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Monte-Carlo

Who does not recognize the name Monte-Carlo? It is one of the four quartiers of Monaco, centered around a casino opened in 1861, and is known throughout Europe and the world as the playground of the wealthy. Among the attractions in Monte-Carlo are an opera house built over a century ago and the International Sporting Club. Gambling tables are open only to visitors to Monaco, not natives, and you should bring your passport if you want to get in; only those who can prove they are over 21 are allowed through the doors. And even then, if you're not properly dressed with jacket and tie, you won't be allowed in the back rooms.

Monte-Carlo rests at the base of the Maritime Alps and is on the Mediterranean; on the furthest east edge is a very nice beach. Other outdoor activities here include the Monte Carlo Tennis Tournament, held during the spring arts festival, and the Grand Prix de Monaco in mid-May.

Attractions

The Casino is the premier attraction of Monte-Carlo, and all roads in Monte-Carlo lead to it. It has towers at the corners and great bronze angels sitting on the roof, presumably to watch over the gamblers that enter the doors. Inside is a theater that hosts excellent opera and other shows. Restaurants, nightclubs, bars, and gaming rooms make up the bulk of the Casino. If you're a gambler, the most sought-after play is the Salles Privees, where the most competitive high-stakes gambling goes on.

The Casino's frescos are well-known, particularly the ceiling at the main bar, where nude women puffing on cigars keep their feet modestly covered. In front of the Casino is the Boulengrins, a formal garden with surprisingly tropical and exotic plants. And at the end of the Boulengrins is the main street of the town. Only a couple of blocks uphill is France again. The entire principality of Monaco is less than half the size of Central Park in New York City.

You might also try the Sun Casino in the Monte Carlo Grand Hotel for more serious gambling, and maybe even some celebrity sightseeing.

If you don't care for gambling, you'll find tamer delights around the Exotic Gardens, where a museum quarter has sprung up. The Gardens hang on a cliff, with an excellent view of everything, and the best museums in Monaco can be found here.

Or you can try the Opera de Monte-Carlo, with its 18-ton gilt-bronze chandelier and more frescos, attached to the Casino. Its main auditorium was first sung in by Sarah Bernhardt in 1879. A museum of 18th and 19th century automatons, the Musee National, can be reached by taking an elevator down from Place des Moulins; you'll also find Larvotto Beach, created with imported sand, and a pretty rose garden.

The Printemps des Arts, from early April to mid-May, is an excellent spring arts festival encompassing many performance arts and bringing the best talents from all over Europe.

Where to stay

If you have money to spend, the Monte Carlo Grand Hotel is gigantic, ultramodern, and caters to your every whim. Amenities include three restaurants, a bar, and a casino, as well as a cabaret and every imaginable comfort. If you don't have a ton to spend, you are probably better off staying at a smaller chain hotel outside of Monaco.

If you want to stay in Monaco, be sure to remember that prices are high here, and space is at a premium.