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Menton is a stunningly beautiful, hilly town on the French Riviera. Known as the last resort town before the Italian border, Menton has notable Italian influence in its architecture, food, and culture. Though slightly less-visited than better-known Cannes, Monaco, and Saint-Tropez, Menton is a vibrant place to visit on the Cote d’Azur. In addition to soaking in the beauty, there are a ton of great things to do in Menton to fill a day, weekend, or even a week.
Come visit this magical seaside town to take in the salty air, the colorful, cheeky houses, the scent of fresh lemons wafting through the air, and get up-close-and-personal with its magnificent Baroque architecture.
How to Get to Menton
Menton is easily reached despite it being situated in a tiny corner close to Italy.
There is no airport in Menton, but it’s just about 30 minutes from Nice’s international airport. In fact, visiting Menton is a popular day trip from Nice.
If you’re staying in Paris but craving the sea, the train from the French capital takes 6 hours and 30 minutes. From Marseille, the ride shortens to 3 hours and 30 minutes.
If you’re taking a French road trip, getting to Menton by car is very easy as well.
Best Time to Visit Menton
Menton is a wonderful place to visit regardless of the season. Thanks to its Mediterranean microclimate, Menton is full of sunshine and mild temperatures year round.
If you’re looking to save a bit and avoid the popular tourist times, plan your visit in the spring or fall shoulder months. While it might not be swimming weather, you can still work on your tan on one of Menton’s sandy beaches.
Table of contents
- How to Get to Menton
- Best Time to Visit Menton
- Things to do in Menton
- pin it
Things to do in Menton
Explore Old Town
Exploring the Old Town is my favorite part of visiting any European city or town, and Menton is no exception. Decorated with gorgeous medieval buildings and hilly, cobblestone streets, the Old Town is a magical place in which to lose yourself. The colorful buildings of Menton will take your breath away as you wander in the labyrinth of the Old Town.
Want to learn a fun fact about Menton’s Old Town? It was actually founded in the 13th century by pirates!
Climb your way to the Saint-Michel cathedral and take in some amazing views of Menton and its charming seaside.
Try a guided walking tour of Menton if you want to learn more about the town’s history!
You can truly feel the prominent Italian influence in the Baroque basilica of Saint-Michel the Archangel. In fact, you’re more likely to feel more like you are in Italy than in France.
You can reach the basilica easily by climbing the hills of Menton up to the Old Town. It’s the perfect reward at the top for all of those hills and winding staircases that begin at the promenade.
I definitely suggest making this ascent in the morning if you’re visiting in the summer. It’s far too hot in the afternoon sun, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be drenched in sweat before you even get to the top.
An alternate route takes you through time to the medieval days, where the people of Menton would climb to the top via a series of narrow passageways and alleys. These start at Rue Longue.
The cathedral itself has a gorgeous Baroque facade and interior, with an epic mural on the ceiling that you could lose yourself in. There are two towers, one higher than the other. The higher one has a steeple whereas the shorter one serves as the clock tower.
The next logical stop following the cathedral is the cemetery Menton is best known for.
Old Château Cemetery
Situated just a bit higher than the Basilique Saint-Michel is the site of a former medieval castle. The castle was eventually destroyed, and a cemetery now stands in its place. The cemetery offers the best views and is definitely one of the best things to do in Menton. Be sure to bring your camera, as you can get some killer views of the city and its terracotta rooftops, Menton’s port, as well as the nearby mountains.
There are a few (almost) famous people resting at the Old Château Cemetery. One of which is William Webb Ellis. He was actually the guy who is credited with the invention of rugby! OK, maybe not so famous. There are however a few British and Russian aristocrats as well as some Russian royalty. The Russian influence in Menton is almost as significant as the influence of the Italians!
Val Rahmeh Botanical Garden
Found on the steep slopes over Menton is the Val Rahmeh Botanical Garden, one of the best things to do in Menton for over 100 years.
The Botanical Garden is a nod to the Belle Epoque, when aristocrats of British and Russian descent made their summer retreats to the Cote d’Azur.
The temperate microclimate of Menton is ideal for exotic plants from all over South America and Asia. A visit to the Val Rahmeh Botanical Garden is like taking a mini-trip to the jungle of a faraway land.
Lord Radcliffe, the former governor in Malta and the man responsible for the garden’s creation, was particularly fond of exotic fruits. You can find an abundance of bananas, avocados, kiwis, mangos, and more.
The rarest of all the species found at Val Rahmeh gardens is the toromiro tree. This tree is so rare that it is actually extinct in the wild. Only domestic versions of it exist today. The tree is originally from Easter Island off the South American coast.
Plage des Sablettes
Given its prime location bordering the French and Italian rivieras, you can be sure that Menton has its share of beautiful beaches to enjoy. One of the best things to do in Menton is go to the town’s most popular beach, Plage des Sablettes. Nestled in a tiny bay below the Basilique Saint-Michel, there are two protruding breakwaters that protect the harbor.
From here, you can actually see the exact spot where the French-Italian border lies, at Mortola Point.
Plage des Sablettes offers lovely views of the summer homes that are nestled in the nearby mountains to the east. It’s one of the best beaches in the south of France.
If you’re up for some water sports, head to Palmes Beach. Here you can find diving guides to shipwrecks, impressive drop offs, as well as shallow inlets for the less experienced.
The promenade that runs along the length of Old Town also spans the Plage des Sablettes. There are plenty of restaurants serving fresh seafood, trickling fountains, and an unmatched energy filled with the liveliness that only summer can bring.
Umbrellas and sun chairs are available to rent in certain areas of the beach. Otherwise, just bring a towel or blanket.
