Lying around 20km to the east of Nice between Monaco and the Italian border, Menton is a very worthy day trip from Résidence Les Marronniers. Approximately two hours are needed when traveling by car to reach this ancient town with a certain Italian flair.
The town grew up on a hill of friable and sterile sandstone. It has three sides: the first goes down in levels towards the sea, the second descends gently towards a rocky promontory, separating Golfo della Pace from Baia di Sole and the third descends towards Fossan.
The architecture in the town is predominantly of three natures: Firstly, medieval, Ligurian style from the 14th and 15th centuries. Secondly, baroque style from the 17th and 18th centuries (beautifully exemplified in three churches and hotels in Rue Longue and Rue Brea) and thirdly, the Belle Epoque architecture of the 19th century with its villas and hotels and contemporary urban layout.
Exceptionally mild climate
Menton is protected by a chain of mountains that span from Mont Agel to Mont Grammont and Mont Berceau. The town is a stranger to the Mistral and other cold winds. Her climate is exceptionally mild with an annual average temperature of 16°C. It was an Englishman, Dr. Bennett, who first praised the charm and climate of the town in the last century.
Mainly due to her climate, Menton soon became a fashionable town for wealthy foreigners, who stayed in luxury hotels or had splendid villas built. Thus, between 1870 and 1913, a tourist seaside resort was established, frequented mainly in winter, when elsewhere in Europe, cold and gray winters had set in.
Menton's economy - past and present
The micro-climate that Menton enjoys explains her economy, which at one time was mainly the cultivation of citrus fruits and olives. It is the only European town in which lemons flourish and bear fruit all year round.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the cultivation and export of citrus fruits had reached a peak and supported between 400 and 500 inhabitants. 40 million lemons were sent annually to Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland and even Russia. Unfortunately, frost and disease took the best part of them. Currently, agriculture is no longer an important part of the economy. Today, tourism is the main economic resource in Menton.
Fête des Citrons
To celebrate Menton's roots in citrus fruit cultivation, the town hosts her Fête des Citrons (lemon festival) once per year. It is a unique event that attracts around two hundred thousand visitors and after the Formula 1 grand prix in Monaco and the carnival in Nice, it is the third best visited event on the Côte d'Azur.
The exhibits, which are erected on the flower beds of the Jardins Biovès, are composed entirely of citrus fruits.
Additionally, a number of floats, decorated with oranges and lemons, parade along the sea front during the fortnight-long festivities.
Le Bastion de Saint Antoine
Work commenced on this square fortress in 1619 by Honore II, Prince of Monaco. It primary function was to defend Menton from invasions from the sea.
Finished in 1636, the fortress was connected to land by a mobile wooden bridge. The ground floor housed the fortress' guards; the first floor the powder-magazine, a kitchen with an oven for bread and the main entrance. On the second floor, a platform with four lookout posts was constructed.
Fifteen officers, charged with cannon duties, ensured that Menton was defended day and night. The fortress was fully armed until 1846 and then from 1848 to 1861 with only a single cannon.
In addition to its function of defending Menton, the fortress was also a prison from 1840 to 1848 and from 1940 to 1942; and a lighthouse until 1890 at which time, a modern lighthouse was installed at the end of the west jetty.
The fortress remained the property of the Prince of Monaco until 1792 and again between 1848 to 1861; it was then handed over to the state of France.
In 1966, the fortress was transformed into its current incarnation, the Musée Jean Cocteau, in which drawings, tapestries and ceramics by the French artist Jean Cocteau are on exhibition. Jean Cocteau restored and refurbished the fortress himself, decorating the outer walls and reception hall with pebble mosaics.
Place Saint Michel
Place Saint Michel is paved with mosaic cobblestones and, with the two churches and the old houses that surround it on three sides, constitute one of the most beautiful examples of Italian-style architecture in France.
The small square opens into a terrace overlooking a monumental stairway. Basilique Saint Michael was rebuilt in 1619 by Prince Honore II and was consecrated in 1675.
The interior is richly decorated and the altar is built in marble. At the end of the square, the apricot-colored Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs, in a similar style, has four statues dating back to the 18th century.
Blog Posts about Menton
To learn more about Menton, her history, cultures and traditions, please take a look at the following entries in the Provence Blog:
New posts that point to interesting articles about the Provence and her surrounding area are added to the blog on a daily basis.
Further Information about Menton
For more information, please contact Office de Tourisme de Menton (see below). They will be only too pleased to assist you further and to send you tourist information via snail mail.
Office de Tourisme de Menton
8, av Boyer (Palais de l'Europe)