The South of France is recognised for many things, with its glittering coastline, rolling lavender fields and world-class wine often topping the best-of lists. But, having been made popular by writers, artists and celebrities, many of its stretches of golden sand have become something of a haven for sunburnt holidaymakers. We suggest skipping the tourist-swamped Nice and St Tropez and, instead, savouring a slice of traditional French culture in the delightful harbour town of Menton.
Nicknamed "the Pearl of France", the town is located near the Franco-Italian border between Provence and Genoa: picture a colourful streetscape decorated with belle époque palaces, ruby-red, shuttered villas and pops of marigold at every turn. Compact and bijou, this is a place best explored on foot. Stroll palm-fringed avenues, hop between serene beaches - Plage Rondelli is our favourite - and taste your way through the area's delicious culinary specialities, which include hearty bouillabaisse and fluffy lemon desserts (this being the centre of France's lemon industry).
Set aside some time to get lost in the Val Rahmeh-Menton Botanical Garden. Dating back to 1875, it is Menton's oldest and best-loved green space. The brainchild of Lord Percy Radcliffe, former Governor of Malta, the garden is home to subtropical plants and the likes of kiwis, avocados and ginger gifted from Asia and South America. Wander between citrus trees and water lily-blanketed ponds, before basking away the afternoon on a sea-facing bench.
Where to stay?
Book a room at Villa Genesis, partly for its huge, palm-flanked swimming pool, but mainly for its super-comfortable beds.
Where to go for dinner?
The sign of a dependably good restaurant is tables packed with locals. Enter, La Mandragore. This leafy oasis looks the part, too, its ocean-blue shutters bookended by cascades of wisteria. The courtyard, bathed by moonlight, is the centre of the action. We love the prawn salad, especially when accompanied by an extra-large Bloody Mary. Vegan? No problem. There are plenty of plant-based dishes on the menu.
And for a drink…
Les Incompris, for tapas-style feasting and fresh, flavour-packed cocktails.
Who to take with you
Take your main squeeze and go to town on romantic candlelit dinners.
When to go
Unsure of where to spend your bank holiday? This is the place. Temperatures tickle 20C, humidity is low and the summer crowds are still some way off, making for an idyllic, sun-soaked long weekend of R&R.
Essentials to pack
A hat. This Isabel Marant cap is the epitome of riviera chic, effortlessly taking you from day to evening and complementing your bouncy blow-dry.
How to get there
Fly direct from London Gatwick to Nice Côte d'Azur Airport, from where Menton is just a 35-minute drive.