A trip to Menton

All too often we just cycle through Menton on our way to Italy for a coffee or use it as a gateway to the Col de la Madone. The other afternoon, we decided to pay its Old Town a visit.

When life gives you lemons, it’s time to visit Menton. You can be sure that someone there will find a creative use for your fruit. Shops in the bustling traffic-free Rue St Michel teem with products from candles, soaps and soft toys to food and drink. The town’s claim to be lemon capital of the world is underlined each February when it hosts the Fête du Citron. Around 200,000 visitors descend on Menton for a two-week programme of colourful displays and noisy processions, using around 145 tonnes of citrus fruits in a range of events.

However, while the festival has been going for more than 80 years and is reason enough to make the trip, Menton, dubbed the pearl of France, has much more to offer besides, including plenty of architectural delights and a relaxed vibe that makes it an ideal place to relax and unwind.

With a microclimate that is gentler than elsewhere on the coast, largely due to being hemmed in between mountains and sea, it’s easy to see why the town, with a population around 30,000, has been a destination for travellers since 19th century. Around every corner in the old town is another stunning collection of buildings, drawing on every pastel hue in the Mediterranean palette.

During Roman times, Menton was crossed by the Via Julia Augusta which runs from Pisa, Italy to Arelates (Arles, France) through Menton’s neighbouring Italian town Album Intimilium (modern Ventimiglia) and La Turbie where a monument (Trophy of Augustus) was built to celebrate emperor Augustus’ victory over the Ligurian tribes.

The first written mention of Menton dates back to 21 July 1262 at the occasion of a peace treaty between the City of Genoa and Charles of Anjou, King of Sicily and Naples, as well as Count of Provence. The position of Menton between the Republic of Genoa and the County of Provence was highly coveted during the Middle Ages. In 1346, the town was acquired by Charles Grimaldi of Monaco and stayed under the possession of the Grimaldis until 1848. That year, Menton and the neighbouring town of Roquebrune seceded from Monaco in response to a litigation involving taxes on lemon exports.

The two towns self-proclaimed a Free City and placed themselves under the protection of the King of Sardinia. Menton was then administrated by the House of Savoy until 1861 when the town voted massively for its annexation to France by referendum (833 for versus 54 against). Nice and its county had taken a similar decision a year before and Menton was added to the département of Alpes-Maritimes.

In that same auspicious year Dr Henry Bennet arrived in the town. He believed he was dying and Menton seemed ideal for expiring in the sun. Within weeks he felt better, possibly even immortal. His book, Mentone and the Riviera as a Winter Climate, sped through six editions. The TB-ravaged upper classes rushed to test the miracle: see Menton and live!

Soon they had promenades, grand hotels and two casinos. It became the de rigueur winter resort. When Queen Victoria first encamped at the Chalet de Rosier commemorative postcards went around the world. Her PR work was rewarded with a statue and square bearing her name in the Garavan area around the harbour. Other street titles offer further evidence of Menton’s popularity with influential travellers.

I should add you don’t stroll around the gorgeous old town; you hike up and down it. The steep cobbled medieval steps and alleyways are dark, narrow and winding. Shafts of sunlight reveal jumbled dwellings in muted shades of ochre and pink and gold. On rue Saint-Michel is the basilica of the same name, a baroque church with a landmark belltower. This is one of the venues for the Menton music festival each August. A little further on is the ornate Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs, and right at the top, is the cemetery on rue du Vieux Chateau. A peaceful spot with incredible views. Surprisngly, it’s a place of pilgrimage for rugby fans: the sport’s inventor, William Webb Ellis, is buried there.

The town’s cobbled streets lead back to the seafront. Back among the bustle, Musée Jean Cocteau (currently undergoing renovation) features examples of the artist’s work from the private collection of Severin Wunderman, a watchmaker, philanthropist and art collector. There’s also a wonderfully ornate covered market. While, over the road, the pebbly beach draws sun worshippers throughout the year, with a refreshing dip in the sea the ideal relief when the mercury soars as it has done this past week.

