Monaco’s Exotic Garden and the Villa Paloma museum

The stunning Exotic Garden of Monaco

The Jardin Exotique (Exotic Garden) of Monaco is one of these places which is stunningly beautiful but is generally neglected by most visitors to the Principality, simply because it is so far out of the way. Located on a rocky promontory at the north-western entrance of Monaco, jutting out over the Old Town and the Fontvieille area, most people just admire it from a distance whilst visiting the Palace Square without travelling up there, which is a bit of a shame. At the same time, the isolated location is part of its charm, affording stunning views over the whole of Monaco.

If you only have a few hours or a day in Monaco, I will be the first to tell you to stick to the main attractions, like the Old Town, the main port and Monte-Carlo, where the world-famous Casino is located. But if you are here for a bit longer or on a repeat visit and have a couple of hours to spare, I would definitely recommend a trip up the hill for a visit of the Exotic Garden and the newly-opened New National Museum of Monaco next door at the Villa Paloma.

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Typical medieval alleyway in the Old Town of Monaco

Walking Tour around the Old Town of Monaco

Typical medieval alleyway in the Old Town of Monaco

This is basically part of the walking tour I recommended to guests staying at my hotel a few years ago.  Allow about 90 minutes at a leisurely pace, excluding food pitstops or visits of monuments.

The tour starts at the Place d’Armes: the central market square within easy downhill access from the train station (turn right when exiting the train from Nice towards the “Fontvieille” exit” and go through the tunnel with travellators then follow the signposts and the crowds of people). The typically “Provençal” (ie. slightly overpriced but with lots of good quality “Mediterranean” produce) market is open every morning until around 12pm, so could be worth a quick stopover to have a nice coffee or to grab a snack – there are several reasonable places inside, including one selling “socca”, a typical regional pancake made of chick pea flower. The Place d’Armes is also a great place for people-watching and to see real Monegasque locals going about their daily business (quite a feat especially in the summer), and where most gossip is exchanged about what is going on in town.

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The whole Rock of Monaco viewed from the Jardin Exotique

Introduction to the Old Town of Monaco

The whole Rock of Monaco viewed from the Jardin Exotique

This is also known as “Monaco Ville” or “Le Rocher” (the Rock) and is the government and historical centre of the Principality, as well as being one of the two main tourist sites. The old town of Monaco might seem a bit too clean and glitzy for connaisseurs of other more authentic villages in the region, such as Sainte Agnès, La Brigue or even Villefranche – it is Monaco after all…  However, if you follow the advice below, it is always possible to have a nice walk around, trying to avoid the hordes of tourists and souvenir shops. That is why the best time of day is dusk, once the souvenir shops have closed, the streets are quieter and the crowds of tourists have taken their coaches either back to their cruise ship or to drive round the harbour and “visit Monte Carlo” in 15 minutes.

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Monaco or Monte-Carlo? What’s the difference?

There’s always been a certain degree of confusion between the two names, which is especially unfortunate as both of them are pretty famous. So just to clarify once and for all, here’s the difference.

MONACO is basically the name of the country. Yes, Monaco is actually a real country, a constitutional monarchy in the same vein as San Marino or the Vatican but with more leeway and independence, a full member of the United Nations and the Council of Europe and with its own royal family (or “princely” family), led since 2005 by H.S.H. Prince Albert II. More on this elsewhere.

View over most of the Principality of Monaco east from the Palace square

The city of Monaco is split up, like any other town, into several neighbourhoods: among others, MONTE-CARLO, which happens to be the area on the hill overlooking the main harbor that houses the casino and the luxury hotels.

The emblematic Casino of Monte-Carlo by night during the Xmas festivities

Contrary to some information that freely circulates online, Monte Carlo isn’t the capital of the country. The official capital is the neighbourhood known as “Monaco-Ville”, also known as “Le Rocher”, which is basically the large promontory that cannot be missed once you are in town and that houses the medieval Old Town, the Oceanographic Museum and the Prince’s Palace, as well as several government institutions.

Oh and finally… Despite the fact that the names are almost homonyms in several languages, including Chinese, neither Monaco nor Monte-Carlo have anything to do with Morocco!

 

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