Charming old resort
www.tourisme-menton.fr. Backed by mountains and a few minutes’ drive from the Italian border, Menton’s picturesque Old Town huddles around an eye-catching campanile overlooking Garavan Bay. The campanile belongs to the Baroque Eglise de Saint-Michel, facing a grand square paved with the Grimaldi coat-of-arms. The annual Festival de Musique is staged here in August.
A former Grimaldi family summer retreat, the Palais Carnolès, now houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts, avenue de la Madone (1 km W of the town centre, recently closed for building works, check first at www.menton.fr). Beautifully restored with painted ceilings and parquet floors, the 18thC villa displays works from the medieval period to the present day, and you can wander around the assorted citrus trees in the garden. The balmy temperatures allow citrus trees to produce fruit year round, and floats studded with lemons, oranges and grapefruit are trundled out for the annual February Lemon Festival.
On the sea front, the Musee du Bastion occupies a 17thC fortress filled with paintings, drawings, tapestries and poems donated by Jean Cocteau, plus photographs and a Picasso portrait. There is another chance to see the artist’s work decorating the Salle des Mariages in the Hôtel de Ville, rue de la République. Sunny wedding scenes wheel across the walls and ceiling, but a closer look will reveal a po-faced mother-of-the-bride, jilted girlfriend with armed and vengeful brother, and the tragic tale of Orpheus and Eurydice.
For train journey enthusiasts: frequent trains serve all stops between Nice and Menton – a rail introduction to the Cote d’Azur with frequent sea views.
To the east of town, in the Garavan district (bus 7 from the station), there is another Riviera folly in humourist Ferdinand Bac’s Les Colombières. The theme of the 15 acres of gardens is ‘a Mediterranean synthesis’. Steep steps scale the hillside through a series of rather overgrown gardens planted with fountains and statuary; frescoes of Ulysses surround the swimming pool; and the main room features Mediterranean scenes from Greece, Spain and North Africa, while the fourth wall opens on to the sparkling bay.
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