Think of the French Riviera and your mind will doubtless be filled with the glitzy and glamorous images of places that most of us can only dream about as a holiday destination says FRANK CORLESS
St Tropez, Antibes, Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo, and the principality of Monaco, are easy on the eye but painfully, and impossibly hard, on the average man’s pocket.
Yet, all is not lost. For me, the best – and less frenetic - location of all is still out there...resting shyly and snugly on the eastern edge of the beautiful Cote d’Azur. And you don’t need to take out a second mortgage to pay a visit. Click here now for amazing offers to Menton!
Welcome to Menton. Never heard of it? Well, you are not alone. One of my neighbours politely inquired: “Where is it?”
Years ago, it was a question that didn’t need to be asked. Protected from winds by a ring of mountains, it was a hugely popular health resort, a place to rest and relax in a sub-tropical microclimate.
Queen Victoria, and members of other European and Russian royal families, “took the air” and enjoyed the good life in luxurious villas and palaces
Artists, composers, botanists and writers joined the throng, and some never left. Among them was English clergyman William Webb Ellis, who is credited with having invented rugby. A hillside cemetery overlooking the Mediterranean is his last resting place.
In the 50s and 60s, tastes started to change. The rich and famous headed for the French Riviera’s brighter lights, trailing in the footsteps of Brigitte Bardot, Grace Kelly, and other glitterati. We mere mortals soon joined them in our millions, if only to stand and gawp.
But there was no breast beating in Menton. Not on your life. It simply carried on doing what it does best – being warm, welcoming, robustly healthy, and just as beautiful as it ever was.
It has to be said that, in common with its hedonistic neighbours, Menton has its share of chic fashion shops, and high class restaurants with prices to match.
It boasts stylish architecture, exotic vegetation, and a varied culture. It also has beaches, a casino and two busy harbours, the old and the new. Want incredible deals to Menton? Click here now...
So is Menton swanky, or posh? Not from what I could see. Not even when the occasional open-topped Rolls Royce swept by. In fact, the town has sophistication and character of its own, and a special Dolce Vita flavour it’s more famous rivals cannot match.
It’s a distinction that comes from historical links with Italy, and its location, just a few kilometres from the border.
So you won’t go far without hearing Italian being spoken, or seeing Italian street names in the beautiful old town, which is dominated by Saint-Michel’s Basilica and its magnificent belltower.
The buzzing atmosphere – and the food - is as typically Italian as it is French (pizzas and all). It feels special to join the locals and other tourists at restaurants and bars along the beach front, or in the pedestrian area, and shady squares near to the old town.
At night, it has a different appeal. We saw street singers, samba dancers, and a beachside music festival, and that’s only a small part of what’s on offer.
Watch the purse strings, though, because eating out serves to sharpen your minds to the obvious - that the best value-for-money can often be found hidden away from the more touristy places.
For instance, the restaurant L’Helios – the Little Two, (correct) in Avenue Edouard VII, near the casino, served a brilliant d omelette and salad. OK, it wasn’t a gourmet dish, but it was delicious.
Our hotel, the excellent, family owned Princess and Richmond, enjoys a prime location on the palm fringed Promenade du Soleil, overlooking the Mediterranean.
When we didn’t feel energetic, we sipped glasses of wine on our balcony and watched the never-ending stream of scooter riders, pedestrians, cyclists, joggers, and dog lovers exercising their pets, most of them tiny creatures seemingly without legs – that’s the dogs, not the owners.
A big bonus for healthy types is that the promenade is a long, continuous ‘ribbon’ extending into Roquebrune Cap Martin, a delightful neighbouring resort, which we liked a lot and earmarked for a future visit.
Apart from walking, buses and trains are the easiest and cheapest ways of getting about, and there is lots to see either in France or Italy.
One of the best deals is the 110 express bus you can catch at Nice airport to take you to Menton, and – outward bound - to catch your flight home. The return journey for two costs 57 Euros, a massive saving on taxis.
The bus winds its way along the coast, through spectacular scenery, before dropping down into the aforementioned fleshpots of Monaco and Monte Carlo. From the windows, you get a great view of luxury hotels, marinas, high fashion shops, and some of the most expensive real estate in the world.
Menton prides itself on its museums, music festivals, art galleries, parks, and numerous public and private gardens.
And if you love citrus fruits don’t miss the annual Lemon Festival which celebrates Menton’s place as a world class centre for oranges and lemons, mostly grown in picture postcard villages dotted around the lower slopes of the mountains.
Thousands of visitors gather to watch a huge parade of floats carrying tableaux fashioned from – you’ve guessed - oranges and lemons.
It’s hardly surprising that buying and eating a locally-made lemon tart is a ‘must’, at any time of the year. I bought mine –complete with
meringue topping - at the very busy Patisserie Madone, in the Avenue de la Madone. At 2.40 Euros, it was a bargain and a totally blissful taste. It goes without saying that I bought another!
Tucking into our al fresco lunch as we sat on a park bench was a memorable holiday experience, up there with the best. Eating out in France? Believe me, it can be a piece of cake....