While there are a number of excellent restaurants in the town, the place that has boosted Menton’s profile among foodies around the world is Mirazur, which enjoys an elevated position just a few paces from the Italian border. It received a third Michelin star in January 2019, making it one of only 133 places (2019) around the globe to hold that accolade. Then, six months later, it was further garlanded, topping the list of the World’s Best Restaurants. It’s still on my bucket list!

The Musette: Inspired by Menton’s Fete du Citron

Every year incredible vast sculptures are created from lemons and oranges for the famous Menton Lemon Festival. This year’s theme was Broadway shows. Coincidentally, it’s generally around this time of year that I make my beloved a batch of marmalade from in-season bitter oranges. He claims that no one makes marmalade quite like me. I generally don’t like marmalade but I do quite like mine so maybe there’s a grain of truth in his claims.

What follows is more of a method than a recipe.

1. Juice 1kg of bitter oranges and three lemons. Remove the innards, leaving pith and peel intact, and put in a bowl with all the pips from the juicer so that you’re left with three bowls. One contains the juice, another the peel  and a third has the pips and innards.

2. Reduce the peel to jewelled rubble in a food processor (so much easier) or patiently chop into shreds by hand!


3. Add the juice to the pips and innards and gently heat for around 40 minutes to extract as much pectin as possible.

4. Sieve the mix to exclude the pips and innards and make up to 750ml with alcohol of choice ( I generally use vodka, white rum or cointreau) or water.


5. Weigh the rubble and add exactly the same weight in sugar.

6. Add the liquid to the rubble and sugar, stir to help dissolve the sugar, cover and leave overnight.


7. The following day, stir vigorously and then heat in the microwave in 2 x 10 minute bursts on 600.

8. Test for set by putting a small amount of the marmalade on a plate which has been in the freezer. Leave for a few minutes then run your finger through it. If the marmalade parts cleanly, it’s ready to set. If not, give it more 2 minute bursts in the microwave, and test again until the setting point is reached.

9. Pour into sterile bottles, leave to cool, close and store in a cool, dry cupboard.


How to Sterilise Your Jars

Sterilising might sound like a tricky task, but it simply requires heating something to a point where no bacteria can survive. Sterilising jars when making jams, chutneys and preserves is an important step to prevent all of your hard work spoiling due to a buildup of harmful bacteria.

If you are using jars with rubber seals, be sure to remove these before placing in the oven. When adding food to the jars after sterilising, it is necessary that both the food and jars are at the same temperature so that the jars don’t crack.

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/300°F/gas mark 3
2. Wash the jars and lids in hot soapy water and rinse but don’t dry them, just let them drain
3. Place the jars onto a baking tray and into the oven for 10 minutes


Lazy Sundays

When doing a sportif I haven’t done before I like to be as well prepared as possible. Ahead of todays’ L’Etape du Tour du Haut Var, my beloved and I visited Montauroux yesterday afternoon to pick up our numbers and check out some of the parcours. I’m reasonably familiar with the roads around there but I wanted to revisit the first few kilometres to check the gradient. If it was as steep as I remembered, I would need to warm up beforehand.

According to the event brochure, we could collect our numbers from the Salle des Fetes between 14:00 and 18:00. We arrived around 15:00 and our first problem was actually locating the afore-mentioned Salle des Fetes. It’s a bit off the beaten track, not in the centre of the village. I commented to my beloved that the organisers should have helpfully sign-posted the route. We do it for the Kivilev despite my club mates assertions that everyone knows the way.

Disturbingly, there seemed to be absolutely no preparations whatsoever underway for the following day’s race: nothing, nada. We finally located the Salle des Fetes. It was closed without so much as a notice on the door to indicate why it was not a veritable hive of activity. In the absence of anything to confirm our suspicions, we realized that something was not quite right. On reaching home, I checked the website and the race had been cancelled because  the organisers had not obtained the relevant approvals to effect necessary road closures!

All very tiresome  and while this may well have been known only at the last moment, you’d have thought the organisers would have emailed participants advising them of this sad state of affairs. I wonder how many turned up this morning to start the race?

