Before planning our Interrailing trip, I had never heard of Menton, a small city located on the southern French coast, along the Côte d'Azur. But after spending two nights in this charming and colourful city, I can confidently say it was one of my favourite places we visited on our two-week trip.
While researching places to stay to break up the long train journey between Lake Como and Marseille, I came across this blog post which first introduced me to Menton. I was immediately drawn to the pictures of colourful buildings and beautiful beaches. Luckily, Brett and Paul were up for anything, so when I found a cheap-ish Airbnb only 15 minutes walk from the Old Town, we were all sold.
After taking three trains from Como, we arrived in Menton in the late afternoon and checked into our Airbnb. Keen to avoid the heat of the afternoon, we had a short siesta before we made our way out to explore the city. We followed the coastline to the Plage des Sablettes, Menton's most beautiful beach, nestled under the city's impressive Old Town. The area was busy with people, sipping cocktails at restaurants along the boardwalk or relaxing on the sandy beach, enjoying the cooler weather of the evening.
As it was a Sunday, almost all of the grocery stores had closed early (this seemed to be a reoccurring theme of our trip), but I still had enough time for a quick swim in the bay before we had to make our way to the only open supermarket nearby. We bought ingredients and the boys cooked dinner at the Airbnb.
The following morning, Brett and I got up at 5 AM, gathered our camera gear and snuck out of the Airbnb. We began by walking along the beach promenade towards the town centre. The sky was a soft purple, with streaks of pink clouds.
After a few minutes, we ducked down an alleyway and continued along the high street. We had walked down this street the previous night, when it was bustling with people. Now, it was deserted.
We passed the colourful Promenade de La Mer and made our way down onto the sandy beach.
I was amazed to see that we had the entirety of the Plage des Sablettes to ourselves! I couldn't miss the opportunity to pose in my new favourite dress – purchased second-hand for €2 on Kingsday in Amsterdam.
After walking along the beach for a couple of minutes, we turned onto the pier. We had visited this spot the previous evening at sunset, but the backlit conditions had not been ideal for photography. We were hoping the lighting at sunrise would be better, when Menton's colourful buildings would be illuminated from the east by the rising sun.
We made our way carefully out onto the rocks, our bare feet unaccustomed to the odd terrain. We didn't waste any time before we started taking pictures. Within a few minutes of arriving, the Bascilica tower became illuminated with the rising sun's first rays of golden light. Over the next 15 minutes, we watched as the warm glow spread across the whole city, the windows sparking in the sunlight.
Once again, I was pleasantly surprised that we had the whole location to ourselves, with not another photographer or tourist in sight. After the tourist chaos in Como, watching this magical sunrise with Brett was a beautifully peaceful moment, and one of my highlights of our Interrailing trip.
As excited as I was to explore the alleys of Old Town, the calm waters of the bay were calling to me. With nobody in sight, I slipped out of my dress and dove into the sparkling blue water. The water felt slightly cooler than when I had jumped in at the same location the previous night, but I barely noticed the chill as I was so entranced by the beautiful view of Menton.
After getting out and drying off, Brett and I made our way back around the beach and towards the Rampe Saint-Michel, a striking zig-zag staircase leading up from the road to the Basilique Saint-Michel Archange.
We were both impressed by the dramatic nature of the architecture. It felt incredibly grand for such a small city. (Later that afternoon, as we ascended the same staircase with Paul, we realised that many of the shuttered windows along the staircase were not real – they were, in fact, just painted on!)
Brett and I spent the next hour wandering the narrow alleyways of Menton's Old Town. The maze of car-free alleys was unlike anything I had seen before, and I especially loved the abundance of plants growing amongst the colourful buildings. We eventually emerged from the Old Town onto a viewpoint overlooking the city. We briefly explored the Cemetery of the Old Château before making our way back down towards the coast.
As we walked back to the Airbnb, we stopped at the Atelier Boulanger to pick up a baguette and some fresh French pastries (this was not our only time visiting this boulangerie, we went back multiple times for more baguettes – the French really know how to make good bread!). Relaxing in the morning sun, Brett and I enjoyed our sweet treats while admiring the sea view. It was only 8 in the morning, but it was already warming up and we could tell it was going to be a hot day.
We met up with Paul back at the Airbnb and after eating breakfast, we headed back out into the heat. We paused for a break at a beautiful flower-filled square. As we relaxed in the shade, Paul fed a crow small pieces of apple until it was comfortable enough to sit on the bench next to him. We named the bird "Crow Bro" (because what else would you name a crow).
Then, we headed back into Old Town so we could continue exploring the gorgeous alleyways. Despite having already been there that morning, we managed to explore an entirely new set of alleys.
Once again, we were surprised by the lack of tourists. There were times when it felt like we had the whole area completely to ourselves.
The photo opportunities were endless.
As the morning went on, the heat became more intense. We made our way back to the pedestrian high street, where I got ice cream.
Desperate to cool off, we headed out to the Plage du Marché, a long rocky beach in the direction of our Airbnb.
Brett and I changed into our swimsuits and eagerly waded out into the stunning blue water. Unfortunately our swim was cut short after I swam into the tentacles of a pink jellyfish. Luckily the sting wasn't too bad – it was more startling than painful – and it just got my arms (as opposed to my chest or face). Brett, as always, remained remarkably calm, reassuring me as we swam back to the shore.
As this was my first time having been stung by a jellyfish, I did quick googling to determine the best course of action. There's a lot of contradictory advice online, but I followed what the NHS suggested: washing the sting in seawater and then submerging it in hot, fresh water. (I also learnt that peeing on the sting is apparently ill advised, who would've guessed)
We made our way back to the apartment, where I submerged my arms in hot water while the boys prepared lunch. For anyone who hasn't been stung by a jellyfish and is curious what it feels like – for me, it just felt like a really bad stinging nettle sting that lasted for a few hours. It wasn't particularly painful, more just a very peculiar sensation. Although the visible evidence of the stings had disappeared by the next morning, I could still feel them when I washed my hands in fresh cold water.
After a much needed siesta, we walked back into downtown Menton (again), where we had mojitos on the boardwalk and made provisional plans for our stay in Marseille. For dinner, we ate at a Moroccan restaurant, while I constantly refreshed the news on my phone to see if Boris Johnson had lost his no confidence vote. We enjoyed the leisurely dinner (plus a platter of Moroccan desserts) and then made our way back to the Airbnb.
As we headed to the train station the next morning, I felt sad our time in Menton was over. But, at the same time, I was pleased we'd had the opportunity to experience the charms of this unique French city.
There is still so much more in the surrounding area we didn't get a chance to see or do (including nearby hikes and visiting Monaco), so I would be very happy to visit again. For anyone who is looking for a relaxing place to visit along the Côte d'Azur, you may never have heard of Menton, but it's definitely worth a visit.