Monaco: Principality of romance
"PLACE your bets," the croupier calls in a crisp French accent.
An elegant young woman, coiffured, bejewelled and attired in gold and black, slides her remaining stack of $100 chips onto number 26 for a last desperate 'straight up' bet.
'No more bets,' is called, as a tiny white ball is released to spin its whirlwind of luck or loss over the slots.
The roulette wheel slowly loses momentum and clicks to a stop. All eyes are riveted on the ball, which hesitates on number 26 for an instant and plops onto number 1.
"C'est la vie," the woman murmurs, with a nonchalant shrug of her shoulders, as she fades away into the casino crowd.
For a moment I'm tempted to splash out with a large bet but decide that banking on Monte Carlo to make my fortune could be a grave mistake. That diabolical roulette ball seems hell bent on bankrupting all the players on the table.
Besides, I'm here to soak up the atmosphere and these days there is romance is in the air.
Giorgio Armani designed the wedding dress and photographer Jerome Revon filmed the royal nuptials in 3D, using 30 cameras. It was a truly royal occasion.His Serene Highness Prince Albert II has recently married elegant South African Olympic swimmer Charlène Wittstock and all 7810 adult Monegasque subjects were invited to a buffet reception in the Grimaldi's medieval palace.
Romantics have been banking on Monte Carlo for fun, frivolity and a fabulous time for a century. Rarely are they disappointed.
This tourist enclave is a dead certainty for those seeking a top-shelf vacation. It pays rich dividends in high octane excitement to the seriously wealthy who take a high stakes gamble in the back rooms.
It also provides thrills for those who settle for a low-risk flutter and a good laugh on the main floor.
The formula for a good time is simple. Slip on your best evening wear, make your way through the milling throng, slide past the Ferraris and Rolls Royces - double-parked outside the Grand Casino - and enter an exciting new world.
Ignore the flamboyant high rollers who lose $5000 chips with equanimity, while maintaining deadpan poker faces. Act confidently, smile, be bold and the golden pixie dust may just fall on you.
The pulsating heart of the Grand Casino is the gaming machine floor. The atmosphere is literally electric as 'one-armed bandits' stand to attention in tight ranks, blinking and whirring, revolving their decorative drums on demand and obeying their sealed orders to pay out 15 per cent of their turnover. Their mission is to reward you for enjoying yourself - but, being electronic automatons, they often fail to do their master's bidding.
Move deeper into the hallowed halls and you are drawn to the Blackjack tables. Blackjack is the world's most popular casino card game.
Also within the ornate 'Belle Epoque' interior of the Salon Ordinaire, are tables for French Roulette. The exclusive jacket and tie 'Salon Privies', offer Blackjack, Baccarat, Craps and American Roulette.
The principality of Monaco, of which Monte Carlo forms the gambling centre, is a tiny sovereign state about the size of Hyde Park in London.
Some six thousand of the 32,000 residents hold the privilege of full citizenship of this glamorous tax-free haven for the rich and famous. The citizens have their own flag and their own Monegasque dialect of the French language.
Monaco's colourful history is recorded in its coat of arms, which features two monks bearing swords. These monks were gatekeepers who unwisely took pity on a bedraggled monk who sought shelter in the palace during a storm. The year was 1297 and the hapless monk was the ambitious Francis Grimaldi in disguise. He killed the guards, opened the gate for his supporters and declared himself ruler of Monaco.
By the mid 19th century the monarchy was facing bankruptcy and Prince Charles III had the inspiration to build a gambling house on a hill where goats once grazed, calling it Monte Carlo - Mount Charles.
Banking on Monte Carlo to save his mini-state paid huge dividends when the new railways brought the world to his door, so he exempted Monaco's citizens from taxes forever. There was a slight hiccup in 1891 when Charles Wells broke the bank. The gaming tables were draped in black for three days of mourning.
The fairytale-like, mini-world of Monaco has a continent's worth of sightseeing. The classic scene is the noontime changing of the guard at the royal palace.
Other attractions include: the Cathedral, Monaco's Old Town, the Palace State Rooms, the Oceanographic Museum, the Princess Grace Rose Garden, the Exotic Garden, the aquarium and Monte Carlo Spa.
There is also top-shelf theatre and ballet, a symphony orchestra, a number of specialised museums and the famous Formula One race track around the city streets.
Monaco and Monte Carlo are all about the pursuit of love, life, laughter and the chance of making a fortune.
Few succeed at striking it rich but there is a vicarious thrill in celebrity sightings on the promenade.
At the very least you can experience some of the 305 days of sunshine, the year-round holiday atmosphere, beautiful beaches, wonderful food, friendly people and a relaxed way of life.
The great thing about Monte Carlo, the Principality of Romance, is that even if you lose in the casinos you win everywhere else - you can bank on it.