Last weekend, I watched tennis star Rafael Nadal make a European clay court comeback by winning the ATP Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters. And this week in 1956, Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in a spectacular ceremony watched around the world. So my recent trip to Monaco has been on my mind. When I was there, I realized that I learned almost everything I know about Monaco from Hollywood movies and newsreels.
I arrived in Monaco by way of nearby Cannes, France. This made sense to me, because my knowledge of the French Riviera begins at Cannes’ famous Carlton Hotel, where director Alfred Hitchcock filmed his 1955 movie classic “To Catch a Thief.”
Much of the recent history of the French Riviera was influenced by the filming of that movie. Prince Rainier III of Monaco was dazzled by the film’s leading lady, Grace Kelly, and he arranged to meet her when she visited the Cannes Film Festival in 1955. A year later, she returned to become Princess Grace of Monaco. I visited the Saint Nicholas Cathedral, where the royal wedding took place.
Today, the exterior of the cathedral looks just the same as it did in the royal wedding newsreels. The final resting places of both Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III are inside.
Monaco covers less than a square mile of territory, so it was easy to explore on foot. The streets twist up the cliffs, but the payoff for the steep climb is the magnificent view. I have never seen so many beautiful yachts in one place. The marina was full and the harbor was densely dotted with yachts of every size.
I stopped to watch the changing of the guard at the Grimaldi Palace, which looks more like a fortress than a European palace. It was built as a stronghold because the very existence of tiny Monaco was precarious for centuries. The flag showing the Grimaldi coat of arms was flying, which meant that the current monarch, Prince Albert, was home.
In the shadow of the palace, I found a small patio restaurant hidden just off the main thoroughfare. There I enjoyed a typical French lunch of mussels and frites. It takes forever to eat mussels, so it was the perfect meal for relaxing and enjoying the view.
The highlight of my afternoon was a visit to the glamorous Casino de Monte-Carlo. I knew what to expect, of course, because I have seen plenty of James Bond movies. Think “GoldenEye,” which was filmed here around 1995.
No cameras are allowed in the casino, but tourists are welcome to visit the gaming rooms on the lower floor. The real action, however, is in the by-admission-only salons upstairs. The high-rollers who gamble upstairs get to park at the front door.
On the day I visited, many tourists were charting the route of the famous Monte Carlo Grand Prix. I would like to tell you that my knowledge of the celebrated Formula One race comes exclusively from the 1966 Academy Award winning film, “Grand Prix,” but that’s not exactly true. I must admit to other cinematic influences.
Although the motion picture triumph that is “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo” didn’t focus on the same race, I got the gist. I knew enough to climb my way up to the legendary and treacherous hairpin turn near the casino.
Back near the casino entrance, I capped off my day with the most expensive ice cream of my life. It was the perfect end to my Monaco for Movie Lovers day, and it was worth every Euro!