Monaco Murmurs: Farewell to trees at the Sporting d’Hiver

Digging our own grave?

A Fête de la Musique is a great way to celebrate Midsummer Day, but there were quite a few discordant notes and a chorus of dismay when it was discovered that the tall palm trees in the Casino gardens had disappeared, leaving large holes, a mechanical digger and mounds of earth. It caught everyone by surprise as it is high season and the gardens are a popular rendezvous for tourists. Then realisation dawned … SBM had moved the trees during the night (over 50 trees and the fountains are to go) to make way for their new “prefab” shopping area, as they race ahead with their long-planned scheme to imitate New York, with a Central Park surrounded by expensive apartment buildings, prime real estate with views of the Monte Carlo Casino and the Mediterranean. Impervious to objections and undeterred by a further disastrous financial result – a year end deficit of €33.4 million at March 31st 2013, worse than the €28.4 million deficit of the previous year – SBM are gambling heavily on the future upturn of Monaco real estate. Monaco’s gold reserve is its land, a scarce commodity but in a prime location … but is the loss of the Principality’s one advantage over its neighbours at risk: its history and its charm?

Trees Down at the Sporting d'HiverMolly Brown looks on as the gardens are dug up

While SBM are in discussions on funding their €600 million project, reassuring concerned employees and persuading designer boutiques in the Sporting d’Hiver to move into the pre-fabricated “unique innovative structures” in November, a local real estate developer has now bought all the apartments in the lovely Palais de la Plage at Larvotto and has obtained permission to enlarge the building and modernise the interior BUT … he must keep the elegant façade! If only they could all be saved …

For a fascinating glimpse into the history of the Principality and its historic buildings, the Monacopolis exhibition at the exquisite Villa Sauber, opposite Grimaldi Forum, features a large mural of Monaco over 100 years ago, carefully restored by NMNM experts; old sepia photographs and films and the architects’ original plans of the Casino and Hotel de Paris, together with costumes, stage sets and photos of the Opera Monte Carlo. Designed by famous French architect, Charles Garnier, Villa Sauber is one of the few elegant villas left in Monaco. It was donated to the Principality by Madame Galea with her superb collection of automates and 19th-century dolls, presently being restored and hopefully brought back home very soon.

Villa Paloma, a charming 19th-century villa next to the Jardin Exotique, now a museum with a superb view over Monaco, is showing NMNM’s exhibition of paintings and drawings by celebrated Russian artist, Erik Boulatov, until the end of September, and the summer exhibition Picasso and the Côte d’Azur with 160 of the artist’s paintings and works on show is at the Grimaldi Forum until September 15th.

A garden lost, a garden gained. Princess Grace Rose Garden near the heliport is to be enlarged to twice its size with dozens of new varieties and types of roses and the “Save the Bees” programme is a success: Monaco’s six hives of honey bees are happily working away among the flowers in Fontvieille; they produced 70kg of “exotic” honey last year and another 60kg this year. Take a walk through a haven of peace; the Japanese garden is full of birdsong and there are not only baby carp, but ducklings in the pond.