Monday, January 23, 2012

MONACO (Part One)

In honor of the birthday of  Princess Caroline (on January 23), I thought I’d revisit 
                         the International Capital of Luxury:  
              The Principality of Monaco

                                                          -PART ONE-

We made our way from the southern tip of France (a post of its own to come), cruising for 30 minutes along the winding road that hugs the mountain and opens a grand view of the sparkling Cote d’Azur below.  

 We parked the rental car about a five-minute walk away from Old town, Monaco-Ville, as you’re only allowed to drive in with Monaco license plates. The walk itself was worth it; an enchanting sight of flowers cascading down balconies over spotless sidewalks lined by lush shrubbery.
We arrived at the Palace Square in Old Town in time to catch the Changing of the Guards in front of the Prince’s Palace. 
The ceremony takes place daily at exactly 11:55 a.m.

The white dress uniforms are worn in summer and for winter the guards don black. We learned that guarding the Palace and keeping the Prince safe aren’t the only duties these fellows have; they are also in charge of escorting ceremonial processions (civil and religious), helping the Monaco Red Cross and providing security for sports and public events. Some are trained scuba divers for underwater security and nautical events, and they monitor water pollution (which to me seems nonexistent in these waters). The motorcycle troop escorts the Prince and any important people visiting him. And my favorite: the guards help children from the Saint Devote daycare center! (There is also an Honor Guard and a Palace Military Brass band, but we didn’t get to see them).

After watching the guards perform the change with precision, we moved to the next item on our wish list: The Palais Princier de Monaco (the Prince’s Palace). While it is a private residence, the State Apartments adjacent to it are open to the public from April to October.  It is well worth the 7 euro fee, to say the least! We had some time before the next tour, so we grabbed a light lunch at one of the small cafes by the Square. 

The Palace was built in 1215 (yes, it’s ancient!) and Prince Rainier III restored it to the fabulous palace it used to be. I wish I had photos to show its magnificent details.  As you enter, you first pass through Gallerie des Glaces (the Mirror Gallery), which is an imitation of Versailles and is used for visiting heads of state and royalty. The mirrors give you the illusion of never-ending rooms. The first of the apartment’s rooms is the Red Room with magnificent paintings and furnishings in the style of Louis XV. I had visited castles before, but this was pret-ty fancy. Next, we step in the York Room that displays royal portraits. It was named after the Duke of York, the brother of King George III. In the center of the room stands a mosaic table (made of marble) and the rest of the furniture is ornate ebony. An interesting Bouille clock catches my eye. The walls are lined with gorgeous frescoes of the four seasons. Louis XV’s bedroom is next. It’s called the Yellow Room.  Fabulous tapestries and period furniture fill this room. There is also a portrait of Princess Louise-Hippolyte.  Next, the Officers’ Room is for greeting guests for receptions. As we walk on, the blue silk and Italian gilt walls and the Venetian chandelier hanging from the ceiling take my breath away. This is the Blue Room. It displays Grimaldi portraits and might just be my favorite. It is used for formal receptions –and wouldn’t you like to be among the invitees! An eye catcher in the Throne Room is, well, the Empire style royal throne, with a red silk velvet canopy and the royal crown on top. Above it boasts the Grimaldi Coat of Arms, its motto “Deo Juvante” (With God’s Help). Fantastic frescoes cover the walls and the ceiling. (We're tempted to have a sit on the throne, but think it best to mind the guide). Next, we feast our eyes on the best of Italian woodwork that fills the Mazarin Room. Apparently the Cardinal Mazarin brought it all to France from Italy and it now adorns the room that carries his name. (Cardinal Mazarin’s niece married into the Grimaldi family –hence the connection). The Cardinal’s portrait hangs over the fireplace. Another Cardinal, Roncalli (later know as Pope John XXII) stayed in the room that we enter next. However, this room is called the Louis XXII Bedroom. Approaching the end of the tour, we enter the Matignon anti-room, named after Lord Matignon who married Princess Louise-Hippolyte in 1715. (We couldn’t quite figure out why it is called the anti-room, except that it’s the last room before the actual last one of the State Apartments -so it’s like antipasti, or appetizer to the last room?). The State Hall concludes our tour. It connects the palace’s south and east wings and serves as the entrance to the dining room and the private apartments of the Royal Family, with a magnificent marble staircase. All the floors of the State Apartment rooms are laid with marble (Carrira).
Not too shabby.

For just another euro you can visit the Museum of Napoleon Souvenirs, with collections of over 1000 objects and documents of the Emperor, plus garments of the King of Rome, etc , etc. We ran out of time to do it all.

We did spot ourselves a celebrity, though. Princess Caroline was just entering her black sedan as we crossed the street not thirty feet from her. She glanced at us - we were sure she flashed a smile- and with all the elegance of a Princess in her smart designer skirt and blazer she slipped in the car and they whisked her away. I googled her and found out that she’s been appointed president (by her father) to a number of foundations. Among them are the Ballet of Monte Carlo (to carry out Princess Grace’s wish) and the l’AMADE Mondiale (Worldwide Association of Children’s Friends), created by Princess Grace in 1963 to protect children from physical and psychological abuse.  Princess Caroline was also appointed a UNESCO Goodwill ambassador by its director to recognize her commitment to protecting children and promoting the education of women and children.

Have you ever (almost) met a Princess? Do you think you would like living in one of the State Apartment rooms in the Prince’s Palace?

1 comment:

  1. Wow, somehow, I don't remember you talking about that visit before! Keep posting these experiences you've been blessed with. I could almost picture the rooms in my mind. :)