Monaco is one of Europe’s most intriguing spots, a principality that is both tiny and glamorously wealthy. It’s been in the same family’s hands for most of the last 700 years. That family, the Grimaldis, includes the current ruler, Prince Albert II (son of Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly). The Grimaldis were already a powerful family in the Italian state of Genoa when Francesco Grimaldi traveled to the Rock of Monaco and gained entry to the heavily fortified castle by arriving dressed as a Franciscan monk. Once inside, he and his army seized control and held on for four years.
Although he was eventually ousted, Francesco’s relatives later returned to reclaim the castle and solidify their power over the rocky kingdom clinging to the south coast of France. But life there wasn’t always luxurious. It wasn’t until the 19th century that rail lines into France jump-started Monaco’s economy with what would become the source of its current wealth: tourism. With perfect weather and upscale hotels clustered along its waterfront, it’s the perfect quick getaway from the rest of Europe. And its glittering Monte Carlo casinos are major moneymakers.
A statue of Francesco Grimaldi in monk’s garb still stands outside the Prince’s Palace, commemorating his feat.