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Monaco: Land of superyachts, super casinos and super rich

By Sheena McKenzie, for CNN
September 3, 2012 -- Updated 1008 GMT (1808 HKT)
Around 100 superyachts -- ranging from 25 to 90 meters -- will go on display along Port Hercules harbor during the Monaco Yacht Show in September. Around 100 superyachts -- ranging from 25 to 90 meters -- will go on display along Port Hercules harbor during the Monaco Yacht Show in September.
Superyachts descend on Monaco
Latest luxury
Business as usual
Marvellous Med
The little things
In the fast lane
Earthly delights
High rollers
Graceful Grimaldis
  • Around 28,000 visitors will descend on Monaco for annual yacht show, from Sept 19 to 22
  • Known as playground of the rich and famous, Monaco has more to offer than simply superyachts
  • Home of the glamorous Grimaldi royal family, the Prince's Palace offers stunning views of the city
  • Exotic Garden resembles more Mexico than Monaco, featuring hundreds of cacti

Editor's note: MainSail is CNN's monthly sailing show, exploring the sport of sailing, luxury travel and the latest in design and technology.

(CNN) -- Want to experience nirvana? Just head to Monaco.

Those seeking a transcendental state of spiritual well being, however, will be in for a disappointment, as this "Nirvana" is in fact a giant superyacht - boasting six decks, a cinema, a seven meter swimming pool and -- as if one wasn't already enough -- two reptile enclosures.

It will be just one of 100 or so extravagantly proportioned superyachts on display at next month's Monaco Yacht Show.

More than 28,000 visitors are expected to descend on the independent French state for the annual show, running from September 19 to 22.

Read: How one phone call gets yacht owners whatever they want

If Nirvana sounds excessive, well, that's the idea.

The world's most luxurious boat show

"You don't buy a superyacht because it makes sense, in fact that is the last thing it does," admits Hein Velema, chief executive of yacht chartering firm Fraser Yachts.

Superyachts: Floating works of art

"Why do so many successful businessmen purchase yachts? Because it gives them the ultimate feeling of pride," she added.

The exclusive world of super yachts

And there can be few places on earth with so much said pride on display as Monaco.

Small state, big fish

Nestled between the French Alps and Mediterranean Sea, and covering just under two square kilometers, the miniature principality punches far above its weight when it comes to monetary muscle.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the average cost for residential real-estate here is about $57,865 per square meter, out-pricing the likes of London and Saint Tropez, making it the most expensive place in the world to buy a home.

It's little surprise then that it has become renowned as the playground of the rich and famous -- with wealthy pleasure-seekers taking advantage of its luxury marinas, stylish casinos, annual Formula 1 Grand Prix and, of course, its highly favorable 0% rate of income tax.

Fit for a prince

Heading this powerful principality is the glamorous Grimaldi royal family, whose lineage hit the limelight when American screen siren Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956.

The interior of the family's palace, which was originally built in 1191, retains a grand Renaissance style, featuring marble floors, high columns and luxurious gold trimmings.

Guided tours include entrance to the adjacent Napoleon Museum, displaying Louis II's rare collection of artefacts belonging to the diminutive French emperor.

Tickets are €8 ($10) for adults and €3,50 ($4.40) for children aged eight to 14.

Welcome back Mr Bond

Speedboat? Check. Tuxedo? Check. The casino featured in James Bond films "Never Say Never Again" and "GoldeEye?" You bet.

The lavish Monte Carlo Casino has been inspiring spy fantasies since British author Ian Flemming first used it as the basis for his 1953 Bond novel "Casino Royale".

You don't buy a superyacht because it makes sense, in fact that is the last thing it does
Hein Velema, Fraser Yachts chief executive

Built in 1863, the extravagant building, with its marble finish and two distinctive turrets, overlooks the carefully manicured Allée-des-Boulingrins gardens.

Read: The $6 million man-made floating island

Hidden inside the casino are all the slot machines, roulette tables and card games you'd expect, along with a multitude of bars, restaurants, theaters, and even an impressive atrium exhibiting 28 onyx columns.

One of five casinos in Monaco, the jacket-and-tie dress code begins after 8pm with a minimum entry age of 18.

Natural Beauty

Between the high rollers and fast cars, however, there is still space for tranquility.

Looming behind the densely packed city is Mont Agel. Sitting 161 meters above sea level, the mountain offers sweeping views of the glistening Mediterranean.

Perched high up on the rock face is the unusual Exotic Garden. More reminiscent of rural Mexico than Monaco, the botanical garden was created in 1933 and is home to about 1,000 species of cacti.

A spectacular network of limestone caves filled with stalactites also sits at the foot of the cliff, with guided tours available.

Finally, culture-vultures can get their fix at the nearby Museum of Anthropology, displaying several tombs and a collection of rare fossils from the Upper Palaeolithic era -- dating between 10,000 and 50,000 years ago.

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