Monte Carlo Casino and Gambling
Monte Carlo is not at all what most people think it is. To begin with, Monte Carlo is not the capital of Monaco. In fact, Monte Carlo is not even a town. Nor is it an ancient place.
No Monte Carlo Grand Prix has ever been held on its streets, and contrary to the suggestive lyrics of a once popular song, no one ever sent the Casino de Monte-Carlo into bankruptcy.
That said, Monte Carlo is a fascinating destination and one of the gems of the Mediterranean’s Riviera coast. It plays a prominent role in European culture and serves as a playground not only for the rich and famous but also as home to a diverse range of people and businesses. In fact, a large percentage of its residents are entrepreneurs.
Although Monte Carlo may not be all that it has been made out to be, in many ways it is much more. Once you move beyond the myths and mystique of Monte Carlo, you can begin to discover its true allure.
Where is Monte Carlo?
Monte Carlo is not Monaco’s capital city, Monte Carlo is a district, not a city. It is one of the traditional “quarters” of the Principality of Monaco, a sovereign city-state that consists of just one municipality or “commune” and serves as its own capital.
Covering just 485 acres, 100 of which have been reclaimed from the sea, Monaco is the smallest country in the world other than Vatican City in Italy. It was officially recognized as an independent nation by the Franco-Monégasque Treaty of 1861.
Of the city-state’s original four quarters, Monaco-Ville is the oldest. It is known locally as le rocher or “The Rock” for its location on a rocky promontory. Starting out as a fortified medieval village called “Monoecus,” it grew to become the functioning seat of government for the Grimaldi family, who have ruled the coastal region since 1297.
Today this district contains the Prince’s Palace with its beautiful ramparts and gardens, Saint Nicholas Cathedral, and the Oceanographic Museum.
La Condamine is the second oldest quarter in Monaco. It comprises the original harbour and market area, which were the focus of local commerce for centuries. Its distinctive “Rampe Major” staircase and two gates leading towards the palace were constructed in the 16th century.
Today, La Condamine is still “the heart of Monaco,” where expensive yachts moor at Port Hercule, residents stroll the Princess Caroline pedestrian area, and the century-old olive trees of Parc Princesse Antoinette still provide shade.
By contrast, Monte Carlo is quite young. The quarter was officially founded in 1866. Standing on an escarpment at the foot of the Maritime Alps, it was given the Italian name for “Mount Charles” in honor of Monaco’s then-ruling Prince Charles III (1818~1889).
The district inherited its casino and gaming facilities from failed operations started in La Condamine in 1856, and it only began to grow in 1868, when a railway was installed, connecting Monte Carlo to Paris, Milan, and beyond.
For a brief time, beginning in 1917, the three traditional quarters were merged into one administrative unit. But demands for autonomy resulted in constitutional changes that restored local governance and Monte Carlo soon became the hub of Monaco activities.
The fourth quarter, Fontvieille, was added in the 1970s. It is known as the “high tech” or “green” district for its modern buildings and museums, non-polluting companies, focus on arts, sports, and culture, and unique location.
Created entirely on land reclaimed from the Mediterranean Sea, this district was the vision of Rainer III, Monaco’s “Builder Prince,” who was born Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi, Count of Polignac (1923~2005).
Monaco has recently been further divided into “wards,” of which there are currently ten. As part of this redistricting process, three portions of the original Monte Carlo quarter were given their own ward status.
They include the beachfront area of Larvotto, the small northern community of La Rousse/Saint Roman (including Le Ténao), and Saint Michel, a primarily residential neighbourhood.
What remains today of Monte Carlo administratively is its bustling business district, including the well-established hotels, restaurants, shops, and its famous casinos.
An eleventh ward called Le Portier was scheduled to come into existence on reclaimed land in 2014, but Prince Albert II announced in 2009 that plans were “on hold” until the economic climate improved.
The Once and Always Monte Carlo
So now it is clear that Monte Carlo is not Monaco, and Monaco is not Monte Carlo, no matter how inextricably their fortunes may be linked. In fact, when Prince Rainer III took the throne in 1949, one of his primary objectives was to wean Monaco from its complete dependence on Monte Carlo gaming revenues.
