From the moment we stepped off the train, almost 7 hours earlier than planned thanks to JJ’s slick train maneuvering in Marseille, we could tell that Menton was our kind of town.  

We came to Menton from Marseille via the SNCF rail, France’s major train line.  This was the second leg or day that we had used on our Eurail Pass.  You can read more about getting from Marseille to Menton using the Eurail Global Pass on a forthcoming post.

Menton officially marked our 14th city to visit in less than a month.  This rigorous travel pace was admittedly starting to take it’s toll on us, and we still had at least 11 more months to go on the road (my mind is blown just typing that). The relaxing beaches of Menton were just what the doctor ordered, and we were ecstatic that this would be our home on the French Riviera for the next 3 days.  I admittedly feel a little pretentious each time I type “French Riviera”, but if the shoe fits, wear it.  

Article Summary

The French Riviera

On the train ride in, we passed through Cannes, Nice, Saint-Tropez, and Monaco, aka all of the most well known and consequently most expensive destinations in the “French Riviera” (there’s that phrase again).  You’ve probably heard of the Cannes Film Festival (featured in one of my favorite episodes of the HBO show “Entourage” by the way), or know that Monaco is home to a major grand-prix in racing.  These are destinations that celebrities and tourists alike both flock to.

Menton was different though. For starters, we had never even heard of it.  JJ found this when researching The French Riviera (aka cities in Southern France along the Mediterranean Sea that typically have beaches) and while looking for lesser known spots. Thankfully, Menton, “The Pearl of France” kept coming up on the map and in her searches. 

The Pearl of France

Some call it a city of gardens and beaches.  While others say it is the most laid back city in France.  Menton has supposedly even won a “Best City in France” award.  But our personal favorite moniker for the incomparable town of Menton is “The Pearl of France”.  Say what you want, but when you wake up to this view every day, it’s easy to start believing the hype.

The views of the beach and Mediterranean were timeless and breathtaking.  We don’t know how anyone could ever tire of them. We sure didn’t and were sad to leave.

Cote d’Azur

If you Google Menton, you’ll learn that it’s situated in the “Alpes-Maritimes” along the “Cote d’Azur” (which we’re pretty sure loosely translated means “Blue Coast”).  It is the last known stop on the French Riviera before you reach Italy.  

Having now left Menton, and knowing that our train from Menton, France to Ventimiglia, Italy was approximately 13 minutes long, we believe that to be true (that it is indeed the last known stop on the French Riviera and extremely close to the Italian border).  That also means that when we were looking East from our balcony, we were undoubtedly seeing Italy, and even seeing the sun rise over it like in this pic:

Menton Beach

The beach in Menton is not the Caribbean. It’s not up there with our perennial favorites like the Bahamas or Turks & Caicos for sure. It’s very rocky with limited sand. The rocks get even bigger once you wade out into the water.  We didn’t know it yet, but we would encounter these exact same type beaches all over Croatia.  The Mediterranean was also freezing, to put it mildly.  Save for a few brave souls, this water was not for swimming in just yet in our opinion.  It was more for listening to and looking at.  The water is, however, as clear as the Caribbean.  On a sunny day, it is simply stunning.

We spent as many waking moments as possible out on that beach or out on our balcony, taking in every ray of sun and every glimpse of the view possible. We even slept with the sliding door open so we could hear the waves crashing and the sounds of the sea as we fell asleep and woke up each morning.  The combination of our manufactured white noise and the natural white noise of the sea sweetly sang the lullaby’s of slumber.  We slept peacefully. 

Things To Do in Menton

Menton supposedly has a Jean Cocteau Museum (a poet), the Botanical Gardens of Val Rahmeh, another garden with a statue and paintings called Serre de la Madone, and Basilique Saint-Michel-Archange.  We saw exactly none of these things and don’t feel the least bit bad about it. 

Lodging in Menton

Menton is a small town with a small, uncrowded train station.  Smaller, lesser known places often come with smaller price tags too. Our Airbnb, in an older building, but on the 5th floor with a huge balcony right on the beach, was a mere $150 a night.  Believe it or not, that’s right at the top of our max allotted lodging budget per night on our year off, so in a way, this was our first splurge. You may now be asking yourself “what kind of rat hole places are Len and JJ staying in for less than $150 a night?!?!” The answer, best elaborated on another post, is renting whole apartments from individual owner’s through Airbnb and Booking.com.

We’ve now stayed in full one bedroom apartments (most of them much larger than a “suite” at a nice hotel, and all in excellent walking locations) in Rome, Barcelona, Porto, Annecy, Marseille, and now Menton, all for less than $150 per night and some for less than $100 a night.  We have since gone on to stay at Airbnb or Booking.com apartments (not hotels) in these additional cities: Florence, Venice, Split, Trpanj, Dubrovnik, Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, and Brussels.

Food in Menton

With the exception of one exquisite dinner at the Restaurant des Artistes (seared Sea Bass anyone?), which was barely one block away and still on the beach and coastline, we didn’t venture from our apartment really at all.

Speaking of which, being the end of May, we hadn’t exactly hit peak season yet in Menton.  That did mean that several restaurants and cafes were not open at all, while others had more limited hours. 

This means that the majority of our sustenance came from cheap groceries at the very nearby Carrefour Express.  We had first seen Carrefour grocery stores while in Barcelona. The full size ones, like in Marseille, are very nice, with a plethora of pre-made items similar to a Central Market or Whole Foods. The “Expresses” in smaller towns, are still a welcome sight. We had now seen them in Spain, Portugal, and France.

Pre-made sandwiches were 1.50€. A large ready made pizza that you just needed to bake or pan fry, 2.50€. Large 1.5 Liter bottles of Cristaline water we had been drinking all over France were .22€ cents…  we paid as much for chocolate and chips as we did our actual meals and water.

Len and JJ’s Overall Rating:

We Would Definitely Go Back

A peaceful, quiet place is exactly what Menton is.  It’s a resort town, and a beach town, but the least known one playing at least fourth or fifth fiddle to those big name destinations around it.  Menton is George Clooney on ER, before he starred in movies and before anyone knew or cared who he was.  So then why has no one heard of it?  Are travelers simply not looking for the next George Clooney?

Here’s to hoping that Menton stays just like it is (stuck on ER) and never changes from the beautiful, charming, unpretentious and unknown place that it is. 

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