Monaco

Monaco, especially during Grand Prix season, evokes image of great wealth and glamour. Super yachts fill the harbour whilst Bentleys speed by with remarkable frequency. One might quite reasonably expect the architecture to be on an equal footing.

Given the right circumstances, it’s hard not to be impressed by Monaco. And by that I mean that I was initially impressed having been whisked by car from the airport straight into a swish apartment directly above the finish line of the GP circuit. The sun was shining brightly on those arranging the seating for the race alongside residents and visitors testing out their Ferraris and Lamborghinis on the track. It was quite an experience.

After a night in Monte Carlo, I headed out of Monaco to investigate more of the French Riviera. It wasn’t until I arrived at a kind friend’s house in La Garde-Freinet, not far from Saint-Tropez, that I made my mind up about Monaco. La Garde-Freinet is a mountain village with old buildings made from simple local materials such as stone, clay and wood. There is rust, the odd crack here and there, peeling paint, no right angles, but, much more importantly, there is charm and character in abundance,

Given Monaco’s delightful setting around a deep bay with surprisingly green mountains behind, it should have been easy to create a paradise. But something went horribly wrong along the way. From a distance, the buildings look old but they are mostly fakes with stick-on classical details. The rest is a hotchpotch of soulless post-war blocks with a shockingly high number of satellite dishes to boot. The one interesting modern structure that I saw was the subterranean Gare de Monaco which has various interesting elements. It’s nothing on Canary Wharf or Westminster stations though– and it was leaking in the rain.

I did return to Monaco on the last night of my trip and did try to see the best in the place. The Monte Carlo Casino of 1858 and the gardens above it are, it has to be said, quite something. But then I spotted below the seriously outdated set of hexagonal buildings beneath which Formula One cars speed on race day. The tunnel looks sleek on television but, up-close, it is a shocking mess.

One thing that emerged with remarkable clarity was the truth of the age old saying about money. It really is worlds away from taste.