Friday, 11 March 2011

Exotic Garden of Monaco

Le jardin exotique de Monaco - Monaco's Exotic Garden

I have visited Monaco on one occasion and passed through it on several. Each time was by train, which, for those who like to savour the approach to a new destination, is not the best way to arrive, as the line is entirely subterranean, the only indication you have that you are in Monaco being the station sign on the underground platform.

But on that one occasion that I got off the train I did so with a mission, to visit the famous Jardin exotique de Monaco, the principality’s Tropical Garden.

My inspiration for going was a photograph that Brassai took in the gardens just after the end of the Second World War. Like all Brassai’s photos it was in black and white, and depicted a party of nuns in black gowns and flying headwear walking away from the camera down a narrow arbour of tall cacti. 

Sleek apartments for the Monaco rich.
Lower incomes need not apply.
I got out of the train station by the back entrance, and asked a very elderly lady with two heavy shopping bags one in each hand where I could find the Jardin. As it happened, we were very close to the Boulevard du Jardin exotique, which leads straight to the garden, and the sweet lady insisted on walking me to the boulevard about 200 yards away.

After a hard day at the racing circuit, Monaco is the tax haven where most Formula 1 drivers choose to hang their safety helmets. But there was no sign of Shummie or Jensen Button as I made my way past the swish apartment blocks on the long and hot climb up the boulevard. But I made it, arriving at the entrance just as a coach was discharging its cargo of German tourists.

The exotic gardens are built on the side of a cliff and are home to one thousand cactus species and succulents from South West USA, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Far East. They blossom all year round and some reach astonishing sizes. Spring and summer are the best seasons for the cacti, while aloes and African crassulas grow in winter.

Cacti at Monaco's Tropical Garden.
But where were the flying nuns?
There is also an observatory in a natural cave with stalactites and stalagmites, as well the Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology, which dates from 1902. And because of its magnificent location there are panoramic views over Monaco (including the Prince’s Palace) and the French and Italian Rivieras.  

I spent a couple of hours there in the searing heat, then made my way back down the boulevard. I wanted to take some of the exhibits home with me. But mostly I wanted to take one of the swanky apartment blocks that I passed on the way. But you can’t have everything. If I live to be a hundred I'll never weary of saying so.

The Prince's Palace from the tropical garden.

1 comment:

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