At that time, the gambling industry accounted for 95 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Today, it contributes only about three or four percent, demonstrating just how successful the monarch’s diversification programme was.
By the time of the Prince’s death in 2005, the principality’s GDP was estimated to be more than €1,180 million, according to a BBC report. Another source puts as much as five percent of the GDP now coming from rubber, plastics, and chemicals industries based on new green technologies.
Does all this subdivision and de-emphasis on gambling mean that Monte Carlo is dying? Not by a long shot. In fact, the district’s gaming revenue continues to grow, even as Monaco diversifies its economy by attracting other businesses.
For example, Monte Carlo-based Société des Bains de Mer Monaco (SBM) is still the single largest employer in the principality. It specializes in the operation of casinos and hotels, earning 52.7 percent of its net sales from gaming operations, including traditional table games and newer automatic games.
In 2009, the group controlled five casinos in Monaco: Casino du Café de Paris, Sun Casino, Casino d’Eté (aka Summer Casino), Monte Carlo Bay Casino, and the original Casino de Monte-Carlo.
The company gains another 40.6 percent of its income from the hotel sector, providing lodging services, catering, and beach and spa activities mainly through four hotels—Hôtel de Paris, Hôtel Hermitage, Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel, and Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel. The remaining 6.7 percent of SBM’s sales comes from the leasing of local shops and office space.
From 2006 to 2007, SBM’s revenues increased 15.3 percent on gross revenues of €467 million. Although fiscal 2008, ending in March 2009, was a year of decline due to worldwide economic conditions, the company still posted a net profit of €40.6 million.
Most recently, its stock, which bottomed out in the spring of 2009, has shown a gradual increase ever since, recovering most of what was lost since the end of 2008.
More importantly, SBM is just one of nearly 5,000 companies domiciled in Monaco. Among the largest, many are based in Monte Carlo, including the Fairmont Hotel, the Metropole Hotel, the Monte Carlo Acceuil, and the Novotel Monte Carlo, to name a few in the hospitality industry.
They are joined by a number of major banks and financial institutions, health care providers, construction and real estate businesses, mass media, non-profits, and cultural organizations.
Monte Carlo has also been able to diversify its tourism base. Where gambling was once the main reason to book a stay, today it is a supplement to other activities.
These include art festivals, car rallies, gala charity balls, tennis tournaments, religious ceremonies, food feasts, concerts, fireworks displays, yacht shows, international marathons, and much more.
Far from fading, Monte Carlo is every bit the center of attention in Monaco. It is still the engine that is pulling the Principality along and deeper into the 21st century.
Monte Carlo as a Brand
During the 140+ years of its existence, Monte Carlo has created an unmistakable image for itself, associated with wealth, class, culture, and sophistication. It is also synonymous with stability, having survived major wars, pestilence, famines, economic turmoil, political upheaval, and social unrest virtually unscathed, thanks to a strong central government.
Among its hallmarks, Monte Carlo has always catered first and foremost to those who seek luxury. Its Beaux Arts, Empire-style gambling facility was designed in 1858~1863 by Charles Garnier, architect of the Opéra de Paris.
The neighbouring Grand Théâtre de Monte Carlo opera and ballet house is as opulent as any performing arts venue in Europe. And Monte Carlo’s hotels have always been noted for their spectacular views of the Riviera, superior furnishings, and first-rate amenities.
But it is not just a superb infrastructure upon which Monte Carlo’s reputation has been built. With banking practices as opaque as those in Switzerland, plus no personal income tax, Monaco has long been a tax haven for Europe’s wealthiest celebrities and industrial tycoons.
In 2009, Piers Morgan reported in The Daily Mail online that “Monaco houses 2,000 millionaires and 50 billionaires, many of them living within the ward of Monte Carlo, making it the wealthiest place, per head and per square foot, on Earth.” So Monte Carlo’s “rich and famous” image is certainly well deserved.
As a brand name, however, “Monte Carlo” is out of control. A casino in Las Vegas has taken it, as has a U.S. automobile manufactured by Chevrolet, ever since 1969. Bartenders mix a gin-based drink called a Monte Carlo Imperial Highball, and Louis Vuitton once introduced a Monte Carlo Jewellery Box.
