By Tony Chiu
Updated April 08, 1991 12:00 PM

High atop the promontory the locals call the Rock, the door to Clos Saint-Pierre opens. An unsmiling woman of 34 steps from the off-pink two-story villa. Princess Caroline of Monaco’s clothes, invariably black these days, hang loosely on a 5’8″ frame grown far thinner than her family and friends think healthy. Her dark hair is pulled back in a simple ponytail, her pale face shielded by sunglasses even when skies are overcast.

Below, to the east, lies Monte Carlo, its fabled Casino overlooking a harbor crammed with luxury yachts. To the south lies the locus of her grief, the spot on the Mediterranean where her Italian-born husband, Stefano Casiraghi, died last Oct. 3 while indulging in the sport he had promised to give up, powerboat racing.

Now Caroline’s son Andrea, a towhead of 6 who is the brother of Charlotte, 4, and Pierre, 3, emerges from the villa. Caroline clutches his hand and begins the short walk to the Saint-Maur school, which she herself attended a quarter century ago during a sun-dappled youth untouched by the scandal and deaths that have stalked the house of Grimaldi this past decade. Dropping off Andrea, she often takes the Avenue des Pins to the private Chapelle de la Paix. After spending time by the tomb of her husband, she starts back up the hill to her home.

It has been six months since Casiraghi was trapped when his boat, Pinot di Pinot, flipped while slamming across the waves at 100-plus mph. In deference to Caroline, the principality’s 1990 Christmas card featured not the traditional royal family portrait but rather a photograph of a decorated tree in the palace courtyard. Yet though the official mourning period ended in early January, Caroline—by some newspaper accounts under around-the-clock medication, by others chain-smoking her way through three packs of cigarettes a day—continues to shun contact with all but family and close friends.

Around her the principality has erected a bristling fortress of silence. The people of Monaco have been almost defiantly supportive of their shattered Princess. “Why subject herself to scrutiny?” asks a Monegasque socialite. “Caroline should be admired for the dignified way she is handling this tragedy. It shows she can suffer and be hurt and have the emotions of any other human being. She’s staying behind closed doors to avoid hurting herself—or others. She is taking care of her kids the best way she knows how.”

Of course, Caroline’s reclusiveness has spawned rumors, most of them outlandish. One has it that she wants to move to America with her children. Another centers on her friend since childhood Roberto Rossellini (son of Ingrid Bergman and brother of Isabella Rossellini), who seems ever present. He traveled with the entire Grimaldi clan to the Caribbean in December and, the scuttlebutt goes, would like to provide more than consolation for Caroline. “In a way it might be the best thing to happen to her, because he’s a hell of a nice guy,” says one family friend. Snorts another: “Everyone presumes that every man she talks to will be her next husband.”

In any other family, Caroline would be allowed her bereavement. But Princess Grace’s 1982 death forced the First Daughter to assume the role of First Lady of Monaco as well, heading up charities and presiding over the social life that is crucial to maintaining the principality’s chief asset, glamour.

Over the past two months she was spared appearances at the Monte Carlo International Circus Festival and the glittering end-of-winter Rose Ball; those annual events were canceled because of the gulf war. Now Desert Storm has subsided, and the principality is coming back to life. The question perplexing Monegasques is, When will Caroline? Former palace spokesperson Nadia Lacoste rightly observes that “the calendar of the palace and the calendar of the heart are two separate things,” but Caroline’s failure to appear at last week’s opening of the Biennale de Sculpture did not pass unnoticed.

To be sure, she has on occasion left the Rock. Late last October she attended a memorial service in Fino Mornasco on Lake Como, where the Casiraghis have a home. Over Christmas, Caroline joined the family on a holiday in Jamaica, and she later took Andrea, Charlotte and Pierre skiing. Lately she has resumed horseback riding (“It obviously takes her mind off her troubles,” says a stable hand) and even braved photographers to attend Andrea’s first violin recital. But she no longer dines at trendy eateries like Rampoldi’s or Le Café” de Paris near the Casino or Le Texan near the port, and a simple shopping trip to nearby Nice with a couple of girlfriends became the pretext for two pages of snaps in an Italian tabloid.

