Menton Travel Guide
Last stop on the Côte d’Azur before Italy, the seaside town of Menton offers a glimpse of what the high life in big cities on the Riviera must have been like before the developers moved in.
With its pastel mansions and lovely old port, it’s one of the most attractive towns on the entire coast. Menton’s old town is a cascade of pastel-colored buildings. Add a fantastic museum dedicated to the great artist and film director Jean Cocteau, as well as several excellent restaurants, and Menton really is a must.
Famous for its year-round 355 days of sunshine and flowering vegetation, many say that Menton is the most Italian of all the towns in the French Riviera. Given its proximity to the Italian border, we can see why.
Menton: The Basics
The location of the town of Menton is in France, just over the border from Italy, close to the Italian town of Ventimiglia. It is in between the jagged foothills of the Alps and the Mediterranean sea.
Menton’s ideal location — in a valley on the Italian border between the Alps and the Mediterranean — benefits from a unique micro-climate that’s a few degrees warmer than the rest of the Côte d’Azur. In fact, the weather is some of the best in the world, with 355 days of sun. Hot and humid summers give way to mild winters. Summer temperatures rarely rise above 30 degrees Celsius, which is relatively moderate. See our guide to the weather and when to visit.
The area is so enchanting that Eve is said to have planted the first lemon here, and Menton, nestled on that last steep stretch of coastline before France gives way to Italy, is widely referred to as ‘The Pearl of France’.
It may sound crazy, but it’s true: Pirates founded the medieval old town of Menton. For six centuries, from 1346, the town was under the rule of the Princes of Monaco. It did not become part of France until it was annexed it during the French Revolution in 1860, when the Grimaldi’s agreed to sell the towns of Menton and Roquebrune to France for four million francs.
Menton is said to be the warmest town on the French Riviera, which was the reason for its popularity during the Belle Époque when British aristocracy flocked to the town and luxury hotels and villas were built in a magical setting.
The gloriously pretty seaside town of Menton may well be lesser known than its Riviera neighbors, but it was at Menton that the French Riviera as we know it truly begun, when the widowed Queen Victoria came to stay in 1882, thus opening the floodgates for royals and high society to follow. Railways were built, grand villas replaced stone farmhouses, and ornate carriages carrying dukes and princes passed slowly along high coast roads above the sparkling sea.
Check out more about Menton’s interesting history.
The Old Town Area (Vielle Ville)
Originally founded by pirates, the Old Town is the place to see pastel-painted buildings, baroque churches, the Basilique St-Michel Archange with its 35-meter tall clock tower and 53-meter high steeple. The painted-ceiling depicts St. Michael slaying the dragon. Black and white pebble mosaics decorate the pretty square in front of the church. Rue St-Michel links the Old Town and the modern part with boutiques, shops, and restaurants lining the street.
A statue of Saint Michael guards the harbor, and from here, you can see the basilica on the hilltop. South of the Port is a rocky beach with the lovely Promenade de Soleil as its border. If you’re looking for a more traditional beach, head to Les Sablettes beach, which is sandy compared to the southern coast.
Menton’s main garden is a lovely promenade and garden in the center of the town. Palm and orange trees decorate it. It is where the locals celebrate the annual Fête du Citron, or the Citrus Festival. Lemons, Menton’s symbol, are abundant, as well as other citrus fruits due to the favorable climate. Lovely arches made of roses and wooden benches make it a pleasant place to relax. It is right in front of the Palais de l’Europe.
On the hilltops past the old quarter, is the Cimetière du Vieux Château. It is on the site of an old castle which is long gone, hence, the name vieux château. It is a great place to visit for rugby enthusiasts, as it is the final resting place for the inventor of the game, William Ebb Ellis. The view of the Old Town and the port is superb when seen from here.
What to See in Menton
Palais de l’Europe: A theater and events venue of Menton with different programs and concerts according to season. It is also home to the Tourist Office, municipal library, and has a contemporary art gallery.
Jean Cocteau’s Frescoes: This extremely unique wedding hall in Menton’s town hall has wall and ceiling paintings by Jean Cocteau. The walls have swirling symbolic frescoes and you can see a leopard-print carpet, red Spanish arm-chairs, and lampshades with an unusual shape.
Musée des Beaux-Arts / Palais Carnolès: This is Menton’s main museum and the town’s center of arts. The seaside palace was once the residence of the Grimaldi rulers from Monaco. It has an extensive collection of paintings, from Italian primitives of the 12th century to the 18th century and modern arts. The palace has beautiful wood panels, golden doors, and delicate decorations on ceilings. It also has a remarkable garden with citrus trees and palms.
The Bastion: In 1957, while working on the decorations in the Menton wedding hall, Jean Cocteau noticed an abandoned 17th century fort: the Bastion. The mayor at the time offered to make it a muùsée of his works and the artist accepted. This museum now houses a rotating collection of over 2000 pieces of Jean Cocteau’s works.
Severin Wunderman: This is a sister museum of Le Bastion that also houses the collection of works of Jean Cocteau. The collection has seven parts, with 1000 pieces of artwork, from avant-garde graphics to films and photographic prints.
Regional Prehistoric Museum: This museum has an exhibit of prehistoric era of man in the region reaching back a million years up to the end of the Bronze age. There is also a permanent exhibit for “Wreck Treasures” from underwater archaeological finds from the Côte d’Azur.
Val Rahmeh Botanical Garden: This 19th-century garden is abundant with exotic fruit trees collection. It is the last sanctuary of the remaining specimen, Sophora toromino. The tree is from Easter Island but became extinct. It can be said that the garden of proof to the fact that everything can grow in the French Riviera.
Serre de la Madone: This is a newly-restored garden known for its superb selection of subtropical plants. It has terraces surrounded by olive trees, and low walls and hedges divide the garden into different areas. Pools, fountains, and statues add to the romanticism of the place.
Taking a break from sigh-seeing? Menton is the perfect place to enjoy simple pleasures like having an Aperol Spritz in a seaside cafe or enjoying some freshly-made sorbet while taking a stroll on the beach.