If you have one day in Menton in the South of France, there are two obvious attractions: lemons and Jean Cocteau. A sleeper of a Riviera town, and a popular resort for genteel Brits in the 1800s, Menton doesn’t get nearly the same press as glitzy Cannes or larger Nice, but it has a softly enduring appeal.
Day trip to Menton
The town of Menton is the last rail stop on the glamorous Côte d’Azur before you get to Italy, and is well worth visiting, at least for a day.
What to see in one day in Menton. Besides lemons and Jean Cocteau.
In Menton you’ll find Belle Epoque villas, slightly faded; beaches; gardens; a steep twisty old town capped by an atmospheric cemetery; a scenic port and a couple of fine restaurants.
Let’s see. What else does Menton have to offer? Oh, yes. A cat who thinks he’s a rock star.
Is one day in Menton enough?
With some preplanning it’s possible to see Menton in one day. If you travel like I do, however, mismanaging your time and consistently getting lost, you may want to go twice. Or three times.
Or you can read this Menton blog post, learn from my mistakes and save some time. Then, and only then, and possibly not even then, will one day in Menton be enough.
Jean Cocteau in Menton
The first thing you need to know about Menton is that it is famous for Jean Cocteau. (And no, he isn’t the same person as Jacques Cousteau, the undersea explorer who also liked the South of France, but yes, they do have the same initials.)
Who is Jean Cocteau?
Jean Cocteau is one of those famous people you assume you know, but perhaps, when you think about it, you’ve no idea whatsoever. If you are one of these people (and I’m not saying you are, you may have written his biography for all I know, in which case, please comment and leave some insightful Jean Cocteau tips), then let me enlighten you.
Jean Cocteau was an artist, a film director, a poet, a sometimes opium addict and a close friend of Picasso (and Marlene Dietrich and Coco Chanel). His most famous work is the novel, Les Enfants Terribles, which he wrote in 1929 while detoxing from an opium addiction. And he liked Menton very much. There. Consider yourself enlightened. For true Jean Cocteau enlightenment, however, you need to visit Menton.
Jean Cocteau sights in Menton
There are 3 Jean Cocteau sights here and yes, if you have just one day in Menton it’s possible to see them all – if you time it right.
The largest is the Musée Jean Cocteau, collection Séverin Wunderman à Menton. You can’t miss it. Just walk alongside the oceanside promenade – the museum stands out like a half Surrealist half Flintstones-ish building, a square of curved white pillars that look a bit like polished bones interspersed with dark glass.
In case you do manage to miss Musée Jean Cocteau, the Jean Cocteau Museum is located at 2, quai de Monléon. And if you should happen to stumble upon it by chance rather than design, you’re halfway to becoming a Jean Cocteau acolyte, because he once wrote, quite cryptically: “Find first, seek later.”
Find first, seek later
It’s a marvellous quote when you think about it, and comes in handy any time you are lost. Try it out for yourself.
What is there to see at the Jean Cocteau Museum?
Inside the Cocteau Museum, depending on the current exhibition, you’ll find drawings, paintings, ceramics and film clips of this multi-talented artist. There are nearly 1,000 works of Jean Cocteau’s in the collection, which were donated by the fanatical fan/collector Sévérin Wunderman. (You’ll also likely see some Picassos and perhaps a Modigliani or two.)
Jean Cocteau sight #2: the Bastion
Right after I visited the Jean Cocteau Museum I hopped over to the Bastion. It’s a tiny little fortress built in the 1600s that overlooks the Mediterranean.
It’s not easy to miss the main entrance, but somehow I did, and possibly you’ll want to avoid going behind the wall and around to the secluded side of the Bastion like I did, as you might happen upon a group of local teenagers sitting around in a circle, and it will be just you and them and the lonely sea and then you’ll feel quite stupid and pretend to be taking photographs and not looking for the doorway that was right in front of you after all.
Don’t worry. If this happens just try to look cryptic and say, “Seek first, find later.” And then put on your sunglasses and stroll away. You see? I told you the phrase would come in handy.
What can you see at the Bastion?
The wonderful thing about the Bastion is that Jean Cocteau was given full range to decorate it. His stone mosaics outside in the walls are a delight, and its such a great contrast, the gloomy old fortress interior and his lively whimsical works.
The Bastion is also very small, so if you’re tired you can see it in just a few minutes then feel justified in having a drink because you have successfully engaged in something cultural.