Caroline’s sorrow not only continues to cast a pall over the rest of her family, it also has farther-reaching implications in a land uniquely dependent on its ability to furnish its well-heeled guests with at least the illusion of a good time.

Monaco is the world’s second-smallest sovereign state (482 acres), larger only than Vatican City. Nestled on the coast five miles from the French-Italian border, the enclave was a Genoese stronghold in 1297 when the first Grimaldi—Lanfranco the Spiteful—arrived dressed as a friar and by this ruse stole control of the castle. Monaco’s longtime revenue stream from piracy eventually petered out, but in 1878 the famed Casino opened, transforming the sleepy principality into a magnet for jaded aristocracy and parvenus. Eyeing the losers streaming from the tables, Somerset Maugham was moved to call Monaco “a sunny place for shady people.”

Since ascending to the throne in 1949, Prince Rainier III has changed that, becoming the first monarch in centuries actually to live in Monaco most of the year. He reduced the principality’s dependency on gaming income, which currently accounts for less than 4 percent of Monaco’s revenues. To take its place, Rainier built up the profitable tourist and convention industries and worked to make his little domain an attractive tax shelter for banks and such high-income celebrities as tennis ace Boris Becker, designer Karl Lagerfeld and opera star Placido Domingo.

His masterstroke, though, was the 1956 marriage to the Hollywood icon who enabled him to turn Monaco into the original Graceland. The former Grace Kelly not only gave the principality an instant cachet, she also bore Caroline, Albert and Stephanie, thereby saving Monaco’s independence; had Rainier died without an heir (though he could have adopted one), control would have become vested in France.

The Grimaldis built a discreet but powerful PR machine to attract more tourists. The ensuing press attention, lavished on the entire royal family, no doubt played a role in driving Caroline and Stephanie into rebellion, often by way of romances deemed unsuitable. For his part, Albert was afflicted with a severe childhood stutter, now tamed. Still, the principality prospered.

But then nine years ago next September, the Land-Rover carrying Grace and Stephanie back from their weekend home careened off the serpentine road winding down to Monaco. Grace’s death plunged Ranier into mourning for years; indeed, some say he has never fully recovered. Having divorced her first husband, the opportunistic French playboy Philippe Junot, Caroline married real-estate developer Casiraghi in 1983 and began a family. Stephanie took up modeling, singing, perfume making and men with dubious pasts (or futures). And Amherst-educated Albert concentrated on bobsledding and staying out of the limelight. Just when the family seemed to have regained its equilibrium, Casiraghi died, only weeks after he and Caroline had jetted 50 friends to Marrakech to celebrate his 30th birthday.

This latest tragedy appears to have brought out a previously latent unselfishness in Caroline’s kid sister, newly turned 26. A headstrong tomboy who fought with her mother, Stephanie was deeply scarred by Grace’s death—and the hydra-headed rumor that she had actually been at the wheel of the Land-Rover. Her subsequent affairs with a race-car driver, actors (including Rob Lowe), a pool boy, sex offender turned L.A. club owner Mario Oliver (né Jutard), record producer Ron Bloom and, most recently, ex-con Jean-Yves Le Fur (whom she is said to be dunning for $132,000, which indues half the cost of the lavish party celebrating their short-lived engagement) created a reputation Stephanie once conceded was that of “a crazed nymphomaniac.”

In her own defense, the young woman whom the French press has tagged the antiprincess says, “People imagine that everything is easy when you’re a princess, but we’re still human beings. Some of my friends don’t want to go out with me anymore—to go to a restaurant, I have to use a different door. Next time, I’ll hide the man I love, that I promise you.” When Stephanie, picking up her singing career, returned to Los Angeles to put the final touches on her long-delayed second album (recently released in Europe, it includes a song entitled “Words upon the Wind,” dedicated to her mother), she was paparazzied in the company of 25-year-old Jeffrey Moore, the son of actor Roger Moore. She says he’s only a pal. “I’d like people to understand that I can be friends with people,” she adds. “Just friends.”

