One of the great things about living in Piemonte is the ability to reach the Alps, the beautiful Lakes of Orta and Maggiore and the Italian Riviera in less time than some London commuters take to get to work. The border with France at Ventimiglia is also only two hours away, and on the other side of that border is the French town of Menton, nicknamed la perle de la France (“The Pearl of France”) on the French Riviera.
Menton has had many Italian visitors and rulers throughout it’s history. The Republic of Genoa in the 13th century, the Grimaldis from neighbouring Monaco until 1848, when the town seceded from Monaco and proclaimed itself a “free city”. Two years later it placed itself under the protection of the Kingdom of Sardinia from where it was administered by the House of Savoy for ten years. During the First World War, the town transformed it’s hotels and palaces into hospitals. In the Second World War it was annexed by the Italians in June 1940 and then the Germans in November 1942 and was eventually liberated on the 8th September 1944.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, during La Belle Époque, Menton reached it’s heyday, becoming the place to spend the winter, frequented by many of the crowned heads of Europe, including Queen Victoria and the Tsar of Russia. Many of their palaces survive today as private residences or hotels. Menton’s subtropical microclimate allows the town to enjoy an exceptional amount of sunshine all year around and most exotic plants and fruits to thrive.
The Covered Market (especially on Saturday morning!): Opened in 1898, this charming steel-structured building was designed by Adrien Rey, who worked under Gustave Eiffel in Paris.
Saint Michel Basilica: The largest and most important Baroque church in the region with it’s gilded marble, Genoese-style interior.
The Chapel of the Conception: Belonged to the Order of the White Penitents and it’s decorated with ornate stucco garlands.
Jardin Serre de la Madone: Created in the middle of the 20th century by Lawrence Johnston. A beautiful tranquil garden set in over 20 acres, on the Route de Gorbio.
Jardin Botanique Exotique du Val Rahmeh: This botanical garden, originally created in the late 19th century, is now owned by the state and is a research centre housing rare and exotic species.
Le Cimetière du Vieux Château: A terraced cemetery above the Old Town with panoramic views of the coastline where William Webb Ellis, the inventor of rugby, is buried.
Jean Cocteau Museum: Thanks to the generous donation by Severin Wunderman, the Jean Cocteau Museum – Severin Wunderman Collection houses the world’s largest public display of Cocteau’s works.
Menton’s Annual Lemon Festival: The next one will be held from February 17th to March 7th, 2013, featuring daytime and moonlight parades with citrus-covered floats, fireworks and stalls selling citrus products such as jam, honey, liqueurs, perfume and soaps. For full details head over to the Fête du Citron website.
Tourist Information Office:
8 avenue Boyer, inside the Palais de l’Europe opposite the Jardins Biovès. Tel: 33 (0)4 92 41 76 76. www.menton.fr