10 little-known facts about the history of Monaco and the arrival of Hereditary Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella

The facade of the Prince's Palace to celebrate the birth of the Royal twins (C) Palais Princier de Monaco

The facade of the Prince’s Palace lit up in red to celebrate the birth of the Royal twins (C) Palais Princier de Monaco

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 red 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.
The 42-gun salute organised by the Carabiniers du Prince on the night of 10 December 2014 (C) Palais Princier de Monaco

The 42-gun salute organised by the Carabiniers du Prince on the night of 10 December 2014 (C) Palais Princier de Monaco

  • 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.
The head of the Public Forces, Colonel Fringant and the Prince's Chamberlain, Lt-Colonel Soler, nailing the proclamation to the Palace doors (C) Palais Princier de Monaco

The head of the Public Forces, Colonel Fringant and the Prince’s Chamberlain, Lt-Colonel Soler, nailing the proclamation to the Palace doors (C) Palais Princier de Monaco

  • 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.
The act of proclamation, published in English and French (C) Palais Princier de Monaco

The act of proclamation, published in English and French (C) Palais Princier de 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.

The royal couple of Monaco, HSH Prince Albert II and HSH Princess Charlene (C) Palais Princier de Monaco

The royal couple of Monaco, HSH Prince Albert II and HSH Princess Charlene (C) Palais Princier de Monaco

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:

  1. 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.
The statue of Francois Grimaldi aka Malizia on the Palace Square

The statue of Francois Grimaldi aka Malizia on the Palace Square

 

  1. 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's coat of arms (C) Palais Princier de Monaco

Monaco’s coat of arms (C) Palais Princier de Monaco

  1. 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.
One of Monaco's protectors, the formidable Holy Roman Emperor Charles V

One of Monaco’s protectors, the formidable Holy Roman Emperor Charles V

  1. 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.
Louis XI of France and Honore II of Monaco signing the Treaty of Peronne in 1641

Louis XI of France and Honore II of Monaco signing the Treaty of Peronne in 1641

  1. 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, 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 rock of Carlat in Auvergne, part of the county of Carladès which now has a new Countess!

The rock of Carlat in Auvergne, part of the county of Carladès which now has a new Countess!

  1. The French revolution caused 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.
The French Revolution also affected Monaco quite a bit as the bloodthirsty mobs didn't really like crowned heads...!

The French Revolution also affected Monaco quite a bit as the bloodthirsty mobs didn’t really like crowned heads…!

  1. 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.
Menton - once part of Monaco!

Menton – once part of Monaco!

  1. 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.
Prince Charles III, the architect of Monaco's rebirth during the Belle Epoque

Prince Charles III, the architect of Monaco’s rebirth during the Belle Epoque

  1. 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 Albert I of Monaco, who also opened the Oceanographic Museum

Prince Albert I of Monaco, who also opened the Oceanographic Museum

  1. 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.
Prince Rainier III, the founder of modern Monaco

Prince Rainier III, the founder of modern Monaco

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!

 

Essential Nice: exploring the capital of the French Riviera

The city of Nice, lying directly on the Mediterranean Sea

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…

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A week on the French Riviera: the essential sights of the Côte d’Azur with seven unmissable day trips

Fireworks (C) K. Hin

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.

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Cannes and its annual Film Festival: kicking off the summer season in style on the French Riviera

Palais des Festivals May 2014 (C) K. Hin

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 stunning sandy beach of Cannes, just underneath the Croisette promenade

The stunning sandy beach of Cannes, just underneath the Croisette promenade

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Restaurant review: la Montgolfière-Henri Géraci, Monaco (Old Town)

Montgolfiere outside (C) K. Hin

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.

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Enjoying a hassle-free Monaco F1 Grand Prix experience: a full practical guide for first-time visitors

(C) K. Hin

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.

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Saint-Tropez off season: is it worth it?

Morning view of the Old Port of Saint Tropez

Morning view of the Old Port of Saint Tropez

 

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.

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Spring is in the air on the French Riviera – a quick update!

Monaco harbour on a Saturday morning, March 2014

Monaco harbour on a Saturday morning, March 2014

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,

Kevin

Discovering the Cinqueterre Villages on the Italian Riviera: a weekend drive down the coast

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Discover the unique charm of the Cinqueterre villages in Italy, with their multicoloured houses, unspoilt nature and amazing food, that can be visited on a weekend excursion from the Riviera.

As I mentioned when I launched the blog, I am not just covering the French Riviera but also some places that are a bit further afield which I have had the opportunity to visit in order to share my experiences. This Easter, I had the opportunity to discover in some depth the beautiful villages of the Cinqueterre in Italy and I am going to relate my experiences in this article…

From my experience in the hotel business, plenty of visitors who visit the French Riviera, especially those from other continents, tend to use the Cinqueterre as a stepping stone before heading to Florence or Rome, and these five little gems are well worth the visit. Naturally, given that I have very little local expertise of the area, this article is no substitute to a real guide book: my sources are just the French Guide du Routard Northern Italy book as well as local knowledge I gleaned whilst speaking to the very friendly inhabitants of the villages. But I hope this article and the practical tips I will provide, written from a “French Riviera” tourist’s perspective, will help you enjoy your stay in the Cinqueterre and enable some of the inhabitants of the French Riviera to discover a beautiful and very accessible part of Italy, just a  few hours down the coast!

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A walk around Central Nice: the new Promenade du Paillon and the Colline du Château (Castle Hill)

The entrance to the Promenade du Paillon viewed from Place Massena

The entrance to the Promenade du Paillon viewed from Place Massena

The end of October 2013 marked the inauguration with great fanfare of the new “green axis” (coulée verte), officially known as the Promenade de Paillon, covering 12 hectares and 1.2 kilometres right through the heart of Nice. Given the massive amount of hype in the press and social networks and the lovely weather we’ve been having so far this autumn, I decided to head over to Nice and check out what all the fuss was about… At the same time, I also had a proper walk around the Castle Hill so what follows is a nice itinerary to fill a sunny afternoon in Nice, especially if you have kids with you.

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