This Little-Known Beach Town Is A Picturesque Hidden Gem In The Crowded French Riviera

Sometimes, it's worth skipping the most popular destinations in favor of lesser-known alternatives. When traveling to France, for example, you might want to head to the vibrant and budget friendly city of Lille or choose the food capital of France with a visit to Lyon instead of spending all your time in Paris. Similarly, if you've always dreamed of taking a trip to the French Riviera, but are turned off by the crowds in popular locations like Nice, Cannes, and St. Tropez, the small town of Menton might be just what you're looking for.


Although not remote, Menton is much quieter than its surrounding neighbors. Less than an hour from both Monaco and Nice, Menton sits in the southeast corner of the country, close to the border of Italy. It's a town that represents the region, serving up both Italian and French fare while delivering on the architecture and greenery associated with the Mediterranean. It sits along the coast, so beaches are readily accessible, yet it features towering snow-capped Alps in the backdrop. These are just some of the reasons this darling is known as the "Pearl of France".

Quintessentially Mediterranean vibe in Menton

Viewing Menton from the water, it's easy to see its appeal. As a picturesque medieval town, it welcomes visitors with tiered buildings of pastel colors. It speaks to the power of the ocean with a sea wall around the huge marina, where yachts and sailboats share space.


Contrasting the modern is the striking Basilica of Saint-Michel-Archange of Menton taking center stage at the top of the bluff. Built in 1653 and restored following an earthquake in the late 19th century, it's a must-visit in Menton. After making the trek up to the Baroque cathedral, take in the facade and then enter to admire the ceiling mural and other art. You can also visit the clock tower and check out the 174-foot-tall steeple. From there, continue on to explore The Cimitière du Vieux Chateau, or the Old Castle Cemetery, next door.

In fact, the entire medieval old town, or vieille ville, is worth exploring. Lose yourself in the narrow alleys and discover where staircases lead. Meander along the pedestrian street of Rue Saint Michel, where you'll find boutique shops. Then head to one of the seaside restaurants for a meal, a drink, and a view of the marina and the turquoise water beyond.


Things to do in Menton

As with many other coastal towns in the French Riviera, a day at the beach is a must. There are several to choose from and they vary from quite rocky to somewhat sandy. You can rent a chair and umbrella at a beach club or simply plant yourself on a public shore. Move between beaches along the seaside promenade and let the kids play at the outdoor adventure park, complete with huge trampolines, near the marina.


For a bit of art and history, check out the Musée du Bastion, dedicated to Jean Cocteau, a filmmaker, novelist, painter, and poet who often visited the region. Then, get in touch with nature at one of the botanical gardens. The Palais Carnolès Garden offers the largest collection of citrus trees in Europe, and Val Rahmeh Gardens showcases rare species. Due to Menton's unique ecosystem, lemons grow prolifically in the area. In fact, lemons are a trademark of Menton, so you won't have to look very hard to find lemon liqueur, soaps, ravioli, pastries, and even infused olive oil. 

Many of these products can be found at the central market, where you'll also discover a wide assortment of pastries, meats, produce, prepared foods, and seafood. With its temperate climate, it's always a good time to visit Menton, but famed travel writer and guide Rick Steves recommends visiting in the spring or fall. Amuse-toi bien!