How to be Breathless in Monaco

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Urban Walks in the South of France

With a trip to the Jardin Exotique, you always win

Monaco mainly consists of concrete, and the few green spaces that you come across when exploring the streets of the principality all have an air of unrealness about them – as though the trees would all go up in a puff of smoke if you looked at them hard enough or, more likely, were revealed as cleverly conceived holograms when approached from the wrong angle. Once, when we checked a suspiciously lush lawn in the gardens opposite the casino, the “grass” turned out to be made from plastic fibres that had been glued to a rubber carpet: the green, green grass of foam.

This may be a tempting metaphor for the whole experience of modern-day Monaco, but the real story of the principality is not quite as simple as that. Monaco is not all false glitter and empty dazzle: just as the town’s jewelry shops also exhibit, right next to the gold-plated ammo pack (apparently this year’s must-have accessory of every Serbian warlord), some pieces of breath-taking beauty and elegance, the city has not only room for rubber lawns but also for one of the Riviera’s finest and most gorgeous gardens, the Jardin Exotique on the principality’s north-western frontier.

"View from Jardin Exotique will leave you breathless in Monaco"

Monaco may be one of the smallest states in the world, but what it lacks in horizontal extension, it makes up in vertical height.

Climbing up to the Jardin Exotique from the Place d’Armes (next to the Fontvieille shopping centre and the stairway that leads you up the Rock into the Old Town) is, however, part of the fun, not least because it takes you through some little-known and rarely-visited streets of Monaco (yes, they do exist).

Alternatively, however, you can also avail yourself of the nearly seamless sequence of public elevators that are provided to take you up one level at a time. (It is worth while recalling that, while the citizens of Monaco may be, on average, quite wealthy, they are also, on average, rather past the first flush of youth.)

Either way, whether you make your way on foot or by cabin, you will pass the Parc Princesse Antoinette on the last stretch of your way on the Boulevard du Jardin Exotique. The views of old Monaco, perched on the Rock, with Fontvieille harbour at its feet …

"Le Rocher in Monaco seen from Jardin Exotique"

… are nearly as spectacular as those that you will later get from the Jardin Exotique, and they are free to boot. (Entrance to the Garden will cost you € 7 pp). Plus, you are greeted at the entrance by a pair of parrots …

"Parrot dolls at entrance of a garden in Monaco"

… one of which I immediately recognized as a member of that fabled species, the Norwegian Blue. (It was the beautiful plumage that gave the bird away. That and the fact that it had been nailed to the perch. Come to think of it, it was a rather dead parrot. I think, I shall register a complaint.)

Leave the park and turn left to find the Jardin Exotique about 200 m further up the Boulevard. The map they will give you at the entrance features a recommended itinerary which will lead you gently down the cliff, past hundreds of different species of cacti and succulents (the Garden’s specialty) …

"Jardin Exotique - breathless in Monaco"

… glorious panoramic views of Old Town …

"Old town and the port seen from the Jardin Exotique"

… and new town alike …

"Fontvieille Harbour in Monaco seen from jardin Exotique"

… to the Observatory Cave at the foot of the Jardin. Some of the interestingly shaped stalagmites and stalactites in the caverns appear to echo the decorations and architectural features of a church which is why the place has also been dubbed the “Underground Cathedral”.

"Inside the grotto in the Jardin Exotique - breathless in Monaco

You can only visit the caves as part of a guided tour (which is included in the entrance fee). At this time of the year, off-season, such tours are only conducted hourly, but be patient: the experience is certainly worth the wait. Just one word of caution: the trip into the cave will take you 300 steps down and then up again – before, on top of all the climbing you will already have done to get to the Jardin in the first place, you still have to march up the stairway from the cave back to the top of the garden: there is no other exit. And this time, no elevator stands by to take you. It is altogether fair to say that a trip to the Jardin Exotique may leave you breathless in Monaco in more ways than one.

"Monaco football stadium seen from Jardin Exotique"

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15 comments to How to be Breathless in Monaco

  • The cave is worth visiting, Breanna. Thanks for dropping by!

  • Whoa! Those caves look amazing. Adding that to my (ever growing) bucket list!

  • I am a garden lover too. Thanks. Nice images.

  • Thanks, Laura. We currently live in Menton, so really it’s just a bus hop away. And we’re still discovering things about the Principality as we go along.

  • Such a lovely post and Monaco is an amazing place. I used to live in Nice which is located fairly close to Monaco and I loved going on day trips to this beautiful state. Thanks so much for sharing and wonderful photos

    Laura x

  • Glad this post could help, Patti. Yes, Monaco is worth a day trip. Just don’t stay inside the Casino too long.

  • Timely post, we’ll be traveling through the south of France at the end of May and have been giving thought to visiting Monaco on a day trip. Seems so mysterious. I always think of the Cary Grant movie, “To Catch a Thief” with Grace Kelly when I think of Monaco.

  • Most people are like you and your husband, Linda. We were the same when we came there for the first time. Found it uninteresting, we didn’t even stay for more than half a day. Now that we live in the area, we’ve discovered so many parts not many tourists get to see. To the advantage of our readers! Thanks for dropping by!.

  • I am definitely a garden lover. Very excited to learn that there’s a garden like this in Monaco, as I know little more about the country than it’s a principality with a high-end casino.

    Like Oliver I didn’t know there’s an old town. We adore old places like that – love losing ourselves among ancient architecture – and to be honest that’s one of the reasons we were planning to visit Monaco for a day and leave after we’d seen the beach and casino. I guess we’ll have to reconsider and spend a bit of time there after all. Thanks for showing a more interesting part of the country.

  • Thanks, Oliver! Great to see you drop by.

  • Didn’t know about the old town, good shot of it though!

  • They sure are, Agata. Worth the climb up there!

  • Just imagine yourself lounging by the Sablettes when it gets really cold in the UK, Isobel!

  • Wow! The views are absolutely breathtaking! I have never heard about this garden before but if I ever go to Monaco I’ll make sure to visit this place! Thanks for this useful tip!

  • isobel

    Thankyou Michael a wonderful article with beautiful piccies just what is needed on a cold winters day in the UK….. Monaco is certainly a great place to visit…

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