The legendary ancient Provençal village of Saint Paul de Vence is an ideal destination for a day trip away from the coastline of the French Riviera, especially if you are feeling in an arty mood and want to discover a different side of the area without having to travel too far. Saint Paul ticks all the boxes of Provence stereotypes, as depicted in Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence – old men playing pétanque, beautiful views over the hills, manicured gardens, communal laundry troughs, squares with brown stone fountains, small alleyways and expensive art galleries – but does it all in incomparable style. In the following itinerary, I combine the fairytale beauty of Saint Paul with the more down to earth charm of nearby Vence, both easily accessible by public transport from Nice, but if you are travelling by car, I’ve added an extension to the surprising village of Saint Jeannet.
Those of you visiting Monaco this week will have noticed, in addition to the usual beautiful Christmas decorations on Casino Square and the ubiquitous Christmas market on the harbour, a certain air of joy in the air and spontaneous celebrations throughout the Principality.
This is all because of a historic event that has taken place for the first time since 1958, with the birth on Wednesday 10 December of the first children of TSH Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene:
- HSH Gabriella Thérèse Marie, Countess of Carladès (born at 5.04pm).
- HSH Jacques Honoré Rainier, Hereditary Prince and Marquess of Baux (born at 5.06pm).
Naturally there have been a great deal of festivities to mark this occasion, all announced in a very official manner in a press release by Prince’s Palace a few weeks beforehand, notably:
- Flags and decorations all over the Principality, especially the pink flashing lights in front of the Prince’s Palace.
- A 42-gun salute for the twins (normally it’s 21 for each birth but obviously this time the budget has doubled!), followed by the ringing of bells and the sounding of the horns of the yachts in the harbour.
- An official announcement signed by Prince Albert was posted on the doors of the Palace as well as a guest book that can be signed by the local population.
- Most importantly for the 40.000 or so people who come to work in Monaco every day, the 7 January will be a one-off public holiday, as it marks the official “presentation” of the new children to the population of Monaco.
Those of you arriving in Monaco for the first time will see all these special decorations, posters in the street, as well as the ubiquitous portraits of the Prince and Princess all over the Principality and wonder why all the fuss. The main reason is that there is a very close link, forged over hundreds of years of history, between the Princes of Monaco, the royal House of Grimaldi and the people – not just the 8.000 or so Monegasque nationals, but also the 28.000 or so members of the various international communities living today in the Principality. In this respect, Monaco is both a sovereign nation with its own culture and identity, but also a village.
The Prince of Monaco is in absolute terms with regards to the size of the country one of the world’s most powerful monarchs, despite Monaco being a constitutional monarchy and is in charge of pretty much the whole governance via several delegations.
There were huge public outpourings of grief upon the death of Prince Rainier III in April 2005 and conversely moments of joy upon the accession of Prince Albert II three months later and his wedding in July 2011, just like this week with the birth of the Royal twins, hence the emotions of the population running quite high here.
10 interesting facts about the history of Monaco and its Princes
To finish off, here are ten interesting facts that you may not have known about the history of Monaco and its Princes (and that I learned whilst attending a local school in Monaco between 1989 and 1992), so that you can prepare for your visit to Monaco or at least impress your friends during dinner party or cocktail conversations:
- The Genoese Grimaldi family took over the Principality in 1297 and apart from a few interruptions has reigned almost continuously since, thereby making it one of the world’s oldest reigning families.
- How did they get there in the first place? François I, also known as “Malizia” took advantage of a stormy January night in 1297 to dress like a monk along with some soldiers. The team then knocked on the door begging for alms, then took out some swords hidden under their cloaks and promptly took advantage of the surprise effect to gain control of the castle, which is now the Palace of Monaco – you can read more about the history of the Palace on the official website. This is actually why there are two monks holding swords on Monaco’s coat of arms.
- Monaco maintained its independence over the centuries thanks to the negotiation skills of the Grimaldi family, who obtained protection from some of the massive empires of the day: Spain, led by Charles V in the 16th century, then France, then the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.
- The title of the newly-born Prince Jacques is the Marquis des Baux: this refers to the area surrounding the village of Les Baux de Provence located some 250km to the west of Monaco which was donated to Prince Honoré II (1597 – 1662) in 1641 in the Treaty of Peronne. This title is bestowed to all the hereditary princes of Monaco and, in the absence of an heir, it is kept by the ruling Sovereign: for example, Prince Albert II kept the title of Marquis des Baux from his birth in 1958 until the birth of his son, Jacques.
- The Treaty of Péronne also granted to Monaco the Duchy of Valentinois (now the area around Valence on the Rhone river in southern France) and, most interestingly in this context, the county of Carladès, centred around a rather obscure rock in the Auvergne region of Central France. These areas are now part of French territory but at the time granted substantial tax revenue to the Princes, who used this to embellish the Palace which was more of a medieval castle before then. The county of Carladès has recently gained its share of limelight as the newly-born Princess Gabriella’s official title is the Countess of Carladès.
- The French revolution stirred up a bit of a mess, with Monaco being annexed in 1789 and being renamed Fort d’Hercule. It only regained its pre-1789 situation (and the name of Monaco) in 1814 during the French Empire.
- Up until 1847, the Principality also incorporated the communes of Menton and Roquebrune whole were the “economic powerhouses”, generating exports of olives and lemons. They decided to secede in 1848 and officially joined France in 1861, bad idea as their inhabitants have ended up having to pay French income tax ever whilst Monaco is free of any personal taxation.
