Some of the best views in the world are from a garden.
If you find yourself in Monte Carlo and you don’t expect to win enough at the famed Beaux Arts Casino to shop for a Rolls Royce while you are there, I have the perfect adventure for you. Take the #2 city bus up the mountain to the end of the line to the La Jardin Exotic Botanical Garden. Hanging off a promontory point, nearly 500’ above the bustling tourist sites down by the harbor, this garden will give you spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea, and the bay filled with yachts and sailboats. Gazing afar you can see Italy. Looking below, you see the lavishly landscaped rooftop gardens of the surrounding high-rise buildings.
In 1912 Prince Albert the first set aside a nearly three-acre patch of cliffside land for a botanic garden. In an article, Five Hidden Gardens of Monaco, by Michael Schuermann, he estimates the value of this land today at $100 million. It is an unimaginable number to wrap your mind around and I mention it only as a reference point to the lifestyles of the rich and famous of Monte Carlo.
This is a moneyed place and if you are a gardener of a certain age you were likely introduced to Monte Carlo via Princess Grace and James Bond movies. It can be a bit daunting to plan a day in this unique and tiny country. The garden is an unexpectedly wonderful destination.
After you feast your eyes on the amazing views you must turn your attention to this incredible garden named “Exotic” because of the cactus, agaves, and succulents non-native to this area. “A large number of the plants come from a collection which started at the beginning of the 19th century in Monaco” from travels to Africa and South America with over 6000 species tucked into the cliffside. (garden signage) As you explore, you can look up, you can look down and everywhere you see breathtaking views framed by spectacular plants.
A network of winding stone pathways weaves you through, climbing and descending stairs to other levels of the garden as you pass towering spires and thickset barrels of plants. Walking through stone arches and over bridges allows you artfully framed views of the city. The aloes, living stones, and trailing succulents, like purple heart, grow directly out of the cracks in the rock.
Clumps of towering Euphorbias, Prickly Pear and Yuccas shade the paths like trees. A bench is framed by an arched arbor of elephant food.
Your $10 ticket includes the Exotic Garden, and a guided tour of the Observatory Caves and adjoining Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology.
The cave tour begins at a mid-level in the garden and then descends 300 steps to sea level. Heading down the temperature cools and amazing stalactites and stalagmites creating imaginative scenes come into view. The cave is enormous and has been open to the public since the 1950’s.
Archeological finds in the cave led to the creation of the Prehistoric Anthropology museum. Long before the billionaires and rock stars lived in this region, Cro-Magnon man, elephants, hippopotami, and mammoths roamed the Riviera.
The garden is a gem of design, engineering, and plant collecting, even making the list in Rae Spencer-Jones’ 1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die. The cave and the museum are incredible additions to find in the garden expanding the view of Monte Carlo.
My travel experience continues to confirm the best way to explore the world is through gardens, and the La Jardin Exotic’s view of Monaco reinforces this belief. Plus, for a day in Monte Carlo you can have a grand adventure with no tuxedo or designer gown required.