Menton, France: Markets, Cafes, Bakeries, Casual dinners?
My husband and I will be spending a week in Menton in July. We are pretty laid back and not looking for anything fancy in terms of food. I'd have preferred an apartment rental with a kitchen for simple breakfasts and lunches, but we are staying in a hotel. The hotel charges 10 euros pp for breakfast, so we're going to pass on that. So, a couple of questions...
--Where can we get simple breakfast food? As much as I would like to eat just pastries the entire week for breakfast, I'd prefer to start my day a little lighter and with some protein and fruit too. Do many people go to cafes for breakfast? It doesn't have to be a sitdown place; a market is fine too.
--Where can we get the makings for a light picnic type lunch, perhaps sandwiches, cheeses, fruit, etc.? I love, love, love farmers' markets and markets specializing in local, regional products. I don't know if we'll have a fridge, so nothing in large packages that needs to be cold.
--What are the best casual, laid back places to eat dinner and have a few drinks? I'd love to know the places that are representative of the region's food and culture, but we're open to other unique options too (we love any and all ethnic food). We're willing to splurge one or two nights, but we'd like to keep the other dinners moderate.
--Finally, I am an ice cream fiend. Where can I get the best ice cream in town?
Thanks in advance!!
As recommended by posters in this thread, we took a day trip to Ste. Agnes on our second to last day. We ended up taking the bus from Menton (only 1 euro!!), which comes very sporadically, so I was worried there wouldn't be enough to do for the 4 or 5 hours we'd be dropped off for. Well, I was dead wrong. Ste. Agnes was, hands down, our FAVORITE single day of our entire trip (second only to Nice). As mentioned here, we were among only a handful of tourists. It was quiet and the views were absolutely breathtaking. We hiked all the way up to the chateau ruins.
Since this is Chowhound, I better keep this on topic. We had one of our favorite meals in France in Ste Agnes. Le Logis Sarrasin was the name and like the couple of other restaurants it had a gorgeous terrace overlooking the surrounding mountains. We shared lightly fried zucchini blossoms (love the seasonality of menus in France and Italy-- these must have been at their peak as I had them 4-5 times over the course of two weeks), a delicious goat cheese salad with prosciutto, and lapin aux herbes-- my first time eating rabbit-- and WOW. I was skeptical about how the food would be, jaded American I am, since often when there is such a view in the US, restaurants skimp on the quality of food. Not the case here. The rabbit was tender and flavorful, served with a potato gratin and fresh green beans. For dessert, we shared a tarte au citron, which was basically a lemon meringue tart with the lightest, airiest, most ethereal meringue topping I've ever seen. We lingered (that was another thing we loved about eating in France and Italy-- lingering and not being rushed!) and enjoyed the meal and the scenery so much. What an unforgettable day!
Well, I'm back from my trip. We spent a wonderful week in Menton followed by a week in Alba, Italy (more on that half of our trip on the Italy board). I'm so, so happy we chose Menton as our base for this trip. It is completely charming and has no shortage of restaurant and food choices. We loved walking around and perusing the menus on the Promenade du Soleil and Rue St. Michel area, choosing what sounded best to us each night. We did not have a bad meal the entire time we were there. Some meals were better than others, but in general we were floored by the high standards for freshness, taste, and quality of food that is basically non-existent in the US.
Marche couvert- I loved the covered market in old town. We didn't have a kitchen, so I couldn't buy much to cook with, but a girl can dream! The scents, sights and sounds of the market were so enticing and vivid. We picked up a couple of goodies here (including delicious croissants and fragrant, ripe peaches) but mostly we just took it in.
Last Stop on the Beach- This casual cafe at the far east end of the promenade has terrace seating. We ate here our first night-- reasonably priced panini and salads are their specialties. Our dinner here was our first taste of food in the area-- simple, with only the freshest ingredients. Goat cheese, one of my favorites, tastes 100x better in France! Left to linger, we sat back and enjoyed the gorgeous scenery of the beach.
Carrefour City supermarche- I love supermarkets in new cities and countries, and this was a small, manageable, yet well stocked one. We got thick and creamy yogurt in little ceramic pots to put in our mini fridge for a breakfast treat and other goodies.
Au Baiser du Mitron- Great bakery that has a stand in the marche couvert and its own freestanding shop nearby. Here we sampled fougasse mentonnaise, a delicious sweet bread with orange flower essence. The woman behind the counter (the owner?) was lovely and patient with us.
Cafe des Arts- I'm not a coffee drinker, but my husband enjoyed his coffees from here. I liked sitting in the little streetside tables people watching. You can see the mountains in the distance.
Yogurtlandia- We loved the pan bagnat from here, and what a bargain. For E4.50, lunch for 2 in a huge fresh roll: lettuce, tomato, tuna, egg.
Le Lido- We ate here on our second night. Most of the restaurants in the area are, surprisingly to us, fairly priced. While I wasn't crazy about the salad (it was covered in a mayonnaise dressing? is this common? the goat cheese made up for it) we enjoyed our entrees- a plate of fresh mussels and frites for me, a beef kebab for my husband. We enjoyed the local house wines with most of our meals.
