Bizarrely, the train route that boasts postcard vistas of the Mediterranean plunges underground shortly before entering Monaco, so we arrive disoriented in a mythic purgatory between two vast, more familiar lands.
Exiting aboveground, we discover that we are in fact significantly higher than sea level.
Almost all of Monaco on display from this vantage point and yet, because of the peculiar geography, France beyond is not visible at all.
Most of Monaco has been built on the crescent-shaped mountain range rising sharply from a single bay.
This gives the entire area the shape of an amphitheatre, and Port Hercule — the superyacht playground — is the stage.
It’s at once grand and compact, proud and insular: a universe contained within 2 square kilometres.
Arriving in the morning, the aroma of fresh French pastries permeates the streets of Monte Carlo.
By lunchtime, it’s impossible to explore the Old Town without being tempted by the delicious smells of Italian pastas and seafood.
Monégasque cuisine borrows the highlights from its neighbours’ recipe books, and the result is a plethora of fine restaurants with delightful twists on well-known French and Italian tastes.
This mix of cuisine says as much about politics as it does about taste buds.
In many ways, the idea of a city-state seems like a quaint relic from a past age: major city-states like Venice have long since been subsumed into their larger neighbours.
However, were it not a city-state, the billionaires’ playground we know as Monaco today could not possibly exist.