In Menton - An Autumn by the Sea - CycleBlaze

November 5, 2018

In Menton

Well, this was a great day.  Surprising, because it didn’t include any bicycling.  We had a nice ride in mind, a pass climb up north - Menton is the Mediterranean end of the Route of the Grande Alpes that runs along the spine of the Alps from here to Geneva, so we thought we’d just bike uphill for as far as seemed wise and then turn back.  Looking out our window at the solidly overcast sky  and then at the day’s weather report though, we talked ourselves out of it and spent the day on foot instead.

Our apartment is right on the waterfront, so I can just walk across the street to get a nice view of the bay. We’re actually staying in Garavan, just outside of Menton to the east by the mouth of the harbor.
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Looking east from our apartment. The Italian border is at the notch about two thirds of the way along the cliffs.
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As it turned out, we probably could have gotten the ride in.  Except for a brief bit of mid morning rain, the day stayed dry and pleasant into midafternoon.  This worked out fine for both of us though - Rachael got in her workout with a vigorous climb up into the hills, and I got mine by an exploration of the city.

Let’s start with Rachael’s for a change.  Her walk followed a hiking route she found on the internet, and was really more of a climb than a walk.  She logged seven and a half miles, climbed 2,000 feet, and got some spectacular views.  Parts of the trail were steep and a bit slick, so she took her time and stayed safe.

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My creaky knees and my camera would have just held Rachael back anyway, so we went our own way for the morning.  Mine starts with a walk along the waterfront to the old town.  It’s overcast but very pleasant out this morning - low sixties, a mild warm breeze.  I’m excited to be seeing the city this way for the first time, walking up to it from along the sea.

I really love Menton, at least as a place to visit and explore.  I’m really drawn to its colors, its spectacular setting, and the astonishing maze of lanes and passageways that rise through the old city to the Basilica and cemetery.  It has a fair claim to be my favorite city in France.   This is at least our third time here, but I think it’s really the fourth.  We were here for sure in the autumn of 1993 and 1994, biking west from Italy to Nice; and, obviously, now.  I have an uncertain recollection of seeing it in the summer also, when there was a large amusement park set up on the waterfront.  That must have been in the summer of 2003, when we visited Corsica and Provence while the lavander fields were in full bloom. We didn’t stay here, so I think we must have come over from Nice on a day ride.

In any case, we have some history with the city by now.  Our memories are getting well-matured, and it’s wonderful to have the chance to refresh them.  Also, this is the first time we’ve stayed two nights and have more time for a slower look. I’m secretly glad the weather looked uncertain this morning, so I can have all the time I want to poke around at a leisurely pace.  

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I sure that after a month of looking at scenes like this it will grow old, but for now it’s wonderful to watch the constant change in the sky and sea.
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After about a half hour I reach the base of the old town.  There are several avenues in, but I love the zigzag staircase that weaves up from the waterfront toward the base of the Basilica.  About part way up, I break off to one of the alleys that branches off it, and let myself get lost a bit.  It’s very easy to do - the passageways are as convoluted and mysterious as any place I know, with branches that dead end and others that end in narrow, low passageways to the next lane (it helps to watch for signs, and know the difference between an impasse and a traverse).  It’s all much too narrow and convoluted for cars, motorcycles or even bicycles to navigate.

The color, in every sense of the word, is extraordinary.  Every new bend in the road, every new tunnel you pass through opens up onto something that grabs your attention.  It is wonderful being here in midday, too.  In the past we were here at the end of the day, around sunset.  The alleys had a mysterious, eerie feel, and it’s a bit unsettling getting lost in the maze after dark.

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This view gives a good sense of the terrain here. That dark area to the right of the stairs is a tiny passageway to the next alley.
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Eventually I work my way out of the maze and arrive at the base of the large cemetery that crowns castle hill (the castle itself is long gone).  I’m not particularly a fan of cemeteries, but the one in Menton is very special and worth a good visit for several reasons.  First, the setting is spectacular, overlooking the bay, the city, the monuments, and the mountains.  It is a great place to be just for the vista it affords.  