La Galetiere- another restaurant on Rue St Michel. I had a wonderful duck dish here, with a red fruit (cherry, berry, etc.) sauce and delicious roasted potatoes. The best part of the meal was the nutella crepe with a huge dollop of chantilly (and a jug of local white wine that we christened the best deal in France... it was huge!).
Boulangerie Patisserie Suisse on Rue St. Michel- we had breakfast and lunch here a couple of times. My nose led me here and it didn't fail. We loved the croissants and chocolate croissants, my husband enjoyed his fresh coffee, and I had hot chocolate one morning. One morning we sampled a confection labeled bavarois-- it was amazing-- basically a coffee cake split in half and filled with delicious bavarian cream and topped with a slightly crisp crumb topping and powdered sugar. We weren't as crazy about the pastries we tried (napoleon, eclair, opera) but they were good. We also had quiche and sandwiches from here that we enjoyed. We found the servers to be extremely friendly and helpful. Great people watching!!
La Marbella- our last night we had dinner here. It was late-- around 10-- and some of the restaurants were closing, but not La Marbella. We had a moonlit dinner here that was delicious and romantic. We shared a salade nicoise (good, but not as good as the one we had in Nice-- more on that in a separate post) and I had dorade with a buerre blanc sauce, roasted potatoes, and ratatouille. My husband had salmon tartare. For dessert, we were dismayed to hear that the peach melba was sold out, so we "settled" for the chocolate mousse. I say "settled" with tongue in cheek since it ended up being AMAZING! We should have known that this simple dessert, so often blasphemed with blandness in the US, would be 100x better in France. We practically licked the bowl clean.
I'm probably forgetting some places but I wanted to post this ASAP in thanks to everyone who posted in reply to my original post. After 2 amazing weeks in Europe, where so much pride is taken in food (I had one single dud of a meal my ENTIRE time in France and Italy), it's difficult to come back to the US, where in general standards for quality seem to be much lower. I can't wait to return to the south of France. I'll post separately about our day trips to Nice and Ste. Agnes.
It's been many years since I visited but I recall it with relish--the string of informal fish restaurants near the water will make you happy and the boulevard makes for inspired promenading. I agree
with those who recommend having a car if possible--after three days, you will want to look around.
My strongest and fondest memory though concerns the sense of calm and well-being that marks the town, and affects the visitor.
re: penthouse pup
If you want to experience what the Riviera (and Menton area) was like in the height of its star-drawing appeal, have dinner at Le Pirate, on the coast road between Menton and Cap-Martin (take a local bus that stops near 46 Avenue Winston Churchill, Cap-Martin). The owner, Robert Viaille, sadly passed away in March this year (Obituary in Nice Matin, no less!), but his wife still runs the ramshackle joint, as if the open-shirted rigalo Robert was still on the scene. Excellent seafood coooked over fire, Provencal and other wines, and a bill for under 100 euros for two. Not bad for a place that hosted the likes of Igmar Bergman and Jean Cocteau, Lauren Bacall and Frank Sinatra, Grace and Rainer, Gunther Sachs and Brigette Bardot - their photos, often with the owner, grace the walls. A piece of the Old Cote d'Azur.
Short addendum to above. Robert died last year ( writing too fast, not thinking fast enough!)
2010. I would check that his wife is still running the place (chat to locals/your hotel etc). Also, it is very walkable from the seafront/centre of Menton, if that is where you are staying.
Have a delightful trip!
And don't forget Coco Chanel and Charlie Chaplin as famous Cap Martin residents...
The best way to see Cap Martin, as I suggested above, is to walk the Sentier Douanier, a footpath along the sea with glimpses (If the fences aren't too high) of the seaside mansions of the wealthy. (A similar path goes along the shore at Cap Ferrat as well, but that's a ways from Menton).
St Agnes, Gorbio, and La Turbie are best reached by car, they are simple villages with casual restaurants. (La Turbie has the Michelin-starred H. Jerome, though). La T also has the 2000 year old Roman remains of the Trophée des Alpes, built by none other than Emperor Augustus.
re: penthouse pup
If possible, I recommend a car for at least a couple of days. You can then easily go to the hill towns of Gorbio & St Agnes, see beautiful La Turbie on the highest point of the corniches, and also explore Cap Martin, and dip into Italy, Dolceacqua being a very charming hill town a few km out of Ventimiglia. Note how different it will be from the French hill towns. Being on the border lets you experience the dramatic differences in culture, appearance and way of life between Italy & France.
Eze-- pretty but overrun with tourists and tourist-y shops and inflated-price restaurants. I vote for Gorbio and/or St Agnès instead, real towns with hardly any tourists.
The 100 bus is quite a slow slog-- It is pretty but can be patience-testing. It's not a comfortable bus, and there's a lot of lurching on the narrow lower corniche with all its twists and traffic jams. There is a quick train, 15 min to Nice, and it also goes 1 stop the other way into Ventimiglia.
