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La Fête de Saint-Michel Menton

The day was bright and sunny and the only thing on the agenda was to visit the gardens of Menton. It was Sunday and we didn't feel real energetic. Our apartment had a great information book and it said there was a boulangerie just a short distance away. I headed out. The boulangerie was doing a brisk business and the smells were intoxicating. I purchased four warm fresh croissants. With strong coffee and fresh croissants, we sat at the dining table in the apartment and watched the harbor boats through the window.

The decision was to spend the morning exploring Menton. Down the stairs and out onto Rue Longue. A short distance from our apartment were the ramps leading up to Basilique Saint Michele. We noticed people gathering in Place St.Michel in front of Basilique Saint Michael. I remembered that September 30th was St Michel day. There was a special celebration at St. Michel Church in Villefranche sur Mer. I guessed that there would be a similar celebration for St Michel in Menton. I glanced in the church and Mass was being held. The scent of incense was strong and the church was packed. After Mass, the congregation lingered around the Plaza including several officials.

We heard the sound of flutes and drums and shortly saw several men in stripped Menton fishermen shirts carrying the St. Michele archangel statue down the church steps. The congregation gathered and followed them down Les Rampes Saint Michel towards the La Plage des Sablettes. Local women in Mentonaise dress carrying flower baskets led the procession. The procession walked towards oceanside where the garden show had been held. At the the Esplanade, the local orchestra, La Guard, and several choral groups had gathered. When St. Michele arrived, the orchestra played "New York New York". That was very strange.

We lingered for a while and then headed back to the apartment for a light lunch. I realized that the garden Val Rahmeh was just a short distance from our apartment. I checked the schedule from the brochures in the apartment and thought it opened at 2:30. But I was wrong.When we arrived at the garden, it was closed. I forgoet that it was still September so it would not open until 3:30.

There was a path behind the garden entrance heading up the hill - Escalier Saint Jacques. We climbed the path to the sound of children playing and families gathered for Sunday picnics. At the top was Le Parc du Pian and Boulevard de Garavan. Parc du Pian is an lovely ancient olive grove, terraced above the harbor. We decided to walk along the boulevard to check out the views of the harbor. We noticed beautiful tropical vines and trees growing in the houses and along the sidewalk. Looking closer, we discovered botanical plant names embedded along the sidewalk. We started reading the botanical names and locating the plants. The houses were also beautiful as were the vistas.

I realized that we were not far from Clos du Peyronnet, the garden that I visited on my earlier visit. Along the way, we also met a charming local French woman out for a walk. She had gathered a beautiful bouquet of flowers. We had a nice conversation with her; switching between my limited French and her limited English. She pointed out her apartment and told us a few places to visit in Menton and the area.

It was almost 3:30 so we returned to Val Rahmeh. The garden was originally started in 1905 by Lord Percy Radcliff. It was later acquired by Maybud Campbell who expanded it and passed it on to National Museum of Natural History. The entry is lined with lovely tall Canary Island palms. The terracotta house is now the office and small museum.

The plants are a wild melange of warm weather plants. Lord Radcliff collected plants of the Solanaceae family which includes tomato and Brugmansia. Miss Campbell added lovely waterlily ponds. It is warm enough in Menton for Victoria waterlily to grow outside. We also found many interesting salvias growing. Overall a very nice afternoon.

Here is a slide show of the Saint Michele procession.

Comments (1)

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Marta, these are beautiful photos. The costumes are so colorful and it looked like it was a real festive occasion. I enjoyed reading about your time in Menton.

I don't know that I read all of your entries from your time in France. I know that I did read some. I'm going to have to go back through your archives and catch up on some of the entries I missed. This was a wonderful post.

Thanks so much for mentioning it to me. I really enjoy when I happen to be somewhere when a special celebration is going on as I think it is a great way to experience part of local life!

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