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Visiting Cap-d'Aïl, France: A Rocky Promontory Similar to Nearby Monaco's, But With a Different Course of History

Updated on April 22, 2019
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
 Mala Beach at Cap-d'Aïl on the French Riviera
Mala Beach at Cap-d'Aïl on the French Riviera | Source

Similarities to and differences from neighbouring Monaco

For readers who have already considered the main photo, above, the reaction may well be: 'This looks like Monaco!'

Well, yes, indeed: the rocky promontory which extends into the Mediterranean does indeed resemble that of Monaco, which is situated nearby. Indeed, the pinkish hue of the rock in the photo looks very much like rock to be found in the Principality.

But Cap-d'Aïl (1), the promontory of which the picture depicts, is very much part of France.

Which, in a sense, begs the question: So why did Monaco become an independent Principality, while Cap-d'Aïl remained part of France?

A good question; but first of all some historical perspectives which might cause such a question to be stated a little differently.

First of all, far from remaining part of France over the centuries, Cap-d'Aïl actually became definitively French only in 1860. Prior to that date, it was part of the County of Nice, not yet incorporated into France. In fact, prior to 1860, Monaco, with its own rocky promontory, was a protectorate of Sardinia, then a regional power.

Bearing in mind these facts, the historical divergence between these neighbouring rocky, Mediterranean promontories lies in the nature of the very rocks themselves, it might be said.

Yes, for centuries Cap-d'Aïl's rocky promontory, as Monaco's also, was rather inaccessible by land.

The Rock of Monaco, however, proved to be more impregnable. Traditionally, access to neighbouring Monaco was by sea. Thus, it would be militarily difficult for any assault on Monaco to be made by land. While the Principality has been independent since 1297, the Lords of Monaco gained in the 16th century their title of 'Princes of Monaco' from Spain (yes, Spain, not France), of which power Monaco for a while became a protectorate. Communication with Spain — which, via its navy acquired a vast overseas empire — was naturally by sea, and defence of the Principality was thus also assured by sea.

All wrapped up in the isolation and impregnability from the land of Monaco's rocky promontory.

Life at Cap-d'Aïl, however, remained more strongly linked to its hinterland, despite its relative isolation. Thus its fortunes were tied to both the County of Nice (2) and subsequently to France.

Thus Cap-d'Aïl, in the Alpes-Maritimes department, is part of the One and Indivisible Republic (French: la République une et indivisible)(3).

Whereas Monaco, with its bigger, rock promontory, is definitely not.

Differences of fortune all because of the nature of the rocks that jut out into the Mediterranean at these neighbouring localities...

April 16, 2019


(1) For visitor information, see also: For a local history museum, see also (in French):

(2) Interestingly, the Italian Liberator Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) was from Nice.

(3) French republicans traditionally pride themselves as being part of a unified Republic with natural frontiers. This idea has some truth to it, indeed, although there are arguably geographical nuances to this at certain parts of the borders and coastline of the Hexagon (French: l'Hexagone).

La Mala suburb at  Cap-d'Aïl
La Mala suburb at Cap-d'Aïl | Source

Also worth seeing

In Cap-d'Aïl itself, a rocky coastal path is sometimes quieter and less frequented than many localities in the neighbouring Principality.

Monaco Town (distance: 2.6 kilometres) counts the guard changing ceremony at the Prince's Palace and the Oceanographic Museum among its many visitor attractions.

La Turbie (distance: 7.2 kilometres) has a striking Roman structure known as the Trophy of the Alpes (French: le Trophée des Alpes), the traditional boundary between Roman Gaul and Italy.


How to get there: Delta Airlines flies direct from New York to Nice, France (Aéroport Nice Côte d'Azur ), where car rental is available. The French railroad company SNCF maintains services to Cap-d'Ail from Downtown Nice. Please be aware that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

Map location of Alpes-Maritimes department, France
Map location of Alpes-Maritimes department, France | Source

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