Cote d Azure. Cannes. Monaco. Nice. Money. Money. Money. This corner of the Mediterranean where France meets Italy and is briefly interrupted by Monaco is a special place, but perhaps not quite as special as it costs to be here. The coast here is protected by high mountains which keep away most of the northern winter winds. It snows once every ten years and the beautiful people come here to escape the cold and see and be seen.
A series of three roads, the lower, upper and middle Corniche cling to the hillsides and provide a stunning view of the villages and the blue sea below. Only the skilled driver should be allowed on the Corniche. Our bus driver today could thread the eye of a needle with the coach. He picked us up in a walled in area that had been a fortification. We were hemmed in on all side including overhead where a stone arch hovered precariously close.
We drove to Monaco, one of the smallest independent countries in the world. It was put on the map by its prince in 1878 when he built the first casino in Europe here. No other country allowed gambling then and by the end of the first year, Monaco's residents never had to pay any sort of tax again; the casino profits paid for it all. The fairy tale marriage between movie star Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier brought the world's attention to the area again. The movie stars who were Grace's friends visited and movie stars have been flocking here ever since. Nearby the Cannes film festival is also a draw for the glitterati. And the lack of taxes has brought the attention of the world's richest folks to the area for decades. If you purchase a condo and live here for 178 days a year, you are considered a resident for tax purposes. Because Monaco is so small and so much wealth is concentrated here, real estate is unbelievably expensive. A home recently sold here for 469 million Euros. (Multiply that number by 1.5 to get the dollar price.) Every luxury purveyor of goods has a shop here. The harbor teems with yachts that rival our cruise ship. The climate is mild and the views spectacular, but the buildings are so wedged together, living here isn't all that appealing. (Sour grapes?) But living on one of those yachts in the harbor would be mighty fine.
We walked past the homes of Princess Caroline and Stephanie. Nice but not all that nice. They live a block away from the church where their parents married and are now buried beneath the floor. At the nearby palace where Prince Albert lives, the changing of the guard ceremony is a tourist draw. Many of these buildings are old, but very well maintained. The cobble stoned streets are immaculate and all the cobblestones lie flat and level. It gave the place a Disney-like atmosphere. The other places we've seen this trip have showed some natural wear and tear, but here everything is perfect. The plants in the flower beds looked like they had just been put in the ground. There are more police in Monaco per capita than anywhere else in the world. Tourists don't have to worry about getting their pockets picked here.
We were allowed to go inside the casino that sparked all the wealth, but were not allowed to take photographs. Gamblers who arrive after 7pm, must dress up, but during the day tourists in athletic shoes are OK. Still it had a different atmosphere from casinos in other places like Las Vegas. It was decorated in a classic, opulent way, but the sound and feel was muted. When someone hit the jack pot on a machine, only those nearby would be aware of it.
An equally picturesque stop on our tour was a medieval village at the top of a hillside called Eze. These days the quaint homes and buildings are mostly shops and restaurants, but it gave a clear impression of how life used to be here. The buildings are perched precariously on the hills and there is no room for cars. Around every corner we found another spot to photograph.