You probably noticed my conspicuous lack of info on Monaco-- while tourists swarm there, frankly I can't see the fascination-- very small, lots of huge high rise buildings (ugly) and a casino. Snob appeal dominates, I rarely go to Monaco myself. The one good thing for me there, however, is the Cousteau Marine Museum. Great place. Monaco is on the train line, and there are good little bus lines in the principality itself...
Thanks for more great input, menton. Because we'll be renting a car while we're in Italy, we really hadn't planned on renting a car while in France, especially since the coast seems so well served by public transportation. I'll see if I can convince my husband to rent a car for a day to explore since I'd love to see St. Agnes. Is it feasible to reach by bus? Since this is Chowhound, any special food we should seek out if we make it there? We are not interested in Monaco at all.
I'm trying to restrain myself from overplaning tooooo much since I want to leave plenty of time to wander and enjoy Menton... but I don't want to waste one meal in France-- when I visited Paris in 2003 I was in college and on the cheap and I remember nothing about the food... pity!!!
Menton is a great base. You chose well.
As I remember, hill villages like Gorbio and St Agnès can be reached by a bus something like twice a day. It would not be convenient to visit them if you don't have a car.
But you will have enough to visit on the coast, using the wonderful coastal bus n°100 between Menton and Nice, which costs only 1 euro !
My fave eatery these days is Flaveur in Nice. The one-star actually has a very reasonable lunch menu. From Mernton to Nice, the bus ride is a little under 1 hour and goes through the enchanting coast which I am never tired of, and of course stops at all the fabled coastal towns of the Riviera.
Thank you so much for your recommendations. I read about St Agnes and would love to visit. If we can't do it by bus, we might look into renting a car or some other means of getting there. I actually had Flaveur in Nice bookmarked-- must have read about it somewhere-- so I'll definitely put that on the list for Nice. Can you recommend any bakeries in Nice?
Welcome to my favorite place in France! (Check my name!) A beautiful seafront, great old city with a great church at the top that is seen for miles, and a wonderful climate.
Here's some answers to your questions:
Breakfast: The French just don't do big breakfasts, bring a yogurt from the supermarche to a cafe (they don't mind) and have a grand cafe. I like a tartine, which is a piece of a baguette with butter.(French butter is GREAT).
Restaurants: Casual restaurants abound along the long Littoral seafront road.(Promenade du Soleil) In July there will be little rain so you can enjoy the great sea breezes, and the water lapping on the beach as you dine. You can see the sun dip below the horizon from most spots on this Promenade.
Ths "splurges" around this town are Mirazur, right near the Italy border, and Hostellerie Jérome, on the top Corniche in La Turbie, about a 15-20 min drive. For a change of culture and food, go to Bordighera (about 10 miles over the border) in Italy and dine at La Cicala, in the Centro Storico.
For a lovely hill town, Gorbio is 10 minutes away and looks down on Menton. 2 casual restaurants in Gorbio on the main square.
Markets: There is a market every day in Market Hall, in the center of town. There's a second less-formal market at the Gare Routier daily as well. (Bus Station) Also, just over the border in Italy is Ventimiglia, with an exhausting market of 400 vendors every Friday, all day. If you go be prepared to walk long distances and have lots of stamina. There is also a daily food market in Ventimiglia, here is Beaulieu's blog report:
Ice Cream: No contest, you need to slip into Italy for this. Gelati shops are open very late, sometimes midnight. Forget the ice cream in France.
Don't miss the outstanding Musee Cocteau, an eccentric little castle as the beach makes a 90 degree turn. Also the Palais Carnoles is lovely, and for a great seafront walk among the ultra-rich estates, head West to Rocquebrune-Cap Martin. Also an oft-missed but worthwhile Balzi Rossi cave excavation museum, right smack at the old Border crossing station on the Italy side. Also spend some time in the old town, lots of steps up to the top with the Church. Parc Pian, near the border, has 1000 year old olive trees, a very dreamy spot off the beaten path.
Bon voyage, and please report back here on your experiences! Flight DL82?? (Great flight!)
Thanks, menton. I have to say it was a little tricky searching the board for "Menton" because your name kept coming up, lol! We are thrilled to be going to Menton. We pieced together flights on two different airlines because we are flying into Nice and out of Milan (spending a week in the Piedmont region in Italy after Menton), so we will be on an Air Berlin flight, which is unfortunately not a direct flight, but oh well!
Anyway, thank you for the advice. Sitting in a cafe for breakfast sounds great-- can you recommend any in particular? What are your favorite restaurants on the Promenade? The markets you mentioned in Menton and Ventimiglia look amazing. What local products should we not miss at the markets?
We will not have a car but would like to explore. Is Gorbio accessible by bus from Menton? We'll probably spend a day in Nice and/or Antibes, but what are some other closer towns we shouldn't miss? Eze looks like it's worth a trip. We will go out of our way for really great food.