Last Updated on 12th April 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
The ‘Pearl of the French Riviera’ is just as glitzy, chic, and stunning as you might expect from a town with such a name. Menton is the last large town before the French border with Italy and, though it has become more popular in recent years thanks to the rise of social media, still often remains overlooked in favour of more popular Côte d’Azur destinations. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Menton.
- Introducing Menton
- Why is Menton the pearl of France?
- Best things to do in Menton
- Basilique Saint-Michel-Archange
- Promenade du Soleil
- La Plage des Sablettes
- Vieux Port de Menton
- Walk up to the cemetery
- Follow in the footsteps of Jean Cocteau
- Serre de la Madone Garden
- Val-Rahmeh Menton Botanical Garden
- Marché des Halles
- Meander through the pedestrian old town
- Pick up a souvenir
- Menton Lemon Festival
- Take a day trip to Monaco
- Getting around Menton
- How to visit Menton
- Where to stay in Menton
If you loved Nice but are looking for a smaller town with more of a village vibe and relaxed way of life, then Menton is calling your name. Boasting over 300 days of sun a year and said to be the warmest town along the French Riviera, this dreamy destination is best explored over several days so that you can truly relax and get to known Menton on a more local level.
Stroll through Menton and you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re wandering the streets of Italy. Well, there’s a good reason for that, and it’s that the French Riviera town actually only became part of France in 1860.
Prior to this, Menton had been part of Monaco and even Sardinia. In times gone by, Menton’s industry was centred around lemons and a tax imposed by Monaco on the lemon trade in the middle of the 19th-century was one of the primary reasons they seceded from Monaco in the first place!
Today, lemons and oranges are still a big part of life in the town and there is an annual lemon festival held every February. Citrus trees are scattered around the entirety of the town and its surrounding region, making for some pretty special spring blossoms during the earlier months of the year.
Palm and olive trees can also be found in abundance- this is one Mediterranean destination you won’t regret bringing your camera to.
Why is Menton the pearl of France?
Located on the fringes of the French Riviera and famed for citrus (yes, like the fruit), Menton is a charming pastel-hued former fishing port characterised by its stepped old town, as being the birthplace of Jean Cocteau, and because it’s the last major town in France before the border with Italy.
Menton is the pearl of France because of its sheer beauty. It’s the kind of destination that you’ll be thinking of for years to come after departure and is often touted by visitors as one of the towns that they would most like to return to along the French Riviera.
Best things to do in Menton
Like most towns in France, the most historic building in town is a Basilica which is dedicated to the Archangel Michael. The ecclesiastical building is Baroque in style (the largest Baroque building in the region) and dates back to the early 17th-century.
Entrance into the church is free and is easy to locate as the bell tower is by far the highest building in town and can be seen from also every viewpoint within Menton. The building itself is based on the Annunziata of Genoa and a particular highlight are the 18th-century Damask drapes which were gifted to the Parish by Prince Honoré III on the occasion of his wedding.
Promenade du Soleil
One of the greatest introductions to Menton can be garnered by walking along the Promenade du Soleil (boardwalk of the sun in English) which hugs the coastline and offers beautiful views of the aquamarine water. The walk spans several kilometres, offering visitors the chance to see the coastline of Italy, the sea, and stunning vistas of Menton.
La Plage des Sablettes
The main beach of the town is pebbled and is known in French as La Plages des Sablettes. Situated. close to the Vieux Port of Menton, this beach is sheltered by rock jetties and boasts crystal clear waters that are popular for swimming in during the summer months.
Thanks to its ease of access from the town centre, this beach can get pretty busy during the day! You also don’t have to look very far to see another country as the border with Italy can be spied right from the beach!
Vieux Port de Menton
As well as meandering the sun-soaked streets, another great way to explore Menton is by heading to the Vieux Port (Old Port). This area of the town is right by the sea and you can spy dozens of boats bobbing up and down in the water.
Walk up to the cemetery
It may seem a little strange to list a cemetery as one of the best things to do in Menton, but once at the top you’ll soon see why it’s listed within this guide. After all, while the stairs can be a little tough to climb up, especially in the heat of the summer sun, once at the top you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views of the town and the sea beyond.
The cemetery of the old Château sits perched high above the rest of the town and is now the final resting place of several notable people, including William Webb Ellis, who was the founder of the game of rugby.
Follow in the footsteps of Jean Cocteau
One of the most famous residents of Menton in the decades gone by was Jean Cocteau, who is best-known for his poetry, though he was also a playwright, novelist, designer, and filmmaker. Today, you can learn about his life and works at a couple of museums in town; Jean Cocteau Museum – Severin Wunderman Collection and Museum Jean Cocteau The Bastion.
