Menton lies serenely on the eastern French Riviera, a stone's throw from the Italian Riviera. Menton is called "the pearl of France".
Menton's unique microclimate makes it a great place to grow its famous lemons. It's a place where folks crowd into outdoor seats in cafes in winter. There is sunshine for a vast majority of the year; the tourist bureau claims 316 days of sunshine.
While Menton might be considered an upscale resort town, it also could be considered the least pretentious. The restaurants are modest and mostly Italian. French Haute Cuisine is hardly anywhere to be found. Moroccan food? Certainly.
Menton, thus, is comfortable. It is less about expensive designer shops than it is about gardens, of which there are many. Exotic botanicals? Try the Jardin botanique exotique du Val Rahmeh just off Avenue St Jacques. Menton is a strolling city. Monet, Maupassant, Flaubert, Liszt, Katherine Mansfield, and Robert Louis Stevenson have strolled in Menton they tell me.
Jean Cocteau also strolled here, and now his work is the subject of two museums on the waterfront. A new one called the Musée Jean Cocteau Collection Severin Wunderman sits between the Public Market and the seafront and contains 1,525 of Cocteau's works; Cocteau also created his very own museum in Menton's 17th-century Bastion, which he restored.
If you crave the big city, frequent trains will get you to Nice in 35 minutes.
What to See and Do in Menton
North of the Hôtel de Ville you'll find Menton's Municipal Museum, which contains everything from modern art to a collection of prehistoric exhibits from the local area.
Hôtel de Ville
The attraction of town hall is the Salle des Mariages, decorated by Jean Cocteau and one of the "things you must see in Menton." The mayor requested the frescoes and Cocteau took two years painting them starting in 1957. He also had a hand in the furnishings you see in the room.
Salle des Mariages
17 rue de la République F
Phone: 04 92 10 50 20
Jardin Biovès and Jardin Botanique
Menton, with its fine weather, is known for its extensive gardens--and these are the top two. Adjacent to the Jardin Biovès at 8 Avenue Boyer you'll find the Belle Epoque Palais d'Europe, once a casino which now houses the Cultural Center and the Tourist Office.
The Market Hall is open every day from 6 am till noon: on Fridays, there is an antique market and on Saturdays a flea market in the parking lot next to the Market Hall.
There are a number of stands selling wine, cheese and bread inside the market, so you can pick up a fine picnic or even a full meal if you are self-catering.
Finding Jean Cocteau in Menton
Jean Cocteau worked extensively along the Cote d'Azur. In Menton, you can see the Salle des Mariages in the town hall as mentioned earlier, but there are two other venues in which the traveler can see works by Cocteau in Menton, the Bastion and the nearby Jean Cocteau-Severin Wunderman museum.
Le Bastion, Jean Cocteau Museum
The Bastion of Menton was built in 1619 by the Prince of Monaco in order to defend the Bay of Menton. Cocteau thought it would make a good museum space, and undertook renovations. Drawings, tapestries, watercolours, pastels, ceramics, faiences, mosaics made of pebbles and even the staircase was created by Cocteau.
Open all year round from 10 am to 12 pm and from 2 pm to 6 pm.
Closed on Tuesday and holidays.
Jean Cocteau-Severin Wunderman Museum
Severin Wunderman was the sole manufacturer of watches for Gucci and had amassed a huge collection of works by Cocteau and others which were displayed in his California warehouse. The collection had outgrown the warehouse:
"Severin Wunderman's bequest includes 1,800 works, 990 of which are by Jean Cocteau, including drawings, painting, pebble mosaics, ceramics, tapestries, jewelry, photography, audio and cinema. 450 works are by Cocteau's friends including Picasso, De Chirico, Miró, and Modigliani" ~ Jean Cocteau: Road Trip.
The museum was opened on the 6th of November in 2011 in a low building near the old port at 2, quai de Monléon designed by Rudy Ricciotti.
The museum is open every day except Tuesday and holidays from 10 am to 6 pm.
Jean Cocteau on the Cote d'Azur
You can see other works by Jean Cocteau at Villefranche-Sur-Mer near Nice ( Chapelle Saint-Pierre, overlooking the old port) and at Cap d'Ail (Centre Méditerranéen d'Etudes Françaises - The Mediterranean Center for French Studies).
Places to Stay in Menton
Menton is full of hotels, and the competition makes them reasonable in price, especially in the offseason when the weather is still warm in Menton and freezing everywhere else. There are many hotels and vacation rentals available. Hotel Napoleon is one of the top-rated spots in Menton.
For those who wish a more rural experience along the Code d'Azur, try a vacation rental instead. Perhaps a modern condo with a great view is to your liking!
Menton: The Bottom Line
Menton is a great place to stay, especially in the offseason. If you're there in early spring, don't forget the famous lemons and the Lemon Festival.
Hearty travelers talk about walking to Ventimiglia or even Monaco along the coastal route. It's easier by train. If you have a car, Menton is not a bad place to use as a base for visiting some of the region's perched villages.
And we haven't even talked about Menton's famed beaches! And there's even a casino. It's right on the beach.