Mostly though it is the cemetery itself that is special, by what it seems to show about Menton, who passed through and ended their days here, and what life may have been like over the past two centuries.  It has a very international feeling, with gravestones in many different languages and scripts - Russian, Danish, Polish, British, American, New Zealanders, an occasional Asian.  Well-tended family plots housing members of the same clan over generations spanning almost two hundred years.  Gravestones with exotic inscriptions describe illustrious military careers in the Hussars, in the Far East, in the Red Cross.  It all is so atmospheric, historic, and quite moving.

And, you want to allow a lot of time also because you can get lost up here too.  The cemetery is multilayered like the a wedding cake, with stairs leading up and down between layers, and walkways and staircases that sometimes end at an impass or view down a cliff.  It feels very much a whole with the warren below.

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Eventually I’ve seen enough and work my way back down the hill and to the waterfront.  Along the way I pass beneath the beautiful Basilica and look up wistfully.  I love this structure - we had a photograph of it from our first visit here hanging on our wall for twenty five years.  Now though, it’s completely wrapped in scaffolding and plastic.  I was looking forward to seeing it once more, so this is a disappointment.  It’s under restoration, the project not due to complete in October of next year.  With luck, I’ll still get another chance some year down the road.  Menton is worth a fifth visit.

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Along the waterfront I take my time and enjoy the last of the sun.  As an Oregon resident, it’s always a bit of a shock to come to places like this where there is still so much in bloom at this time of year.  It feels a bit like the climate in San Diego.

I make it back to our apartment shortly after noon, and just moments before the first rains arrive.  Rachael comes in soon after, a bit wet.  The weather improves again for another hour or so, but after that the rains settle in and remain for the rest of the day so we happily sit around our comfortable apartment, reading, napping, staring at the sea.  For dinner we walk back into the old town during a dry period and then push our way back home, upwind into a steady rain, more or less sheltered by our small umbrellas.  We’re both pretty soaked from the waist down when we arrive, but not really chilled - it’s still about 60 degrees out.

Bird of Paradise, in Paradise
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Hibiscus
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I hope you appreciate this shot. It took me long enough, and a number of tries, because the blossoms were whipping around so in the wind.
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Jen GrumbyScott Anderson: Bicycle Tourer, Wind Tamer, and Capturer of Pink Blossoms.

Love all these flower photos!
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyWow, I like that. Triple threat!
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1 month ago
I know, Andrea. You already told me what this one was back in Greece. I just haven’t found the entry yet. I need an index.
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Steve Miller/GrampiesFirst of all, everyone! knows this one - Passiflora Caerula, or blue passion flower

But actually I can appear so smart because I used Jeff's search function. The original reference was https://www.cycleblaze.com/journals/greece3/tzermiado/
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1 month ago
Yow, what’s this? The blossom is perhaps half a foot across.
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Andrea BrownThis is Pelican Flower (Aristolochia gigantea), originally from Brazil.
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1 month ago
Same plant and blossom, but not yet unfurled. A pitcher plant? Nope, a Pelican Flower (thanks, Andrea)!
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Returning to shelter just in time.
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Not a bad place to wait out the weather. We could live here.
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I liked this painting commemorating the 50th anniversary of their chamber music festival (which is still running - this year was their 69th season). I wanted to wait for this woman to move on, but Rachael wasn’t having it - it’s too wet and windy, and we need to get to shelter.
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Steve Miller/GrampiesAfter being such a bug, demanding chow and cow photos, I hesitate to point out that according to the coverage in this post, Menton not only has no commercial enterprises, but remarkably (or consequentially?) not a single inhabitant!?

Actually, was it you that commented somewhere that French towns can often seem deserted, while in Italy more people are spied tending their gardens or generally hanging out outside?
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1 month ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Steve Miller/GrampiesOk, fact check. There are three people walking by the waterfront, a lost looking guy in black in an alley, and the woman who failed to move on by the music festival. So we can definitely put the population at 5.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Steve Miller/GrampiesDon’t push your luck, Steve. Be happy with the occasional cow.
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1 month ago
Andrea BrownOne of our neighbors just returned from three weeks in Menton, she is a gardener and says the gardens there are very much worth visiting. I'm still puzzling out the mystery plant, unless Bill beats me to it.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Steve Miller/GrampiesSix. Looks like you missed the guy looking out from the zigzag staircase.
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1 month ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Scott AndersonDrat! I had better stick to cows and chow.
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1 month ago