Candy-Colored Menton

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HOW DID I END UP IN MENTON, France, of all possible places I could have roosted for two unplanned nights between Nice and Milan? It was a default decision, but I’m not sorry. Candy-colored Menton was a treat.

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My original thoughts were Lyon, France, or Turin, Italy; either could have kept me busy for two days. But friends said they found Turin ‘boring,’ and the weather had finally turned good in the South of France (sunny and 60). I wasn’t ready to leave the coast. And I was curious to see whether Menton still resembles the town in the vintage hand-colored souvenir photo I have on my dining room wall back in Brooklyn. (It does.)

So I made a reservation at the Hotel Napoléon, below (the kind of design-y boutique hotel I wasn’t able to find in Nice), took a half-hour train ride from Nice Thursday morning, and got off in this small city in France’s southeastern-most corner, practically on the Italian border.

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At the corner of the block, next to the hotel, below, a 16th century chapel remains. 

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Menton has a uniquely warm microclimate and therefore an abundance of famous gardens, many open to the public. “Are you doing all the gardens?” a British traveler asked me at the exotic botanical garden Val Rahmeh, part of France’s National Museum of Natural History, as I followed numbered signs from bamboo glade to lemon grove. It was a logical question. The garden-visit options in and around Menton number about a dozen, including Serre de la Madone, an English garden transported to the Cote d’Azur by Lawrence Johnson (of Hidcote fame), and Hanbury, a 22-acre garden in nearby Ventimiglia, Italy, that would have required a day I didn’t have. Anyway, I adored Val Rahmeh. Below, a taste of what there is to see.

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High on my list for Menton was the Jean Cocteau Museum, opened in 2011, and the Salle des Mariages (marriage chamber) at the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall), below, whose walls and ceilings Cocteau exuberantly decorated in 1958. The multi-disciplinary artist loved the city, and I love the graphics, expressiveness and originality of his drawings and his campy films, on loop at the museum.

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As soon as I got to my room at the Napoléon, below, I decided to linger for two whole nights in Menton. Built in 1962 and renovated to a high standard with a modern-art theme, the hotel had heretofore unimagined luxuries like a rain head walk-in shower, free water and juices in the minibar, a swimming pool I didn’t use, my own miniscule balcony with a sideways sea view, three separate passwords for my three devices, a room safe that actually fit a laptop, a TV with 6 or 8 English-language channels I didn’t watch, and room service (this was the first hotel I’ve been in with a real bar and restaurant downstairs). Although the place looks like it could be in South Beach and should be populated with beautiful young people, most of the hotel’s guests were part of an elderly British tour group.

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My one disappointment in Menton, and the South of France in general, has been the food. I’ve slacked on restaurant research and have just taken my chances. My big meal of the day has been a casual lunch at an outdoor café or creperie. So I’m leaving France with just one great food memory: the late-night fish meal in the bar at Collioure. I can’t believe I didn’t have a good salad Niçoise in Nice!

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Menton was restful, though somehow I clocked 14,000 steps (approximately 7 miles) on my iPhone’s pedometer each day. Today, my feet get a break. I’m on a high-speed train to Milan (just under four hours) as I write this, sharing a 1st class compartment with five Italian women, four of a certain age buried in newspapers or tabloid magazines, and one young thing with closed eyes and earbuds.

The day is gray, the scenery so far uninspiring. It seems that many of Europe’s high-speed trains run on newly-built track that goes through industrial areas; I’ve seen a fair number of warehouses, electrical towers, and smoke-belching factories. I’m planning to do at least one post on European train stations and the experience of rail travel in Europe, but I’ll say just this for now: the efficiency is stupendous, but the romance is gone.

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About cara

I blog for fun here at casaCARA, and write about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites. My recently published posts and articles can be found here: https://casacara.wordpress.com/recent-articles/
This entry was posted in FRANCE, GARDENS & GARDENING, TRAVEL and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Candy-Colored Menton

  1. Anonymous says:

    If it makes you feel any better, I have never had a salad Niçoise in France as good as the ones you get in New York with fresh tuna. Just saying.

  2. Astor C says:

    Nice lede, Ca. And the four ladies in the first class compartment with the young girl are right out of “A Room With A View.” Not only is this a culinary journey, it’s also a trip down literary lane!

  3. cara says:

    Astor, that’s what we (Americans) would like to think, that European rail travel is ‘room with a view.’ Did you see my last line? It’s just transportation!

  4. literarybrooklyn says:

    Yes, the rail ride sounds a bit more like Amtrak than “A Room with a View,” but what a treat it was to visit Menton with you, especially since we woke up to another 6″ of snow and gray skies. The Jean Cocteau doodles are wonderful.

  5. cate says:

    What a lovely escape from again-freezing Brooklyn. Love the Baroque architecture and the Cocteau-ish hotel headboard. (And candy-colored Menton….some of the colors look like Mentos.)

  6. Raf says:

    read this on the F train- no romance here either.

    Though the plastic seats are in a menton-esque color scheme- I’ll take what I can get.

  7. cara says:

    R, lol and thanks for the comment — you must be sure to weigh in on my Italy posts as well (I’m sitting in a Verona cafe as I obnoxiously type this!)

  8. Barbara says:

    Love the garden pictures in this post! This is soooo much nicer than Turin.

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