Found .. a haven on earth

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Models, film stars and Formula One racers have all made their home in this tiny principality on the French Riviera. Cleo Paskal reveals the making of Monaco.

Seven hundred years ago, the Cote d'Azur was a seething hotbed of ambitious Eurotrash. Various members of various well-endowed houses fought each other for prime beach-front property. One of the most coveted bits of real estate was a chunk of rock that jutted out into the Mediterranean, producing a natural lookout enhanced by a solid fort.

A son of one of the more disreputable Genoese families came up with a cunning plan to capture the fort. He and a few buddies dressed up as monks and knocked at its door. After a bit of pious grovelling, they were let in. Once inside, they flung back their cassocks, drew their swords from their belts and massacred everyone in sight. Thus Frank "the Malicious One" Grimaldi founded the dynasty that, 700 years on, continues to rule Monaco. The family coat of arms still features two sword-wielding monks.

Overt piety shielding covert wily strength is a remarkably apt description of modern Monaco: 25,000 people are crammed into the mini-Manhattan carved out of the French Mediterranean coast. Of those 25,000, only 5,000 are actual Monegasques. The rest comprise an international mishmash of people who care an awful lot about how much tax they pay.

The outward piety mostly benefits the Monegasques. They have subsidised housing, free health care, education grants, first crack at government jobs and, at Christmas, every Monegasque boy and girl under 10 is invited to the Pink Palace where the royal family gives each one a Christmas present. The vast majority of Monegasques truly feel like they are part of one big family with the Prince as the benevolent father. In exchange, the country is governed paternalistically, with the best interest of its citizens in mind. For example, ever since the first casino was built, Monegasques are forbidden by law from gambling.

Everyone who lives in Monaco benefits from the discretely bulging sword of state. Video cameras survey all public streets and 500 police patrol a country less than two square kilometres. As Prince Rainier himself likes to say: "It is a place where a woman can walk home in her best jewels should she so wish."

The personality of the Grimaldis suffuses the country. Rainier's great- grandfather was a marine biologist, so he built a splendid oceanographic museum that is still among the best in the world. Rainier's grandfather was a military man, hence the Napoleonic museum. Princess Grace left gardens and an institute of Irish studies. And Rainier, well, his obsession is with Monaco itself.

The country's main problem is that it is too successful. Banking, hi- tech industries and research labs are way more important to Monaco's economy these days than the casino. They are pretty compact businesses, but they still need land.

So, under the guiding hand of Prince Rainier, Monaco is growing. Land was reclaimed from the sea; the railway was covered over and built upon, and there are plans to attach entire floating neighbourhoods to existing reclaimed land. People joke that before it is all over, Monaco will become a land bridge to North Africa.

Of course, this being Monaco there is a softer side to this frentic building. Up to 45 per cent of new land is set aside for green space. And all new buildings must have roof gardens. Even architecturally, the Grimaldi family has managed to create an enviably innovative and efficient country cloaked in a lush green cassock. No wonder they have lasted 700 years.

Europe's other microstates, page 2

Making for Monaco

First, travel to Nice. EasyJet (01582 445566) will fly you there from Liverpool or Luton for between pounds 90.70 and pounds 210.70 return, including tax. From Nice airport, take a bus to Nice station and the train (about 20 minutes) to Monaco.

Eurostar (0345 303030) does not sell tickets to Monaco. In theory, Rail Europe (0990 300003) can offer a fare from London Waterloo to Monaco for pounds 114 return, changing at Paris and possibly Nice. The total journey time is around 12 hours.

For more information, contact the helpful Monaco Tourist Office at The Chambers, Chelsea Harbour, London SW10 0XF (0500 006114, a free call).