There are card games called Monte Carlo Whist, Monte Carlo Solitaire, and Monte Carlo Three-Card Guts, as well as a dice game that describes a “Monte Carlo” as a “baby bunko” or three of a kind. Mathematicians refer to Monte Carlo algorithms, methods, experiments, or simulations.
Monte Carlo is a type of gunstock used for rifles. It is a style of kitchen cabinet. It is a kind of watch made by Vestal, Martin Drucker, and Swiss Legend. To some, Monte Carlo is a type of cigar. To others, it is a form of fried sandwich, often mistaken for a “Monte Christo,” a variation of the French croque-monsieur.
There is a Monte Carlo Fan Company in New Jersey, a Monte Carlo Hat Company in Florida, and a Monte Carlo Furniture Company in Hong Kong. Monte Carlo is a tavern in Kent, Washington. It is a coffee shop in Koreatown in Los Angeles. It is a liquor store and steak house in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Not one of these claimants, not even the comic New York dance company known as Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, actually has its roots in the Monaco district. Why is it, then, that so many businesses, products, and services identify themselves with this name?
Perhaps Hollywood is at fault. Since 1915, eleven different movies have been released under the title “Monte Carlo.” The 1930 musical comedy version was especially popular, featuring a countess who escapes marriage with a prince, falls in love with a count who is masquerading as a hairdresser, and eventually learns the truth at an opera.
Another 66 films refer to the district in their titles, including 1937’s detective adventure “Charlie Chan in Monte Carlo” and the 1951 comedy “Monte Carlo Baby” with Audrey Hepburn. Marlene Dietrich starred in 1957’s “The Monte Carlo Story.”
Joan Collins and George Hamilton took “Monte Carlo” to the small screen in 1986 as a pilot for a television series. Monte Carlo was a location for three James Bond films: “Casino Royal,” “GoldenEye,” and “Never Say Never Again.”
And one more chapter will be added in 2011, when the latest “Monte Carlo” movie is released and three young women on vacation in Paris are whisked off to Monaco when one of them is mistaken for a British heiress.
Plenty of brand names convey images of adventure, style, glamour, and class, but Monte Carlo offers one unique attribute that sets it apart—nobility. Mix in a little romance, a bit of humour, and a blockbuster hit simply has to follow. And sometimes life in Monte Carlo repays the favour by imitating art.
Monte Carlo’s True Hollywood Connection
Grace Patricia Kelly was an American actress who would go on to become the Princess of Monaco. She was born in Philadelphia in 1929 and embarked upon her career in theatre on the stages of New York at the age of eighteen. Her first major film role was in the 1952 Western drama “High Noon” with Gary Cooper and Lloyd Bridges.
Kelly’s big break came in 1953, when she landed a role next to Clark Gable and Ava Gardner in John Ford’s African safari movie, “Mogambo.” It won the young actress a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress that year.
Her performance also caught the eye of British director Sir Alfred Hitchcock. She starred in his next three masterworks: “Dial M for Murder” with Ray Milland, “Rear Window” with James Stewart, and “To Catch a Thief,” which featured Cary Grant as her leading man. Within one quick year, Grace Kelly became a bona fide Hollywood star.
It was during the filming of “To Catch a Thief” in the summer of 1954 that Kelly first saw the palatial gardens of the Grimaldi estate. In one scene, she speeds away from the local police along the Moyen Corniche, a coastal road overlooking the Côte d’Azur.
She joins Grant high above the Riviera at a picnic ground overlooking Monte Carlo—a venue as impressive in the film as it is in person.
In April of 1955, a month after winning the Best Actress Oscar for her role in “The Country Girl,” Kelly was invited to attend the annual film festival in Cannes, France.
As part of the festivities, she was asked to visit Monte Carlo and participate in a photo session at the Palace of Monaco. There, she met Prince Rainier III, the ruling sovereign of the tiny nation, who was then age 31.
The Prince was a fan of film in more ways than one. For several years, he had lived openly with the French film star Gisèle Pascal. However, the couple broke up in the early 1950s, reportedly because a doctor had declared her to be infertile, a condition that could threaten the very existence of the Principality.
Back in 1918, rules of succession had been established for Monaco in a treaty with France. It required each Monégasque sovereign to produce an heir; else France could claim possession of the territory. As it turned out, Pascal later married and had a child of her own, but by then, the Prince had focused his attention elsewhere.