Some of Stephanie’s notoriety stems from her ardent embrace of the Riviera custom of going bare-breasted on public beaches. But in truth, in her younger days Caroline had cut a similar figure—on view in topless beach sessions with tennis pro Guillermo Vilas, pursuing romances with the likes of pop star Philippe Lavil and marrying Junot—before settling down with Casiraghi at age 27.

Even before her brother-in-law’s death, Stephanie had shown encouraging signs of maturity. Last summer she ended her engagement to Le Fur and wiped clean another slate by undergoing painful laser surgery to remove a tattoo of old beau Jutard’s initials from her derriere. She has since maintained a low profile and at times has become a virtual second mother to her niece and nephews, sleeping at Caroline’s villa and pinch-hitting for her sister at events such as the Saint-Dévote, an annual fest honoring Monaco’s patron saint. Says one observer: “The spoiled bad girl of last summer has become a mature, comforting family member.”

With his sisters attempting to avoid the media glare, attention has swung to Albert, of whom Caroline once said, “Frankly, I can’t wait for him to get married, because then I can pass along a lot of my duties to his wife.”

Since the first of the year, the tabloids have linked Albert, 33, with a number of women, including German model Bea Fiedler, who claims he fathered her child, and American TV actress Lydia (Too Close for Comfort) Cornell, 34. But although normally discreet palace spokes-people have often practiced spin control by boasting (off the record, of course) of his numerous romantic conquests, and although Albert has moaned about “people who always want to fix me up,” speculation is growing more insistent about why the heir apparent remains a bachelor.

“I’m straight and always have been,” Albert declares, fully aware of the whispers that he is bisexual or gay. “When our family gets together, we joke about it or throw our hands up in desperation because there is very little we can do. If we make a big fuss about correcting these rumors, it just creates more attention and turns the whole thing into a soap opera.”

Indeed, the passion of his life still appears to be bobsledding. Albert, who finished 25th (out of 39 competitors) in the two-man event at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, announced his retirement from the risky sport after Casiraghi’s death, but he has obviously changed his mind since. Last month he finished 22nd out of 30 in a meet in Saint Moritz and may still harbor dreams of participating in the 1992 Olympics at Albertville, France.

For some time now, Albert has been attending the principality’s regular cabinet meetings and taking on more public duties as well. He represented Monaco at the enthronement of Emperor Akihito of Japan last November and at the funeral of Norway’s King Olav in January. But he seems in no hurry to claim the crown, which is just as well, because his father seems in no hurry to give it up.

At 67, Rainier maintains firm control of the principality; even in this, the most recent season of royal gloom, his realm will most likely attract its usual quota of a quarter-million visitors happy to fork over an average of $350 per night per ocean-view room. Rainier also remains a prime target of European matchmakers; in 1985 he was rumored to be engaged to twice-divorced Princess Ira von Furstenberg, but palace insiders doubt he will remarry as long as all three children remain nearby and single.

There may be another motive for Rainier’s refusal to abdicate. Hereditarily blessed with longevity (his father lived to 78. his grandfather to 74), the Prince must surely be aware of a signal date in the not-too-distant future: Jan. 8, 1997, which will mark his principality’s septicentennial. There would be few better ways to cap his reign than to shepherd Monaco into its eighth century—preferably flanked by three children who have at last found fulfillment.

The principal concern of the moment, of course, remains Caroline. As she works at reordering her broken life, a remark she made in an earlier, happier time comes to mind: “The days when a princess was too delicate to sleep on a mattress with a pea under it are long gone.” Having experienced her share of bumps, the hope in Monaco is that the next chapter of her life will not be nearly so Grimm.

Tony Chiu, Joel Stratte-McClure in Monaco