Looking from the Jardins des Boulingrins towards the casino. Photo: www.tripadvisor.ca
If you’re in that class of casino goer, you’ve certainly thought of visiting the Casino de Monte-Carlo in Monaco. In many people’s mind, especially if you watched the James Bond movie, Casino Royale, it is simply the casino to visit. And certainly, the building itself, a grandiose Belle Époque building designed by French Architect Charles Garnier, to whom we owe the Palais Garnier (opera) in Paris, France, is glamorous enough, certainly the most beautiful building of the Principality. It includes not only the casino itself, but the opera house (Opéra de Monte-Carlo) and the office of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.
And unlike most other casinos these days, you still have to dress up a bit to be admitted. Not tie and tails, but definitely something better than shorts and flip-flops.
Of course, I can’t show you the glories of the inside (“Pas de photos, s’il vous plait!”), but the outside is a splendor.
However, once you’ve finished playing, do take a wander outside. The gardens are just gorgeous! And you’ll be discovering a piece of history as well.
Monte-Carlo Casino Gardens
There are three main parks, largely designed by renowned French landscape architect Édouard André around 1893.
Right in front is the park Jardins des Boulingrins (garden of the bowling greens), freshly reinstalled after 6-year hiatus, from 2013 to 2019, during which they were largely covered—shockingly!—by a series of dome-shaped shopping pavilions called Les Pavillons de Monte-Carlo. But the pavilions were always intended to be temporary.
The new gardens, inspired by original ones that offered plenty of lawn for citizens and visitors to lounge on, are now back in place, including two large green bowling greens punctuated with pools and fountains and bordered with by beds of vegetation. In fact, even most of the 37 full-sized trees moved at the time have been reinstalled. At this point, the Jardin still looks a bit barren to me, but … let’s be fair and give it some time. It was opened only a few months ago!
The Place du Casino, the plaza at the end of the Jardin des Boulingrins, right in front of the Casino, has been remodeled so many times over the last 125 years that it would make your head spin, and it’s now quite … ungardenlike.
Where it recently featured a raised dome of green grass and flowerbeds on which were lodged a fountain and the famous Sky Mirror sculpture, a giant round mirror showing a reflection of the casino and gardens … charming, yes, but not too approachable, the plaza has become a pedestrian space, covered in beige paving stones and some 20 tall palms. And the fountain and the Sky Mirror are back, now on ground level, allowing a full view of the casino from afar. The palms are actually moveable and designed so they can be taken out in order to create one vast people space for major events, then reinstalled.
OK, I get the fact that Monaco needs a space for major events, but wouldn’t it be nice if the reverse could be done and the pavers could be taken out so the space made green again, at least sometimes?
Well, let’s not cry over spilt milk, because the garden immediately adjacent to the Jardin des Boulingrins, called the Parc de la Petite Afrique, is still intact and as charming as ever.
This Victorian-era park, still much as it was originally planned by Édouard André, was designed to represent the exuberance of the tropics, with its palms and exotic plants: a total green getaway in the heart of Monte-Carlo. Of course, Monaco isn’t tropical … well, not quite, and in fact, would normally be dry and arid, with cool winters. So, André used species of somewhat hardier subtropical plants with a tropical look, creating a lush, humid environment thanks to a series of waterfalls and ponds. You visit on meandering paths, well protected from the hot summer sun (if you visit at that period) by tall, century-old trees.
The gardens are dotted with colorful flowerbeds, works of art that seem to change regularly, stately Washingtonia palms and surprising bottle trees (Brachychiton populneus). Some of the exotic plants André introduced here have since gone on to become staples of Côte d’Azur vegetative landscaping, like the Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla), the sago palm (Cycas revoluta)—not actually a palm at all, but a cycad—and the bird-of-paradise plant (Strelitzia reginae).
The third section of the casino’s gardens is officially called just that: the Casino Garden.
It’s on the north and east sides of the casino, on a rather steep slope overlooking the bay and features a mix of garden styles, including larges beds of succulents and cacti (a precursor of the fabulous Jardin exotique de Monaco, not far away), in and around a series of intertwining stairs leading down towards the Boulevard Larvotto near the waterfront. It’s hotter there and less visited, but certainly worth a look-see. But my guess is you’ll soon go back to the shadier and more inviting Parc de la Petite Afrique.
All of this is free, by the way.
More Gardens to Visit
Of course, while you’re in the Casino Garden, you’re only a stone’s throw from the wonderful Japanese Garden: maybe a 5-minute walk? Plus the entire Principality is awash in green spaces, parks and gardens, more than 250,000 m2 of them, huge for a city-state of only 195 hectares, making it Europe’s second-greenest city after Vienna.
Among these botanical wonders, there is the Jardin Exotique (Europe’s ultimate cactus and succulent garden), the cliff-hanging St. Martin Gardens on the Rocher (the old city), the Princess Grace Rose Garden in Fontvieille and so much more.
Can’t make to Monaco this year? Well, at least you can dream … or, if gaming is your thing, visit the on-line casino of your choice! And when you win big, you’ll know where to go!