Close to the French – Italian border, the pleasant Cote d’Azur resort of Menton has been attracting tourists for years. Easily reachable as as a budget destination from the UK, the town is interesting in itself, and also a good base if you’re touring along the Riviera.
Menton tourist information
Although the pretty town is nowadays inside France, Menton once belonged to Genoa, is still Italian to look at and is as warm in winter as Capri. The Cote d’Azur resort is used to tourists, and has had a resident English ‘colony’ since the 1890s. Among assorted European nobility in Menton’s beautiful hilltop cemetery lie the inventor of Rugby football and Aubrey Beardsley, Oscar Wilde’s friend and illustrator. Above the posh yachts and fishing boats, Menton’s old town rises in a tangle of stepped lanes, pink/cream/ochre houses and tall Italianate churches.
Menton is big enough to have most of what the tourist needs, both in season and out: plenty of shops, gardens, museums (including one to Jean Cocteau housed in an old fort) and plenty going on – but nothing too over-the-top rowdy. Menton hosts a famous Lemon Festival in February. Westward there is a curious 1930’s Moorish-style Casino and a long promenade with a clean if pebbly public beach. Behind the town stands a sheltering line of mountains and several ancient villages on high ledges, connected by little lanes and footpaths. Surprisingly for the Riviera, there is a network of such routes, including parts of two ‘GRs’ – Grand Randonnees, French long-distance footpaths.
Eating and drinking
During the day, try any of several sea-front cafes and watch your waiter (probably Italian) cheerfully dodge the traffic separating the tables along the beach from his bar/restaurant across the promenade. At night, make for the Rue St Michel a bit back from the waterfront, at the foot of the old town. The Restaurant Don Riccio, quiet and friendly, serves excellent pizza. Or you won’t have to go far for more typical French fare. Expect to pay about 20 Euros almost anywhere for three decent courses.
Take a cheap bus (several a day) from the central bus station up to Roquebrune village and visit the ruin of a small mediaeval castle, with a heart-stopping view of the Riviera coastline. Tiny Roquebrune village is a huddle of red-tiled roofs and lanes which are more like tunnels. But there is also a little square, where we enjoyed our plat du jour and half-litre of rose in warm January sunshine. In only half an hour you can walk from this square down long but easy flights of steps, crossing two roads and the railway, to reach the Med. itself. Here a well-maintained footpath, with pretty views of the Monaco coast, runs all the way round the fancy Cap Martin headland. Judging from the numbers we met, it’s a popular stroll for the locals, especially as it finishes at the beginning of Menton’s sweeping promenade – with car park and buses handily placed.
Nice is the most convenient budget airline destination for UK travellers. A shuttle bus runs from Nice Airport to Nice railway station. From there a train goes about every half hour right along the coast: stops include Monte Carlo (Monaco), Menton and eventually Ventimiglia and San Remo in Italy. Alternatively, there is a more expensive coach direct, every hour, from Nice Airport to both Monaco and Menton.
French Riviera driving advice
I don’t suggest you drive backward and forward along the coast, except very much out of season, as the public transport’s good and certainly less wearying. However, you can drive up the twisting roads into the hills for a leisurely tour of the little ‘perched’ villages. More intriguingly, you can reach one of France’s Alpine national parks, the Mercantour, in under an hour. Except for the big French holiday period of July-August, there won’t be much traffic on these inland roads at all. Early in the year there is snow on the mountains when it is 20C/70F on the coast.