On four levels explore the mixed history of the good and great that lived and came to die in Menton. Russian princes, Italian grand families, retired vicars and civil servants from Victorian England. Among the headstones here is that of Aubrey Beardsley and William Ellis, supposed founder of rubgy.
Fabulous view out over the Baie de Garavan towards Italy, only a kilomtre away.
There are Commonwealth military cemetaries dedicated to French forces climbing futher up the hill, but which offer little of interest as much as these.
Running parallel to the Baie du Soleil - Mentons seaside frontage - is the Zone Pietone Rue St Michel, where all the usual tourist nicknacks are available in abundance. Battery-powered Cicada-sounding ceramics, Provencal lavender soaps and scents, yellow tablecloths, postcards to send home. Restaurants with menus in three languages, easy-going genteel atmosphere, likeable its own way, but there is more to Menton than this.
Climbing several hundred feet up the hillside above the Villa Les Colombiers is the stunning garden set out by Ferdinand Bac. Winding paths, spectacular views, statuary mixed with balustrading, Roman arcades and pillars, tightly choregraphed garden design with an extraordinary vision
Visit only by arrangement with Tourist Office in Central Menton during July and early August only.
Prince Troubetzkoy of Russia, and others aristocrats are found here in the grandest Mausoleum in the cemetary. Tsar Nicholas and his offspring and hangers on were very favoured, and many found their way to the French Riviera
Russia's aristocracy - their lives and their fate, seems to echo the modern generation of Arab princes, also flaunting wealth and priviledge on the Riviera - it comes to mind that they might meet the same fate in a another political revolution.
This is a reminder how far we have come in the last hundred years. Then there were no "tourists" here or anywhere . The only people who could travel were the idle rich. The riviera was full of royalty and apart from a few simple fishermen, no-one else. No low-cost airlines, no hen nights, no weekend breakers, no VT.
Ferdinand Bac, a French illustrator, cartoonist, writer and garden designer in the nineteen twenties, idealised all of his many visions in this stunning villa and exotic garden in upper Menton. Accessible only by a very steep climb from the Boulevard Garavan, this breathtaking "project" - more than a mere villa - is decorated in fabulous designs referring to Greek, Roman, Mediterranean and Moorish influences.
Little can be seen from the exterior here - and high fences around the perimiter of the fantastic garden ensure total privacy. However visits are possible organised through the tourist office, however only for guided groups during July and early August.
The only way I could think to become a "group" was to stage a Peter Sellers routine - enter the tourist office to request a visit, leave, and return two minutes later with a moustache affixed and demand a visit, to then return two minutes later with a hat on and demand a visit....
It is worth it. I have seen pictures and this is no ordinary place. So much did he not want to leave the paradise he had created. Ferdinand Bac is buried within the garden.
Another fabulous garden, open in season Wednesday to Monday ie not Tuesdays,
Runs down from Boulevard de Garavan to short of the railway. Spectacular exotic arrangements in a perfect setting. Bamboos, exotica, all really interesting
Admission 4 Euro for an adult
Though more often associated with Villefranche, much of Cocteaus time and works are to be found in Menton.
In the bastion of the fortification around the port is the Musee de Cocteau, open Wednesday to Monday - not Tuesdays.
The Town hall is also embellished with many Cocteau designs, including a well known one in the Salle des Marriages in which starcrossed lovers seek to read their futures in each others eyes.
The largest baroque church in the wide surroundings of Menton arises in front of you, when you stand in front of the Basilica of Archangel Saint Michael. To the left of the yellow-green facade stands the oldest part, dating back to the 15th century. The rest is made in the 17th and 18th century and has many Genuan styles in the baroque (such as the "Campanille" tower). The interior of the church is truely a wonder of art, or should I say "arts". Paintings, retables, sculptures and a dazzling display of colours, silver, gold and marble everywhere. The roof is painted in a wonderful way too. One can stay for hours here and discover something new every minute.
Most popular and famous is the "Jardin du Val Rameh", a garden that is easily reached from the centre and offers a dazzling collection of plants and flowers. Over 700 species are collected from all over the world and growing here in a beautiful garden surrounding an old Englis mansion. In the pond the Indian Lotus flower grows and also special attention to the citrus fruite trees, such as avocado, white sapotille, guave and passionfruite.
From the beach side of Menton (or the yaught harbour) the houses rise up high and steep, as if the town is made by large colourful blocks pressed against a rocky mountain. In between the blocks stairs lead up and eventually you standon the "Parvis St-Michel" or Saint Michael's square. The square itself is a mozaik that represents still the Grimaldi-weapon (Monaco royal family). Rising high above the square are the facades of the two main churches of Menton: the "Chapelle de la Conception" and the "Basilica St-Michel-Archange" (Archangel Saint Michael). This square is magnificent and the true centre of Menton. The style surrounding you is baroque and with a lot of Italian influence.
Menton's answer to the Promenade des Anglais is the Baie du Soliel, stretching towards Cap Martin and Roquebrunne to the west.. The bay is fronted by a relentless row of modern apartment blocks, none of any aesthetic merit. - unlike Nice, where art deco style predominates. Menton's modern developments are designed not by architects but by developers in that homogenous "could be anywhere" style.
However this should not detract from the beauty of Menton, which is to be found more in the old town and up above the bay of Garavan.
The registry office of the Menton town hall (Hotel de Ville) was decorated by the celebrated artist and visionary Jean Cocteau. Here in the main mural a couple seek to find their future in each others eyes.
Cocteau wrote ironically:
"The verb "to love" is difficult to conjugate. It's past is not simple. It's present is not indicative. It's future is very conditional."
A tape plays in language of your choice the story behind Cocteau's creation, of each tableau. To the right, the mother-in-law disapproves of the bride. To the left, greek mythological centaurs play in mischief. All classical allusions bound up with the surrealist view of the temporary nature of our aspiration to permanent relations.
Menton streets have a very nice and cosy atmosphere. the colours of the houses, the small and various shops, the mixed Italian-French styles and people ... all add to this specific wonder for visitors. Very nice are the markets, such as the large food market near where the Promenade du Soleil meets the Quay de Monleon. Here many exotic fruits, dishes and vegetables are sold. Outside there often is a art and antique market, that only improves this warm and wonderful atmosphere.
L'hotel d'Adhemar de Lantac is not any longer, as its name suggests, a hotel, but the residence of the menton heritage organisation which organises trips to the main historical, gardens and other places of and culture interest. It also houses an interesting collection of paintings, and books on everything local, such as Cocteau in Menton, the exotic gardens of Serre La Madonne and Val Rameh. Call in for the daily itinerary that month.
For those who do not have the time to go to one of the exquisit gardens in Menton, maybe the central park of Menton will do? "Jardin Bioves" stretches out between the Casino and along the hall of congress. In it several orange and lemon trees, as well as fountains and colourful flowerbeds everywhere. Remarkable is the statue of Volti: "Goddess with the golden fruites". the view towards the mountains is here quite spectacular.