Menton, Provence: tourism & sightseeing
Visit Menton (Provence, France)
Menton is a coastal town and resort on the Cote d'Azur close to the French border with Italy. The combination of the sea and port, the old town, and the magnificent gardens and villas make Menton on of the most popular and vibrant destinations on the riviera - and one of our personal favourites.
Due to the mountains behind the town that protect it from the cold northerly weather Menton has a fine climate even compared with the rest of the French riviera, and this explains the many attractive gardens that you will see as you explore and for which the town is well known - and also make Menton popular with visitors in the winter as well as the summer.
Most visits to Menton will start on the coast, which has a beach, a pleasure port and a traditional harbour to enjoy. It is also a perfect place for a promenade, with views out to sea and along the coast in both directions, and a picturesque view of the tall pastel painted houses of the town and the mountains behind.
There is a park area on a small peninsula on the coast that is beautifully maintained and a lovely place to stop for a rest before you set off to explore the other highlights of the town.
Menton Old town
Behind the seafront in Menton old town was founded in the 13th century by the Genoese. Ownership passed to Monaco in 1346 and remained with them for 500 years. In 1860, along with much of the region along the border with Italy, control of Menton passed to France. This coincided with the start of tourism in France and Menton has been a popular destination ever since.
You can explore the narrow streets, in particular the lively and colourful main pedestrianised street, the cafe-lined Place aux Herbes and the steep streets that climb towards the cathedral and cemetery, with their traditional Provencal townhouses lined with shops and restaurants.
As you climb the hill you reach the principal historic monuments - the Basilica Saint-Michel and the adjacent Chapel of the White Penitents - which both front onto a small square with views out across the harbour. This baroque ensemble creates one of the highlights of your Menton visit.
Basilica of Saint-Michel, the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception and the cemetery
The 17th century baroque style Basilica of Saint-Michel was built (starting in 1619) to replace a more modest church that previously stood in the same location. The ornate and elegant baroque facade was added in 1819. The interior of the basilica is also very impressive - unusually it is heavily draped with crimson curtains and cloths around the columns creating a very warm environment*.
Note: I understand these hangings are made of damask and not alwys on display. They were a gift to the church from Honoré III when he married a Genoese princess in 1675.
The church is unusual in having two steeples, with the older clocktower to the left dating in part from the 15th century while the taller ornate belltower that dominates the skyline of the old town was added in 1701-1703. The statues inset in the facade represent Saints Michael, Maurice and Roch. Inside there are three naves, with six chapels to either side which, along with the choir, contain numerous works of art. It was only in 1999 that the church was designated as a basilica.
It is always hard to imagine how these small towns paid for such grand monuments. In the case of Menton a special (and onerous) tax was charged on local farmers and wine producers for a period of 20 years to raise the money required. It is not recorded whether they were happy to make this contribution to the town's heritage!
The adjacent Chapel of the Immaculate Conception (also known as the Chapel of the Penitents Blancs) is also noteworthy. Built in 1687 it was used by the penitents blancs until the revolution. A significant rebuild was required after earthquake damage in 1887, with the new frescoes in the vault by local artists.
At the highest point on the hill is a cemetery, surely one of the most lovely places in France to be buried! With views along the coast to Italy and in all directions and also across the rooftops and harbour the cemetery contains numerous ornate family burial chapels and graves and is one of the most peaceful and beautiful places in Menton.
Originally a castle, the Chateau de Menton, stood at the top of the hill. The ruins of the castle were converted into the cemetery after 1804 after Napoleon decreed that people could no longer be buried in churches.
The market in Menton is held each day in the old town in an indoor hall, built in the 19th century. There is a very extensive range of delicious local products such as cheese, meat, fruit and vegetables creating a colourful display and many things to tempt you.
Another interesting religious monument is the Russian church, in the traditional russian orthodox style. The newer part of the town is also pleasant to explore, with many belle epoque villas and newer apartment blocks, various 19th century government buildings and small chapels, various parks and a broad selection of shops and cafes.
Many of the streets are lined with orange trees (bearing fruit at the time of our visit) which further adds to the appeal of Menton. There are several very carefully maintained parks and gardens in the centre such as the Jardins Bioves in front of the Palais de l'Europe (which also contains Menton Tourist Office).
Further away from the centre, particularly along the Boulevard de Garavan (north of the cemetery) towards Italy there are numerous grand villas surrounded by beautifully maintained gardens, with the turquoise Mediterranean sea as a scenic backdrop.
As you would expect of a wealthy town on the Cote d'Azur there are plenty of sophisticated cafes and bars where you can take refuge from the crowds and the heat and do a bit of people-watching, both along the seafront and in the old town - one of the cafes in the Place aux Herbes is one of the nicest places to stop for a rest.
Apart from the main beach that runs between Menton and Cap Martin several other beaches are found along the coast around Menton, including a sandy beach at Plage des Sablettes to the east of the centre (next to the old port).
Oranges, lemons and gardens
Menton has won several prizes for its parks and gardens and is also a 4* ville fleurie.
The town contains several world-class gardens, such as the Serre de la Madone, the Le Val Rahmeh, the Fontana Rosa, the Maria Serena garden and Les Colombières. The Parc du Pian focusses on olive trees and has some trees that are 1000 years old.
This enthusiasm for gardens continues in other parts of the town where several beautifully maintained small parks can be seen.
Menton also prides itself on the lemon and orange groves in the surrounding hills and there is a 'lemon festival' in the town at the end of each winter (mid february - early march) which is a major event for the region with music, dancing and street processions including spectacles using an extraordinary number of oranges and lemons!
Museums in Menton
A visit to the small fort on the coast is also recommended - the 17th century fort is now the Jean Cocteau Museum (created by the artist himself) with a good collection of artworks, mosaics and ceramics by the artist. Enthusiasts of Jean Cocteau will also want to visit the Wedding Room in the Town Hall, which the artist decorated with frescoes in the 1950s.
Other important art museums here include the Museum of Fine Arts, situated in the 18th century Palace des Carnolès and the gallery of contemporary Art is in another impressive building, the Palais de l'Europe.
For a change from art the Museum of Prehistory contains numerous artefacts and recreations of life in the region from prehistoric times.
There are numerous local highlights to explore during your visit to Menton, both along the coast and heading inland. Along the coast our personal favourites include Villefranche-sur-Mer, Monaco and Nice - or a trip along the coastal village in Italy to the east. A train service runs along the coast stopping at all the important resorts which is very convenient and much easier than driving.
Map of Menton and places to visit
Visit near Menton with France This Way reviews
... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Alpes-Maritimes
Menton has received the following tourist classifications: historical protected town centre' (secteur sauvegardé); listed town of Art and History ; village in bloom (ville fleurie) 4*
Address: Menton, Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, Provence, 06500, France || GPS: latitude 43.775, longitude 7.5
Plan your visit to Menton, Provence
Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby
- Serre de la Madone: remarkable garden
- La citronneraie: remarkable garden
- Palais Carnolès: remarkable garden
- Sainte-Agnes: most beautiful village (4km)
- Trophy of Augustus: national monument (9km)
- Tete de Chien: site of natural beauty (9km)
- Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild: remarkable garden (16km)
- Parc zoologique du Cap Ferrat: zoo or wildlife park (17km)
- Coaraze: most beautiful village (19km)
- Cascade de Gairaut: site of natural beauty (20km)
Market days in Menton, France
Regular market(s) are held in Menton each Tuesday & Monday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)
The French version of this page is at Menton (Francais)