Hands up who likes February? (Northern hemisphere only). I don’t see many hands! Traditionally February is seen as a dreary month, isn’t it? The end of year festivities are well and truly over, January resolutions are already beginning to drop by the wayside and the novelty of snuggling up and bunkering down for winter has worn thin. Spring still seems a long way off and the weather is terrible. If this is sounds familiar then what you need is a great big dose of Mediterranean colour. And February on the Côte d’Azur has it in abundance. This month is all about, not one, not two but three of the most colourful festivals you can imagine: Nice Carnival, the Menton Lemon Festival and the Mandelieu Mimosa Festival.
Spring comes early to the French Riviera; the sun shines a little stronger each day in the deep blue sky, ripening lemons, oranges, mimosa and many other flowers in time for carnival. Menton has the most hours of sunshine per annum in France creating such a perfect climate for growing citrus fruit that at the beginning of the twentieth century it was the principal producer of lemons in Europe. So, what do you do if you’re a hotelier in the 1920s with a glut of lemons? You put on a lemon exhibition. This exhibition was so successful that the town council took on the idea and by 1934 the “Fête du Citron” was born. This carnavalesque celebration of oranges and lemons, lasting two weeks coinciding with, and complementing, its bigger neighbour, the Carnaval de Nice, has been running every year since.
The Menton Fête du Citron consists of two separate sections – an exhibition in the central park, les jardins Biovès, of detailed, intricate structures made out of oranges and lemons along the year’s theme, and a series of carnival parades around the town. These parades feature large floats decorated with oranges and lemons in the particular theme of the fête interspersed with musical bands, dancers, folk groups and street entertainers. Themes over the past few years have included “Regions of France”, “Around the world in 80 days”, “Cinema”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “World Music” “India”, “China” and “20,000 leagues under the sea”. The exhibition is open every day for the entirety of the festival while the parades take place a couple of times a week. Every year it runs for just over 2 weeks from mid February to early March. You can check here for dates and times, and to book on line.
To create these unusual and highly original citrus structures approximately 1,000,000 rubber bands are used to hold 120 tonnes of fruit in place! The Fête du Citron is a fabulously bright and cheerful festival that against the backdrop of bright azure sea in one direction and the mountains in the other can’t fail to lift the spirits. It’s just a little bit oddball, particularly in contrast to the conservative bourgeois reputation that Menton, a rich retirement town, has. Having said that Menton is, actually, a gorgeous place with a lovely old town, elegant boulevards, a delightful market hall, a pretty fort and a stunning new museum dedicated to Jean Cocteau amongst other sites. It’s well worth a visit, carnival or not. .
And in case you’re wondering what happens to all that fruit at the end of the two weeks, around 90% of it is still in good enough condition to be eaten, so it’s sold off locally at bargain prices!
Want to know more about Carnival on the Côte d’Azur? Read this related post: Battling with flowers and the meaning of carnival
Have you ever been to an unusual carnival? Do you have a favourite one? I’d love to hear about other spring festivities around the world. Do tell!
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