This meant we could ride with the club this morning to the pointage in Beausoleil, just above Monaco. It wasn’t “beau soleil” when we set off. It was humid and overcast but I had every confidence that the sun would burn through the layer of cloud. My confidence was not misplaced and by 11 o’clock it had turned into a gorgeously sunny day. I love riding this route in the winter months. The lack of leaves on the trees ensures uninterrupted views across the bays.

En route there was the usual meet and greet with riders from other clubs as they either overtook us or passed by us on the opposite side of the road. As they merrily greet me by name, my beloved always asks who they are. To be honest I know hardly any of them by name but they all know me, and my cakes. I think that makes me infamous, rather than famous.

After the pointage we decided to make our regular pilgrimage into Italy for a cup of coffee. However, the roads were closed in Menton on account of its Citrus Festival so, rather than navigate our way over the border on unfamiliar roads,  we settled for a coffee on the sea front before heading back home. We had another stop en route to refuel with a coke as I was rapidly running low on energy.

Once home, I quickly prepared lunch before settling back on the sofa (yes, in my jimjams) for a veritable smorgasbord of sporting action: football, cycling, rugby. What more could a girl ask for?

Monday Postascript: A letter arrived today in the post from the organiser of the cancelled sportif, returning our cheque. Insufficient participants was cited as the cause of the “postponement”. This rings much truer than lack of authorisation but whatever excuse they’re using, they should be consistent.

The French are hugely price sensitive as we learned to our cost last year at the Kivilev when we charged the same price as the earlier sportif, La Charly Berard. The main difference was that we were giving away a cheap T-shirt while the organisers of the Charly Berard had sufficient sponsorship for a cycling shirt! We’ve halved our price this year and done away with the t-shirt.

Lazy Sunday afternoons

My beloved returned yesterday evening from a hectic week in the UK. I let him sleep in this morning as there was no pointage, just a club ride to Aspremont. Instead, we decided to ride over to Menton and tackle the Col de la Madone. However, my beloved was feeling really fatigued so rather than ride over to La Turbie, we descended to Menton and retraced our steps.

Thanks to the gloriously warm summer-like conditions, the roads were busy with holiday traffic (Monday’s a Bank holiday here). We spotted 2 Rolls Royces, 6 Ferraris, 1 Lambourghini, I Bentley and only 1 Aston Martin. Yes, we take note of the number of high value cars we see when we ride over in the direction on Monaco. We do not include Porsches, Mercedes or BMWs, far too common, though we do include Audi R8 Spyders.

With lunchtime almost over, we stopped at a small Italian roadside restaurant in Eze, where we could leave the bikes in the courtyard garden, and enjoyed a magnificent spaghetti with clams, followed by that Italian classic “Tiramisu”, which was deliciously light. Seriously fortified, we pedalled home strongly to catch the action on the Monte Zoncolan.

As anticipated the man who saved his legs yesterday, Ivan Basso, distanced everyone on that 11.9% average climb to the finish. He was followed in by (in order) Evans, Scarponi, Cunego, Vino, Sastre and Nibali. David Arroyo is still sitting pretty in pink, ahead of Ritchie Porte in white, followed by Basso, Sastre, Evans, Vino ( looking good in the red point’s jersey), Nibali and Scarponi.  I’m sure they’re all looking forward to tomorrow’s rest day, I know I am.


The sun was shining, my bike was calling but my programme said “rest”. I couldn’t do it. Having missed yesterday’s ride, my beloved and I sought to replicate it today. We made good time, despite heavy traffic. It took us two hours to ride to Menton where we took the left hand turn up to Ste Agnes, a 9km, 9% climb with stunning views. It took me exactly an hour to climb the Col de la Madone. 

I have only done this once before and that was two years ago. I arrived at the pointage at 11:10am to discover it was closed. Nul points, no refreshments; I almost wept. My girlfriend nearly suffered a similar fate yesterday. But I’d told her that VC Menton had said the pointage would be open until 11:30am. She made them go and get their papers to record the points and licences for her and her clubmates.

