Monaco seeks new golden era with princely wedding

Wed Jun 29, 2011 11:38am EDT
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By Alexandria Sage

MONACO (Reuters) - Tragedy and scandal have chipped away at the fairy tale principality of Monaco but locals hope a long-awaited wedding between Prince Albert and his South African fiancee will revive a faded gem on the Cote d'Azur.

His Serene Highness Prince Albert II, the 53-year-old ruler of the tiny city-state of Monaco and head of the centuries-old House of Grimaldi, will wed Charlene Wittstock, 33, this weekend in the palace courtyard during a lavish three-day celebration.

Monaco, the sunny stomping ground of the rich, known as much for its Grand Prix car race as for its lack of income tax, is abuzz with the nuptials, which take place just two months after Britain's royal wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton.

Monegasques -- who number only around 8,000 -- hope having a dazzling new princess could revive the fortunes of Monaco, and the gambling center of Monte Carlo, which lives off its image as the epicenter of luxury, fast cars and betting tables.

"Now there will be a princess," sighed Martine Ruelle, who has worked at a Formula One store for 20 years. "It brings a dynamism to Monaco and a very beautiful image."

Saturday's wedding will be the first of a ruling prince in Monaco since Albert's father, Prince Rainier III, married Hollywood actress Grace Kelly in 1956, and locals hope Wittstock could bring back some of the glamour which died alongside Kelly in a 1982 car crash.

Albert met Wittstock -- a statuesque former national swimming champion whose champagne blonde hair and sculptured figure draws comparisons with Kelly -- in 2000 when he presided over a swimming contest in which she was competing.

Keen to dazzle the world with the new couple, the palace is laying on two tons of red carpet, a Giorgio Armani wedding gown, 3,500 guests, including some 20 heads of state, a dinner prepared by chef Alain Ducasse and a hybrid Lexus to whisk away the newlyweds. It has issued a decree encouraging residents to decorate their houses for the event.   Continued...

<p>A flag announcing the wedding of Prince Albert II of Monaco and his fiancee Charlene Wittstock is seen with Monaco Palace in the background June 27, 2011. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard</p>