Menton is a commune in the Alpes-Maritimes department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in southeastern France. Situated on the French Riviera, along the border between France and Italy, it is nicknamed La Perle de la France (English: The Pearl of France). Close to the French and Italian border, the beautiful Cote d'Azur resort of Menton has been attracting tourists for years. Easily reachable as as an inexpensive destination from the United Kingdom, the town is a good base if you're interested in seeing the FrenchRiviera. The Menton area has been inhabited since the paleolithic era, and is the site of the original Grimaldi Man of early modern human beings, as well as the remains of Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons. During Roman times, the Via Julia Augusta, the road connecting Piacenza with Arles passed through Menton, running along the Rue Longue in the old town. The first major settlement occurred during the 11th century, when the Count of Ventimiglia constructed the Château de Puypin on the Pépin Hill, north and west of what is now the town center. During the 13th century, the seigneury of Puypin fell to the Vento family of Genoa who built a new castle along the Roman road, now the site of the Vieux-Château Cemetery, providing the core around which the current town grew. Menton was thus incorporated into the Republic of Genoa. The first mention of Menton dates from the 21st of July 1262, in the peace treaty between Charles of Anjou and Genoa. Its position on the border between the Angevin-ruled Provence and the Republic of Genoa, which at the time claimed Monaco as its western limit, made it a highly valued location.
Acquired in 1346 by Charles Grimaldi, Lord of Monaco, Menton was ruled by the Princes of Monaco until the French Revolution. Annexed during the Revolution, Menton remained part of France through the First Empire. It belonged to the district of Sanremo in the department of Alpes-Maritimes, which at the time included Monaco and Sanremo. In 1814, Menton was included in a reconstituted principality of Monaco which, after Napoleon's Hundred Days in 1815, became a protectorate of the King of Sardinia. The Princes of Monaco were obliged to do homage to the King for Menton, although not for Monaco itself. In 1848, Menton, along with its neighbour Roquebrune, seceded from Monaco, due in part to a tax imposed on their lemon exports. They proclaimed themselves a free city during the 1848 revolution related to the Italian Risorgimento, then two years later placed themselves under the protection of the Kingdom of Sardinia where they were administered by the House of Savoy for ten years. The Treaty of Turin concluded on the 24th of March 1860 between the Kingdom of Sardinia and Napoleon III called for the annexation of the County of Nice to France, subject to a plebiscite, as a reward for French assistance in Italy's war against Austria. The plebiscite, with universal adult male suffrage, was held on April 15th and 16th in 1860 and resulted in an overwhelming vote in favor of annexation despite complaints of rigged elections from, among others, Nice-born Italian nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi. The county of Nice was thus annexed to France that June, and Napoleon III paid 4 million francs in compensation to the prince of Monaco, who renounced his rights in perpetuity on the 2nd of February 1861.
From the end of the 19th century, tourism became an important factor in Menton. The town was popular with English and Russian aristocrats who built many of the luxurious hotels, villas, and palaces which still grace Menton today. Many of these hotels and palaces were pressed into service as hospitals during World War I to allow injured troops to recuperate in a pleasant climate.
Menton was the only sizable settlement captured by Italy during its invasion of France in June 1940. Following the armistice of June 22nd, 1940, two thirds of the territory of the commune was annexed by Italy as "terra irredenta". The annexation lasted until the 8th of September 1943. Although officially returned to Vichy France, Menton was in fact occupied by Nazi Germany until its liberation by American and Canadian troops of the First Special Service Force on the 8th of September 1944. These days the Lemon Festival takes place every February with the festival following a given theme each year. In the past the themes included Viva España, Disney, Neverland, and India. The festival lasts a few days, with different bands passing through Menton's streets on foot or on truck trailers. The Casino Gardens in the center of town are decorated in the theme of the festival, using lemons to cover the exhibits, and huge temporary statues are built and covered with citrus fruit. These same Casino Gardens are also the location for Menton's Christmas Festival each year. The Menton Classical Musical Festival is also held every year in the center of the old town.
