954km (593 miles) S of Paris; 18km (11 miles) E of Nice
This sunny stretch of coast became the property of the Grimaldi clan in 1297, when one Francesco Grimaldi tricked his way into the fortress protecting the harbor. The dynasty has maintained something resembling independence ever since. In recent decades the clan has turned Monaco into the world’s chicest city-state, with its own mini-airport (with direct helicopter links to Nice and St-Tropez, no less).
Hemmed in by France on three sides and the Mediterranean on the fourth, this feudal anomaly harbors the world’s greatest number of billionaires per capita. And as almost everybody knows, the Monégasques do not pay taxes. Celebrity exiles—including tennis player Rafael Nadal and racing driver Lewis Hamilton—are attracted by the tax regime too. Nearly all of Monaco’s revenue comes from banking, tourism, and gambling. Better still, in an astute feat of cunning, local residents aren’t allowed to gamble away their inheritance, so visitors must bring a passport to play on the Principality’s famed poker, roulette, and blackjack tables.
Monaco, or, more precisely, its capital of Monte Carlo, has for a century been a symbol of glamour. The 1956 marriage of Prince Rainier III to actress Grace Kelly enhanced its status. She met the prince when she was in Cannes to promote “To Catch a Thief.” Their daughter Caroline was born in 1957; a son, Albert, in 1958; and a second daughter, Stephanie, in 1965. The actress’s life and times were recently relived on the silver screen in “Grace of Monaco.” Starring Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly, the movie opened at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.
Prince Rainier was nicknamed the “Builder Prince” as he expanded Monaco by building into the Mediterranean. Prince Albert took over from his late father in 2005 and burnishes his “Eco-Prince” credentials with pride. Newer, more environmentally conscious land-reclamation schemes near the Fairmont Hotel were announced in 2014, and work starts on this man-made yacht-lined peninsula soon. The Principality also has its own green car manufacturer, Venturi—although this marquee specializes in a typically Monégasque market for all-electric supercars.
Fortunately for the Grimaldi line, Albert married his girlfriend, South African swimmer Charlene Wittstock, in July 2011, now Her Serene Highness The Princess of Monaco. Despite rumors of a pre-wedding fallout, the couple are idolized in the Principality. Following a hasty course in both Monégasque dialect and European court protocol, Princess Charlene is now a familiar sight at society events. The royal couple’s official portrait has pride of place in every bar, hotel, and bakery in the land.