Visiting Monaco With a Small Dog!
Call me spoiled, Dear Reader, but I was a little bummed on our last trip. See, I collect a flag patch for every new country I visit, but because I had already been to France, I would only have one new patch to collect on this trip — one from Switzerland. But I forgot about visiting the second smallest independent state in the world — after the Vatican … and HEY, wait, I don’t have that patch! — the principality of Monaco.
Imagine how thrilled I was when the bipeds announced that we would be spending the morning walking about this tiny city-state on the Mediterranean. YAY!! Another flag on my sling bag! Whoot whoot!
I was not sure what to expect from the world’s most densely populated independent country, but I thought it a good sign that, although not a member of either the European Union or the European Economic Area, Monaco maintains an open border with France. I thought to myself, “Okay, good, they are open minded and welcoming. They even adopted the Euro to make life easier. This should be good!”
I checked the map and learned something right away. I had always assumed that Monte Carlo was the capital city. But of course, it’s a city-state, right? There is no capital city because the city is the country! Rather, Monte Carlo is one of many districts within Monaco. I am going to introduce you to three districts now, starting with the one offering the most to visitors.
Monaco-Ville (a.k.a. Royal Family Zone)
We started our visit with a walk through this district, also known as “le rocher” or “the rock.”
Monaco-Ville is still a medieval village at heart and an astonishingly picturesque and well-kept site. It is made up almost entirely of pedestrian streets and passageways, which was excellent news for me as that meant more off-leash shenanigans!
You will find hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops for tourist. More interestingly, you can also visit:
- the Prince’s Palace,
- the Cathedral,
- the Oceanographic Museum,
- the City Hall, and
- the Saint Martin Gardens.
We did not go inside the Prince’s Palace. We didn’t really have a lot of time and I totally forgot to find out if it was pet friendly. Sorry about that, Dear Reader! I did find out that there are guided tours of the palace each day and that there are some breathtaking panoramic views overlooking the Port and Monte-Carlo from the Palace gardens. What I DID get to witness at the Palace was the changing of the guards. It happens every day at 11:55 AM, in front of the Palace’s main entrance. I found the Carabiniers’ outfits very interesting. I have seen something like this in Athens, Sofia, and now Monaco.
While you are at the Palace square, check out the bronze statue of a monk concealing a sword. The statute represents Francois Grimaldi, who stormed the palace in 1297 and founded the current dynasty. And take a moment to enjoy the Bastion de Serravalle. It sort of dominates the space, so you will have no difficulty in finding it. This big grey fortification protecting the Prince’s Palace hangs over the edge of “the rock” and has some fun canons you can use for photo ops. And, of course, the view over Monaco is splendid. You can see Monte Carlo and the Casino, the Port Hercule harbour, and the kinda ugly skyscrapers with Cap Martin and the Italian Riviera in the distance. It’s a neat photo if you think about it because you have three countries in one shot! Oh, and there is a medieval clock tower that isn’t in fact medieval. It’s a fake built in the 19th century and made to look old to fit in the square.
One of my favourite stops was being snuck into the Monaco Cathedral. The Cathedral may seem young for the region having only been built in 1875, but it stands on the site of an earlier 13th-century church. Inside, you will find glimpses here and there of that earlier presence. I found the Romanesque-Byzantine church (dedicated to Saint Nicolas) reminiscent of the churches I saw in Bulgaria. But what was the most moving is that Monaco Cathedral houses the remains of former Princes of Monaco and, of course, of Princess Grace. There were tons of flowers left for her, even after all these years.
The church square also contains some of Monaco-Ville’s finest restaurants. So if you have to do a dog hand-off to see the Cathedral, there are plenty of spots to stop and try something delightful. The patios were all pet friendly and some even allowed pets indoors.
One of the prettiest facades in the Old City is City Hall. It’s just … really pretty! I couldn’t help wanting to run up and down those horseshoe shaped stairs! But I was told I couldn’t so I was a good boy and refrained from following that urge. Still, I kinda wish I had run them.
I really did want to see the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium (also known as the “Temple of the Sea”). It’s a world-renowned attraction located a whopping 85 meters above sea level and contains a stunning collections of marine fauna, numerous specimens of sea creatures (stuffed or in skeleton form), and models of Prince Albert’s ship collection. With 4,000 species of fish and over 200 families of invertebrates, the aquarium is now an authority on the sea and marine ecosystem. BUT it is NOT pet friendly. Not even for little ones like me, carried in a bag, or for service animals, for that matter. The latter I found somewhat surprising to be honest.
BUT … you can see the Jardin Saint Martin right next to the Museum. The garden is only one of many that Monaco has to offer (including the Jardin Exotic with its grotto, and The Rose Garden of Princess Grace), but it is arguably the nicest one. Truthfully, I can’t really tell you if it is the nicest since I did not see the other gardens for comparison, but I will say that Jardin Saint Martin was stunning with views to blow you away! I really enjoyed the art that dotted the landscape here and there.
Do note that dogs are NOT allowed on the grass. Nor are bipeds for that matter, so at least there is equality in that. The rules are enforced by local authorities and garden staff, so stay on the path and keep your canine on leash. You don’t want to get fined and/or kicked out!
What makes this garden extra fun is that it is perched on the side of the cliff between the Cathedral and the Oceanographic Museum. This angle gives you the opportunity to take a photo of the Temple of the Sea (the museum and aquarium). From this spot, you can see how the Temple appears to have been an intact Greek ruin, lifted up out of the sea by a god’s hand and slammed into the cliffside.
