Monaco may be a playground for the rich and famous, but our day out there quickly became little more than a pit stop. We didn’t love it.
I had wanted to go for years. It has a reputation of glamour and sophistication, thanks to its Grand Prix, its status as a tax haven and its casino and its James Bond connection.
Well, all of that and its royal family, of course.
I loved Princess Stéphanie’s pop hits in the 1980s, when I was at university in Rennes. I’m still word perfect on Ouragan and Flash even now, 30 years or so later.
Monaco’s only-ever Eurovision winner, 1971’s Un Banc, Un Arbre, Une Rue by Séverine, remains one of my absolute favourite songs of all time too, but I digress.
I knew Monaco was small – at just over 2 sq km, you can walk round the principality in an hour. What I had failed to appreciate was just how close everything – and everybody – felt.
Apparently, Monaco is the most densely populated state in the world. Work is taking place to reclaim land from the sea – a large part of the coastline was hidden by construction hoardings during our visit on Sunday.
So, maybe it will lose this rather dubious title soon.
The people lived up to my preconceptions. Immaculate, slim, beautiful people strode the streets or drove by in their Maseratis, Porsches or Bentleys, doing their utmost to ignore visitors like us.
What surprised me most, though, is that Monaco has all the architectural charm of Benidorm. If you imagine it is all Belle Époque beauty, think on.
Its heyday would appear to have been in the 1960s and 1970s, judging by the plethora of ugly skyscrapers within the city-state. Each appears to have built entirely without any consideration for what is behind it.
“We had seen the town of Villefranche-sur-Mer from the train window. Its pretty houses of ochre and soft reds nestle around an azure bay”
Although we had planned to spend the whole day there on Sunday before catching our evening flight back to Lille, we changed our minds after about an hour. Instead we got back on the train to Nice.
On our way, we had seen the town of Villefranche-sur-Mer from the train window. Its pretty houses of ochre and soft reds nestle around an azure bay. It looked thoroughly enticing.
So, we stopped there. The town wasn’t really ready for visitors – many restaurants and cafés hadn’t opened for the season. However, we found a restaurant with a table overlooking the bay, so we sat back and enjoyed a relaxed lunch.
Monaco may not have lived up to our expectations, but our day turned out more than alright in the end.