Just located three kilometers from the Italian border lies the stunning small town of Menton. With its warm, Mediterranean climate and sweeping, colorful harbor, it’s no wonder that this French Riviera town is famously nicknamed “the pearl of France.” Many tourists– local and foreign– take a trip to Menton every year, ideally in the summer for plenty of sunshine and views of the beautiful Old Town.
Despite the fact that I was based in Avignon, which is located in the same region (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) as Menton, it’s by no means close to the port town itself. With a distance of nearly 300 kilometers and no direct trains over, it makes for a massive operation just to spend a few hours in town. Although the distance, train transfers, and costs were out of my hands, I was really adamant about making it over to Menton, since it would be my last time in France before heading home.
That said, I booked my trains to go from Avignon to Menton. The tickets cost almost 110€ round-trip, and it would require two transfers one-way (first at Marseille Saint-Charles and second at Nice-Ville). It would be a nearly six-hour journey just to get there, before having to take another six hours to get back for the day. Factoring all of that into account, I would have barely three hours to explore Menton itself. Call me crazy, but due to a limited time in Provence, I could only manage a day trip for the town, and I was ready to do it!
First leg of the journey (Avignon Centre — Marseille Saint-Charles) required me leaving at a glorious 5:50 in the morning. It was a quiet, 90-minute ride on the TER (packed with sleepy commuters), and I soon reached Marseille around 7:30. I had a ten-minute transfer to catch my next leg to Nice-Ville; I’d been worried about the timing of trains, especially in the south of France where it’s notorious for SNCF to delay or cancel trains, let alone having them arrive on time. Thankfully, the ten-minute gap was enough, as I found my next train easily and spent the following 2-1/2 hours heading to Nice.
The sun was already up-and-out by the time I caught my ride to Nice-Ville. I also noticed that the train line traveled directly along the coast, so I got to see the gorgeous Côte d’Azur from the window as we zipped through various small resort towns, where holiday-goers hopped off at their leisure. The coastal views made the journey less-boring, and it got me excited to see the same scenery once I arrived at my final destination.
Arrived into Nice-Ville on time, and the final leg was to gare de Menton. It would be a shorter trip compared to the previous legs, at about 40 minutes — that’s why it’s a popular day trip for visitors who base out of Nice, as it just a few stops away (unlike Avignon!). It’d been years since I last visited Nice, but I wouldn’t have the time to revisit since my focus was getting to Menton — I did, however, get a glimpse of the French Riviera coast from the train station’s exit, and I also passed by Èze, a medieval village that I’d visited when I was last in Nice over a decade ago.
We also had a stop at Monaco, where tons of people got off to explore the micro-nation for the day. While it would’ve been cool to step off and out, just to say that I’ve been to the country, I couldn’t due to a tight schedule. I’m also told there isn’t much to do in Monaco, so I guess I wasn’t missing out!
Finally, my journey to Menton ended as the train pulled into the station at around 11:50. Six-plus hours later, and I made it! There was no time to be wasted, as I immediately hopped off the train and made a beeline for the harbor. Along the way, I passed through the jardin Biovès, an elongated garden parallel to the avenue de Verdun that holds the annual fête du Citron every February (since Menton is famous for growing lemons). Unfortunately, I visited when the festival wasn’t going on, but I saw an exhibition that had nautical-themed structures which were quirky and appropriate for the town’s proximity to the Mediterranean sea.
I turned onto the Promenade du Soleil, the main road along the coast with plenty of space for pedestrians to stroll, bike, or roller-blade to the harbor. Plenty of restaurants dotted the walk, too, with tables and chairs located right in front of the beach and waters. I didn’t stop at any of the restaurants along the promenade, choosing instead to make my way to the parc Plage de Fossan, upon its edge where I got views of the beach and the Ulysses statue by the Czech-born sculptor Anna Chromý.
Just around the corner was the Vieux Port de Menton. This is where the iconic views of the bright, sunny houses are built into the town’s hills, all the while overlooking the yacht-studded harbor and the deep, marine sea. I spent some time walking the quay and taking photos before getting a quick lunch at one of the restaurants by the harbor. I ate quickly so as to maximize time exploring, and I soon took the zigzagging stairs up to the Old Town.
The basilique Saint-Michel-Archange was first to greet me upon reaching the top. I didn’t go inside, but rather headed a minute away to the chapelle des Pénitents-Blancs, which I was told had an incredible nave. Unfortunately, it was closed as it was around lunch time when I went, and I wouldn’t have the time to return later since I had to catch my train back. Alas, another time!
I continued my visit of Menton’s Old Town, heading even further up to the cimetière du Vieux Château. I wasn’t visiting for the tombstones, but rather for the panoramic views of the town, port, and Côte d’Azur below. The scenery certainly did not disappoint.
Descending the hill, I made my way into the heart of Old Town. I weaved through the narrow, yellow and orange-pastel walls reminiscent of the lemons grown in Menton, enjoying the quiet respite from people and the heat. Upon reaching the center, it was back to bustling tourism, with crowds inundating the souvenir shops and restaurants in the early afternoon.
I didn’t have much time left in town, so I opted to slow down and enjoy the last of it. Came across a gelato stand, where I purchased three scoops: lemon, rum-raisin, and lavender. All three were sublime and perfect for a hot summer’s day while strolling through a gorgeous French Riviera town.
Eventually, I had to hastily make my way back to the train station to catch my 14:40 train back to Nice-Ville. I was extremely lucky that I took that specific train, because the trains before and after it ended up being late or cancelled — how crazy is that! And considering that I had tight transfer times, I couldn’t afford to miss any of my trains back to Avignon. My train from Marseille to Avignon actually got delayed by 20 minutes, but it was the last leg of the trip, so it was fine. I finally returned around 20:30, utterly exhausted but happy.
My trip to Menton was the longest day trip I’ve ever made in all of my travels — only those to Rocamadour (France) and Chefchaouen (Morocco) are close-behind. I spent more time getting there and back than actually visited, and admittedly, the visit was rushed. But I don’t regret it at all, because I really wanted to see it before I left France. Menton truly is stunning, and it’s definitely worth the trip over in the summer. In my eyes, it’s really a gem!
That concludes my travels in Provence this summer. It was a packed five days, but fulfilling all the same. I saw the lavender fields, revisited the Pont du Gard, and experienced the laid-back French life outside of Paris (which was the last time I’d been in France for the summer). The Provencal charm is truly magical, and I can see why it draws tons of people to its beautiful region every year. I would love to return to France some day to explore more of Provence, as means of reliving those last, lovely days as an American expat.
Thanks for reading. I have more travel adventures to come soon!