Our time in Menton, a beautiful little town right on the edge of the Côte d’Azur and very close to France’s border with Italy, wasn’t just about taking part in the famous Lemon Festival events.
The town is also famous for its beautiful gardens – it has won the French competition for the best city of flowers at least five times – and we headed to the Val Rahmeh Botanical Garden with high expectations.
We were definitely not disappointed. The lovely gardens, containing 700 different species, are perched on the hillside overlooking the town, marinas and beaches.
Originally planted in the grounds of a private house in 1875, the garden was added to and expanded by different owners and in 1966 was donated to the French nation and is now run by the French Museum of Natural History.
We had a lovely stroll round in the brilliant early spring sunshine. The house in the grounds was gorgeous- I could only imagine how wonderful it would have been to live there.
In true French style, a bell is rung to announce that the gardens are closing for lunch. A couple of hours later you can return to continue your walk round these glorious gardens which because of its warm microclimate, boasts many tropical plants that can’t be grown elsewhere in France.
The hilly medieval part of the town (created in the 13th century) was also very interesting to walk through. From the coast you climb up the hill through a maze of narrow winding streets and alleyways, with many tall thin buildings entered via steep steps.
On the last day in Menton we watched the highlight of the annual lemon festival- the Carnival grand parade.
We were fortunate to have bought tickets to sit in one of the stands – the streets were very crowded and there was quite a long wait for the parade to begin.
It was well worth the wait as there were some wonderful floats with fantasy figures made from oranges and lemons, mechanical dragons and other mythical animals, and live music provided by all kinds of acts including a rock group, drummers, a Japanese marching band and acrobats playing electric violins at the same time as propelling themselves upside down on wires.
All too soon it was time to move on from Menton to make our way very slowly to Athens in Greece to look at a Catamaran that was up for sale.
The first leg of the 2,000 plus kilometre journey took us back into Italy and our first stop of interest was Saluzzo, in the Piedmont region of north western Italy.
We were absolutely charmed by this delightful city, especially I think, because we weren’t really expecting anything very special.
Built on a hill overlooking a vast, well-cultivated plain, Saluzzo has three main areas. The first is the well preserved and attractive medieval “Centro Storico”.
With cobbled streets and steep staircases, it has a great atmosphere, is very peaceful and quiet, there are no tourist shops (or any commercial activity that we could see) and has wonderful views from the top of the old city walls.
There was even a 13th Century castle, now a museum which was unfortunately closed.
Down the hill from the castle a little stands the civic bell tower built in 1462 as a symbol of the city community. The height was later raised and a spire placed on top where the emblem of Saluzzo, an eagle, was placed making it a total of 48 metres high.
Further down the hill you have the more modern part of town, still with many beautiful ancient buildings but where modern life has a part to play, with plenty of shops, restaurants, and traffic.
Down in the valley the third part of Saluzzo consists of factories and light industry that I guess keeps the whole place going and helps provide the funds to keep the historical centre so wonderfully preserved.
We were very glad that we had called in at Saluzzo and had discovered what an enchanting place it is.