Let me introduce you to this little piece of France, at the very end of the French Riviera, nestled between the borders of Italy and Monaco. A short walk along the scenic seashore surrounding by mountains is already a hint about its long international heritage despite its small size. Thanks to its mild winter climate, Menton became famous for its flavourful lemons famous but also attracted the rich and famous from all over Europe since the 19th century. No wonder why to the influence of its Italian neighbour, the traces of its famed British and Russian guests are still visible today. While I loved Nice for its lively atmosphere, I also found Menton to be the perfect peaceful place to rest and hide away on the French Riviera.
Any trip to the French Riviera would surely be incomplete without at least spending an entire day there. Menton is more than a pretty colourful seaside town. From the deep blue sea to the heights of its highest summits, here is a selection of the things I loved the most doing while keeping on a relaxing mode during the weeks I spent in Menton in the last 2 years.
1 – Climbing to the top of Menton Old town
The pink, yellow and orange houses, on top of each other, around the baroque white and yellow bell tower of St-Michael-Archangel Basilica, seem to float above water. The iconic architecture of Menton old town, between chaos and poetry, is making the best of the hilly landscapes between the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea. No wonder why it became such a famous sight of the French Riviera.
Don’t be afraid to get lost in its maze of the narrow streets. You will pass steep stairs, tiny terraces, acrobatic arches punctuated with flowers, mosaics and drying laundry. Let going up or down, be your only compass. At the top, the cemetery of the old castle overlooks the roof tiles of the old town. Its name comes from the 13thcentury castle which used to stand there for 400 years before its destruction.
The number of nationalities reunited makes it one of the most fascinating cemeteries I got to visit. Among the French and Italian sounding names of Menton families, don’t be surprised to see British and Russian surnames. At the cemetery gate, don’t leave right away and turn left. Walk the beginning of Garavan Boulevard for what remains my favourite viewpoint in town.
2 – Enjoying a bird’s eye view from St-Agnes
You won’t need a drone to get a bird’s eye view of the coastline from Italy to Monaco. At 800 m of altitude, the village of St-Agnès is the highest seaside village in Europe. Located right above Menton, only 10 km away, it feels like flying above the French Riviera from its South viewpoint.
Visiting St-Agnès gives an excellent glimpse of the landscapes of the backcountry of the Alpes-Maritime Prefecture, where the French Alps begin. From there, we are only a stone’s thrown away from the National Park of Mercantour. The cicadas are still singing, but the air is much cooler surrounded by mountains at 1,200 m of altitude. A couple of hiking trails start from the heart of the medieval village to reach them but climbing to the top of the ancient castle ruins, just above the village, is already an excellent workout.
If you liked the atmosphere of St Agnes, you should also go explore the villages of Gorbio and Sospel which are just a bit further away. All these villages are accessible by bus from Menton town centre with lines 7, 10 and 15. A ticket price is 1,50€, but you can also get a day pass for 5€ directly on board of the bus. You can find the time schedule on Zest website (French only, unfortunately).
3 – Having lunch in style on the Sablettes Beach
Private beaches are a long tradition on the French Riviera. To be honest, it wasn’t initially my cup of tea in places like Nice or Antibes, but Menton changed my mind. Was it because of the friendly atmosphere of the family-run businesses, the mouth-watering menu based on local products or the setting on the lovely sandy beach of Les Sablettes, right below the colourful old town? It was undoubtedly a bit of all of this that made me return this year. No matter the bill, each time I spent a special delightful moment.
My favourite address? Da Mitchou, 9 Promenade de la Plage, Menton
My favourite thing? Going for a swim after my order while waiting for my food.
4 – Scuba diving in Menton
As you surely suspected, I couldn’t write about Menton without looking for scuba diving opportunities. Menton has one dive centre called Palm Beach, which is located on the Garavan Harbour on its eastern side. As the main diving area is off Cap Martin, West of Menton, the 15-minute boat ride includes a fantastic view of Menton Bay from the sea on Palm Beach’s large and comfortable diving boat. The team is friendly and welcomes international scuba divers in English, Italian and of course, French.
I went scuba diving in Menton 3 times, and while the boat stopped at the exact same spot off Cap Martin each time, I enjoyed 3 very different dives by following different routes at different depths:
- On the first day, on the first dive, I went to the deepest part at 35 m where the sandy bottom starts and forkbeard and conger eels hide down the wall. My dive parameters: max depth 34 m – dive time 64 min
- On my second dive, I remained shallower than 18 m deep, crossing different “valleys” of Posidonia seagrass among large schools of sargo seabreams and shy groupers. My dive parameters: max depth 18 m – dive time 77 min
- Finally, the next morning on my third dive, we followed the Gorgonian drop-off pushed by a gentle current between 18 and 30 m. It was the area where I saw the greatest diversity of marine species. My dive parameters: max depth 30 m – dive time 51 min
The water temperature was, end of August, at 26°C at the surface, 24°C at 15 m deep, and 17°C at 35 m deep. Down to 15 m, the water temperature remains at a comfortable level, so a 5mm full suit can be enough; but if you plan on going deeper like, my 7mm wetsuit with my hood was a comfortable choice (gloves were not necessary). Regarding, the visibility was excellent, between 20 and 25 m.
From a marine life point of view, I had a good selection of Mediterranean species with groupers, moray eels, barracudas, scorpionfish and a couple of nudibranchs such as a purple flabellina and a spotted doris. But my most memorable encounter was this giant hermit-crab on my last dive, with its two symbiotic anemones on top of its borrowed shell.
5 – Treating yourself with the best lemon treats
Impossible to talk about Menton without talking about its famous lemons, known for their sweetness and the intense flavour of their peel. In town, you will find many shops selling every possible speciality made with these lemons, from jams to pasta. However, my favourite thing remains to buy fresh lemons and bake home-made lemon pies!
Some addresses in town for you to sample the best of Menton’s lemon flavours:
- Maison Herbin – jams & marmelades, 2 Rue du vieux collège, Menton
- Bakery Jean-Luc Pélé, 1 Rue Partouneaux, Menton
- Pasta Piemonte – lemon raviolis, 34 Rue Partouneaux, Menton
- La Maison du Citron – organic citrus grove, 2970 Route de Super Garavan, Menton
How to get to Menton?
There are many ways to come to Menton, but the best to me remains to take the daily direct high-speed TGV train between Paris-Gare de Lyon and Menton in only 6 hours and 40 minutes. In all other cases, you can go to Nice by TGV or by flying to Nice International Airport and then change to a local TER train to Menton which takes less than 40 minutes.
If you are already in Nice and you’re not in a hurry, it’s good to know that you can also take the bus line 100 for only 1,50€. The bus leaves from Nice Harbour then goes through Monaco and takes about an hour to arrive in Menton. Whether you take the train or the bus to get to Menton, the journey offers incredible views of the French Riviera, it’s almost a tour in itself at the best possible value!
Where to stay in Menton?
By staying with a good friend of mine, I didn’t have to book accommodation in Menton. However, I did help her to clean between guests the sea view studio she rents on Airbnb in the district of Garavan, between the Italian border and the Old town, and the best: it is 5 minute walking away from the beach and Palm Beach dive centre!
If you looking to splurge a bit and taste some luxury on the French Riviera without breaking the bank, the best hotel I saw is definitely the Royal Westminster. I have no idea how it can only be a 3-star hotel with its elegant architecture and exquisite gardens right on the seafront.
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This article was written in partnership with the tourism board of Côte d’Azur. As always, all my views and opinions are my own and reflect my experience honestly.
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