As I wound my way up the climb, I realised I had forgotten how tricky it is in parts. Amael Moinard overhauled me with about 6km to go. He’s shortly off to the Tour of Turkey where I’m sure he’ll do well. About 2km from the top, I felt my energy ebbing and, to keep going,  promised myself a cold coke (and a sugar rush) as soon as I reached the village. Sadly, all I got was a top up at the fountain. As we headed off in the direction of Peille, my legs felt like jelly and I was feeling light-headed. Yes, I was bonking and had absolutely nothing with me. (Memo to self: never, ever go out without something to eat). But I struggled on and having crested the hill, it was downhill all the way to La Turbie, and a late lunch.

Which restaurant to choose? In these instances, my preference is to go for the one with tablecloths and napkins but none of them had these. I then had a quick look at the diners and their plates. I chose the restaurant next to the fountain which turned out to be an excellent choice. The lobster and asparagus salad was delicious, as was my strawberry and violet dessert. Much fortified, we set off in the direction of Col d’Eze and descended back into Nice on the Grande Corniche.

The traffic was backed up all the way round the port and we had to resort to using the cycling path alongside the Promenade. It’s a bit of an obstacle course requiring nerves of steel, good eyesight and eyes in the back of one’s head (or at least helmet). There’s pedestrians, cyclists, joggers, in-line skaters, dogs, other cyclists one or two abreast and kids on scooters, trikes and bikes unable to control their trajectory. We fled back to the road only to meet an Austrian who was cycling from Graz to Santiago di Compostela. We wished him good luck and God speed.


This week’s training programme has 14 1/2hrs on the bike, on the road. However, I have something of a dilemma. I’m planning on spending all day Saturday in San Remo so, no riding. Yes, I could take my bike and go for a ride around the Poggio and Cipressa but I’m then literally left holding the bike to watch the finish. Not a great idea, as it’s always a bit of a squeeze near the finish. And no, I can’t put the beloved bike back on the car. If I do, it most definitely won’t be there when I get back.

I was planning on doing my one-legged interval training on the home trainer on Saturday evening and doing Saturday’s ride today. In preparation, I did today’s ride yesterday. Please note, yesterday’s ride should have been the one-legged interval training.

Sadly, the weather forecast for Sunday, and indeed Monday, indicates rain. On the programme for Sunday is a 4hr ride while Monday’s a rest day. As a consequence, I have decided to go for a longer ride today so that, if it does indeed rain on Sunday, I won’t have to spend too long on the home trainer. 

Prior to embarking on this rigorous training regime, Friday was the day on which I did my shopping, housework and cooking. You can see where I’m going with this. Fortunately, my beloved is not back from his trip until late tomorrow evening so, if it does indeed rain on Sunday, that’s when I’ll be doing the afore-mentioned chores.

Of course, if it doesn’t rain, I’ll be out on the bike (so no housework, cooking or shopping) either for the club ride or I may go over to Menton and return via La Turbie and Eze. In fact, thinking about it, the latter’s a better option since I’d like to time myself for the ride over to Menton. The concentration at Ste Agnes is on Sunday 4 April. You may recall, last year it was cancelled due to the rain. But I’ve been looking forward to doing this one ever since the “nul points” incident in 2008, which still rather rankles.

One of the small advantages of being club secretary is that I receive all the notices about all the concentrations giving full details of location and timing. I have already noted with interest that the pointage at Ste Agnes, via the Col de la Madone, now closes at 11:30hr. Woe betide them if I arrive once more at 11:10 to find they’ve packed up and gone home!

Guilty pleasures

The alarm went off at 07:00 and we went through our usual Sunday morning routine, leaving the flat an hour later. The sky was overcast, the air was chilly but rain wasn’t forecast.

As we cycled into Nice I remarked on the lack of cyclists. Indeed, we’d only passed joggers, no doubt preparing for next Sunday’s Nice-Cannes marathon. My husband then fessed up that he’d not thought to put any of the clocks forward an hour last week end. Yes, that’s right, we’d gotten up at 06:00 am.

It was more humid and even more overcast as we rode through Monaco towards, Menton. Not knowing the location of the pointage, we headed for the beach road eventually turning off it into the town. My husband, as is his wont, disappeared up ahead. While I, unafraid to ask for directions, did just that and easily located the pointage. My husband, along with a host of other cyclists, forged on ahead to the border with Italy only to return 20 minutes later!

