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Menton, final French Riviera town before Italy, boasts stellar botanical gardens, renowned festivals and a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean from most any perch. The population of 28,000 belies its city-like feel where, on the one hand, quality hotels and restaurants abound amidst pedestrian walkways and boardwalks, boutiques and cafés.
On the other hand, a quaint, off-the-beaten-path atmosphere of hidden floral venues, mountainside villas, scents of mimosa and citrus calm and entice. The frazzled traveler who has just descended the zigzag Corniche or taken the more time-consuming winding coastal road from Nice or Cannes can rest assured. If you want action, you have it; if you want peace and calm, there is that, too, and all in roughly five square miles.
Menton’s claim to fame is its microclimate of plentiful year-round sunshine and warmth, even in the dead of winter when the rest of the Côte d’Azur settles into gray and rain. This climate in turn encourages growth of the town’s most famous item, lemons. To whit, the annual three-week Lemon Festival in February showcases the harvest as well as foodstuffs prepared using recipes of all passions and ilk, with the yellow fruit as central theme.
Summertime festivals include the July Tango Festival, when renowned tango dancers converge to perform and to give lessons to all from novice to expert. Hotels abound as do self-catered lodging options and you need only contact the Menton Tourism Office to find a comfortable, accessible place to stay. The Prince de Galles Hotel, a three-star waterfront accommodation, is one of several with central location and on-site fine dining. The town’s compact perimeter means easy walking to most venues, including the Casino Barrière for poker, blackjack and slots.
Not to be missed at the town hall is the salle des mariages, where wall murals are inventively and beautifully painted by Jean Cocteau, who maintained a longtime love affair with Menton.
If you want a kick, drive over the border into Italy and the nearest town of Ventimille (Ventimiglia) to sample great foodstuffs at, of all places, the main grocery store. Select from a myriad of Italian cheeses and sausages, plentiful homemade compotes and jams, plus fresh bread, all which makes for a simple delectable lunch option. Find a park bench with a sea view and enjoy the spread. Italy in one afternoon!
Author suggestion: The Carnival restaurant overlooks Menton harbor and serves some of the finest, inventively-prepared dishes of the region, especially fresh fish of the day and fine reasonably-priced Italian wines.
2012 Fête du Citron (Lemon Festival) : February 17 through March 7
Botanical garden, Serre de la Madone
Tél: 04 9357 7390
74, Route de Gorbio, 06500 Menton, France
PHOTO CREDITS: Menton Old Town and Harbour ©Berthold Werner, Wikimedia Commons; La Serre de la Madonne botanical garden ©Charlie Dave
Kathleen Burke is a writer and lover of France who lives in Paris and Massachusetts.
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