Monaco’s ‘jardin exotique’ – An unexpected pleasure

A view from Monaco's 'Jardin Exotique'

In the grand scheme of travel plans for enjoying Monaco, visiting a garden probably doesn’t rate near the top.  But it should.  Casinos, yachts and Ferrari’s go without saying, but Monaco’s gardens may just take your breath away.

We’ve just returned from another Christmas season in Monaco (with a son living in the area, it’s just where we go!), and despite having visited the tiny principality a number of times before, we had never been to its Jardin Exotique.

After Christmas shopping in Nice, we headed to our home base at the Riviera Marriott Hotel in Cap d’Ail and proceeded to figure out how we’d spend our days in this tiny country once again – we thought we had seen it all.  So, after a browse through the over-priced shops, a poke through the Monte Carlo Christmas market and a gawk at a Lamborghini or two, the discerning travelers will find themselves at the garden.

The truth is that if you never visit the garden, you will leave the principality without truly understanding it as a place in time.  That’s because from the vantage point of the garden at the top of everything else that is built upward toward it, you can see the old city of Monaco as it was in years gone by as a fortification topped by the palace and the homes and businesses of the Monegasques – before the frightening influx of the über-rich to condo-city that now surrounds the old city.  If you squint past the ubiquitous construction cranes that dot Monaco, you might just be able to imagine what it must have been like here in the 12th century atop the battlements.  Enemies would have some difficulty scaling those walls to penetrate your tiny country that was for centuries confined to that old city – Monaco-Ville.

Monaco-Ville, the old city on its fortifications

We eschewed all forms of transportation but our pieds to get there, making our way to the top via a series of winding streets, dizzying staircases, the public ascenseurs (elevators) and a public escalator or two.  Since it was the week between Christmas and New Year’s, the tourists were few, so we had much of the sun-filled garden of succulents to ourselves.  To say the experience was breath-taking would be an understatement.  Apart from the acrophobia-inducing vertiginous views of the city, the Mediterranean, and both the French and Italian Riviera’s, the cliffside garden is filled with over a thousand species of cacti and succulents native to areas as diverse as the USA, Mexico and Africa.  Even if you’re not a fan of these plants (which we aren’t usually) you cannot help but be impressed by both their size and numbers.

Patty enjoying the late December sunshine in the garden.
Art among the flowering cacti.

[The garden is open from 9am to 7 pm from May 15 to September 15, but closes at dusk or 6 pm other months.  It is closed on only two days each year: November 19 and December 25.  The entrance fee is €7 for adults with discounts for children and seniors. Visit their web site.]