Part Un: Jo
Rach and I share a long history, and Menton holds a special place in our story.
My initial visit to Rach in Menton occurred during our days as young French students. At that time, she was residing in the Old Town, finding solace after the tragic loss of her mother, whose best friend was from the area and whose own family, still cherished friends of ours, still live there.
This coastal town became "our place" and we made numerous visits throughout our twenties and thirties. However, two decades have passed since our last trip there together. This summer, we decided to change that, renting a delightful apartment with stunning views, and joining us was Rach’s teenage daughter, Heather, and my hubby, Steve, making his debut visit.
Nestled in Alpes-Maritimes, along the Italian border on the southeastern coast of France, Menton radiates charm.
Les Sablettes, the town’s beach area, boasts a promenade of private beach clubs. In the old days, regardless of our meagre funds, we always managed to secure sun loungers, drinks service, table reservations and indulgent meals.
This year, our focus was on La Pergola Beach Club—an oasis of tranquillity and breathtaking beauty...
We embraced an array of experiences during our stay, with some standout moments, including:
The Old Town and its culinary delights
Menton's Old Town, with its enchanting cobblestone streets, is a treasure trove of gastronomic delights.
Situated near the Italian border, it boasts a diverse foodie scene, with a particular emphasis on mouthwatering seafood, a collective favourite of ours.
Our favourite dining destination is Les Enfants Terribles, a culinary haven inspired by the artistic legacy of Jean Cocteau. His influence, intricately woven into the city's fabric, extends to a splendid museum.
Amidst this artistic feast, we reunited with old friends, also introducing Heather and Steve to the ritual of the 'after-dinner dinner' at Frites City. This quaint spot, which Rach and I frequented in our youth, still echoes in our dreams 30 years on, with the tantalising taste of Belgian fries adorned with mayo and merguez implanted forever in our memories.
Train journeys, day trips, perfume and... more food
Embarking on scenic train journeys and captivating day trips, our adventures unfolded in delightful ways.
A mere ten-minute train ride from Menton transported us to the charming Italian town of Ventimiglia, where the allure of a delectable seafood lunch beckoned.
The intensity of the experience is best conveyed through the expressions of Steve and me (see below!).
A stroll around the market added a touch of local flair before we crossed back into France.
Venturing west on a double-decker (cue Steve's palpable excitement), we traced the picturesque coastline to Monaco (20 minutes away), Nice (30 minutes), Cannes (90 minutes) and Grasse - the global epicentre of perfumery, all within a couple of hours.
We girls indulged in a splendid, scented adventure, attending a workshop where each of us crafted our unique signature scents (all currently repurposed as air fresheners in guest bathrooms 😉) whilst Steve spent a day immersed in valuable Formula One research in Monaco.
En route to Grasse, we also included a crucial pit stop to raid a couple of patisseries in Cannes, as you do.
Part Deux: Rach
Here are Rach's insights, recollections and feedback, to add another layer to our shared narrative...
A La Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past)
In a world teeming with enticing destinations, I've come to the realisation that my ever-expanding bucket list may remain only partially explored. Yet, I firmly believe that everyone should have a cherished holiday retreat, a true home away from home.
For me, that haven is nestled in the heart of the Côte d’Azur, specifically Menton, the final jewel in France's crown before embracing the Italian border.
The roots of this affectionate connection trace back to my mother's friend who called Menton home. Since my teenage years, we've been frequent visitors to this charming town and its surrounding beauty.
I vividly recall falling in love with Menton during one of my initial ventures abroad, and truth be told, it's not difficult to understand why.
About 30 minutes into the taxi journey from Nice, a familiar sense of belonging washes over me as we veer off the motorway. The winding hills guide us toward the sparkling blue sea, with the views of the Old Town and the fading Alps providing a picturesque backdrop.
Some describe Menton as sleepier than its glitzy neighbours like St Tropez, but the absence of celebrity has always added to its allure for me.
My ideal retreat involves spending blissful days at the beach, revelling in the glorious weather, with at least one visit to a beach club at Les Sablettes, where we hire sunbeds, dip in and out of the Med, and savour lunch by the shore.
Perhaps it's the quintessential Brit in me but dining outdoors near the beach is always a thrill.
And, of course, it’s hard to go wrong with French cuisine, although, given our proximity to Italy my daughter would passionately argue that she has the best margarita pizzas of her life here.
The pedestrian zone in town is a delightful maze of shops to explore, offering a diverse range of eateries. I highly recommend a visit to the daily covered market, where the air is filled with the enticing aroma of ripe fruits, cheeses, homemade ravioli, olive oils, and wine. Our personal favourite is the beignets aux fleurs de courgettes, a treat we never fail to indulge in on every visit.
In the early days of our Menton adventures, we had the privilege of staying in an apartment nestled in the Old Town. Wandering through the winding, hillside streets, I still feel a deep connection to the history and sense of community that permeates the area.
Heading towards the Cemetery of the Old Château invites a leisurely stroll. The most visited tombs include those of rugby founder William Webb Ellis and the English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley. A nighttime walk through the Old Town, with its illuminated church square, is truly remarkable.
The region is dotted with incredible places to explore: the hillside village of St Paul de Vence, the vibrant city of Nice, tracing the footsteps of the rich and famous on La Croisette in Cannes or venturing into Monaco.
On this trip, my daughter Heather, Jo, Steve and I made a delightful excursion to Grasse to explore the renowned Molinard perfume factory.
Traversing the coast by train is a delight in itself, with the sparkling sea and endless incredible properties along the way. It's no wonder this region has been a magnet for so many over the years.
Just writing this makes me realise why the French use the term ‘au revoir’ when they say goodbye. ‘Until I see you again’ is the only way I can leave Menton - knowing that I will indeed be returning...