Last Updated on September 10, 2023 by April | Dreaming in French
Looking for fun things to do in Menton? Then you’re in the right place!
You would expect a town with a name like the ‘Pearl of the French Riviera’ to be glitzy, chic, and stunning. Although Menton France is the last large town before the French border with Italy, it still remains overlooked in comparison to the more popular Côte d’Azur destinations despite becoming popular tourist destination since the rise of social media in recent years. Find out the top 10 things to do in Menton France, in this ultimate Menton travel guide.
If you are in a hurry, here’s a summary of things to do in Menton:
Nice is a great city, but if you want a smaller town with a more relaxed atmosphere, then Menton is what you’re looking for. Known as the warmest town along the French Riviera and boasting over 300 days of sun a year, Menton is ideal for exploring over several days so that you can truly relax and gain a better understanding of the locals.
During a stroll through Menton, you could mistakenly think that you are wandering the streets of Italy. Well, that’s because Menton only became part of France in 1860.
Menton was once a part of Monaco and Sardinia before this. During the 19th century, Menton’s main industry was lemons, which is why they seceded from Monaco in the first place. A tax imposed by Monaco on the lemon trade was one of the primary reasons why they seceded!
There is an annual Menton lemon festival in February in the town, and lemons and oranges remain a big part of everyday life. During the early months of the year, citrus trees are scattered throughout the town and its surrounding region, making for some pretty spectacular spring blossoms.
Why is Menton the pearl of France?
The pastel-hued former fishing port of Menton is located on the French Riviera and is famous for citrus (yes, like the fruit), as well as being the birthplace of Jean Cocteau and being the last major French town before the Italian border.
In terms of beauty, Menton is the pearl of France. It’s the kind of destination that you’ll think about for years after you leave and is often touted by visitors as one of their favorite French Riviera destinations.
Is Menton Worth Visiting?
Menton is the last city along this renowned coast before entering Italy, located about 30 kilometers from Nice and easily reached by train. It is regarded as the “pearl” of the Riviera and one of France’s best-kept secrets. Compared to its glitzier southern neighbors along this turquoise and warm coastline, it is a less well-known but no less desirable resort town.
A visit to this magnificent and tranquil town for the day offers subtle joys, unexpected surprises, and inspiring monuments. This lovely pastel village, known for its lemons, is more laid-back and cozy than Saint-Tropez while yet being a staple of the Riviera and equally charming. You’ll adore the location, tranquility, and leisurely pace of the Mediterranean.
Things to See in Menton
Visit Basilique Saint Michel-Archange
As in most French towns, the most historic building in town is the Basilica dedicated to the Archangel Michael. The ecclesiastical building dates from the early 17th century and is of Baroque style.
Getting into the church is free and easy since the bell tower is the highest building in town, and you can see it from almost anywhere in Menton. In addition to the building itself, which is modeled after the Annunziata of Genoa, Prince Honoré III donated Damask drapes to the Parish at the time of his wedding in the 18th century.
La Plage des Sablettes
A pebbled Menton beach known as La Plages des Sablettes is located close to the Old Port of Menton, sheltered by rock jetties and boasting crystal clear waters that are popular for summer swimming.
This beach is easy to access from the center of town, which means it can be pretty busy during the day! The border with Italy is visible right from the beach, so you won’t have to look very far to see another country!
In addition, there is a newly restored pedestrian esplanade with restaurants, shops, and cafes behind this beautiful beach.
Walk Along Promenade du Soleil
You can get an excellent introduction to Menton by walking along the Promenade du Soleil (boardwalk of the sun in English), which hugs the coastline and offers stunning views of the sea. There are several kilometres of the walk, offering visitors an opportunity to see Italy’s coastline, the sea, as well as Menton’s stunning views.
Vieux Port de Menton
A great way to explore Menton is to visit the Vieux Port (Old Port), an area by the sea where you can see dozens of boats bobbing up and down in the waves.
Walk through Old Town Menton
You will be drawn up and away from the vivid blue sea by the charms of this medieval town’s winding, narrow, paved alleyways that weave between subtly colored buildings. Enjoy the bright seasonal windowsill flowers and the several fascinating doors, stairways, and tunnels that you pass along the way. By way of Rue Longue, you can continue on the old Roman route.
A photographer’s paradise, the old town offers a variety of artistic photo opportunities in warm Mediterranean sun-dappled pastels. So take your camera with you!
Pro Tip: Be sure to pace yourself and wear thick, rubber-soled sneakers or shoes when exploring the old town, which is an uphill climb between a walk and a hike.
Relax in the Serre de la Madone Garden
It’s not surprising that Menton has been designated a “4 fleurs” hamlet since 1984 and has previously received the highest distinction of “Fleurs d’Or” (an accolade that may only be bestowed once every six years period). This is due to the abundance of private and public green spaces that are prospering in its mild microclimate. East of the town, protected by the Balzi Rossi cliffs, is where the majority of the city’s gardens are located.
The serene six-hectare Serre de la Madone Garden, originally created by famous landscape architect Lawrence Johnstone in the 1920s and 1930s, elegantly radiates in terraces centered on a double pool.
A large variety of exotic and rare plants from all over the world, including China, South Africa, and South America, are displayed in the subtropical garden. The specially chosen plants include bamboo, umbrella pines, and Mahonia Siamensis, as well as exotic succulents and cycads.
Marché des Halles
There is a covered market in Menton (the majority of which were constructed during the 19th century), which is open from Tuesday through Sunday.
You can pick up some picnic supplies from the Menton market between 7 AM and 1 PM, including freshly baked bread, locally sourced fruits, and yummy French cheeses. Since it’s France, you can even find some French wine.
One of the major Menton tourist attractions is the Marché des Halles because it is brimming with the sights, sounds, and flavors of the South of France.