To leave the Old Town, head towards the opposite tip from the Palace and walk down through the gardens after the Oceanographic Museum towards the Fort Antoine, which was built to defend the Principality against foreign invaders but now serves as an amphitheater in the summer.
The Condamine (a.k.a. Big Ass Yachts and Fast Cars Zone!)
La Condamine is the second oldest district in Monaco, after Monaco-Ville. Here you can stop and marvel at the many luxurious yachts and cruise ships that usually adorn the docks in the marina. La Condamine is a thriving business district where you can visit the Condamine Market and rue Princesse-Caroline Mall. With enjoyable landscaped areas and modern buildings, La Condamine is surely worth a visit … only it wasn’t for us.
When we were there, they were getting ready for the big fancy yachting event they have every year. As a result, the entire area was like one very, very large outdoor convention centre. All the charm was gone. We couldn’t see anything. Not the port nor the boats, and many of the lovely outdoor cafés and terraces had been packed up or closed and moved to behind the “members only” walls. So we missed out, really.
But it is still worth the visit, no matter when you go. These are the streets that host the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix. The Grand Prix is 78 laps around 3.34 kilometers of Monte Carlo’s most narrow and twisted streets. The main attraction of the Monaco Grand Prix is the proximity of the speeding Formula One cars to the race spectators. The thrill of screaming engines, smoking tires, and determined drivers also makes the Monaco Grand Prix one of the most exciting races in the world. During the off season, it is possible to walk around the circuit, and we did. Tourist office maps have the route clearly marked, so you won’t get lost! We aren’t huge fans so we only walked a small portion of the route, but we saw many people who were hell bent on exploring every single turn, twist, and hair pin!
Monte Carlo (a.k.a. The James Bond Zone)
Monte Carlo (“Mount Charles”) is situated on a cliff. As a result, if you want to access it from the seaside, you will have to take advantage of the public (and free) elevators. You could walk, but it’s not a scenic walk so I wouldn’t bother.
Once you arrive at the top, near a really beautiful garden, you will find yourself at the rear of the world-famous Place du Casino, the gambling center which has made Monte Carlo “an international byword for the extravagant display and reckless dispersal of wealth.” This is the part of Monte Carlo that has the James-Bond-in-a-tuxedo vibe. It is also the location of the Hotel de Paris, the Café de Paris, and the Salle Garnier (the casino theatre which is the home of the Opéra de Monte Carlo). Mom felt the need to dress up to walk here, and I made sure my fur had been brushed to a shine. Dad had his Italian fancy shoes. You can’t help it; it’s high roller country.
I had fun walking around this area. It’s very posh, the architecture very pretty, fancy cars abound, and there is an air of elitism as porters and valets go about their business. All the top, high-end brands are there, from Louis Vuitton and Channel to Montblanc. When we visited, a major storm was brewing. After the prerequisite photos in front of the beautiful old Casino, we quickly made our way to an underground mall where we waited out the pouring rain. I had fun! Not only was I allowed inside, I met up with a few other pampered pooches. I even got to sniff the fine aromas of the Laduree macarons!
The Hôtel de Paris, established in 1864 by Charles III of Monaco, is located on the west side of the Place du Casino in the heart of Monte Carlo. It belongs to the Société des bains de mer de Monaco (SBM), and is part of the elite Palace Grand Hotels in Monaco. It had JUST been closed, so sadly I couldn’t go inside to check it out. Apparently it will remain closed for a while as it undergoes some very serious and much needed renovations. Still, its façade was rather lovely and I really liked its vibe. Maybe once it re-opens I will take the bipeds there for tea.
If your wallet permits it, and you like that kind of thing, try your luck in the Grand Casino and gamble alongside the world’s rich and famous. Do note that it isn’t pet friendly at all. I wondered if I were a whale, if they would make an exception, but the concierge said, “No exceptions.” Oh, and keep in mind that you’ll need your passport to enter because Monégasque citizens are prohibited from gambling at the casino. Also, there are fees to enter, which range widely depending upon what room you plan to visit for your gambling. It all seems very complicated to me, to be honest. A strict dress code is also enforced. And I do mean, Extremely Strict Dress Code, Dear Reader. Men are required to wear coats and ties; casual and tennis shoes are 100% forbidden. Mom and Dad went in (while our host held a most reluctant moi) to just see the main lobby. They got a glimpse of the gaming rooms themselves and reported back that they looked spectacular, with stained glass, paintings, and sculptures everywhere. But we are not gamblers and so, this was plenty for us.
Tip: When in Monaco, don’t insult locals by calling them French. Monaco is a separate nation and it would be very insulting to casually merge the two. Keep in mind that Monaco’s population retains its own history, culture, and lifestyle. With a whopping 125 different countries represented by those who reside in Monaco, don’t be surprised to hear every language under the sun in the streets. Even if French is the official language and Monégasque is the national language, you will hear a LOT of Italian. (Our waitress at lunch spoke only Italian!) English is widely understood and spoken.
In review: Walking is by far the best way to get around Monaco; however, there are some areas, such as the Exotic Gardens, that require a large change in elevation and therefore make for rather strenuous hikes. There are also seven public escalators and elevators (all free) that help negotiate the steep slopes of the city. If you find yourself afoot and wanting to reach the opposite bank of Port Hercule, look for the small pedestrian-only ferry that runs every 20 minutes or so during daylight; it costs only one Euro. The principality of Monaco offers a great balance of historical and modern attractions. There are various museums and palaces to visit as well as shopping malls and casinos. Monaco also offers relaxation spots along the harbour and even around the attractions. It is relatively easy to navigate Monte Carlo and the rest of Monaco if you take the time to learn where the various short cuts are. City maps are generally available at most news vendor stands and shops for a small fee.