From the annual Fête Du Citron to Michelin Stars and beyond, Menton is an unmissable destination on the Côte d’Azur
Although it’s the last port in the Côte d’Azur before Italy, Menton is not your typical, sleepy, seaside town. Filled with lemons, limes and every citrus fruit imaginable, the historic centre (known as ‘The Pearl of France’) is gently perfumed with the light aroma of citrus all year round, and the hills are dotted with bright yellow and green foliage.
Lemons have played a prominent role in shaping Menton, even beyond the landscape, as the annual Fête du Citron is a highlight for locals and tourists alike. Every February, over 200,000 people descend onto the pastel streets to watch a parade from the region’s best farmers and their produce.
Menton and its lemons benefit from a temperate microclimate all year round, as the coastal port is sheltered from the north by the high Maritime Alps. This microclimate (the mildest in Europe) allows its lemons to grow throughout winter, ahead of the festival in February.
Lemons have been grown in Menton since the fifteenth century, and are considered some of the best in the world – local legend even suggests that the first lemon tree was planted in Menton by Eve. Characterised by their bright and golden colour, aromatic peel and vibrant flavour, Menton lemons are exported worldwide and are used by some of the most exclusive restaurants.
Beyond lemons, Menton is reinventing itself as the new luxury destination on the Riviera through its unique combination of French and Italian influences. Mirazur, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant recently opened in Menton to international acclaim.
Argentinian chef Mauro Colagreco started at Mirazur in 2006, and has taken the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant from strength to strength – including winning two Michelin stars. “Mirazur is truly caught between two great cultures: there is France on one side and Italy on the other, both of them with important culinary cultures and very strong presences,” says Colagreco, whose menu, focused around fresh and local produce, is inspired by the unique setting of Mirazur.
“Mirazur is an idyllic place: there are few places in the world where you have this contrast between the sea right in front of you and the mountains behind you,” says Colagreco. “It is a true immersion into the setting, in the scenery just as much as in the food, because our cuisine always goes back to the three foundations of my cooking: the sea, the mountains, the gardens.”
Colagreco uses Menton’s prized lemons in his restaurant also, including creating a range of citrus-flavoured olive oils with local producer Huilerie Saint-Michel (the olive oil with ginger and lemon of Menton is a particular favourite at Mirazur, and is used to finish the prawn carpaccio with green apple and lemon purée).
Infusing olive oil with Menton lemon is a physical blend of both the French and Italian culinary cultures spanned by the restaurant, and is a process that imitates the creation of an aromatic perfume. “We infuse the elements in cold olive oil and leave it to season for two or three months. In fact, the bottles of our olive oil have the shape of a perfume bottle,” said Colagreco.
Regardless if you are travelling east or west, Menton holds the keys to the Côte d’Azur. Imbued with influences from France and Italy, the unassuming port is more than a pre-tourism relic in the Riviera. Shaped by centuries of growing lemons, Menton has proudly embraced the citrus and everything that comes with such an icon.