Ah, Monaco. Where to begin? What to discuss? Monaco is the dream topic for a lifestyle section, yet partly because of this it has been giving me a bit of a headache. Perhaps it would be easier if I had actually visited… anyone have a spare few thousand Euros they could lend me?
It’s not just the challenging track or the history of the event that makes this Grand Prix a special one. It’s something about the glitz and glamour of the principality itself.
Firstly, a bit of history. How did Monaco come to be? It all starts on the Rock of Monaco. The name is possibly derived from the phrase ‘Herakles Monoïkos’ (Hercules alone). Apparently the Greek hero passed through the area, and the port is still called Port Hercules today.
Monaco fell under Roman rule before the fall of the empire, and there followed much fighting and recapturing and changing hands until June 10, 1215. Now a colony of Genoa, construction began on a fortress on the Rock of Monaco.
There was tension in Genoa between the Ghibellines, loyal to the Emperor, and the Guelphs, faithful to the Pope. Monaco was fought over by the two sides, until Francesco Grimaldi of the Guelph party captured the Rock of Monaco in 1297 dressed as a monk. Today the coat of arms depicts two armed Franciscan monks.
In 1861, Monaco exchanged part of its territory for cash and independence from France. Prince Charles III, ruler at the time, decided that tourism and gambling were the ways to kick-start the economy. He created the Société des Bains de Mer, and the company’s establishments developed into modern-day Monte Carlo. Monte Carlo actually means ‘Mount Charles’, after Charles III. Nowadays, the Société des Bains de Mer is Monaco’s largest employer.
Monaco is the second-smallest country in the world, roughly the size of New York’s Central Park.
As well as one of the first major casinos in the world, the main square of Monte Carlo, Place du Casino, is home to Loews Casino, Café de Paris, Hotel Metropole and Hôtel de Paris. The Hôtel de Paris has two Michelin-starred restaurants: Le Grill, and Louis XV, which has three Michelin stars.
Honoré II, Lord of Monaco, was the first to be called Prince.
Until 2002, if the reigning prince produced no heirs, he could either adopt – and break the Grimaldi line – or Monaco would revert to French control. Now the crown can pass to women – sisters of the Prince or their descendants.
The official language is French, but the national Monégasque language has many similarities with Italian.
Native Monégasques are actually in the minority living in the principality (19%). Many of the residents move to Monaco, at least temporarily, because of…
Money, Money, Money
Given that there is no income tax in Monaco, it is popular with wealthy Europeans. Back in 2002, it was estimated that the money leaving Britain for Monaco each year was a loss to the Treasury of £1 billion.
Monaco has an unemployment rate of 0% and the highest number of billionaires per capita in the world. The most expensive street in the world is Avenue Princesse Grace, named after film star Grace Kelly, who became part of the royal family when she married Prince Rainier III in 1956.
So how does it generate an income? Monaco was sustained by its casinos for years. (Although, interestingly, Monaco citizens cannot gamble in the casinos.) Tourism is still one of the main sources of income. However, if you’re planning a visit, make sure you take enough spending money – a glass of champagne can cost up to €40.
Formula One and Monaco
If you’re going for the Grand Prix (lucky you), you can check out the car collection of Prince Rainier III at the Prince’s Palace, which boasts several F1 cars.
You can also spot celebrities: Will Smith, George Lucas, David Hasselhoff, Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio have all previously been in Monte Carlo for this most prestigious of Grands Prix.
And of course, you’re bound to spot an F1 driver, past or present. A popular place for them to stay is the Columbus Hotel, formerly owned by David Coulthard, where Vettel, Webber and Alonso have all stayed. Outside of the GP week, you might even run into Hamilton, Button, Coulthard, Rosberg, or one of the many F1 drivers that call the principality home.