- Why no taxes? Monte-Carlo used to be an empty grazing field for herds of goats and sheep during the winter season, but thanks to his entrepreneurial and marketing skills, Prince Charles III (1818-1889) doted the area with a new casino and opera house (which were the big fad at the time) and took advantage of the new coastal railway line and roads to market the new “Monte-Carlo” (Mount Charles) as a winter spa resort with 5-star luxury hotels. This brought in so much income that the Prince made a pragmatic and very strategic decision in 1869 to remove direct personal taxation for all residents.
- Monaco was an absolute monarchy until 1911 when the first constitution was drawn up under Prince Albert I (1848-1922), thereby becoming a constitutional monarchy which is its status today.
- Prince Rainier III (1923-2005) took over in 1949 and at the time of his death was one of the world’s longest-reigning monarchs after a 56-year reign, just after King Bhumibol of Thailand whose reign began in 1946. He also generated huge economic growth for the Principality, promoted some massive building projects and gave it the appearance that it has today.
Hope this has given you a bit of extra general knowledge about the Principality and to conclude, the French Riviera Blog offers its warmest congratulations to the Prince and Princess and wishes all the best to Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella!
Most visitors to the French Riviera will pass through Nice at one point or another, given its central location, the fact that it is by far the largest city of the region and its role as the main transportation hub of the region. But Nice is far more than just a transit zone, it’s honestly a very beautiful city which is well worth spending at least a day visiting. Here are some tips about what to see and do…
The summer season is fully upon us and the French Riviera is filling up with tourists: this means fireworks, music festivals, farniente beach time and outdoor dinners, amongst plenty of other activities, so here’s a quick guide on how to enjoy a fun-filled week here.
Of course, plenty of visitors just want to relax and enjoy days at the beach, but feel free to pick and mix according to your centres of interest. These day-long excursions are ideal if undertaken from Nice, located bang in the centre of the French Riviera, but plenty of them are also feasible if you are based further down the coast, either east or west, as long as you have access to the main railway line.
Since 1946, the Cannes Film Festival has been synonymous with the glitz of the Riviera. Along with the Monaco Grand Prix, which takes place pretty at the same time in May each year, it is one of the major annual events of the French Riviera and really marks the beginning of the summer season.
Last week I had the opportunity to visit Cannes where the jewellery brand I work for, APM Monaco, was sponsoring several events at the 67th edition of the Festival and therefore managed to soak up some of the atmosphere of this legendary event, which I will be sharing in this article. So if you fancy discovering the lowdown on the Festival, finding out what else to see and do in the town and get some practical information on how to cope in Cannes during the festival amongst the crowds, just carry on reading!
The Old Town of Monaco isn’t really renowned for the quality of its restaurants: between the souvenir shops, you can find snack bars and different restaurants which, without being bad, aren’t particularly memorable, with a few exceptions – until the summer of 2011, when a very notable “exception” opened up.
La Montgolfière isn’t your run of the mill tourist restaurant – if you are looking for very well-executed traditional Mediterranean fare but with a slightly exotic twist and a charming location, this is the place to go. This tiny and very quaint establishment, located on a small pedestrian street in the very heart of the old town of Monaco, a few steps away from the Prince’s Palace and the town hall square, only seats about 20 people and it is staffed exclusively by the Monaco-born chef, Henri Geraci and his wife Fabienne.
The Monaco Grand Prix is probably the biggest and most prestigious regular event on the French Riviera calendar, ahead of the Cannes Film Festival and the Carnival of Nice. Each year, it brings a magical atmosphere to the Principality, really kick-starting the summer season with plenty of private parties on the yachts in the harbour, a very cosmopolitan atmosphere and huge amounts of visitors (and therefore VAT income for the Monegasque government!). Of course, the Grand Prix completely changes the face of the Principality for 3 months, as the roads are full of temporary grandstands, crash barriers, tyres and blockades which are prepared two months in advance and take a month to dismantle afterwards, so there are huge logistics behind the event, the statistics provided by the Automobile Club of Monaco are impressive (see the “presentation” tab). Since the turn of the millennium, there has also been a Historic Grand Prix, which runs every even-numbered year two weeks before the main race, rather interesting to remind spectators of the race’s heritage as the first Monaco Grand Prix was run in 1929, though the first official race in the Formula 1 calendar was in 1950.
Whilst I ran Hotel Notre Dame in Nice, I often got questions from guests asking whether it was worth travelling over to Saint-Tropez and I basically told them no – given the hassle getting there from Nice (either a two hour minimum bus ride in summer traffic or an extortionate boat trip), people wishing to experience a snazzy and sophisticated French Riviera atmosphere could head off to Cannes or Monaco instead in under 30 minutes on the train.
But whilst writing this blog, I recently became curious about the near-mystical attraction that Saint-Tropez has over visitors and that’s why a couple of weeks ago on a bright Sunday morning I decided to get up early, see what all the fuss was about by visiting it from a tourist’s perspective and definitely figure out whether 8 years later, I would have replied the same thing to my guests. So here’s the lowdown on what Saint-Tropez is all about and what to see and do there.
We’re currently enjoying a great spell of beautiful weather after a rather mild winter, which bodes well for a fabulous summer. Here’s a view taken from the port of Monaco this morning over Cap Martin and the Italian Riviera, with the crystal clear blue skies that you can only see at this time of the year.
In the meantime, I’d like to thank all the readers who have enjoyed my advice for their positive comments, we will probably hit the 200.000 visitor mark on the blog in the coming months and this gives me the energy to keep going on, despite the work it all entails! Plenty of new articles are in the pipeline ahead of the summer, I just need to find the time to write them up, so keep yourselves posted and like the French Riviera Blog Facebook page for the latest updates.
Have a fabulous weekend,