We returned by way of La Turbie which, this week, afforded us very little in the way of scenic views thanks to the low lying mist. We stopped off at our usual feedzone for coffee and newspapers before heading home for a hot shower and lunch. I had no plans to go out later even though OGC Nice were playing at home against Le Mans, a fixture I fully expected them to win. 

After lunch, wearing my night attire, I like to put my feet up on my sofa (yes, we have one each), read the Sunday newspapers, do the Sudoku in The Sunday Times and watch whatever sport there’s on TV. Today we were able to watch the Brits rack up another impressive array of medals in the first track cycling World Cup of the season in Manchester. 

Now, you may be wondering why I don’t  get dressed. My logic is that I’m not going anywhere, so why bother. I apply the same reasoning in the morning. If I’m going cycling around 11:00am, I’ll lounge in my nightwear before donning my lycra.  Countless courier companies and the postman, who all tend to deliver early in the morning, often catch me in my all enveloping, white, waffle dressing gown.

Postscript: OGC Nice beat Le Mans 1-0

Plus ca change

I have slotted right back into my weekly routine following my return to France. The weather seems to have warmed up while I’ve been away and that Mistral chill has gone. I haven’t suffered unduly from jet lag, probably thanks to that good night’s sleep on the way back.

I’ve cycled twice this week and am looking forward to Sunday’s ride over to Menton. We tend to cycle over that way only on week ends, there being too much traffic during the week. It’s a lovely spot, albeit a bit bath-chairish: the Eastbourne of the Cote d’Azur. The ride over generally affords tantalising glimpses of the sea and coastline.


I’ve checked on the club website where, of course, there’s no mention of exactly where in Menton the pointage is taking place, I’ll just have to hope that I either chance upon it or it’s well sign-posted. I think it’s fair to say that after Friday night’s AGM, that’s one thing (among many) that’ll change in the future. Yes, I am now officially Madame La Secretaire du Club. I would like to tell you that I won by an overwhelming majority, but I stood unopposed, as did all the Committee. However, rest assured that I will not let this go to my head.

I have added yet another trophy to my growing collection and it’s the nicest yet; it doubles as a flower vase for all those winning bouquets! I suppose as there was no club championship this year I’m still the reigning ladies champion. In case you’re wondering, I am indeed wearing my Monaco volunteer trousers in the picture below. Unfortunately, none of my fellow winners weighs more than me, so I just had to grin and bear it!

Another one for the trophy cabinet
Another one for the trophy cabinet

Next week, the weather is looking a bit mixed. This will give me an opportunity to catch up with some of my more recent dental projects, the ironing mountain and my husband’s expenses. Plus, for the next 6 weeks or so, I’m going to be working out with a trainer – yes, those extra kilos are not going fast enough for my liking. She’s an ex-world class skier and sounds like she knows how to kick ass. I want a twice weekly routine to compliment the cycling and running, sorry that should be plodding given the speed at which I travel!

Made famous by Lance

Last year I arrived at the pointage at St Agnès  ten minutes after it had closed, thereby collecting nul points. Something which still rankles!

I had cycled almost the entire route on my lonesome. From my map, handily placed in my back pocket; it appeared to be a left-hand turn out of Menton. This pointage was the same day as the Monaco marathon thereby rendering any road in Monaco out of bounds (guarded by hoards of armed police) to everyone, including cyclists. This meant cycling up and around Monaco. Once back on French soil, the police were only too happy to allow me onto the marathon route, ahead of the runners.

I was somewhat unnerved by the general lack of cyclists en route making me check and re-check the map to ensure I had not gone astray. Eventually, I found the road to St Agnès and wound my way up it not realising that this was the famous Col de la Madone. Allegedly one of Lance’s favourite training rides.

On arrival, I was too tired to cycle up the final steep incline to the village. So I walked and once there enquired about the pointage. I was told it was closed. I was too tired to come up with a pitchy retort in any language.

Fortunately I was  rescued by the mother of a club mate (there had been a race there that morning) who put my bike in her car and drove me most of the way home.

This Sunday I will be collecting maximum points. I will be leaving well ahead of the club peloton, the Monaco marathon was held last week end, I’m riding with a club mate and I can confidently cycle the distance.