After the Cannes Film Festival, Grace Kelly returned to the United States to work on another movie. Entitled “The Swan,” the script called for Sir Alec Guinness to take the role of Prince Albert, a distant cousin of Princess Alexandra, played by Kelly.
In the film, the Prince scours Europe, looking for a bride, but becomes bored by the process of courtship. Alexandra must find a way to interest him and save her family’s estate.
The irony of this plot could not have been lost on the actress as she began receiving private correspondence from Prince Rainier III. In December, he traveled to America on a “tour” and met Kelly’s devout Catholic family.
Three days later, he proposed to her and she accepted. The starlet’s father, a former Olympic Gold medalist and self-made millionaire, provided the Prince with dowry of $2 million.
On 18 April 1956, a 40-minute civil union was performed in the Principality’s Palace Throne Room, and the new Princess of Monaco’s 142 official titles were recited. It was followed the next day by a lavish religious ceremony that was broadcast all across the world and seen by an estimated audience of 30 million people.
The “Wedding of the Century” featured a gown designed by Academy Award-winning costumer Helen Rose and 600 VIP guests, from Hollywood stars to the crowned head Aga Khan, the Duchess of Westminster, and businessman Conrad Hilton.
The newlyweds left on their honeymoon that night—a seven-week Mediterranean cruise aboard Rainier’s yacht, Deo Juvante II.
The Princess of Monaco
Exactly nine months and four days after the wedding, Princess Caroline was born. She was followed by her brother, Prince Albert II, in 1958 and her sister, Princess Stéphanie, in 1965. Monaco’s line of succession was firmly secured.
With her film career curtailed by marriage and motherhood, Princess Grace devoted herself to charity work, founding AMADE Mondiale in 1963.
It was created as a Monte Carlo-based non-profit organization that promotes and protects the “moral and physical integrity (and) spiritual well-being of children throughout the world.” Today, it helps youth in more than a dozen countries through humanitarian aid programmes.
Another focus of Princess Grace’s charitable activities was improving the arts institutions of Monaco. Over time, she established the Princess Grace Foundation to support local artisans. Later, she created a Garden Club as a reflection of her love of flowers.
She was among the first celebrities to support La Leche League and its advocacy of breastfeeding. And each year, she organised a Christmas party for local orphans.
Princess Grace counted among her friends innumerable government and business leaders, sports figures, and celebrities. Among them was Josephine Baker, an American-born black entertainer of French citizenship whom she befriended in 1951.
When Baker fell on hard times in her later years, the princess and her husband set her up in a French villa and then joined Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in financing “Joséphine à Bobino 1975”—a retrospective revue in Paris to celebrate Baker’s 50 years in show business.
The revue was a critical and financial success, attended by such luminaries as Shirley Bassey, Diana Ross, Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, and Liza Minnelli. Seating was in such demand that folding chairs were added in the aisles.
But a few days after the opening, Baker suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and slipped into a coma. She later died at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital. After a funeral in Paris, Princess Grace arranged to have her friend laid to rest at the Cimetière de Monaco in Monte Carlo, where her grave still draws visitors to this day.
The Prince and Princess celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in 1981. Unfortunately, “happily ever after” were not the words that would end the fairy story-like life of Grace Kelly. She had been forbidden by Prince Rainier from taking parts offered to her by Hollywood directors.
The showing of her earlier films was banned in Monaco. Official duties dictated her schedule. Friends said she was often homesick and missed speaking English. Her only creative outlets were occasional poetry readings and some movie narrations.
On 13 September 1982, Princess Grace suffered a stroke while driving a British Land Rover along a serpentine mountain road. She had been heading back to Monaco with her daughter Stéphanie from their country home.
The car went off the steep embankment and crashed into a tree at the edge of a flower garden, mistakenly reported as the picnic area she had first visited in 1954, but actually much closer to Fontvieille than Monte Carlo.
Princess Grace was pulled from the wreckage alive but unconscious. She died the next day of a cerebral hemorrhage at the Monaco Hospital—now the Centre Hospitalier Princesse Grace. Princess Stéphanie suffered a serious cervical fracture, but was spared and later recovered.
