As a seasonal break from living up on the mountain we had the opportunity of spending Christmas in the church flat in Cannes, something that we thoroughly enjoyed. (Thanks Giles and Chris.) It was a relief to attend the Christmas Eve midnight service without having to think about an hour’s drive back up afterwards.
Normally on the day after Christmas (a holiday in the UK) we try to go for a walk and this year we excelled ourselves by – wait for it – walking across an entire country. Mind you it wasn’t terribly hard as Monaco (with an area of 2 km²) is the world’s smallest state after Vatican City. We took an hour’s train journey from Cannes to Monaco, eventually found our way out of the subterranean railway station and started walking around.
Monaco is one of those places that seems instantly familiar because you have seen it in so many films (think James Bond). So there was a distinct déjà vu feel about seeing the casino at Monte Carlo (a district of Monaco). The secret to Monaco’s success is its stunning position on a steep slope down to the Mediterranean and the fact that, courtesy of the gambling, there is no income tax. The result is that it has accumulated more than its fair share of the very wealthy and is incredibly densely packed. You could spend a long time gazing at the yachts in the harbour and the watches, handbags and clothes in the very exclusive store windows. Monaco oozes not just wealth, but conspicuous, flaunt it, in-your-face wealth.
If that had been all that there was to Monaco I think we would have been unimpressed. However there is another side: the old town complete with a palace, castle walls, cathedral and narrow winding streets. There were lots of posters announcing the birth of royal twins to remind us that there is a monarchy here.
That is something that fascinates the French who rather carelessly mislaid their own royal family two centuries ago and have clearly been hankering for one of their own ever since. There were even a few elegantly dressed members of the Monégasque Armed Forces, which totalling 136 in number are not likely to present threat to anybody. In short there’s something about this part of Monaco that reminds you of Tintin: it’s a Ruritania-sur-Mer, jutting out into the Mediterranean.
Possibly the high point of our visit was the famous Oceanographic Museum which has an excellent aquarium section with not just fish but a whole range of marine life, all carefully documented, sensitively presented and with a very strong emphasis on marine preservation. (At some point Chris must make a professional visit.) Getting back to Cannes and reading up on Monaco we realised that we had inadvertently walked the entire length of the Monaco Grand Prix: which must be one of the daftest ideas any city has ever had.
So we are now back in the windswept and distinctly uncrowded Domaine Des Courmettes where it is thinking about snowing. Some figures to think about. Monaco has a population of 37,000 people in a mere 200 hectares. The Domaines Des Courmettes has about ten people: us and two farming families in 600 hectares. It’s odd to think that ‘our garden’ is three times the size of Monaco.