Walk up to Cemetery of the Old Château
It may seem a little strange to list a cemetery as one of the best things to do in Menton, but once you reach the top of Cemetery of the Old Château, you’ll soon see why it’s on this list. As a matter of fact, although it can be challenging to climb the stairs in the summer sun, once you reach the top you will be rewarded with gorgeous views of the town and the sea.
Atop 63 meters, it has a view of Italy and Cape Martin. It consists of superimposed terraces where foreign burials rub shoulders with those of Mentonnais. It is now the final resting place of several notable people, including William Webb Ellis, the inventor of rugby, who was buried in the cemetery of the old Château.
Val Rahmeh-Menton Botanical Garden
The 19th-century Menton botanical garden of Val Rahmeh is another delightful green space worth visiting. 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. To fully explore the garden, you must pay. It takes about an hour to explore it.
Follow in the footsteps of Jean Cocteau
Famous and important artist, dramatist, author, designer, and film director Jean Cocteau was one of Menton’s biggest supporters. The Bastion, Menton’s 17th-century fort on the harbour wall (as seen below), is where the original museum honoring his memory and body of work is situated. The artist personally chose this location.
The Bastion was first built as a defensive structure, and numerous uses for the blockhouse have included storage for salt, a lighthouse, and a prison during World War II. As part of his own renovation of the old structure, Cocteau constructed a variety of eclectic Dadaist pebble mosaics, which are on show throughout the reception hall, walls, and alcoves of the fort.
Despite the fact that Cocteau passed away in 1963, the Jean Cocteau museum colorful works were individually chosen by the artist for the display before it was publicly launched in 1966. His selection from his Mediterranean phase, which spanned from 1950 to the end of his life, contained two paintings, 70 drawings, two tapestries, 11 ceramic works, and three lithographs. Since then, the collection has grown, and the program is now updated and rotated annually.
Enjoy the Menton Lemon Festival
The Menton Lemon Festival 2023, which is known as Fête du Citron, is one of many international Menton attractions that takes place during the last two weeks of February in Menton.
The sculptures are free to visit near the train station and are beautifully illuminated at night as part of this annual event that uses 145,000 kg of oranges and lemons to create sculptures of cars, birds, and floats.
Pro Tip: During that time of year, the weather is mild during the day, ranging in the low to mid-60s Fahrenheit, but chilly at night, so take a jacket. And make your hotel reservations at least three months in advance.
Take a day trip to From Menton to Monaco
One of the loveliest cities in the world is Monaco, an autonomous state. Take the train to Monaco and stay for one day. Explore the opulent palace and casinos that served as the model for the James Bond movie, and stroll down the waterfront to take in the superyachts. The climate is wonderful, and there are numerous tropical gardens to visit, much like the rest of this coastline.
After you’ve had your fill of the affluent and famous’ lifestyle, walk to the beach’s main strip for a swim and a meal at one of the numerous posh restaurants. Even if it’s just a little detour on the way to Menton, Monaco is a must day trips from Menton.
Shop for Lemonade in Menton
Modern Menton and nearby Ventimiglia in Italy, which hosts a weekly open-air market, both offer shopping that is reasonably priced. Fresh farmer’s markets, similar to those at Les Halles, are also available in Menton.
There are also a ton of charming specialty gift shops. For anything lemon and an iconic and unforgettable gift or memento, check out the lovely Au Pays du Citron. You may get genuine Menton lemon-based cosmetics, beverages, snacks, and home decor. Treat yourself or a loved one to marshmallows, honey, jam, lemon-scented soap, and Limoncello.
Where to eat in Menton
As Menton is adjacent to Italy, the cuisine is mostly Italian, with casual restaurants serving pizza and pasta.
Among the few restaurants in Menton that serve only French food, Mirazur is a Michelin-starred restaurant. It has been recognized not only as one of the top 50 restaurants in the south of France, but also as one of the best restaurants in the south of France. Chef Mauro Colagreco offers four variations based on the biodynamic lunar calendar in his menu. To use the restaurant, Colagreco constructed three private vegetable, plant, and herb gardens in 2008.
Located on the port of Menton overlooking the boats and the bay, Le Galion serves up some of the best seafood in Menton. The restaurant offers both a pleasant outdoor terrace and an elegant interior dining room. Seafood specialties include calamari, mixed grills of fish and vegetables, fritto misto, oysters, and lobster from Brittany. If seafood isn’t your thing, there are pasta and beef options on the menu.
Authentic wood-burning pizza is served at Pecora Negra, a recently opened Colagreco pizzeria.
Best Menton Hotels
Hotel Napoleon is a great place to stay in Menton, just opposite the beach and just a few minutes walk from the city center. The contemporary rooms are spacious, and many have balconies with spectacular views of the sea. The hotel has an outdoor pool as well as an exercise room.
A five-minute drive from the center of town takes you to a luxury five-star villa. There are three well-appointed suites at Villa Genesis, each with its own en-suite bathroom, an elegant living room, a spacious and well-equipped kitchen, and an outdoor pool overlooking Menton and the sea.
Getting around Menton
It is easy to walk around Menton, so be prepared to do so. Also, you will need to walk up and down steps and through passageways barely wide enough for a person to get around due to the fact that Menton old town itself is built on a hill. You have to walk up and down steps and through passageways that are barely wide enough for a person to pass through.
A cash-only tourist train departs from the outcrop next to Fossan Beach and takes you along the coast to see more of Menton’s seaside.
How to visit Menton
You can easily visit Menton as one of the day trips from Nice, but I suggest staying overnight so that you can enjoy the port and the old town without the crowds.
Despite being off the beaten path, the pastel-hued settlement is certainly becoming more popular thanks to social media, so weekends and peak summer months (i.e. July and August) can be a little busy.