On 18 September 1982, after a requiem mass at Saint Nicholas Cathedral, the same church where she was married, Princess Grace was interred in the Grimaldi family vault. Diana, Princess of Wales, represented the British royal family at the funeral, which was attended by more than 400 guests, including Cary Grant, who gave a heartfelt eulogy.
An estimated 100 million people watched the final ceremony on television worldwide. Prince Rainier never remarried and was buried beside her after his own death in 2005.
A Lasting Legacy
The importance of Prince Rainier III and Prince Grace to Monte Carlo cannot be over emphasized. The district owes much of its glamour to them and the celebrity they attracted. It also owes them its future under Grimaldi rule.
His Serene Highness Albert II has been Monaco’s sovereign since his father’s death. The act of ascension was marked in July 2005 by a solemn mass, followed by a garden party for 7,000 Monégasques born in the Principality, a gala night at the opera, and fireworks on the waterfront.
Continuing his mother’s charitable work, the Prince serves as a global advisor to Orphans International and is Vice Chairman of the arts-focused Princess Grace Foundation. He has also followed in his father’s footsteps by taking up protection of the environment as his personal cause.
In 2006, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation was created, with headquarters on Monte Carlo’s Boulevard de Suisse. Its mission is to support sustainable and ethical projects around the world with emphasis on climate change, developing renewable energies, combating the loss of biodiversity, improving water management, and fighting desertification.
Although the Prince has two children born out of wedlock, he has never married. Since the 2006 Winter Olympics, Albert II has been linked romantically to South African swimmer Charlene Wittstock, who has accompanied him to Monte Carlo’s annual “Bal de la Rose” fundraiser, the Princess Grace Awards Gala, the Monaco Grand Prix, and other social events.
Most recently, the two of them attended the opening of a new Grace Kelly exhibition in London in April 2010, fueling further gossip of nuptials in the offing.
However, until the Prince produces a legitimate heir of his own, the line of succession follows his older sister Caroline. She married three times and has four children. Her eldest son, Andrea Albert Pierre Casiraghi, was born in 1984 and currently stands as second in line to the throne after his mother.
Andrea’s father, Italian businessman Stefano Casiraghi, died tragically in a powerboat racing accident in 1990. Caroline subsequently married Ernst August V, Prince of Hanover, and she now holds the title Princess of Hanover as well as Hereditary Princess of Monaco.
Princess Caroline succeeded her mother as the head of AMADE Mondiale and has involved her son Andre since 2004, too. Their exploits have been followed closely by “royal watchers,” of course.
In 2008, Forbes Magazine ranked Andrea #10 on its list of the “20 Hottest Young Royals.” Particular interest has been focused on the young prince’s longtime relationship with Tatiana Santo Domingo, a Colombian socialite and heiress to a vast beer, media, and airline empire.
Meanwhile, childless Princess Stéphanie has pursued a colourful lifestyle, providing the paparazzi and tabloids with material aplenty. Her love life has included flings with a number of notorious “bad boys” as well as a brief affair with actor Rob Lowe, whom she eventually dismissed “because (he) couldn’t speak French.”
Betting on Gambling
For all of the changes that have occurred since 1866, Monte Carlo is still—first and foremost—the epicenter of casino gambling in Europe. It is often compared to Las Vegas, but with far more history and sophistication and much less neon glitz and promotional hoopla.
Monaco’s Prince Florestan I (1785~1856) deserves credit for legalizing gambling in the Principality in 1954, but it was Prince Charles III who ordered the construction of Monte Carlo.
He then announced the availability of a 50-year concession to operate the gaming rooms inside a bold new gambling emporium—the Casino de Monte-Carlo—which would be the hub of this new district.
The winner of the contract was François Blanc, the French inventor of the single-zero roulette wheel layout and manager of luxury casinos in Germany since 1843. He purchased the concession for nearly two million francs, and it turned out to be the perfect partnership.
The entrepreneur persuaded the French government to build a new coastal road to Monte Carlo and extend the railway from Nice. He did so by providing financing for the two projects—five million francs at low interest.
He then set up a private company, Société des Bains de Mer et du Cercle des Etrangers Monaco—forerunner of today’s SBM—to sell shares in the casino operation and quickly recover his investment.
