Menton is the warmest and the most Italianate of the towns on the Côte d'Azur, ringed by the protective Mont Agel, Mont Grammont and Mont Berceau. A stunning 331 days of sunshine, no Mistral and an average winter temperature of around 16°C (60°F) make this a wonderful place to spend the colder season. No surprise: summers can be hot and stiffling here. The favorable climate produces two crops in abundance, lemon trees and second home owners.
Menton does not show the ostentatious wealth of Monaco or Cap Ferrat, nor the hustle and bustle of Nice. It has a genteel, slow moving pace, basking in its beautiful setting. True, some of the old mansions and town houses are in need of renovation. But that is gradually happening as discount airlines make Menton more accessible to "les Anglais" and Europeans in their quest for a warmer climate. What we like about Menton is its French-Italian charm and the fact that all beaches from Baia di Sole in the west to Garavan in the east are open to the public and uncluttered by by beach restaurants, bars and deck chair rentals. The promenade runs all the way from the Italian border to the eastern town limits with Carnolès (a part of Roquebrune-Cap Martin).
In 1860 Menton voted to become a part of France after six centuries under Monégasque rule. In the same year the British physician Henry Bennet recommended Menton for its healthy air and temperate climate during winter. Soon wealthy Britons and Russians (they are back after a 80 year interlude) flocked to Menton. The grand Belle Époque hotels, the botanical gardens and the seaside promenade give testimony to Menton's past popularity amongst the rich and famous; Monet, Maupassant, Flaubert, Liszt, Katherine Mansfield, Robert Louis Stevenson, the list goes on and on.
You can park your car on Quai Napoléon south of the yacht harbor, except on Saturdays, when the weekly market takes place here. Right at the entrance of the yacht harbor is the old postage size citadel, the Bastion de Saint Antoine. Constructed from 1619-1636 by the Grimaldis from Monaco it was Menton's main line of defense from invasions and pirates. It was originally surrounded by water and connected with the shore by a mobile wooden bridge. Since 1966 the citadel houses the Musée Jean Cocteau, exhibiting drawings, tapestries and ceramics by the French artist Jean Cocteau. He himself refurbished and decorated the fortress' outer walls and the reception hall with pebble mosaics.
Let's cross the street towards Vieux Menton,the old town, and take a look at the Marché Municipal. There is a lively food market inside with lots of stalls selling meet, fish, cheese, veggies and other groceries. We love this place! Outside, towards the old town, is a stand selling "soca", a Nicoise specialty - try it, it's only Euro 1.80 a portion.
From the market hall continue up the hill and visit Vieux Menton with its steep alleys and numerous staircases, a veritable gem. Medieval houses in bright Ligurian style (Rue Longue and Rue Brea) intermingle with Baroque style churches and residences from the 17th and 18th centuries. We reach Place St.Michel, paved with mosaic cobblestones and surrounded on three sides by two magnificent Baroque churches and old apartment houses with a terrace and grand staircase leading down to the Vieux Port and the sheltered Plage des Sablettes. The two churches, Basilique Saint Michael (1619-1675), richly decorated and with a marble altar, and the smaller, apricot-colored Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs, are prime example of the Ligurian Baroque style. Take a look at the mosaic covered cupolas - you see the same style in the historic mountain villages across the border.
In the newer parts of town you still find a number Belle Époque hotels (most have been converted to apartment houses) and villas from the late 19th/early 20th century within a modern, at times non-descript urban layout.
Le Palais Carnolès on Avenue de la Madone, the former summer residence of the Princes of Monaco, houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts. A beautiful 18th century building with extensive gardens. Inside they show European paintings ranging from Ludovico (Louis) Brea (1450-1523) to modern artists, like Graham Sutherland. The Jardin du Palais Carnolès has one of the largest collections of citrus trees in Europe. Talking about gardens: Menton is famous for its gardens, a result of the late 19th century English influence. The Jardin Botanique Exotique du Val Rahmeh in Menton Garavan is owned by the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Many tropical and subtropical plants, including edible plants (bananas, kiwis, avocados) and a sizeable collection of - you guessed it - citrus trees. On the road to Gorbio you find the 9ha Jardin Serre de la Madone, a botanical garden created from 1919-39 by the English garden designer Lawrence Johnston of Hidcote Manor (Gloucestershire) fame. Other well known gardens in and around Menton are Jardin Maria Serena, Jardin Fontana Rosa and the privately owned Clos du Peyronnet, Les Colombières and the Hanbury Botanic Gardens in Mertola, 7km east of Menton in Italy.
Menton has an impressive festival calendar. La Fête des Citrons (citrus fruit festival) takes place in late February/early March each year, drawing around two hundred thousand visitors. Exhibits, floats, all made of lemons and oranges, a colorful, lively event - if you happen to be on the Côte d'Azur during this time, don't miss it. In May is the street theatre and young musicians' fair, in July the Ma Ville est Tango event and in August the prestigious Festival de Musique. A Mediterranean garden event takes place in September.