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A sovereign and independent state, the Principality of Monaco has borders on its landward side with several communes of the French Department of the Alpes-Maritimes; from west to east these are Cap d'Ail, la Turbie, Beausoleil and Roquebrune Cap Martin. Seawards, Monaco faces the Mediterranean.This tiny principality  occupying a steep, rocky coastline between the French Alps and the Mediterranean, has become the world's most elegant playground, a fantasy world that cunningly attracts all of society's strata and a lot of its cash. Celebrities, royalty, and the monied classes play expensive games in the casinos' inner sanctums, stay in hotels that easily outshine the palaces of the real royals, and partake of food and entertainment that (at their best) rival most others on this planet.
Economic development was spurred in the late 19th century with a railroad linkup to France and the opening of a casino. Since then, the principality's mild climate, splendid scenery, and gambling facilities have made Monaco world famous as a tourist and recreation center.

Under Prince Rainier III, Monaco runs like a state-of-the-art entertainment machine. Monaco became a property of the Grimaldi clan, a Genoese family, as early as 1297. With shifting loyalties, it has maintained something resembling independence ever since. In a fit of impatience the French annexed it in 1793, but the ruling family recovered it in 1814; however, the prince at that time couldn't bear to tear himself away from the pleasures of Paris for "dreary old Monaco."  Monaco--or rather its capital of Monte Carlo--has for a century been a symbol of glamour. Its legend was further enhanced by the 1956 marriage of the man who was at that time the world's most eligible bachelor, Prince Rainier III, to the American actress Grace Kelly. She had met the prince when she was in Cannes for the film festival to promote To Catch a Thief, the Hitchcock movie she made with Cary Grant. A journalist friend arranged a Paris Match photo shoot with the prince--and the rest is history. The Monégasques welcomed the birth of daughter Caroline in 1957, but went wild at the birth of Albert, a male heir, in 1958. According to a 1918 treaty, Monaco will become an autonomous state under French protection should the ruling dynasty become extinct. However, the fact that Albert is still a bachelor has the entire principality concerned. The third royal daughter, Stephanie, was born in 1965. Though not always happy in her role, Princess Grace soon won the respect and adoration of her people. In 1982, a sports car she was driving, with her daughter Stephanie as a passenger, plunged over a cliff, killing Grace but only injuring Stephanie. The Monégasques still mourn her death. The boutiques and shops here are second to none for fashions, accessories, just about anything from the luxurious to the sublime. But you will find no more original gift than the Monegasque handicrafts sold at the boutiques operated by the Princess Grace Foundation. There is something of a personality cult rising around the memory of Princess Grace since her tragic automobile accident a decade ago.

The population of the Principality consists of 29,972 inhabitants, 5,070 of whom are Monégasques, 12,047 French and 5,000 Italian (according to the last official census in 1990). Its surface area is 485 acres, of which nearly 100 were recovered from the sea during the course of the last twenty years.It lies in a narrow coastal strip which sometimes rises vertically upwards with its highest point at 206 feet. Its width varies between .65 miles and a mere 382 yards. Its coastline is 2.5 miles long.The Principality has only one commune, Monaco, whose limits are the same as those of the state.

But it would be a decided mistake to think of Monaco solely as a gaming capital. It is an unending surprise to see how so much has been squeezed into so little. The principality is divided into several sections. Monaco Town is located on a small peninsula that juts into the sea encompassing the famous Port. Here are located the narrow alleys, shops, and cafes of Old Town. Places worth seeing are the Oceanographic Museum and its Aquarium-- spotlighting the work of Jacques Cousteau, the Museum of Monaco, the Museum of Napoleonic Souvenirs and, best of all, the Prince's Palace. While you can't go into the state apartments, much is open to the public-- including the Throne Room, in use since the 16th century.

Perhaps the most unusual area is the Exotic Gardens and Observatory Cave. The gardens are laid out along the mountain side (really a cliff), and contain more than 7,000 varieties of succulent plants from all over the world. The view is spectacular, and if this weren't enough, stairs from the gardens lead 60 meters down to a prehistoric cave complete with world-class stalagmites, stalactites, and limestone concretions. Also nearby (isn't everything in Monaco?) the Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology traces the history of the human race with exciting finds, generally local.

In addition, there's the newly installed Seabus submarine that leaves from the main harbor and allows passengers a view of Monaco's underwater landscape through its transparent acrylic hull. You can explore unusual terrestrial flora and fauna in La Condamine and Fontvielle. Monaco's famous zoological garden is operated in accordance with today's new thinking , where work is done to save numerous endangered species. Fontvielle Park provides a haven of calm greenery and a freshwater pond with ducks and swans. Nearby is the Princess Grace Rose Garden, another serene hideaway fragrant with the scent of more than 3,500 rose trees. In this, as in all specialized endeavors of the Prince, experts from around the world were called in for guidance. Schlock and compromise are words unknown here. Also in the quarter is the Louis II stadium, one of the world's largest and finest sports complexes and scene of a multitude of international sports competitions.

Finally there is the casino area itself, with its beautifully kept gardens leading to the shopping area. As you would expect, this is the place for cosmopolitan shopping with a French accent.

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