Sadly, my new “find first, seek later” mantra didn’t work out so well when I went in search of the third Jean Cocteau site, the Wedding Chapel, which he was also given free reign to decorate, because (and here’s where you should learn from my mistakes) the wedding chapel closes at 4 p.m., not at 6 p.m. like the other two Jean Cocteau sights (and I really think the woman at the tourist office might have mentioned that to me when she told me the closing time for the museum was 6), so go to the Menton Wedding Chapel first!
A second Jean Cocteau quote to live by
Mindful of another Cocteau quote, “See your disappointments as good fortune,” I chose to see missing the Wedding Chapel as a good thing, because the other mistake I made, and continuously do so in France, is to want lunch at 3 p.m., and then the restaurants I really want to eat at, like the fabulous friendly Petit Port, has closed until dinnertime.
So, by having to go back to Menton a second time to see the Wedding Chapel and by making sure to get hungry before 2 p.m., I got to eat lunch at Petit Port.
Restaurants in Menton
I love a restaurant where you can put yourself in the hands of the owner (not literally, obviously). Gabby, the owner of Petit Port, suggested one of the restaurant’s specialties, courgette flowers (sort of like a drumstick-shaped zucchini) stuffed with a red millet, fish and potato mix, lightly deep fried – lighter than any tempura – and served with salad and edible flowers (I assume they were edible because I ate them and didn’t die.)
The meal at Petit Port was exquisite and so far, it’s been my favourite meal of this South of France trip. Well, except maybe for the beef tartare at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes. Petit Port is located at 4 rue du Jonquier. Tel: +33 4 93 35 82 62.
A 2-star Michelin Restaurant in Menton
Had I wanted to walk further, I would have opted for the 2-star Michelin restaurant, Mirazur, on 30 av. Aristide-Briand, Tel: 334918686, but I had such a lovely meal at Petit Port, with its quiet shady terrace and friendly owner – at one point, he brought over a pot of basil for me just to smell – that I would have missed out had I not been so lazy.
(If you stay overnight or have more than one day in Menton, however, you could try both.)
The 3rd Jean Coteau Sight: The Wedding Chapel at Menton City Hall
It took Jean Cocteau two years to complete the Wedding Chapel at Menton City Hall, a task he undertook (who wouldn’t?) at the request of Menton’s mayor. He (Cocteau, not the mayor) worked on it between 1957 and 1958, and the style is linear and the theme is (awwwwww) eternal love and Cocteau designed not just the murals but the doors, candelabras and carpets as well.
The Wedding Chapel, or Salle des Mariages, is located at 17 rue de la Republique and if you happen to be eloping to the South of France, perhaps you can get married there.
Menton Old Town
After you’ve eaten you’ll want to wander around (this means up) the medieval Old Town. The cemetery at the very top is famous, interestingly enough, for a Mr. William Webb Ellis, who invented rugby, and it also offers wonderful views.
Menton is famous for citrus
In Menton, when life gives you lemons, you won’t be bothered making lemonade. You’ll be too busy making – or at least purchasing – lemon-infused olive oil, candied lemon peel, lemon vinegar, Lemoncello liqueur and/or lemon-scented soaps.
Menton’s love affair with lemons is due to its microclimate, which allows citrus trees to grow year round, and the shops do their best to lure you in with all their lemon-y ware And they do a fine job of it – see if you can go and not buy something. I dare you.
What to buy on a day trip to Menton
I bought a bottle of lemon olive oil at Au pays du citron de Menton at 22 rue Saint Michel. Yum. And now I’m eating waaay too baguettes many drenched in lemony olive oil, but when I look at my stomach in the mirror I blame the mirror not Menton (and certainly not my lack of willpower).
This is because Jean Cocteau said that “Mirrors would do well to reflect a little more before sending back images,” and I totally agree with him, so instead of getting depressed about it I try to laugh, because Jean Cocteau also said that we should, “Fight any instinct to be humorless, for humorlessness is the worst of all absurdities.”
And who wants to be humourless in Menton?
Travel tips for Menton
Menton is easy to get to by Regional TER Rail if you’re staying in the South of France. Perfect for a day trip if you’re staying in Cannes, Nice or Monaco. Get off at the stop past Monaco called, um, Menton.
Read more on the sexy South of France: Visit my travel blog post Things to do in the South of France for plenty of ideas on where to go, why to go and what to do there.