth. Yet despite this, it is almost deserted after midnight, when the winding alleyways and cobbled streets makes for a surreal, serene contrast to the rest of the city below.

The principality ia busy at any time of year, but really comes to life in the spring, in the run up to the world famous Monaco Grand Prix. At that time, the bars, restaurants and outdoor cafes around the harbour front race track area can be busy well into the early morning hours.

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