We’re planning a trip summer 2021 with our children and want to add a few beach days into our itinerary. I’m looking into menton, Antibes, villefranche sur mer. It sounds like Antibes has a wonderful market and sandy beaches as well as an old town. How would you describe Menton? Is it touristy? Would it be relaxing? I know the beaches are rocky. Any other details I should take into consideration in my planning? Thanks!
I can't speak to Antibes, but we spent a couple of hours in Menton last June. We were staying in Nice and had seen a photo of some colourful buildings in Menton that reminded me of Burano, it turns out there was one block with 3 or 4 colourful buildings and the rest of the town was pretty, but plain. We took the train to Menton and made stops at each town to explore on the way back to Nice. It was by far the most relaxed and the least touristy of the stops we made, but not a lot to do but hang at the beach. Our plan was to stop in Villefranche as well but it was getting late in the day and the trains were packed with people getting on at Monte Carlo and Villefranche. Villefranche especially, there were hoards of tourists and locals that had spent the day at the beach that were getting onto an already overcrowded train.
Menton wears its Italianate influence pretty explicitly, due to its proximity. The old town can get a bit crowded in the peak season, and is quiet in the offseason. There are a few museums, some lovely gardens and one of the top restaurants in the world. It is at one end of the Cote d'Azur, so day tripping will take a bit longer, if that is on your agenda. Heading into Italy and into the hill towns, however, can be beautiful. Villefranche-sur-Mer can get the most crowded but is perhaps the most beautiful of the three. I'm wondering if VSM will get less crowded if there are fewer cruises next year (its a port of call with tons of day tripper in season).
Menton has a nice vibe. It feels less fussy and more laid-back than many of its nearby neighbours. Getting up early for the sunrise there pays huge dividends coz of its colourful townscape (*tip: take your camera to the far end of the marina). The gardens there get a lot of hype, but for us they were just OK.
Daytrips? Saorge and St. Agnes were our faves. Enjoy CG!
I am done. The end.
I stayed overnight at Nice last September for 5 nights. I took the train over to Menton to spend most of one day there. Coming off the train, I walked down the hill to the beach, looking for the gorgeous gold/orange buildings I had seen in photos. Most of that part of town was regular buildings with a few beautiful historic buildings. As I walked east along the coast, I finally saw the Italian gold/orange section of town. If you pull up Google maps, it’s in the Basilique St. Michel Archange neighborhood.
What an interesting neighborhood! I climbed through the hilly streets and took so many photos (my favorite souvenir) that I finally told myself to just stop, enjoy & savor the experience of being there! I had a fantastic lasagna in one of the piazzas (I switched to speaking Italian in that restaurant) and felt like I was back in Italy for a day during this 3-week French vacation. There were shops, restaurants, gelato shops, etc. in that area that your whole family would enjoy.
I walked down the stairs afterwards to relax at the beach in a nice modern area of benches, etc. at Plague des Sablettes. There were a few restaurants, misting spots at some benches, etc. to enjoy the afternoon. This is the beach that has good sand and where your kids would want to be playing. Look at some images on-line to see that specific beach. The other beach south of the train station is rocky instead of sand.
I didn’t have enough time to see the gardens in Menton or museums; definitely planning to go back during a future trip when I’m in the area. I’ll probably stay overnight 1-2 nights there. It didn’t feel touristy at all in Menton when I was there in September- just a nice quantity of people that made for a very enjoyable day.
We stayed in Ramateulle up the hill, overlooking the sea and very wide sandy beaches. It is just west of St-Tropez. Charming town too.
It's interesting that people have had such different experiences in Menton as far as the number of visitors is concerned. I made two day-trips there during May 2017. I found the medieval part of town--which is a bit of a walk from the train station and could be overlooked--quite crowded; my impression was that the city gets a lot of British tourists. I did like Menton and have recommended it on this forum. I really enjoyed the two gardens outside the center of town. They had few visitors. One thing to mention is that both are hilly and possibly not good sightseeing targets for people with mobility issues due to the presence of some steps without handrails.
At the time of my visit, Villefranche-sur-Mer wasn't as crowded as Old Town Menton. A local told me that the cruise-ship passengers tend to hit land at V-s-M and head immediately out of town, often to Monaco. So I guess if you're in Villefranche-sur-Mer outside the hours when the cruisers arrive and depart, it is likely to have fewer tourists.
For me Antibes wasn't as crowded as Menton's Old Town, but time of day and day of week could have been factors.
I enjoyed all three of those towns from the casual-sightseeing standpoint, and all of them have worthwhile sightseeing targets. I'm not a beach person, so I cannot comment on swimming/sunning opportunities.
I think others have done well describing the steps up the hillside in the old section and finding the one sand beach. I'm there almost every year at my sister-in-law's who lives 3 kilometers west toward Monaco. As stated, there are museums, gardens, casino, beach side cafes and restaurants, a great pedestrian shopping area, easy access across the border to Ventimille to go to the huge Friday market. Vendors come up to the border with their goods from all over Italy. A lot of the weekend tourists are from Northern Italy, Milan mainly, so vendors speak both Italian and French in this border area. If you rent and need to cook, you have access to French products in Menton and an Italian supermarket 3k over the border for Italian products. It's a good starting point for visiting the towns in the Roya Valley and the painted chapels. There is an outdoor classical concert series in front of the cathedral in the summer, but you have to get tickets on line early, fireworks on the beach on occasions, lots of activities going on all the time in summer for locals and tourists.
After staying in Nice and Eze, Menton was a bit underwhelming and I was so ready to like it !
Are you going as far as Cassis? My old college roommate has an apartment in Nice and after living there when they can over the last 15 years, she lists Cassis as her favorite. She loves the vineyards, the castle on the hill, and hiking and kayaking the Calanques.
I have it on my list to visit next year.
These are just the descriptions I was hoping for! Thanks for all of you who have taken the time to use details and give insight. The cruise ship traffic is an interesting point to consider and how things might change. Keep the info coming!
Antibes was my favorite spot along that stretch. I visited Menton because a lot of European friends had spoken highly of it. It wasn't my favorite but I thought it was a great choice for families, that seemed to be primarily who was there. It's more known inside of Europe so really a good place for your kids to interact with European kids. I gather prices are better there than other beaches along the Riviera.
I have to agree with Brad. We stayed in Antibes for 4 nights. We did visit Menton for a day. It was more touristy. We did not get to Villefranche - that was supposed to be our base this June 1-4 but alas Covid canceled that trip. We do love the Cote d Azur