Serre de la Madone Garden
One of the more hidden gems to discover during a visit to Menton is the Serre de la Madone Garden, which is a quiet green space that was established between 1924–1939 and displays a number of exotic plants surrounding a serene pool. Please note that you’ll have to pay to enter.
Val-Rahmeh Menton Botanical Garden
Yet another delightful green space that’s worth checking out is the 19th-century botanical garden of Val-Rahmeh. This garden is located a short distance away from the fringes of the old town and boasts highlights such as unique cacti and exotic trees. You have to pay to visit the garden and it takes around an hour to fully explore.
Marché des Halles
Like most French towns, Menton has its own covered market (the majority of these were constructed during the 19th-century) which is open from Tuesday through to Sunday and is closed on Mondays.
The market operates between 7 AM and 1 PM, making it the perfect spot to pick up some picnic supplies in the form of freshly baked breads, locally sourced fruits, and delicious French cheeses. As it’s France, you can even pick up some French wine!
Meander through the pedestrian old town
Truth be told, one of the greatest charms of Menton is to stroll around the town and allow the settlement to reveal itself to you. Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes and pack a bottle of water as there are plenty of steps.
While exploring the town, you’ll soon notice that, although the houses are painted varying shades of warm hues, they all have fallow green shutters, which leads to a kind of harmony in the town’s vistas.
Pick up a souvenir
Those who wish to bring something back from their trips either as a gift for friends and family or even a French souvenir for themselves will be spoilt for choice in Menton.
Lots of the main products you can buy are themed around lemons and so you can buy lemon liquors, soaps, creams, candles etc. There’s even lemon beer for sale!
Pretty much anything you can imagine to be created from lemons has been made and can be purchased in one of the many boutiques around town! One of the more popular stores in Menton is ‘Au Pays du Citron’.
As you might have guessed, almost every product is lemon-based, even down to a lemon-infused mustard! Visit during opening hours and you can even sample some of their lemon products, including lemon sorbet.
Menton Lemon Festival
If you happen to be visiting Menton during the last two weeks of February then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the Menton Lemon Festival, which is known as Fête du Citron and is a unique event around the world.
During this annual event, 145,000 kgs of oranges and lemons are used to create sculptures of cars, birds, floats which are used during a weekly procession and more! The sculptures are free to visit close to the train station and are beautifully illuminated at night.
Take a day trip to Monaco
Set alongside the glittering French ‘Côte d’Azur,’ Monaco is a tiny principality defined by its rocky nature and miniature size. Best-known for being the home of the wealthy (around 30% of the population are millionaires), it’s easy to see the best of Monaco in one day thanks to its tiny size and ease of access to walk around.
Getting around Menton
Thanks to its compact size, the easiest way to get around Menton is on your own two feet, so be prepared to walk a lot. Similarly, the old town itself can actually only be explored on foot due to the fact that the entirety of the maze of streets is set on a hill and you have to walk up and down steps and through passageways barely wide enough for a person to get around.
If you would prefer to see more of the seaside during your visit to Menton, then there is a cash only tourist train which departs from the outcrop next to Fossan Beach and takes you on a loop of the seafront.
How to visit Menton
Menton can easily be visited as a day trip from Nice, but I would personally suggest that it is better to stay overnight so as to enjoy the port and the old town without the crowds of the day trippers.
Although the pastel-hued settlement remains somewhat of an off the beaten path destination, it’s certainly getting more popular thanks to the rise of social media and so can be a little busy during the weekend and at peak season (i.e. during July and August).
Where to stay in Menton
Imagine waking up every day to the sound of lapping waves and the screeches of seagulls up above. This is the reality of life in Menton, even if you only opt to stay for a few days. During my stay on the French Riviera, I actually stayed in Nice, but not opting to stay in Menton overnight would be your first mistake. Here are some of the best places to stay in Menton:
Mid-range: Steps away from the Musée Jean Cocteau and not far away from the maze of streets that make up Menton’s old town, the Royal Westminster Hotel is set alongside the backdrop of the Promenade du Soleil. As beautiful on the outside as the rooms offered within, this hotel boasts a Belle Epoque facçade with some rooms offering sea views. Check rates and availability here
Luxury: Truth be told, one of the most luxurious hotels in Menton is that of Napoleon, a four-star establishment which is well-reviewed across booking and review sites. Close to the sea and featuring luxury amenities such as an outdoor pool, 24-hour reception desk, and some rooms offering beachside views, other highlights include free Wi-Fi and a bar on site. Check rates and availability here
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Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A fan of all things France related, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She currently splits her time between Paris and London. Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.