Away from the heady swirl of wealth, glamour and excess that is Monte-Carlo, Le Rocher (The Rock) and Monaco’s old town offers a more serene atmosphere. Taking centre stage is the elegant Palais du Prince (Prince’s Palace). Visible throughout Monaco, Le Rocher is where the Grimaldi dynasty began its rule of Monaco back in 1297. Prince Albert still resides here making the Grimaldis one of the oldest reigning royal families in Europe. On Le Rocher, François Grimaldi launched the assault on the monastery positioned on top of the rock and took it by force from the Ghibelline family (also Genovese), dressed as monks claiming to be acting upon orders from the Pope. François’ successor Rainier, became the first Prince of Monaco, a passionate leader with a love for his people and the environment, he soon became a popular monarch, a trait which has continued throughout all of Monaco’s leaders.
A walk from the Place du Prince around the old city walls of Le Rocher offers breathtaking views across the Port of Fontvieille and over towards Nice to the west and to the east Port Hercule and across to Cap Martin and Italy. Often full of visiting tourists during the summer months, Le Rocher is perhaps best explored in the cooler evenings or for lunch in the off season when the town is quieter. But for dinner, Le Pinocchio, U Cavagnetu or the wonderful La Montgolfiere (reservations required) are superb restaurant choices on Le Rocher offering classic Italian and French cuisine mixed with local Monegasque specialities.
The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco is to be admired and not to be missed! This magnificent building is an architectural masterpiece and hangs to the cliff face of Le Rocher, 85 metres above the Mediterranean sea. The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco took 11 years to build with work commencing in 1890 and was only officially opened in 1910. Today an entire grand hall of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco is dedicated to Prince Albert I, who commissioned the building. His love for, and dedication to the sea and the marine life within it are of great historical importance in Monaco and his life’s work is on display here. Below the main floor is a truly spectacular display of marine life, fish of all shapes, sizes and colours offer an excellent place for children and adults alike – hours can be lost down here in this mesmerising tranquil aquarium. On the way out visitors to the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco can dip their hands into a tank full of baby sharks and stroke them!
Moving further east towards Port Hercule stands Fort Antoine, which exudes a calm serenity. The fort is surrounded by canon balls displayed as a tribute to the soldiers of Monaco stationed at the fort in the 18th century. From here each November 19th, cannons are fired in celebration of the Fête National of Monaco. Destroyed in 1944 during World War II, Prince Rainier III rebuilt the fort as an amphitheatre in 1953 as a tribute that remains a dignified and calm place of reflection in this fast-paced, glamorous Principality. There are many places on Le Rocher for quiet contemplation often whilst at the same time being in total awe at the beauty of one of the most stunning old hilltop towns in the area. Walk around the Jardins de Saint-Martin to admire the spectacular plants and innovative sculptures positioned around the garden, some from old masters but several from modern local artists. A walk around Le Rocher wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Cathedral of St Nicholas, an imposing, almost magical building in a dominant position with views as grandiose as the architecture itself. This is the final resting place for all past sovereigns of Monaco including Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace. It is well worth pausing for a moment here and admiring the beauty of the tiny Principality of Monaco, its strong history, what has been achieved since the time of Prince Rainier I and what continues to be achieved by Prince Albert of Monaco today.
This article was written by Rachel Coles, charter broker at Bespoke Yacht Charter.
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