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Known for “grace,” sophistication and style

Known for “grace,” sophistication and style

Let’s say you’ve been traveling through France’s quiet countryside, stopping at lavender fields and sampling local wines. "This is relaxing," you say to yourself, but it would be nice to wear that hot little number you’ve packed in your suitcase. Where to go ?

For a dose of fast cars, high rollers, haute couture and hot yachts, look no further than Monaco. This tiny principality is the second-smallest country in the world ; only the Vatican is more diminutive. Bordered on three sides by France, the fourth – the sparkling Mediterranean. This is where the ultra-rich and uber-stylish come to stay, play and bank. Monaco is one of the world’s only countries to not levy income tax on individuals.

Even if you’re neither rich nor famous, or plan on opening a savings account, there’s plenty to do – and that includes people watching.

About France

Get acquainted with Monaco Ville, or "Old Town" Sitting on the "Rock" some 200 feet up, you’ll find the royal palace, government buildings and the renowned Oceanographic Museum on the Avenue St. Martin. The location itself is impressive – rising from a cliffside rock, the building was created using over 100,000 tons of stone. Famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau was its curator for many years, caring for the various species of sea fauna in both stuffed and skeletal form. In 2001 the museum inaugurated a brand new shark tank, now a centerpiece of the aquarium.

The haute heart of Monaco is Monte Carlo, most famous for the Grand Prix – a glamorous event on the Formula One calendar. Each May, the circuit winds around some of the most famous streets in motor racing and around Monte Carlo’s gorgeous port. The grandstand affords you the chance (if not the lifestyle) to rub elbows with the elite.

In the evening, break out the little black dress or wingtips. The Monte Carlo Casino is the center of the city’s sophistication, and where the country has built its reputation for glamour and high-rollers. It even formed the setting for Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale. Built in the Baroque style in 1863, the building overlooks the Mediterranean. Ironically, Monégasques can’t even gamble in their own casinos. So you must bring a passport to have a swing at roulette and other gambling fun.

Ready to play ? Getting to Monaco is easy with your France Rail Pass. There’s service to and from Nice every 15 minutes throughout the day and takes about a half hour (so if you get the urge to shoot craps at midnight, go for it.) And when you’re ready to return to a quieter pace, say Marseille, or want to indulge in a Lyonais lunch, you can get there quicker than you can say "Black Jack."

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