TRAVEL 30km east along the coast on one of the switchback Corniche roads, avoiding Monaco if possible, and you arrive in Menton, the border with Italy, always two and three degrees warmer than Nice, a perfect climate for citrus crops.
Its spectacular Lemon Festival, running since 1934 – yes, there was a glut of lemons that year – coincides deliberately with the fortnight-long Nice Carnival, making for a great visitor package. There’s the obligatory parades along the Promenade du Solelil and in the central Biovès Gardens a temporary display of sculptures built with 145 tonnes of oranges and lemons, using one million rubber bands to hold them in place.
We got a sneak of this year’s dazzlingly colourful batch, on the theme of a ‘Lemon’s Tribulations In China’, based on Jules Verne’s adventure novel, ‘A Chinaman’s Tribulations In China’. The Festival mascot is called Jean Limon and plays a guitar – what is the French for ‘quirky’? The good news for citrus lovers is that after the two weeks is over 90 per cent of the fruit (much these days imported) is still in good enough condition to be eaten and sold off at bargain prices.
What else does Menton have to offer? With a large retiree population, it lacks Riviera ‘va va voom’, but its mountain backdrop and elaborate gardens are magnificent and iy boasts one of my favourite food markets
The artist-poet Jean Cocteau first discovered the town in 1953 and it now pays tribute to him with a striking new museum celebrating his talents as poet, artist, film director and designer. One writer compared the building housing the Collection Séverin Wunderman to a giant octopus. Make your own mind up. Inside you’ll find Cocteau’s elegant line drawings, paintings, posters and books, and clips from his films, including Orphée, Le Sang d’un Poète, and Belle et La Bête.
When you visit make the ascent up through the Italianate old town, all pastel colours, past the magnificent Baroque church of St Michel, to the Cimetiere du Vieux Chateau, once a medieval castle, now a terrace graveyard with a Russian chapel, atmospheric tombs and stupendous views along the littoral. Most poignant of all are the many graves of young folk from the 19th and early 20th centuries, who came here hoping the mild climate would cure them of tuberculosis. One such was the decadent illustrator and associate of Oscar Wilde, Aumbry Beardsley, dead at 25. The more robust William Webb Ellis, Salford-born inventor of rugby, lasted until 65 and he too rests in the Protestant section among the Menton cypresses in this most sublime of spots.
Neil followed his visit to Menton with a 'rain stopped play'visit to Nice for the carnival, but he found lots to enjoy in the Jewel of the Riviera.
Lemon Festival PosterNeil Sowerby flew to Nice from Liverpool with easyJet.
To get around once he was there and for access to attractions he used a French Riviera Pass. For rates, daily and beyond, visit www.frenchrivierapass.com.
His accommodation was provided by the Hotel Windsor, 11 Rue Dalpozzo, Nice. +33 04 93 88 59 35. According to season, room rates range between 81 and 260 euros.
His trip to Nice and Menton was organised by the French Riviera Tourist Board. For tourist information visit this link.
In order to catch the 7am easyJet service from Liverpool John Lennon Neil stayed handily seven miles away at the Widnes Travelodge, one of the budget chain’s freshly upgraded hotels, featuring the king-sized Travelodge Dreamer Bed. To book at any of their 500 hotels visit this link.
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