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Travel & Holidays in later life


Menton housing is a lemon of architectureDuring the early months of every year, the 'Coming Events' calendar for the French Riviera is a non-stop round of Festivals, Special Exhibitions, Historic Fetes and Craft and Flower Shows.

Carnival time in Nice explodes from mid February to March. Reg Butler explores the processions, flower parades and varied attractions.

Hopefully the sunshine will live up to its warm reputation which built the town as the top winter-season choice for Europe's 19th-century aristocracy.

In the 21st century, summertime is much more crowded. But the Nice Carnival still pulls in an estimated 1,200,000 visitors. They arrive direct by air, or by fast motorways, or using the high-speed TGV railway network from Paris. 


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The simplest and cheapest route to Nice is by no-frills airlines from numerous UK airports.  A  coach shuttle service runs every hour to Menton.

There are plentiful excursion possibilities from Menton by local buses, train or coach tour. 

The village of Roquebrune, 675 ft up, is a famed beauty spot. 

Menton Tourist Office

Menton Lemon Festival

French Government Tourist Office

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It all makes access much easier than when Queen Victoria came to stay. 

While the Nice Carnival is rated as the Riviera's top winter event, number two in the league table is a smaller rival along the coast - Menton, the near neighbour of Monte Carlo. 

For the 79th year, Menton in 2012 will hold its annual Lemon Festival from 17 Feb - 7 Mar 2012 , attracting around 200,000 people. Carnival floats decorated with oranges and lemons will parade each Sunday afternoon along the seafront. 

Take a seat at the Lemon Festival ParadeThe processions highlight the events that include musical events, concerts and folk dancing. 

But why such a fuss about lemons?

Menton is the ultimate French suntrap resort - facing south and sheltered from chilly north winds by the wall of Maritime Alps. 

Menton's claim to be the Riviera's sunniest location is backed by groves of lemon trees, which die if the temperature goes below freezing. The lemon trees bloom and fruit all year round.

My wife and I stayed at the three-star Hotel Prince de Galles, at the western end of the Sun Promenade. Every morning we awoke with the sun rising over the neighbouring foothills of the Italian Riviera. 

Outside our hotel window, a waving palm tree framed a view of the cobalt-blue Mediterranean, though the beach at this end of Menton was zero. 

Menton's central sandy beachIn summertime, girls who wanted to sunbathe topless would have to spread like mermaids on the wave-drenched rocks. But towards the town centre, the sands broaden into Blue Flag beaches.

Behind our hotel was a former palace of the Prince of Monaco, who originally owned Menton until he sold the town to France for four million gold francs. That was in 1861, just after France annexed Nice. 

The Carnoles Palace is now an arts museum, while the garden has become a botanical centre for citrus fruits. It contains Europe's largest collection of citrus trees including orange, lemon, clementine, grapefruit and mandarin. Modern sculptures are spaced around the orchard. 

The lemon-friendly climate makes Menton ideal for a cosy retirement haven. So the population of the French lemon capital has the highest average age in France. 

Poodle exercise along the Menton waterfront

But the spirit is young at heart with all that vitamin C within reach. Twice daily the residents stroll along the Promenade du Soleil to exercise themselves and their much-loved miniature poodles. It seems that dog beauty parlours must rate among Menton's major industries. 

The seafront is lined with 8-storey apartments that offer luxury living. But the charming main street of the Old Town is pedestrianised, with a strong flavour of traditional Italy. 

It is lined with bars, sandwich shops and seafood restaurants, but not so many souvenir shops. Coloured shop awnings add to the cheerful scene.

You can have individual baguettes made up of whatever ingredients take your fancy. One or two are great for a light lunch. We had an unusual grilled baguette filled with aubergine and mozzarella cheese. 

In general, Menton is a pricey town. But it's certainly not so costly as some of the glamour-laden resorts further west, like Monte Carlo and Cannes.

The town is well equipped with lavish gardens. Several were laid out by wealthy Brits who wintered in Menton during Victorian times. 

The Val Rahmeh Botanical Garden, founded in 1905 by Lord Radcliffe, is renowned for 700 tropical and semi-tropical species - a world tour of botany. It now forms part of the National Museum of Natural History.

Three other major gardens are located in and around Menton, filled with exotic plants that flourish in the favourable climate. The Exotic Gardens of neighbouring Monte Carlo offer a prickly paradise for cactus.

In fact the whole region is a flower-lovers' dream. The perfumed hill-town of Grasse absorbs hundreds of tons each of orange blossom, roses, jasmine and lavender. 

Thyme, rosemary, sage and aspic grow wild. There are flowers everywhere. 

A full commercial range was on show when we took a local bus into Italy, just a few minutes away from Menton, past acres of greenhouses. 
Menton's pleasure boat harbour, looking towarads Italy
The Friday market at Ventimiglia featured dazzling displays of fruit, veg and flowers under cover; and a huge open-air sector of general goods. 

Just like in the booze shops of Calais, here's where the French flock for lower-cost spirits, including funny-name whiskies at a few quid a bottle. 


Where else to go in France

ANNECY - French coach touring by TGV train

BRITTANY COAST - St Malo and the Emerald Coast

BURGUNDY - Go cruising by luxury barge

CHAMPAGNE TRAIL starting at Troyes

LOIRE VALLEY - The Garden of France

NICE - exploring the Riviera

PARIS - Open season for loving

PARIS - See it dressed up for Christmas

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

"Michelin Green Guide: French Riviera"  - Packed with essential guidebook information in the handy Michelin format. Good town maps, and background features.

"French Riviera Insight Pocket Guide"  Excellent itineraries and cultural details of the coastline easily reached from Menton.

"French Riviera Insight Guide" - a more detailed heavyweight version of the pocket version listed above, in a new edition.

"AA Essential French Riviera" - by Teresa Fisher - Another handy pocket guidebook, with Top Ten site listings and star ratings of other attractions. 

"Artists and their Museums on the Riviera" - by Barbara F. Freed and Alan Halpern - An art-lover's guide to the 28 museum collections of works by the Riviera's famous 20th-century artists.


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