Two beacons of the Côte d’Azur – Cannes and Monaco – glitzy, glamorous and dripping in luxury…yet I could not have found them more different!
With the arrival of the railway in the late 19th century Cannes became the winter destination for rich Europeans. The Carlton and then the Miramar and Martinez hotels were built to accommodate this new clientele. Nowadays Cannes is known for its film festival – the Festival de Cannes was founded in 1949 and is held every May.
The Palais des Festivals is imposing but without the allure of celebrity spotting it seems stuck in the past with its 80’s architecture (the main building was opened in 1982) and well-trodden faded red carpet. The beach is beautiful but cluttered with sunbeds and bar tables – why ruin it like this?! I thought the town was dull, boring and uninspiring though it did happen to be a cloudy day when I visited…
Palais de Festivals
However, worth a look is the charming old town, known as Le Suquet, with its winding cobbled streets and fantastic views across the bay and out to the Îles de Lérins, which can be visited by boat.
Monaco, on the other hand, literally took my breath away… Monaco is a principality that maintains close ties with France. It is the second smallest country in the world, after Vatican City, and yet the most densely populated.
Split into two main parts, Monte Carlo and Monaco-Ville (often called Le Rocher, the rock) that are joined by La Condamine, a shopping and restaurant haven and spread over 4 kilometres of luxurious coastline, both towns rise up towards the Alps.
La Condamine, Monaco
A visit to the Palais Princier is a must. This doesn’t look much like a palace from the outside with its less than ornate decoration but the interior more than makes up for this with its Carrara marble double helix staircase, La Turbie white stone fireplaces, art collections and antique furniture. The audio tour is quite good but pictures are not allowed inside. A particular pleasure for me was learning of Grace Kelly’s life in the principality.
Dotted around all of Monaco are free standing signs with images of Princess Grace’s life – finding these is a fun way to pass some time and visiting the Princess’ grave in the Saint Nicholas Cathedral is also very moving. Also called Monaco Cathedral this was built in 1875 on the site of an earlier 13th century church.
The atmosphere outside the Monte Carlo Casino is electric, with a pretty square full of little cafés perfect for people (or rather tourist) watching but the real excitement is in May with the Grand Prix de Monaco – they were already setting up the spectator stands when I was there in mid-April! Unbelievably the course takes six weeks to put up and another three weeks to take apart again.
Monte Carlo Casino
The true beauty of Monaco is to be found at the coastline – crossing the Port Hercules from Monte Carlo and you arrive at the Jardin de Saint Martin, a lovely garden that winds up to the palace – there are absolutely stunning views from here! The tranquil gardens, the shining azure ocean and the mountains rising up behind the city are so beautiful.
Princess Grace once said: “The idea of my life as a fairytale is itself a fairytale” But the whole of Monaco is like a fairytale to me!