Menton, often called “the pearl of France” and historically famous for its lemons, is situated at the far eastern end of the French Riviera, right on the border with Italy (those clouds you see on the photo are on the Italian side of the border; the sky in France is still cloudless). It enjoys the sunniest weather in all of France, and the warmest weather in France during the winter months.
It was in Menton that the cult of the French Riviera began, and the marks of the British presence in Menton are everywhere, from the buildings to the street names, the gardens and the promenades. It was the most British town on the Riviera and is still a very pretty town.
The British are long gone, as are the aristocracy, the celebrities and the money. What is left is a calm and relaxed town living out the charms of its past, which was a bit of a relief to us after the frenzy of Monaco yesterday. Nowadays the town seems to have been taken over by working class French retirees and Italian tourists.
We had arrived in Menton by train, a simple half an hour ride from Nice. I did take notice of the fact that the train route is completely underground in a tunnel, from the cape before Monaco (Cap D’Ail) right until the cape after Monaco (Cap Martin). This means that nowhere in Monaco does the train appear above ground, including its stop at the underground Monaco station, so there is no view of Monaco to be had for the train traveler. Good thing we took the boat yesterday!
We walked the town until we reached the pedestrian areas of the old town of Menton. There were lots of cafes and restaurants, as well as a few places to have the local “citronnade” made with local lemons. The crowds seemed to be all French or Italian.
Being right next to the Italian border, we decided to have lunch at an Italian restaurant, and we selected one with the very un-Italian Greek name of L’Olimpo, with a fantastic Italian menu which turned out to be wonderful. Nearby, an accordeonist sat down and started serenading the patrons with romantic French and Italian love songs, like Volare and La Vie en Rose. When he took a break, a guitarist at a neighboring restaurant picked up the slack with tunes such as Elvis’ I can’t stop loving you, etc.. It was just wonderful and so relaxing.
Naturally, I could not resist having spaghetti aux fruits de mer again as my main course! I committed a faux-pas when I asked the waiter for a vinaigrette for my salade nicoise entree (meaning appetizer). The waiter explained at length that vinaigrettes are only for people in the north and, pointing to the olive oil and balsamic vinegar which had been on the table all along, added that in the South everyone uses olive oil and balsamic vinegar. But of course …
We had a very leisurely and totally enjoyable lunch, charmed by the music and the food, and knowing that we had little to do for the rest of our day in Menton. Nevertheless, when I finally asked for the check after a couple of hours, the waiter’s reaction was “Why? Are you in a rush?”
We took another walk east of the old town along the beachfront. Interestingly, the beach on the east side is a sand beach, while the beach on the west side of the old town is a pebble beach. In any case, we finally decided that we would visit the Jean Cocteau museum nearby.
We did not stay very long. The museum is quite forgettable (like the town). I just can’t relate to Jean Cocteau. He seemed to have been ill at ease with himself all of his life, an anti-conformist who wanted to shock, who really thought that art was anti-conformity. I happen to think that he never understood that art is beauty. And I still can’t forgive him for being a Hitler sympathizer!
We ended up taking an earlier train back to Nice. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a rush hour train. At the Monaco station, a huge number of people got on board and filled every seat, alley and closet on the train. It was impossible for anyone to move on that train, and I was wondering how we would be able to get off the train at the Nice station. Fortunately for us, it would seem that a lot of Nice people commute to and from Monaco for work, since a lot of people got off the train at the Nice station and cleared the way for us to disembark without any problem.
Stay tuned to BonVoyageurs.com for more Countries of the World as we share our joie de vivre from around the world. Luxury escapes and city breaks to Quebec City, New York, Washington, Buenos Aires. In Europe, places like Paris France, Nice France, Provence and the Cote d’Azur (French Riviera), Tuscany and Florence in Italy, Rome, Napoli and the Amalfi Coast. In Asia, countries like China, India, Nepal and so much more!