“The air smells of faint far tangerines, with just a touch of nutmeg. On my table there are cornflowers and jonquils with rosemary sprigs...”
Katherine Mansfield, Menton 31 January 1920
The Music Festival
In 1949, on a summer visit to Menton, André Borocz fell in love with the Place Saint-Michel. He persuaded the mayor of our “City of Arts” to create a festival of chamber music. And thus was inaugurated on August 5, 1950, by the Quatuor Vegh playing Mozart and Beethoven, a series of some five hundred concerts on the square in front of the church St-Michel. Many famous musicians, such as Wilhelm Kempff, Samson François, Isaac Stern, Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, Mstislav Rostropovich, the English Chamber Orchestra... as well as the melodious voice of Barbara Hendricks, have been appreciated “on the narrow parvis of the Church of Saint-Michel, a high place hovering between the sky and the earth”.
The Lemon Festival®
In February 1929, a Mentonese hotelier organised an exhibition of flowers and citrus in the gardens of the Riviera Palace. The following year, the Carnaval des Fruits d’Or took place in the Rue de la République. In 1934, the event was renamed the “Fête du Citron®”. Two years later, an exhibition of citrus fruits decorated the Jardins Bioves and the tradition continues. In 1954, a parade of floats decorated with citrus was added to the festival. Each year, 120 tons of fruits charm the 230.000 visitors who come here to celebrate the Lemon.
The Mentonese Gastronomy
The characteristic of the local gastronomy is a harmony of flowers and vegetables. The people of Menton are frugal and enjoy simple dishes such as socca.
Here is the recipe :
Mix 250g of chick-pea flour with ¾ litre of water. Add salt and six table-spoons of olive oil. Allow to settle for an hour. Pour the mixture on a flat baking-dish. Bake in the oven (260°) for 45 minutes. Serve hot with pepper and Provencal Rosé.
Stone and Lime
Many of the ancient houses are characterised by the simplicity of their lines. Town or country houses were generally built in one massive structure with few openings. The range of building materials was rather limited : limestone, pebbles, pieces of pottery and bricks, all cemented with lime-mortar. For roofing, there were Roman tiles.
The colours in Menton’s buildings
As the rising sun strikes the old town, the facades glow with their strong colours of Sardinian red, Sienna yellow and dark green. On the other hand, the nineteenth century town is more muted with the strong colours confined to decorative friezes below the eaves. Very much a local speciality, the painted friezes of the Menton region were the work of Italian experts, in fresco and stucco. Between 1860 and 1930, more than 200 friezes unfolded their abundance of fruit and flowers in lively scrolls. Neoclassical or more eclectic in style, some of these friezes have decorative elements showing cornucopia, griffons, putti or even gambolling rabbits.
The economy of the past
Before the attachment of Menton to France and the development of tourism, the Mentonese economy was based on four different activities : olive and citrus cultivation, coastal trade and fishing.
The cultivation of the olive was introduced in the fifteenth century, as one may recall when one visits the Parc du Pian. As for the cultivation of citrus, it started in the seventeenth century and reached its peak in the middle of the nineteenth century with an annual production of 40 million fruits.
The ancestral ways of seine fishing for fish fry (poutine) and for mullet have long fed a population that was basically agricultural. Today, the colourful sails of pleasure boasts riffling in a light breeze have replaced those of small fishing boats and tartans in the Golfe de la Paix.