food / travel

24 Hours In Monaco, But Away From The Garish And Gaudy

It's possible to spend an entire day in Monaco, on the French Riviera, off the tourist trail, far from ostentatious jewelry and pampered princesses.

The old town of Monaco
The old town of Monaco
Sylvie Chayette

MONTE CARLO â€" Few places in the world are as marked by clichés as Monaco, with its casinos, Ferraris, gleaming "60s-era high-rises and glitzy royal family, a mainstay of the world's tabloids since American actress Grace Kelly became princess of the sovereign city-state in 1956.

At first glance, the place seems to be every bit as kitsch as the glossy magazines make it out to be. But an all-day stroll through some of its main wards (Monaco Ville, Monte Carlo, Moneghetti, La Condamine and Fontvieille) offers a more nuanced view of the microstate, revealing its timelessness and unexpectedly originality.

10 a.m.: diving into the Big Blue

Monaco"s other prince is Pierre Frolla, a world champion free diver who opened a diving school in 2002 called L’école bleue, in reference to the 1988 hit film Le Grand Bleu by French director Luc Besson.

At the school we cross paths with children from the region, along with a handful of visiting tourists and the royal family's security guards, who use the facility for training. We begin with a relaxation session and sun salutation on the beach. Afterwards a boat takes us to a free-diving site just a few minutes offshore.

More adventurous visitors can experiment with a “gueuse,” a special free-diving device made famous by the film. The apparatus is fitted with a kind of balloon of compressed air and helps swimmers break out of the water.

For aquaphobes, an alternative morning activity option is a visit to the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, an architectural masterpiece that overhangs the Mediterranean. The site has some 90 ponds containing 6,000 specimens. There are also fish-feeding activities for children. The piranhas are a particular crowd pleaser.

11 a.m.: tasting the Barbajuans

On a market day in the district of La Condamine, the parade ground is overflowing with small bars. They are selling the renowned barbajuans, an appetizer that looks like giant ravioli. It's generally stuffed with Swiss chard, cheese and meat. You can also try the socca, a traditional dish made with chickpea flatbread. Otherwise, the Oceanographic Museum's panoramic restaurant offers a stunning view, perched as it is 85 meters above the sea.

2 p.m: waking Grace Kelly’s ghost

After lunch, you can discover Monaco's historic city center and reach the district of Le Rocher (The Rock). A couple of houses located on rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette date back to the 16th century. There is the Princess Grace Irish library because royalty has been at the core of Monaco life for centuries. The place was inaugurated in 1984 by Prince Rainier III in honor of his wife's Irish origins. It contains Grace Kelly's personal collection of Irish books and sheet music.

4 p.m.: seeing and being seen

It's hard to skip the Monte Carlo Casino, but it's better to stop by in the afternoon rather than at night, when it's really bustling.

That's when you can quietly visit the gaming rooms even if every private lounge area is closed. Next to it the Café de Paris remains the place to see and be seen. As such, you absolutely must choose tables located on the edge of the terrace.

6 p.m.: immersed in the cold

Head to Monaco's thermal baths opposite the brand new yacht club. Classic treatments are heavenly but very expensive. Bold adventurers can try the cryotherapy complex that treats muscular pathologies. In just three minutes, the cells are renewed and pain headache decreases. At the end of the experience, some clients swear they feel pleasantly doped.

8 p.m.: dinner under the stars

The Société des Bains de Mer, founded in 1863, is controlled by the government. It manages several casinos, more than 30 restaurants and many five-star hotels. The Monte-Carlo Beach is a particularly good location. The hotel offers a 115-euro dinner menu (excluding drinks) that can be enjoyed while your feet are in the water. Italian chef Paolo Sari has been given a star in the Michelin Guide with his 100% organic cooking.

Blue Bay chef Marcel Ravin also has a Michelin star. A Martinique native, he mixes different flavors for a unique-tasting result such as his delicious carbonara pasta with truffle cream and papaya. The kitchen can be seen from the dining room, and the service is very friendly and relaxed. Prices are reasonable given the quality of the cooking: It begins at 108 euros for a menu (excluding drinks).

Midnight: moving to Cap-D’Ail

Spending the night in Monaco will cost you more than 450 euros. If you don't want to pay that price, you'll have to go to the next seaside resort, one train station away. It's called Cap-D’ail and is situated in southeastern France.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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