With a total area of less than a square mile, it's not surprising that the nearest international commercial airport is actually in France. The journey from Nice can be made by taxi, coach or train, but the airport is just six or seven minutes away by helicopter from Monaco. The short hop offers a marvellous bird's-eye view of the world's second smallest country set on the beautiful Cote d'Azur close to the border between France and Italy.
Once on land again, you are surrounded by all the glamour of scenes familiar from the silver screen and, with the border between myth and reality in soft focus, you can't help but begin to feel like a star yourself. It's hard to believe so much splendour can exist in so tiny an area. And it's not just now, on the eve of the wedding between Prince Albert and Charlene Wittstock, that Monaco exudes elegance and refinement: hotels and spas offer the ultimate in luxury and indulgence, the restaurants serve haute cuisine, and all year round, the country's engagement diary is dotted with high-class cultural and sporting events.
Home of the Grimaldi's for over seven hundred years, the Prince's Palace was built on a fortress site dating from the thirteenth century; it is a full working palace and headquarters of government, but parts of the building are open to the public. In addition to the main courtyard, with stairs leading to the Hercules Gallery – from which, on grand state occasions, the monarch addresses his subjects in the courtyard below, the palace includes an unusual museum of Napoleonic memorabilia. Set on the Rock of Monaco, the oldest part of Monaco overlooking the port and the Mediterranean, the palace presides over the old town. Here, narrow streets and medieval squares are the setting for architectural jewels and picturesque corners including the Place Saint-Nicolas, the Placette Bosio, the Church of Mercy, the Cathedral and the exquisite St. Martin's gardens, which offer a breath-taking view of the Riviera.
Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium
The principality's flagship museum was founded by Prince Albert I who ascended the throne in 1889. This forbear of the current prince served in both the Spanish and French navies and had a great interest in oceanography and exploration. The museum is a tribute to the work of all those who helped shape this temple dedicated to the sea and to biodiversity, in particular the famous French ecologist and researcher Jacques Cousteau who was museum director for many years. As well as a wealth of exhibitions and displays of information about all aspects of sea life, the museum is also home to a vast aquarium with over 4,000 species of fish.
Monte Carlo Casino and Opera
Perhaps the most renowned of all the monuments in Monaco, the Monte Carlo Casino and Opera, designed by Charles Garnier, architect of the old Paris Opera, are surrounded by gardens and terraces. Here, too is the Buddha Bar a favourite among lovers of Asian food since its opening in June 2010. Close to the Place du Casino is the famous Carre d'Or – Monte Carlo's Golden Square – with its jewellery stores, chic boutiques and antique shops: a perfect place for some exclusive shopping.
From Condamine to Larvotto
Among the ten administrative wards into which Monaco is divided, Condamine is home to the Port of Hercules, where luxury yachts bob on the bright water and where a new exclusive club designed by Norman Foster is scheduled to open in 2014. Condamine is also home to the eleventh century chapel dedicated to Saint Devote, the patron saint of Monaco, where Charlene will lay her bouquet after the ceremony on Saturday. Moneghetti, located where the Alps reach down to the Med, is famous for its steep slopes; its impressive natural landscape includes tropical parks and caves studded with stalactites and stalagmites. Much of the land where Fontvieille is located has been reclaimed from the sea, and the ward is now home to the Louis II football stadium and the heliport with its links to France. Larvotto is known for its beaches and the legendary club where Princess Grace was often to be seen at galas and parties that filled the pages of the glossies. And then there's Monte Carlo itself, with its casino and luxury hotels, the setting of so many scenes in film and literature.
Circus, magic, concerts, opera, jazz... the Principality of Monaco boasts a busy cultural programme throughout the year, particularly in the summer season. Among the high-class venues available is the environmentally conscious Grimaldi Forum, one of Europe's leading centres for conferences, exhibitions, concerts and live performance.
Throughout the year, Monaco hosts many prestigious competitions and events: the Monaco Grand Prix, the Monte Carlo Rally, the Tennis Masters, the Herculis Monaco athletics meeting... Whenever you visit, there's bound to be something going on.
Brasserie de Monaco
This sleek, modern bar is an essential stop on any tour of the Principality. Here, where innovation meets tradition, you can sample the organic 'Biere de Monaco'; as well as the regular ale and lager – and beer-based cocktails – there are special limited edition brews available each month. The tempting menu of sweet and savoury snacks offers dishes made from local produce, either from Monaco itself, or brought from just over the border in neighbouring France and Italy. Above all, though, this is a place to see and be seen.
On the trail of Princess Grace
The upcoming nuptials promise a treat for royalty-watchers across the world, but it's hard to mention Monaco without remembering the fairy-tale romance of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly who left her mark all around the Principality. The 25-stop Princess Grace Trail is marked by information posts with photographs and explicatory captions. It offers a unique walk that takes in key points in her life and death from the Port of Hercules where she landed in April 1956 just days before her wedding, to the Cathedral where she is buried in a tomb that is kept decked with fresh flowers.
HELLO! is coming soon to an inbox near you. Sign up for our newsletter:
All the latest on the newest little royal