Menton mini guide
Menton: The Pearl of France
Located in the Province-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Region of France, on the French Riviera not far from the border of Italy, is the exceptional seaside town of Menton. With the Ligurian Alps to one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other, this tranquil town enjoys an exceptional climate. In fact, it is considered the most temperate place in France, with practically no winter season at all, allowing for lush gardens and the year long production of citrus fruits. Although it is located just 20km east of Nice, between Monaco and the Italian border, Menton enjoys a more relaxed atmosphere than some of its glitzier neighbors. This small town of about 29,000 residents is picturesque with its harbor filled with sail boats, sandy beaches, endless gardens, and red tiled homes built from the sea up the hillside. Known for its citrus fruit groves filled with lemon, mandarin and orange trees, it also boasts museums, a casino, discos, bars, numerous water sports, and endless magnificent gardens. Le Marché Municipal, the site of the local market, is a pleasure to visit for tourists and natives alike. The town also hosts a number of festivals that draw crowds during the year, including the Fête des Citron, the Lemon Festival held for three weeks from February to March every year. For families or couples seeking a quieter time on the Côte d’Azur, Menton could be the ideal answer.
Like many places along the French Riviera, Menton was inhabited in prehistoric times, but its formal history begins around 1000 AD when the Count of Ventimiglia founded the Château de Puypin here. At this time the inhabitants were primarily Ligurians. By 1346, the Grimaldi family of the Principality of Monaco had taken control of Menton, which they continued to rule until 1848. This was when the town declared itself a Ville Libre, a free town, under the protection of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Then in 1860 it voted to join France, of which it has been a part of since 1861. Up until this time Menton’s economy was based mainly on citrus fruit production, with an exportation of nearly 40 million lemons a year to all parts of Europe. However, in the 1870s, Menton, like much of the French Riviera, was discovered by the wealthy English who loved to vacation here because of the mild climate. Russian Grand Dukes, retired diplomats, artists such as Picasso and Jean Cocteau and even Queen Victoria came here to enjoy the lovely gardens and beautiful seaside. During World War II, after the occupation of France in 1940, Menton was annexed by nearby Italy then occupied by the Germans in 1943 until it was liberated by the Allies on September 8, 1944. This all left the town somewhat devastated. It was not until the 1960s that once again Menton became a popular vacation destination. Despite all the turbulence, Menton has maintained its charm just as it has preserved its Medieval, Baroque and Belle Époque styled architecture. Today it is a more relaxed resort, but still a pleasure to visit, offering activities for everyone in a beautiful setting.
Fête des Citron
Menton’s annual Lemon Festival takes place over three weeks from February to March, and it is considered one of the greatest events on then French Riviera, drawing about 200,000 visitors from around the world every year. The festival includes music of all types, parades with floats, dancing and the famous sculptures made only of citrus fruits that are displayed in the Jardin Biovès. Here, Menton’s favorite produce is celebrated and enjoyed, and fun is had by all.
Situated right on the Mediterranean Sea, Menton is blessed with beautiful sandy beaches on either side of the town. There are about 12 private beaches where one has to pay to rent the lounge chairs with the beach umbrellas, but also enjoys the benefit of the bars and restaurants that are built right there on the beach. If you prefer a free public beach, there are countless of those as well, including the Plage des Sablettes just at the foot of the old town. Be sure to enjoy a stroll down the Promenade du Soleil which runs along the beach and stop at one of the many café or restaurants along the way. This promenade is also where the parade runs during the Lemon Festival.
This small square is situated in the older part of Menton and is paved with mosaic cobblestones in the Grimaldi coat of arms. It is enclosed on threes sides with two churches and historic homes that are some of the best examples of Italian styled architecture in France. Here one finds the Basilique Saint-Michel, a church begun in 1619 under the orders of Prince Honor II of Monaco, and was consecrated later in 1675. It has a richly decorated interior which includes a marble altar. The bell tower outside was added in the 18th century. Nearby at the end of the square is the peach colored Chapelle des Pénintents Blancs. It was built in 1687 by Prince Louis I, but the four statues outside were added later in 18th century. From the square there is a huge stairway that overlooks the sea below.
Le Bastion de Saint-Antoine
This square fortress was built from 1619-1636 by Honore II, then Prince of Monaco. Comprised of three floors, it was from here that the guards sat in watch, charged with defending Menton from invasion and armed with three cannon. The guards lived on the premises and the town’s arms were stored below. The fortress at times was also used as a prison and acted as a lighthouse until a new one was built in 1890. French artist Jean Cocteau restored the fortress himself, adding the pebbled mosaic to the outer walls and the reception hall. Now the fortress is home to the Musée Jean Cocteau which has a great collection of the artist’s tapestries, drawings and ceramics.
This Italian Renaissance styled palace that was built in 1717 was once the Prince of Monaco’s summer residence. It is now home to the Musée des Beaux Arts du Carnolès, Menton’s Modern Art Museum which has an exceptional collection of paintings. It is however, better known for its amazing gardens that are filled with the largest collection of citrus trees in Europe. Here one finds over 400 trees and over 50 species including different varieties of orange, lemon, mandarin, clementine and pineapple. The garden is also filled with palm trees and other varieties, sculptures by famous artists, and an abundance of flowers. On the palace grounds visitors can also see the rose nursery.
Val Rahmeh Garden
This famous garden was first started by a group of English ex-patriots at the end of the 19th century. In 1925 Lord Radcliff, once governor of Malta, took over. He added species of plants that he had collected in his travels of the world. In 1967, the garden was declared the Mediterranean Center of the National Museum of Natural History. Visitors can tour this garden and appreciate the vast variety of plants from around the world on this lush estate. Here one finds plants from the solanaceae family, exotic fruit trees, avocados from Central America, and of course, a large number of citrus trees.
This is one of Menton’s oldest gardens. It includes a 1000 year old olive grove with over 530 olive trees. From the low wall, one has a great view of the sea below and the 3 hectares of open space offer a great place for children to great out and run wild.
The Colombières Garden
This garden once belonged to the Laden-Bockairy family and was designed for them by artist and writer Ferdinand Bac from 1918-1927. Bac created small gardens with different themes based on Greek and Roman mythology, such as the Ulysses garden and Nausicaa’s fountain. Most of the plants he chose were the local Latin species, and include the cypress and olive trees. In addition, Bac had a dozen small buildings built on the property as part of his gardens. From here one also gets a great view of Menton and the bay below.
Galerie d’Art du Palais de l’Europe
This art museum is located in Menton’s old casino that was built from 1908-1909 by Danish architect Hans Georg Tersling. The collection includes both French and European contemporary art.
Musée de Préhistoire Régionale
This museum has a small but amazing collection of prehistoric finds that were discovered locally and in the nearby areas around Monaco and Nice. The exhibits include bronze figures in dioramas, an audio visual presentation with graphical diagrams and of course many artifacts.
This small train takes visitors on a tour of the town of Menton. It covers about 7km and takes about 30 minutes. It is great way to get an overview of the area and the whole family will enjoy it.