Some of us are captivated by old-world beauty. Perhaps it's the facades of Italian 19th-century buildings which still shine with gold, peach, lemon, orange, melon pink and earthy reds. Or the prominent town cathedral that sits on a lofty pinnacle overlooking the ethereal Mediterranean. Or the ancient Roman/Greco footpaths that lead up to the mountains with an ever-constant blanket of thick clouds. My heart isn't swayed by the riches and glam of Monaco or the crowds of Nice. It stays with Menton, where the artist inside me awakens.
The first time I discovered Menton, France was through a book. The book is called, "The French Riviera: A Literary Guide for Travellers" by Ted Jones. I bought the book because I was inspired by the colorful impressionists (and post-impressionists) like Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse, Cézanne. I wanted to explore the French Riviera towns and cities where these artists lingered. I remember specifically being intrigued by the chapter of Menton, France, where there's an interesting fusion of French and Italian cultural influence. Menton is known as, the pearl of France and like any beautiful secret, it has attracted the artists, writers and filmmakers to this day.
Let me give you a quick historical view. Once a part of Italy, Menton broke away from the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1860. A year later on 2 February 1861, Prince Charles III of Monaco and Napoleon III signed a treaty in Paris for 4,000,000 francs, the prince and his successors would renounce Menton in favor of the Emperor of France.
Soon it would become a place of a sanatorium, where the lucky, well-off Victorians from colder countries like England could stay and heal their illnesses with the warm climate, mild winters and devour the outstanding Mediterranean food.
Uff. This trip really did me well. It's been nearly 8 years since I've last stepped foot in the French Riviera, Cote d'Azure. The first time I ever saw it was when I was the mere age of 20. I was studying abroad in Florence, Italy and our advisors took us on a field trip to Nice, France. We also stopped in a few towns along the way (Cannes, Eze and Saint Paul de Vence). Although we didn't make it to Menton, I specifically remember the winding, jaw-dropping steep cliffs to the sea and overlooking small villages. Menton was definitely one of them. In 2010, I took a memorable walk to Saint Paul de Vence.
Now I sit and ponder on the beach, mesmerized by Menton staring up at the same mountains. It's just a short 20-minute train ride away from Nice. I took these pictures alone because I traveled alone on this trip to Nice. In fact, it's been a good 7 years since I've traveled for more than a day fully alone. And yes, it was a bit nerving on day #1.
Getting used to one's self again, feeling comfortable in one's own skin takes time. I remember the first day in Nice feeling out of place, awkward without my friends, boyfriend or family. Eating out alone, shopping alone, swimming alone, taking pics and selfies alone...it just felt wrong at first. But then by day #2 in Menton, I felt at ease.
And you know what? You're never really alone. You'll meet people along the way if you're open to new experiences. I chatted with a Swiss girl lying on the beach when I noticed she pulled out a very expensive Nikon camera. I also have a Nikon camera, but it's not even worth half the price of hers. I broke the ice by asking her questions about her camera. Next thing you know, we talked for an hour.
She prefers Monaco. Like I said earlier, I'm a sucker for beautiful old things. She doesn't like the old buildings. I do. She tells me she lives in Antibes and prefers it. To each, her own.
Marché des Halles
Spotting local's lunch of fresh olives, pizza and delicatessens, I wanted one too. I asked these girl's where they bought their food.
The marché, of course! They tell me.
Opened since 1898, the marché is a perfect place to grab a nice slice of Napoleon pizza (it comes with olives and anchovies, salty lovers behold! And make sure to try the "Mentonese" flavored gelato. It's another perfect fusion of Italian limoncello and French vanilla mix. Sweet cream and tangy lime, the perfect marriage of flavors to savor on during those long walks along the Promenade de la Mer or Promenade du Soleil.
In conclusion, I'm happy I found my little place of refuge. Someday, I'll be back. Sooner than later. Au revoir and Ciao, my Menton dream!