To keep Prince Charles close, Blanc made him a shareholder, offering him 400 shares and 10 percent of the profits.
He also convinced Cardinal Gioacchino Pecci (later Pope Leo XIII) to become a shareholder, thereby securing the blessing of the Catholic Church, a prerequisite to any successful business operation in 19th-century Monaco. The casino opened on schedule in 1863 to much fanfare.
Gambling was illegal in France in those days, which made Monte Carlo “the only game in town” for wealthy Parisians. And Blanc knew his business, bringing in the management techniques he had perfected in Hamburg, Bavaria.
One small bump in the road to riches came in 1873, when British engineer Joseph Jaggers (1830~1892) detected bias in one of the casino’s Roulette wheels.
He exploited it to win £80,000 before the table’s “bank” (allotted funds for the day) was depleted and play was stopped. The 1891 hit song, “The Man Who Broke the Bank in Monte Carlo,” was reputedly written in his honor.
In 1875, the Prince of Wales himself paid a visit to the Casino de Monte-Carlo, which lent credibility to the gambling emporium. Soon it was viewed as the fashionable place for British royals and their court to be seen enjoying themselves.
François Blanc left a fortune of 200 million francs when he died in 1877. His son, Camille, inherited the business and ran it like a well-oiled machine for more than a decade after the original contract expired. Under their guidance, Monte Carlo became a world-famous resort and the stage was set for even greater success ahead.
It was in Monte Carlo that a variation of Baccarat called Banque à deux tableaux was first introduced, allowing up to sixteen players to join in the game at a “double table.”
It was here, too, in the 1930s, that no-limit games became the rage, with single bets of 10 million francs or more not uncommon. Luminaries like Baron Henri James de Rothschild and André Citroën played here.
In the 1950s, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis gained a majority stake in SBM, a move which infuriated Prince Rainier III. It took several years, but the sovereign managed to force the big investor out.
The Principality has maintained controlling interest in the company ever since, expanding gambling operations in Monte Carlo while investing in new technology and upgrading facilities.
One aspect of gambling in Monte Carlo that has never been challenged is the exclusion of Monégasque natives from its casinos. Gambling exists to provide revenues to the state, not to take it from citizens. Only visitors showing foreign passports are allowed on the gaming floor.
Still the Place to Play
Today, SBM describes what Monte Carlo offers its guests as “a brilliant blend of luxury, creativity, tradition and audacity…privilege, emotion, a legend, a wide palette of pleasures, fitness and well-being, and real innovation in conditions one normally only dreams about.” They speak of the “Monte-Carlo signature…a new art of living, unique throughout the world.”
Strip away the hyperbole, and what visitors really find is five casinos with 21 gaming rooms and 1,160 slot machines. Table games range from traditional Roulette, Baccarat, and Chemin de Fer to American innovations like Blackjack, Craps, Stud Poker, and a version of Texas Hold’em played against the croupier.
With its crystal chandeliers, frescoed ceilings, tuxedoed croupiers, and high-stakes wagering, Casino de Monte-Carlo remains the centerpiece of gambling in Monaco, Europe, and arguably the entire world.
Most of its games are open each day from 2pm; there is a €10 entrance fee; and “sensible dress” is required. Admission to the Salons Privés (private rooms) requires payment of an additional €10 fee and men must wear jackets after 8pm.
Mindful that elegant, old-school gambling is not for everyone, SBM has developed the Casino Café de Paris as its center for slots and American-style table games, open from 10am daily.
The Monte Carlo Bay Casino is ultra-contemporary in design, featuring only machine games, with bets starting at €0.10. And the “trendy” Sun Casino offers festive Las Vegas-style gambling, with the very latest in imported games.
The “Summer Casino” is only open from 10pm nightly during vacation season. It is an entertainment feature of the Sporting Monte-Carlo peninsula, a complex that combines restaurants, bars, and a discotheque with the district’s famous concert hall.
But “playing in Monte Carlo” means much more than betting nowadays. SBM operates the Monte Carlo Golf Club with its 18 holes of panoramic views, the Monte Carlo Country Club with championship-level clay tennis courts, and Monte Carlo Beach Club for water sports of all varieties.
