• Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cd_fr/7094186453/">Musée Jean Cocteau à Menton</a> by C D _Fr
  • Photo: Martin M303/Shutterstock


The most Mediterranean of the French resort towns, Menton rubs shoulders with the Italian border and owes some of its balmy climate to the protective curve of the Ligurian shore. Its Cubist skew of terra-cotta roofs and yellow-ocher houses, Baroque arabesques capping the church facades, and ceramic tiles glistening on their steeples, all evoke the villages of the Italian coast. Yet there's a whiff of influence from Spain, too, in its fantastical villas, exotic gardens, and whimsical patches of ceramic color, and a soupçon of Morocco, Corsica, and Greece. It is, in fact, the best of all Mediterranean worlds—and humble to boot: Menton is the least pretentious of the Côte d'Azur resorts, and all the more alluring for its modesty (though it can be quite a sleepy place compared to Nice, Antibes, or Cannes).

Its near-tropical climate and 316 days of sunshine a year nurture orange and lemon trees that hang heavy with fruit in winter. There's another Florida parallel: the warmth attracts flocks of senior citizens who warm their bones far from northern fog and ice. Thus a large population of elderly visitors basks on its waterfront benches and browses its downtown shops. But Menton has a livelier, younger side, too (there's even a tango festival every July), and the farther you penetrate toward the east, the more intriguing and colorful it becomes.

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