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Sir Roger Hall

Sir Roger Hall's Memories of Menton

1997 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow, Sir Roger Hall, recalls his memories of Menton.

"Ah, but it wasn’t just Menton.

It was the places you could get to from there.

Head East and you could walk into Italy.

Take the train, and not very far was Ventimiglia, famous for its market. Everything was cheaper there and when we were there (1997) especially for alcohol, it was like a duty-free store.

The French poured over the border, especially on Fridays, the all-day market, and on the way back the train was filled with people laden with food, flowers and clinking bottles.

Heading West, the train winds its way along the sinuous curves of the Cote D’Azur, surely one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world, with every stop a winner. Michael Portillo would be hopping off the train finding a whole programme at every destination.

During our time there, we visited all of them, many several times.

(Most places you can get to by bus more cheaply, but honestly the train is tops plus you avoid French queue-jumpers at bus stops.)

Nice, of course. A grand town, full of galleries and museums, our favourites were those dedicated to Matisse and Chagall, and in season, there’s the opera.

Cannes for the Film Festival, not that we went to any films or events, but milling around the crowds, soaking up the atmosphere was worth the trip.

Only two stops from Menton is Monaco. It’s a must-see (the casino, the changing of the guards daily at 11.55am) plus the famous tennis tournament and the much more famous Grand Prix. But how can people actually live there? Honestly, I’d rather pay tax.

The furthest we went on this line from Menton was Antibes which has a splendid Picasso Museum (housed in a castle).

Dianne took many of our visitors to Beaulieu-sur-Mer, the stop to visit the Baroness Rothschild Villa and Gardens, one of the biggest attractions of the whole coast. It’s at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. The Cap is “a sunny place for shady people,” observed Somerset Maughan who once owned a place there. It is a great place to walk around and peer at the mansions of the truly famous and/or extremely wealthy: King Leopold II of Belgium, Charlie Chaplin, David Niven among others and Mugabe had one of his hidey-holes there. The homes are vast and closed off.

By way of contrast, at nearby Roquebrun, is architect Le Corbusier’s holiday home/studio, small (3.6m square) but perfectly formed.

He used it to go swimming from, which, alas, he did once too often and drowned. This can be visited though it takes some arranging to do so.

But then there’s the interior behind Menton, in particular St Agnes, the highest coastal village in the South of France. (You do have to take the bus, up the long and winding road, a magnificent ride, and it’s a great walk coming down.)

The village itself is a delight, there is a Maginot Fort Museum and (then, anyway) a charming and reliable restaurant just right for a Sunday lunch.

It’s a wonder I had any time to write."

- Sir Roger Hall