There are four health and wellness spas, seven different bars and nightclubs, three performing arts venues, and more than two dozen restaurants under SBM’s management, too, not to mention the dozens of Monte Carlo entertainment venues owned by others.
And then there are the events. Monte Carlo’s calendar is full year-round and includes some of the biggest tourist attractions in Europe, not the least of which is the auto race that has never been called the “Monte Carlo” Grand Prix.
Each spring, the streets of Monte Carlo and La Condamine are transformed for three days into the “Circuit de Monaco” for Formula One racing. The Grand Prix de Monaco (its official name) is one of motor racing’s greatest events, with a history tracing back to 1929 and a layout notorious for snakelike narrow passages, tight turns, and a unique tunnel.
Its famous champions include Monaco native Louis Chiron, Britain’s Graham Hill and Sir Stirling Moss, Austrian “Niki” Lauda, Frenchman Alain Prost, Brazilian Ayrton Senna, and German Michael Schumacher.
Monte Carlo also hosts the annual Historic Monaco Grand Prix featuring vintage race cars and the Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo along the French Riviera each January.
Beyond its reputation for fast cars, Monte Carlo is also the venue for the prestigious Monte Carlo Open Tennis Event in April and the Marathon de Monaco et des Riviera covering three countries in November.
Monte Carlo’s opera season extends from January through April, leading up to its annual Arts Festival capped by performances of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo and the Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Bal de la Rose (Rose Ball) charity event is held each March at Monte Carlo’s Salle des Etoiles. And Monégasque National Holiday is celebrated with fireworks here every November 19th.
The Truth about Monte Carlo
Once the many myths about Monte Carlo have been dispelled, an undeniable truth remains—it is still one of the world’s most exciting destinations, not only for the rich and famous, but also for holiday makers of all walks of life. And the more you know about the real Monte Carlo, the more fascinating it becomes.
For example, the dish known as crepes suzette is native to Monte Carlo. A crepe is prepared in a chafing dish tableside, served hot with a sauce of sugar, orange juice, and Grand Marnier liqueur. Brandy poured over the crepe is lit on fire for a spectacular dining effect. But the original came about quite by accident.
In 1895, a fourteen year-old assistant waiter named Henri Carpentier (1880-1961) was working at Monte Carlo’s Café de Paris and preparing a pancake-like dessert for England’s Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII (1841-1910).
While Carpentier was working in front of a chafing dish, the cordials caught fire. Rather than admit his mistake, the youngster served the dish, which the Prince ate with relish and named after his table companion, Suzette.
Although dining in Monte Carlo is strongly affected by French and Italian cuisines, there are a number of traditional Monégasque dishes that visitors may wish to try. Barbagiuan is a special fritter-like pastry stuffed with a filling of pumpkin and rice.
Fougasse is a flat, crunchy biscuit sprinkled with sugared anise seeds, flavored with rum and orange-flower water, and often decorated with almonds and nuts. Local cod recipes include spicy Stocafi simmered in tomatoes and herbs and salty Brandamincium cooked in garlic, oil, and cream and served with a local vegetable called cardoon (artichoke thistle).
Among other little known facts about Monte Carlo is that the legal gambling age is 18, not 21. Only about one in five Monte Carlo residents are Monégasque; some 125 nationalities are represented in Monaco, the majority being immigrants carrying French or Italian passports. And the only way to reach Monte Carlo by air is via helicopter, as Monaco has no airport of its own.
Perhaps the best time of all to visit Monte Carlo is in the summer, when the temperatures along the Riviera are perfect for outdoor activities, from beachcombing to al fresco dining. SBM organizes an annual “Sporting Summer Festival,” which last from early July through late August, featuring concerts by top international artists, such as Stevie Wonder and Julio Iglesias.
There are weekend fireworks displays. And on clear nights the roof can be opened on the Summer Casino for gambling under the stars.
Room rates in Monte Carlo tend to vary from high to astronomical. The typical cost of a night at the five-star Hôtel de Paris, for example, is €1,176, but accommodations at three-star hotels are also available, such as the Alexandra Hotel with prices averaging around €121. Early booking can affect costs, as can the selection of holiday packages.
It is never too early to start planning a vacation in Monte Carlo—still Europe’s most beloved playground.