EUROPE TEATIME TRAVEL

Menton, Montecarlo & the Japanese Garden on the French Riviera

It’s no secret that I love the French Riviera, and that I dream of moving there someday. Although I’ve always been attracted to everything Nordic, I cannot deny I’m also bewitched by the beauty of some warmer places. The Côte d’Azur is one of them. At the beginning of March I was desperately in need of a gateaway. A whole winter without snow and too little rain left me exhausted: the air in Milan was has been so polluted lately that I’ve spent my Sundays on the couch with a blanket, baking cakes and watching films. I needed to go. Not too far, not too close. So I chose the French Riviera.

Menton is a very coloured city, between the mountains and the sea, on the French Riviera.

MENTON

We usually go to Cannes, but this time we’ve decided to stay in Menton. We booked a room in a little, comfortable hotel in a strategic position: Hotel de Londres is just a few minutes walking distance from the station, thirty seconds from the sea. Half Italian, half French, Menton has a charming old town and many villas and gardens turned into museums. I had already been there before, but it was summertime and too hot to walk around the city during the day. I saw its beautiful gardens though, and I went to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.

In the spring, everything looks different. In the late afternoon, as the light got warmer and golden, we climbed up the hill to the Basilique Saint-Michel Archange. Coloured houses, stone stairs, lazy cats and a great view of the bay make the old town a picturesque little place, with hidden corners and fascinating details.

SUNSET IN THE FRENCH RIVIERA

The weather was perfect, the streets were almost empty. The old town was as charming as ever, with its coloured houses and old streetlights. Lazy cats were sleeping on the stone steps. The sun  was starting his descent, painting the sky purple. Old Menton was founded by pirates, and there’s something mysterious in the labyrinth of alleys around Saint Michel. We headed for the sandy beach and spent some blissful moments watching the sunset. It’s easy to feel relaxed here, so much easier than in Milan.

We deliberately took a stroll by the sea, enjoying the twilight and thinking about dinner. We were hungry and tired, so I opened my dear old notebook in search for a restaurant not too far from the hotel. One of the places I wanted to try was only a few minute walk. Great.

In the Japanese Gardens of Montecarlo, on the French Riviera, one finds a zen plance by the sea.

THE LOVING HUT

The name inspired me at once: The Loving Hut is a vegetarian restaurant by the sea, owned by a nice lady who knows how to make her guests feel at ease. Soft music, oriental style posters, good food and the feeling of being somewhere in the East. This is how I would describe it. We had a big bowl of sushi rice, fried tempeh, vegetables and avocado, and a coffee vegan cake. Delicious. 

VANILLA BAKERY

In the morning, we woke up early because of the light. It came through the window, bright and clear. The sky was as blue as ever. I cannot start my morning without breakfast, so we went out looking for a café. We bumped into Vanilla Bakery, which is actually Italian. A lovely  shabby-chic café crowded with both Italian and French people, couples, mothers with children, boys and girls enjoying a day off. Their cookies and tarte tatin were good, but I especially liked the vegan croissant made with quinoa flour. And then coffee and tea, of course. Vergnano coffee is one of the best in Italy, and Løv Organic offers an organic range of teas which come in an eco-friendly packaging. Besides, Løv Organic has taken on a minimalist design inspired by Scandinavian culture, so how could I not love it?

NUT CAKE IN SAINT-JEAN-CAP-FERRAT

We spent the day in two of the most beautiful places of the French Riviera, Cannes and Cap Ferrat. I will write about this in another post. For now, let’s just skip to the twilight, when we came back to Menton by train, tired but happy. I wasn’t very hungry. I had bought and eaten a big piece of nut & caramel cake in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, after a long walk, so I was quite full.

The sun sets on Menton, French Riviera.

COTÉ SUD

But dinner is a special moment for me, a moment of pleasure and relax. And I had a table booked in one of the most popular restaurants in Menton, Coté SudThis Italian style restaurant serves delicious food in an elegant atmosphere: pizza, pasta al pesto, quinoa, grilled fish. The influence of the ligure cuisine is very strong, and it’s a plus. Did I mention I was not hungry? Well, I ordered pizza with rocket salad and tomato, one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. And then quinoa in two way: pecorino and mushrooms, and parmesan and coffee powder.

MONACO-MONTECARLO

I’ve been in Montecarlo three times, and I cannot say I like it. The royal city is home to luxury, and you can breath wealth everywhere you go. Many people go there to visit the Casino, but the most interesting things to see are not right in the town center. One is the old town of Monaco. On the hill stands the Prince’s palace, protected by the fortifications called Bastion de Serravalle. The elegant Italianate porticoes of the Palace, the fake-medieval clock tower (built in the 19th century), the small pedestrian streets, the gardens and the panoramic view are part of a tour which I will not describe here.

THE JAPANESE GARDENS

Instead, I will tell you about the Japanese Gardens, a small park by the sea, a peaceful places where Princess Grace used to go. Created in 1994 by Prince Rainier for his beloved wife Grace, this little garden is an oasis of peace and serenity, a miniature representation of Nature and its elements. The only sound you’ll hear comes from the stone fountain, which symbolizes a spring flowing towards the lake. Peace is represented by the lotus flower of the Stone Lantern, whereas the traditional arched Japanese bridge stands for happiness. Because it was a cloudy day, I couldn’t appreciate the wonderful colours of all the flowers and shrubs, which were not in full bloom yet.

But I did enjoy stepping into the Tea house, where five water stones invite the visitors to purify themselves before entering the house. Finally the zen garden, with the gravel representing the ocean and the rocks symbolizing the islands, makes me feel like I’ve taken a trip though a whole culture, so far from the materialistic perspective we’re unfortunately used to. Another reason why I love the French Riviera.