Nine or ten years ago I decided to take a week's holiday in Liguria, Northern Italy. I flew from Bristol airport to Nice arriving late in the evening. Because of the late hour of my arrival I had already booked a hotel from England. When I told the bus driver where I wanted to get off he gave a shrug which I could not fathom.
When I got off I began to understand. The district I had arrived at was something like the Vienna of Carol Reed's film, 'The Third Man.'
The streets were dark and had an atmosphere of mystery and threat. People hurried past in buttoned up clothes, avoiding the gaze of others. Any moment I expected to hear the sound of a zither and Orsen Welles lurking in an alley. I hurried on myself, keen to find my hotel.
In fact it seemed less of a hotel and more a venue for petty criminals and ladies of the night. I felt distinctly uncomfortable, reminded of my stay in the less salubrious quarters ofNaples.
Still, I had only booked for one night.
My plan was to head across the border to San Remo so the following day I caught a train from the central station in Nice. A lovely older lady, as fragile as a china doll, apologised for the state of the train. 'It is not a good advert for the Cote d'Azur,' she explained. It may not have been, but the journey certainly was. I split my time between talking with her and gazing out at the scenery with excitement. There was something truly fascinating and beguiling about the coast.
The lady left the train at Monaco and I travelled on. By the time I had reached the last town on the French border, I had made up my mind. I would postpone my journey to Italy by a day and see what the French Riviera and this border town had to offer. I hopped off the train.
I did not know it but I had arrived at the town of Menton.
I walked down from the station, loving the warmth of the air and the calm and attractive buildings. I went into the first hotel I saw, the Hotel Moderne, and was surprised to see a virtual double of a friend on the Reception desk. 'We have a room with a balcony but for one night only,' the Receptionist said. 'It overlooks the church so you'll hear the bells.'
I snapped up the room there and then, threw my bag on the bed, and went off to explore the town.
I was entranced by everything I saw. I eventually ended up in an old square with a strange statue staring down upon me and ate at one of the lively restaurants which crammed around it. As I sat there, I felt a warm sense of peace inveigle itself into me.
Then I strolled back along the Promenade to my hotel.
It was as I walked along that the magic happened.
Four beautiful young black women strode out into the busy road and halted the traffic. They then began a lively and good-humoured dance. They were replaced immediately by two young men who made the road an arena for their athletic and daring display. Any town that allows this to happen must be something special, I thought. Talk about life-enhancing.
I had fallen in love with Menton.
Now, after many years of visiting the town with my wife Janine, we are on the count-down to moving there. Only five weeks to go.