Menton is situated just across from the Liguran town of Ventimiglia. It boasts a warm micro-climate favorable to lemon, tangerine, and orange groves whence one of the town's symbols, the lemon is derived from. The fishing industry was devastated in the 1980s and 1990s by a combination of overfishing and hypoxia in the bay. At the time, the cause of the devastation was erroneously attributed to the killer algae nicknamed caulerpa taxifolia. This non-native Asian tropical green algae was first discovered in the Mediterranean Sea adjacent to the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco in 1984, and spread throughout the coastal sea floor. Later, sound scientific findings revealed that the seaweed was adept at absorbing pollutants and excess nutrients, actually aiding the recovery of native Posidonia sea grass and enhancing local fish populations and overall biodiversity. Menton is famous for its gardens, including the Jardin Serre de la Madone, the Jardin Botanique Exotique de Menton ("Le Val Rahmeh"), the Fontana Rosa, and the Maria Serena Garden. Le Val Rahmeh was established in 1905 by Englishman Sir Percy Radcliffe, the first owner of the gardens, and named for his wife. Villa Fontana Rosa was built in 1922 by Blasco Ibáñez, a Spanish novelist, and the gardens of the villa are now open to the public.The baroque basilica of Saint-Michel-Archange, with its bell-tower, was built in 1619 by the Genoese architect Lorenzo Lavagna. The Musée Jean Cocteau is located in the Bastion of the port of Menton. The bastion, built overwater in 1636 as an advance defense for the port by the Princes of Monaco, is now located at the shoreline.
The wedding room at the Mairie (town hall) was painted in the 1950s by Jean Cocteau, transforming it into a giant work of art.
Menton is also home to at least half a dozen beaches. The historic covered market was built in 1898 by local architect Adrien Rey. The market is open everyday from 5am until 1pm in the summer and in winter opening at 5:30am. Over 30 kiosks both inside and around the market sell local and imported vegetables. The belle epoque structure was one of many famous buildings constructed by the architect in the region. Next to the beach and the covered market, since November 2011 the new Musée Jean Cocteau hosts the Séverin Wunderman Collection. The Mentonasc dialect is currently spoken by about 10% of the population in Menton, Roquebrune, and the surrounding villages. It is taught within the French educational system, as a variety of Niçard composed of Provençal and Occitan. However, in nineteenth century linguistic descriptions, as well as in contemporary linguistic scholarship Mentonasc is described as an intermediate between Niçard and the Intemelio dialect of Ligurian. Some scholars insist that Mentonasc is, at it base, a Ligurian dialect, with French influences coming only later, and that its supposed misclassification as a variety of Provençal has essentially political motives. According to the French geographer Ernest Nègre, the name Menton comes from the Roman name Mento. However, it is possible that the name of the city comes from Mons Ottonis from the name of Otton II, the Count of Ventimiglia from 1162-1200. In Mentonasc, the city's name is Mentan, and in Italian Mentone.
Make use of cheap bus transportation, with several being available each day, depart from the central bus station and travel up to Roquebrune Village where you can visit the ruin of a small mediaeval castle with an amazing view of the Riviera coastline. Tiny Roquebrune village is a collection of red-tiled roofs and narrow lanes which are more like tunnels, as well as a little square where visitors can enjoy a plat du jour along with a half-litre of rose in the warm January sunshine. In less than half an hour visitors can walk from this square down long but easy flights of steps across two roads and the railway to reach the Mediterranean Sea. Here a well-maintained footpath, with outstanding views of the Monaco coast runs all the way round the exquisite Cap Martin headland. Nice is the most convenient destination for British travelers using budget airlines from the UK. A shuttle bus runs from Nice Airport to the Nice railway station. From the station a train goes about every half hour right along the coast with stops including Monte Carlo, Menton and eventually Ventimiglia and San Remo in Italy. Alternatively, there is a more expensive coach direct, every hour, from Nice Airport to both Monaco and Menton. Menton is developed enough to have most of what the tourist needs, both in season and out. An abundance of shops, gardens, museums - including the one dedicated to Jean Cocteau housed in an old fort. There is also an interesting 1930's Moorish-style Casino and a long promenade with a clean public beach.
Jean Cocteau, a French artist, spent much time in Menton over the years. A memorial and museum dedicated to him are in Menton, as is the wedding room in the town hall decorated with his work. Cocteau was a French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, playwright, artist and filmmaker. Cocteau was born in Maisons-Laffitte, Yvelines, a village near Paris, to Georges Cocteau and his wife, Eugénie Lecomte; a socially prominent Parisian family. His father was a lawyer and amateur painter who committed suicide when Cocteau was nine. He left home at fifteen and published his first volume of poems, Aladdin's Lamp, at nineteen. Cocteau soon became known in Bohemian artistic circles as The Frivolous Prince, the title of a volume he published at twenty-two. Edith Wharton described him as a man "to whom every great line of poetry was a sunrise, every sunset the foundation of the Heavenly City..." During World War I Cocteau served in the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. This was the period in which he met the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, artists Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani, and numerous other writers and artists with whom he later collaborated. In 1955 Cocteau was made a member of the Académie Française and The Royal Academy of Belgium. During his life Cocteau was commander of the Legion of Honor, Member of the Mallarmé Academy, German Academy of Berlin, American Academy, Mark Twain Academy in America, Honorary President of the Cannes Film Festival, Honorary President of the France-Hungary Association and President of the Jazz Academy and of the Academy of the Disc.
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