Plage du Fossan
As a slightly less-crowded alternative to Plage des Sablettes, you can also visit Plage du Fossan. This beach is smaller and has more pebbles than the soft white sand you’ll find at Plage des Sablettes.
Plage du Fossan is a public beach and completely free. Unfortunately, there are no umbrellas to rent if you need some shade, so you will need to bring your own.
Despite being located in France, a country known for its nonchalance in regard to smoking cigarettes, you cannot smoke on Plage du Fossan – this is a strict rule that will be enforced.
Jean Cocteau Museum
Jean Cocteau, a renowned artist and filmmaker, adored the town of Menton. He spent so much time here, in fact, that there is an entire museum dedicated to his honor. This is by far the most popular museum in town and one of the best things to do in Menton.
The 1,800 piece catalog showcases Cocteau’s work in a variety of media. There are films, photographs, graphic art, and more.
The museum is located within the bastion, a fort from the 1600s.
Even if you’ve never heard of Cocteau, the museum is actually pretty interesting and worth a visit to see his enigmatic work.
Musée de Préhistoire Régionale
Another popular museum to visit in Menton is the Museum of Prehistory. This museum is dedicated to the history of the French Riviera and the different eras of its past.
There’s an entire exhibit dedicated to the French Riviera’s shipwrecks, displaying all sorts of artifacts retrieved from the wreckage. You can see old, water-worn weapons, glassware and silver, and a few other seemingly random relics.
There is also an impressive collection of artifacts and replicas related to the different industries that Menton is known for. This includes olive oil production, lemon harvesting, and the local fishing scene. Check out an old olive press, learn about the many uses of lemons, and discover the history of fishing in Menton.
Jardin Serre de la Madone
In addition to the Val Rahmeh Botanical Garden, another place worth checking out is the Jardin Serre de la Madone. This garden gives off slightly less jungle vibes, with more of an ‘enchanted forest’ ambiance. Though there are some tropical and subtropical species here.
Adorned with reflecting pools and moss-covered statues, the garden makes you feel as though you are in a land that time forgot.
There are some areas that are more sunny and more open than the dark Mediterranean forest, where plants such as succulents and bamboo can thrive. The garden is seriously impressive at nine hectares, but you don’t need to spend a whole day here to get a gist of what it’s about.
Perhaps the absolute best thing to do in Menton, should you be visiting in February during the off-season, is to go to its renowned Lemon Festival. Every February, more people attend the Lemon Festival than attend the Grand Prix in Monaco, if you can believe that!
It’s more than just a weekend festival. In fact, the Lemon Festival runs for near to three entire weeks!
Complete with parades, music performances, gorgeous mosaics of lemons and oranges, and choreographed dances, the Lemon Festival is among the most popular reasons people visit Menton. Each year there is a different theme to the festival (you know, aside from ‘lemons’).
On your visit, you’ll undoubtedly understand Menton’s obsession with lemons and oranges. It has been one of Europe’s top citrus producers for years upon years. You’ll stumble across lemon and orange trees around every corner in Menton. The permeating aroma wafts through the air with the salty sea breeze to make for a fully sensory experience while visiting.
While here, you can also find a huge number of vendors selling their lemon-inspired wares. These include confections, preserves and marmalades, lemon-scented oils, limoncello, lemon toiletries, and more.
Even if you’re not visiting during the Lemon Festival, you can still get your lemon fix and lemon-inspired souvenirs. Head to Rue Saint-Michel, and down a small alleyway that juts off the main road, you’ll find Herbin Confiturerie. Here, you can get a fully immersive educational experience on the citrus industry in Menton.
The focus here is on small-batch jams and preserves. Herbin Confiturerie offers guided tours on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays. All tours begin at 10:30am.
This particular craft was brought over to Menton with the British aristocrats in the Belle Epoque. Given the abundance of fresh citrus, it came as no surprise that lemon and orange marmalades would be a huge hit in the region.
The current owner, Jean-Claude Bineau, shows a definite passion for his craft as he walks you through the process of making artisanal confitures.
Musée des Beaux-Arts
One of the top three museums to visit in Menton is the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Housed in one of Menton’s more opulent buildings, the Palais de Carnolès, the museum was the former summer house to the Princess of Monaco.
Considering Menton’s small size and modest reputation, the local Musée des Beaux-Arts holds an impressive collection by some of the world’s most famous artists. Here, you’ll find works by Dali, Picasso, Chagall, Picabia, and more.
Be sure to visit the beautiful garden, home to some absolutely breathtaking statues, as you explore the palace grounds. Of course, citrus trees abound.
Église Russe de Menton
You’ve probably noticed a few mentions of Russian aristocracy throughout this article. Well, during the Belle Epoque, the French Riviera saw a great deal of tourism by Russian nobility. So much so, in fact, that Menton has its very own Russian Orthodox church.
Built in the late 19th century, the Église Russe de Menton is replete with the traditional Russian onion dome in a stunning beryl blue.
But it’s the interior of the church that’s the real showstopper. Its stunning screen of religious icons and paintings was done by Karl Bryullov. It’s Byzantium in style and carved from smooth Tuscan marble.
Marché des Halles
One of the best things to do in Menton (and all of France, for that matter) is stop by the local market hall. This covered market is located on Quai de Monleon, and the best spot to get your groceries in town.
Here, you can find world-renowned French cheeses, cured and raw meats, fresh produce, and home baked breads and pastries. And of course, all things citrus. Try any and all samples you are offered!
The market is closed on Mondays, but open otherwise from Tuesday thru Sunday.
It can be a bit chaotic and noisy inside, but that’s part of the local flavor, and a great reason in itself to visit.