Enchanting Menton, tucked between Monaco and the Italian border, is built on a hillside where the mountains meet the sea. Nicknamed “the pearl of France,” it glistens among the jewels of the French Riviera in the department of Alpes-Maritimes.
On my very first visit in 1985, I immediately fell under the spell of this picturesque little city with its narrow, colourful streets and wide, pebbled beach. Since then, I have returned when I can to enjoy Menton’s many attractions. Among them is a microclimate that bathes the city in sunshine 300 days a year, producing lemons that are said to be among the best in the world. Menton is a little less well-known than some of the neighbouring cities along the Côte d’Azur. This makes it the ideal place to find a vacation rental, soak up the atmosphere, and explore the region.
Quieter than Cannes, Nice, or Monaco, Menton is nonetheless very lively during the summer. Fine shops and restaurants abound, including the delightful Côté Sud, Le Galion, and Les Sablettes, all on the waterfront. Just about every menu features the fabulous local wolffish, often prepared en croûte de sel (in a salt crust). Musiclovers can take in one of the many outdoor concerts near the St. Michel Basilica, in Old Menton, a lovely spot from which to view the port and beaches of Garavan. The Promenade Le Corbusier, a coastal path between Roquebrune Cap Martin and Monaco, beckons walkers with magnificent views, spectacular properties, and pretty beaches. It is a most agreeable escape, which I like to top off with a meal on an outdoor terrace and some happy lounging on the beach of the Vista Palace Hotel.
Incidentally, the whole coastline is dotted with wild beaches, and it is not unusual to see locals pulling over by the side of the road for a quick swim. Waterfront activities are obviously available everywhere and exploring the coast by sea is an interesting option. The catamaran Tatoune offers various packages – from a half-day to a whole week – and the crew will enhance your experience with colourful anecdotes and passionate descriptions of the region, which they know by heart.
More athletic types can rent bikes and climb the Col de la Madone, a route that runs through Gorbio, Castellar, and Sainte-Agnès. At an elevation of nearly 800 metres, it is the highest pass on the French coast.
When it comes to fine dining, Menton simply sparkles. Celebrated chef Mauro Colagreco works his magic at the Mirazur, a two-star Michelin restaurant that is part of the Relais et Châteaux network. In 2014, it ranked 11th best in the world and first in France, according to the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
The menu is the same for lunch and dinner, as is the attentiveness of the staff. In fact, there is no real menu, since the chef improvises based on the day’s freshest market finds and the treasures of his vegetable garden, after first taking care to question his guests about their desires, of course. The restaurant offers three options : Découverte (Discovery), Dégustation (Tasting) and Carte blanche, featuring 3 to 12 courses. The view is to die for, as is the unforgettable parade of astonishing dishes, each one a promise kept.
Having learned his art in the kitchens of some of the greatest, including Bernard Loiseau, Alain Passard, Alain Ducasse, and Guy Martin, Mauro Colagreco has developed a bold and very personal culinary style. Preparations, presentations, and flavour combinations are most definitely all his own.
A meal at the Mirazur is invariably a most delectable treat!