Visiting Menton, France: Mediterranean, border city with Monaco memories
The 'Pearl of France', where light and shadow refract the memory of historic sovereignties
The contribution to the life of the Côte d'Azur region by writers and artists and by the Princes of Monaco, has been very great. The following few remarks, not in any order of priority, delineate a small fraction of these, in relation to the most picturesque Mediterranean city of Menton, often known in French as 'la perle de la France ' (The Pearl of France).
Prior to the 17th century, the Princes were known as the Lords of Monaco. In 1861, sovereignty around the Menton area formally passed to French Emperor Napoleon III. The former palace of the Prince of Monaco in Menton — the Palais Carnolès , and its gardens — may still be visited today.
Memories of Monaco's protection by a Sardinian garrison at Menton
Prior to 1848, the whole coastline from present day Monaco to Menton was actually part of Monaco, until the Principality shrank in 1861 to 20 times smaller than the size it had been hitherto. In much of the early 19th century, the rule of the Prince of Monaco was protected by a garrison of Sardinian troops stationed in Menton, Sardinia then being a regional power, to which Monaco's relations were governed by an 1817 treaty.
The playwright Victorien Sardou, in 'Rabagas', wrote accurate period fiction about the practical difficulties faced by Monaco's rulers in administering Menton when that town was a ferment of unrest and protest. Indeed, the Sardinian garrison stationed there prior to 1848 for Monaco's protection proved ambiguous in its loyalty. (Victorien Sardou, Rabagas , Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, Editeurs, 1872, p. p. 27, 190.)
Katherine Mansfield: 'the light and shadow was divided on the hills'
I was interested to notice a street in Menton's Garavan suburb named after the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield, who lived in Menton and wrote about Monaco and other parts of the region. She was particularly struck by mountain views of the Principality:
'When we reached the mountain tops we got out and lay on the grass, looking down, down into the valleys and over Monaco which is, if anything in this world is, Cinnamon's capital. The palace, seen from so high with its tufts of plumy trees, the harbour basin with his yacht and a sail-boat and a minute pinnace. ... We stayed about 2 hours and then dropped down by another road to Monte, the light and the shadow was divided on the hills, but the sun was still in the air, all the time the sea was very rosy with a pale big moon over by Bordighera.' J. Middleton Murry, ed., Letters of Katherine Mansfield, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1929, # 7920, p. 300.
Elsewhere, in her short story 'Honeymoon', Katherine Mansfield captures some typical, intense juxtapositions: bright water and evening light, sea and shore, villas and trees, and unfamiliar human beings brought together (and, in her inimitable style, suddenly it is all over). Katherine Mansfield, The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield, London: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1989, p. p.391-397.)
Cocteau Museum in old fort erected by Monaco's Prince Honoré II
At Menton, in the Bastion building at the Vieux Port (Old Port), erected as a defensive fort by Prince Honoré II of Monaco in 1619, the Jean Cocteau Museum may be visited. A number of works by, and about, Jean Cocteau were published in Monaco.
Menton's Lemon Festival
The events of 1848 at Menton, mentioned above, partly involved questions relating to the local lemon industry, which was previously one of Monaco's significant industries. This local feature is remembered in the colourful Lemon Festival at Menton, which is celebrated annually.
And a linguistic/orthographic note...
In the Monégasque , or Munegasgu , language of Monaco, the town is known as Mentun . Anglophone readers may be familiar, in older English writings about the district, with the spelling Mentone , which is the Italian version of the name. This relates to the fact that the city became definitively French only after 1861 (indeed, it was still for many years the subject of Italian irredentist ambitions and was even formerly annexed to Italy for some years in the 20th century). Provençal writers were known to have spelt the name Mentan .
Also worth seeing
In addition to the numerous visitor attractions of the various suburbs of the Principality of Monaco (distance: 12 kilometres), the following Italian localities make for convenient visits from Menton:
Balzi Rossi, (distance: 4 kilometres) over the nearby border with Italy has ancient caves, the excavation of which Princes Florestan I and Albert I of Monaco sponsored.
Ventimiglia , Italy (distance: 11 kilometres) to which Balzi Rossi and the villages of Grimaldi-Inferiore and -Superiore are attached administratively. Ventimiglia 's Roman theatre remains and its church architecture are of particular note.
La Turbie , France (distance : 14 kilometres) has a huge Roman monument known as Le Trophée des Alpes (The Trophy of the Alps), which traditionally marked the boundary between Italy and Roman Gaul.
How to get there
Delta Airlines flies direct from New York to Nice, France (Aéroport Nice Côte d'Azur), from where there are bus links to Menton. The French railroad company SNCF maintains services to Menton from Downtown Nice. For North American travellers making the London, England area their touring base, airlines flying to Nice include easyJet, from London Luton Airport. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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