Trying to find a spot to land on the French Riviera? Check out Menton. It may be my favorite French Mediterranean town of all (and I’ve spent a lot of time around these parts!).
Some people travel broadly, I travel deeply; that is, I return again and again to Southern France, specifically, the sweep of its Mediterranean coastline, from the Spanish border to the Italian. Though I still need to get to know the stretch between Marseille and Toulon better, I can say that I know Nice-to-Menton stretch better than anywhere else in the world.
And while I love it all, I love Menton the most.
We recently stayed at the Residence Les Citronniers, which is in the Pierre et Vacance chain of vacation-apartment rentals. Normally, we rent directly from owners, but this place–basically, a hotel filled with vacation efficiency apartments instead of mere hotel rooms–seemed like just what we wanted: five minutes from the beach, a 10-minute walk from the Old Town, and with plenty of great shops all around.
Take a look:
It’s about half the size of the one-bedroom apartment we rented in Montpellier (read about my rental sagas, here), but we liked it twice as much. I swear–sometimes I think Dave and I are like cats: Small, snug spots are fine by us.
No, it’s not the kind of luxurious villa you brag about on Facebook, but it’s cute and affordable. Of course, the beauty of this spot is Menton itself. Check out something I noticed quickly about this apartment:
We stayed in Menton for a week, and if you’ve never been, I cannot recommend it enough. Here’s why:
• Menton has all the advantages of a big city–nice, independent shops (I saw absolutely none of the usual global clothing chains you find everywhere), a fabulous daily indoor food market, terrific cafes, butchers, and traiteurs–but none of the big-city stress. It’s less glitzy than Cannes, less frantic than Nice, but there’s much more going on here than in Cap d’Ail, Beaulieu, or Villefranche.
• I can’t say enough about the market there. In fact, I have absolutely no restaurant recommendations to give whatsoever, as we ate every single meal “in” thanks to this fabulous market.
• Menton is the last city on the French Riviera before you get to Italy. On the street, I heard as much Italian spoken here as French–and many of the cafés and delis definitely swung Italian. If you love Italy, but happen to speak French, it’s a great way to get that Italianate feel and still be understood wherever you go….
• Menton’s climate is nearly always sunny–it’s said that the temperature is generally 2 degrees warmer here than elsewhere on the Riviera, and gets more sun per year than any city in France.
• The beaches are pleasant–very mellow compared to places like Nice. They’re pebbly, yes, but it’s the Riviera. There’s a more gravelly beach (easier to walk on, but not quite sand) to the east of the main beachfront (go past the port, on the way to Italy).
• The Old Town is amazing–one of the most beautiful “veille villes” I’ve seen–and NOT tarted up with too many trinket shops (a few, yes, but it’s also a “real” town). Even outside of the Old Town, charm is everywhere: Belle-Epoque, Italianate buildings and in general, a surprisingly calm city.
• The city is rimmed by mountains–the Alpes Maritimes–which are stunning to look at as you splash around in the sea!
• This place felt less trampled than other spots I’ve been on the Riviera (though I still wouldn’t come here after July 14!).
In short: It all comes together in Menton: Sea, mountains, sunshine, history, charm, civic beauty, Franco-Italian sensibilities. Pure enchantment. Believe me, I’ve spent a lot of time on the French Riviera, from Nice to Menton, and Menton might be my favorite of all.
Have you been? I’m happy to tell you more about this city! Just leave a comment or question below. I’m especially happy to tell you about the Residence Les Citronniers–it was perfect for us, but it’s not for everybody! Just ask.
PS: I’ll post a few super-easy things I cooked here–stay tuned! Or, be sure to sign up to get all my posts delivered in your inbox–see email sign-up box on the right sidebar.