“At nightfall... This scenery of a perched Menton, those bell-towers, those old houses have for our eyes and hearts the magic of the most precious places in the world”.
Paul Valéry (1871-1945)
The basilica of Saint-Michel
Prince Honoré II and Nicolas Spinola, Bishop of Ventimiglia, laid the first stone of Saint-Michel in 1619.
Open for worship in 1653, the new church was consecrated in May 8, 1675. The high campanile was erected in 1701-1702. The facade was eventually completed in 1819. After the earthquake of February 1887, the church was entirely restored. On March 22, 1999, Pope Jean-Paul II raised it to the rank of a minor basilica.
The Palais Carnoles
In 1717, Antoine I Grimaldi Prince of Monaco, had a summer residence built in the district of Carnoles to the east of Menton. It is attributed to the architects Robert de Cotte and Jacques Gabriel. In the nineteenth century, it was sold and became a private residence. Its new owner, Dr Edward Philips Allis entrusted the Danish architect Tersling with renewing it in 1896. Bought by the department of the Alpes Maritimes in 1961, it has housed the Fine Arts Museum of Menton since 1977.
The residence of the d’Adhémar de Lantagnac family
Owned by the de Daniel and the d’Adhémar de Lantagnac families in the eighteenth century, this private residence with its courtyard and garden later housed the governor’s administration. The sober and classic lines of its facade offer a contrast with the luxuriant decoration of the interior. On the piano nobile a suite of reception rooms shows walls and ceilings decorated with Pompeiian frescoes and painted piers. Today, this residence houses the Heritage Department of Menton.
This land where the orange-tree blossoms has been known as a vast garden since the end of the eighteenth century. The winter tourists, especially the English visitors, started designing large pleasure gardens planted with harmonious collections of exotics, which has turned Menton into an open air greenhouse.
“Palm-trees... Palm-trees !... are we in Asia ? in the real world or in a dream. And there, the Araucaria, as high as a mountain. The orange-tree covered with fruit... Could we be in Spain ? and there the umbrella pine and the grey olive-trees... It looks like Greece !”
Villa Maria Serena
At the foot of the cliff of the Pas de la Mort (the Pass of Death) and close to the Italian border, the Villa Maria Serena displays its terraced gardens in an area called “Little Africa”. A collection of palm-trees and cycads embellishes the gardens along with strelitzia alba, dracaenas and bauhinias standing out against the sea, taking the visitor to faraway places.
The villa was built in 1886 for the Foucher de Careil family and serves now as a place for receptions for the town.
Serre de la Madone - Garden
In 1924, Lawrence Johnston, the designer of the famous English garden of Hidcote Manor, bought a 15 acre plot of land in the verdant valley of Gorbio. Over a 30-year period, Johnston patiently hunted all over the world for plants to create the garden of the Serre de la Madone.
Thus were born Italianate structures, an orangery, greenhouses, a kiosk and water mirrors where rare plants, creepers and unusual flowers invite the visitor to daydream. This garden in now listed (Monument Historique) and has been the property of the Conservatoire du Littoral since 1999.
Fontana Rosa - Garden
Fontana Rosa was created in 1921 and was the work of the Spanish writer and politician Vicente Blasco Ibanez. This garden inspired by the architecture of Valencia mingles ceramic ornamentation with literary references. The monumental gateway is decorated with the busts of Cervantes, Dostoevsky and Balzac. In the garden, the semicircle of Cervantes with its water mirror, benches and columns tells the story of Don Quixote with a frieze of enamelled titles. Fountains, benches, jardinières are all decorated with polychromatic ceramics and recalled for their designer the Spain which he had never completely forgotten.