12 June 2012 | Menton, France
Although the locals are complaining that summer is late coming, its not being reflected by the large number of boats starting to zip in and out of the marinas, competing for increasingly scarce visitors berths. After our Antibes experience we decided to start calling ahead to book a berth. Our plan, after leaving Antibes, was to ease our way to the Italian border by overnighting at Villefranche, Monaco and Menton (where we planned to clear out of France) before crossing into Italy and clearing in at San Remo.
In the event Villefranche was full, as was the marina just out side Monaco. And we were too small for Monaco itself. So we settled for an overnight stay at Beaulieu and quick cruise around the Port of Monaco enroute to Menton. Monaco from the sea looks like a rather ugly concrete jungle, but the vessels in the port were beautiful. (Susan subsequently caught the bus back to do a nostalgia return and said Monaco was much more attractive from the land.)
Our arrival in Menton was marked by the arrival of customs officials who seemed to be under the impression we had just arrived from Australia. Quick clarification and checking of our boat's papers, that we had no cigarettes or alcohol (or not much) and less than Eu10000 in cash (as if) - everything ok and they departed with apologies about the lousy summer weather!
Menton itself is a charming Italian looking (and feeling) village right on the French/Italian border. The border itself is about a kilometre from the marina - we will pass into Italy while hoisting our sails as we leave Menton. The cuisine is Italian but menus are in French - with "provencale" tacked on for cover. French and Italian are heard equally and the road signs are in both languages.
Menton has been inhabited since the paleolithic period and is the site of the "Grimaldi Man" find of modern early humans. It has been Roman and part of the Principality of Monaco, the Republic of Genoa and then later the Kingdom of Sardinia before electing in an 1860's plebescite to be French (apparently much to Garibaldi's disgust).
It was popularised by the Brits and Russians in the Victorian and Edwardian era (and still has hotels such as the Royal Westminster, Balmoral, Regency and Victoria along the waterfront). It is now mainly famous for a number of large gardens established during the Victorian period but recently staked another claim- a very large and impressive museum celebrating the life and work of the French poet, writer, artist, dramatist and film maker Jean Cocteau which opened in late 2011.
Our departure for Italy has been delayed by strong south westerlies (feels like a strong Perth sea breeze) which started to blow as we arrived and hasn't eased much for two days. But when it does we are off to San Remo (about 12 miles away) to clear into Italy.