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Bennet's Book 1870
jahtours.com > menton since 1979 - updated 01/2012
The small town on the italian border is one of the nicest places in France. Not France for a long time though, in 1860 the former Grimaldi town of Mentone was bought by France. The italian influence is part of its charm and every weekend there is an invasion of visitors from Northern Italy. Many Italians bought a condo on the french part of the Riviera, they prefer it somehow over their own Riviera. This coast has always been famous with mankind, already in prehistoric times the Neanderthal people inhabited caves in the red rocks near todays border. The Romans built the first road along the coast and since then Menton has been a place of travellers and local fishermen and farmers. Things changed with the arrival of the railways in 1869, and towards the end of the 19th century the area was famous with gentry from northern Europe for its warm winters and healthy fruits.
Until early in the 20th century Menton was a center for citrus-fruits and the annual Lemon Festival is held together with the Carnival in Nice in late February or early March. Other annual events are the Month of Gardens in June, the Menton Triathlon, the Chamber Music festival in August and smaller events like the Jean Cocteau week, women's soccer tournament, or the international sailing regatta. There is something for everyone in and around Menton, art exhibitions, hikes in the backcountry or diving off the cliffs of Cap Martin. And perhaps we'll see the event of a Surfing Competition?! Let me solve the mistery about Menton Surfing Pictures - back in the 19th century we had a wide beach full of pebbles and sand between the Casino ( Carei-river-mouth ) and the Port. Each rainy season new sand was dumped by the river and the sea's current dispersed it along the coast to the east. With urbanization in the upper valley the Careï river almost vanished and with it the regular sand deposits on the beach.
Historic drawings and a postcard from 1962 shows a small beach with rocks and pebbles. When I arrived in 1979 Menton offered a wide sandy beach. Truckloads of the yellow stuff kept it in good shape until 1985. From then on the beach was not refreshed any more and the currents took the sand. By 1989 stormy waves smashed against the Promenade du Soleil and in 1994 only the large rocks were still there, all sand and pebbles gone! The city council had to act to keep a famous landmark for its many sunbathing citizens and visitors. In 2011 a new landmark building was erected near the old market hall on the ground of the old fuel station: The new Jean Cocteau Museum Collection Severin Wunderman and the small plaza behind it allow for different views when the waves are down and the bikini girls have left the beach.
Whilst I'm writing these pages, Menton is still one of the original coastal towns without the hordes of tourists that haunt most of the coast. But for how much longer? Already small businesses in the pedestrian zone changed from goods for the local community to products for tourists. Since 1996 a McDonalds franchise draws customers from traditional Socca, Pizza, or Tourtes dishes to prefabricated delikatessen. Somehow Menton succeeded in keeping the devestating bus-tourism out of town but each year I see more souvenir shops replace traditional business. Most tour operators rather drive their busloads of cattle-tourists to Monaco or Nice and raid the villages of St Paul, Vence, and Eze in search of a Provence which lies further west. Since a lot of new building projects are sold to Italians, on weekends there is an invasion from Torino and Milano longing for the french livestyle while being almost in Italy.
Since the building of the new beach in 1995/96 the Promenade de Soleil has become again the center of sunshine activity. On the place of the old Restaurant Helios and the Hotel Pin d'Or there is now a group of new appartment buildings with italian occupants, but also the Utopia Bar, a couple of smaller shops and banks. Just behind, the Place St Roch has a new look but traffic is still bad, there is either the costly motorway or the often congested coastal road for workers from Italy who come to Menton and Monaco in the morning and leave in the evening. Neighboring Cap Martin also renovated some of its beaches and a couple of more appartment buildings have been finished. Thanks to the European Union and its common currency Menton and its region will become italian again.
When you come to visit, please bring curious spirit and hiking shoes to discover the miracles of this small town. In the middle of winter you can walk Boulevard de Garavan under blue skies with abundant flowers in the gardens. Explore the hidden treasures in the valleys or hike around Cap Martin with breathtaking views over Monaco and Roquebrune. More adventurous souls can go for the mountains which quickly reach 3000 feet only 5 miles from the coast! The hinterland of the Côte d'Azur has a rich network of hiking paths for every taste, from forrest walks to cliff climbing, you can also go canyoning and paragliding, and last not least mountain biking in the rolling hills underneath the snowcapped mountains of the Mercantour national park.
During the 70s and 80s many people came to the beach at Menton for fun and incredible cheap holidays. Whether or not you were part of the Menton beach gang of those years, we'd like to hear from you!
tête à tête in Menton bay
picture borrowed from our partner the fun and happy website exanova.com
please write to menton at exanova.com
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