A unique, fragrant and colourful orange festival on the French Riviera
The Côte d’Azur and its surrounding countryside, in fact the whole of the département of the Alpes-Maritimes, is covered in historic fortified hill villages; some well known, others hidden and secret. There are literally hundreds and many of them have an annual festival of some sort celebrating their artisanal or historical traditions. Some of the bigger town fêtes are well known such as the lemon festival in Menton, mimosa in Mandelieu, and ExpoRose in Grasse. Others are less known such as the traditional trades fair in la Colle sur Loup, the renaissance fair in Villeneve-Loubet and the fête de la courge in Châteauneuf. Every Easter Monday it’s the turn of le Bar sur Loup to celebrate its orange trees with a charming orange festival on the French Riviera.
Le Bar sur Loup is magnificently located on a rocky hillside overlooking the entrance to the Gorges du Loup about 10 kms north-east of Grasse. It is a gorgeous, well-renovated village perché with a surprising number of excellent restaurants.
Since the 19th century its economy has been centered on oranges, or more specifically bitter oranges, “bigarades“, originally from south-east Asia but ideally suited to the local climate.
In the 1920s an estimated 200,000 orange trees were being grown in Bar sur Loup, producing 2,500 tonnes of flowers and averaging around 15 kgs each of fruit per year. The flowers were distilled into two products, neroli essential oil for the perfume industry in nearby Grasse and orange flower water for food flavouring.
The fruit was used in the making of liquers such as Grand Marnier and Triple Sec. Nowadays there are only a handful of professional growers left in the area, while the majority of smallholders are simply producing fruit for homemade bitter orange marmalade and vin d’orange, an alcoholic apéritif. But look around the village and you’ll still see plenty of orange trees in the beautiful restanques – the private terraced gardens – and since 1994 Bar sur Loup has kept its orange-growing heritage alive by celebrating at its orange festival on the French Riviera la Fête de l’Oranger.
The orange festival on the French Riviera
So off to the fête we went. In the ancient hill village decorated with garlands of bitter oranges and bright orange bunting, the perfume of orange flowers in the air, we ambled around stalls selling every possible product made of orange, from liquers and wines, to cakes, jams, jellies and tarts. There were even orange clothes for sale!
Local artisans demonstrated different techniques used in traditional orange production including the most picturesque of all, the peeler. Until the 1950s oranges were peeled by hand. Dextrous women skilfully removed the peel in one long spiral, called a coulane (from the Nissart word for collier meaning necklace). These peels were then left to dry before being used as flavouring.
Elsewhere at the orange festival on the French Riviera, competitions judging the best jam, orange wine and cakes were being held. Street performers twirled and danced and a traditional band marched through the narrow streets. There were workshops for children, guided visits of the village, concerts, exhibitions and plenty of food stands, including my favourite snack socca (with a view!)
As always with these village fairs there were stalls selling local produce such as goat’s cheese, bread, baskets, pottery, herbs, lavender, honey, olive oil and jewellery. Mostly very delicious/pretty looking and mostly somewhat overpriced!
The weather was threatening, with scudding clouds chasing across the sky and occasional bursts of sunshine, but it didn’t rain which seeing as it had snowed nearby only the night before (at a surprisingly low altitude) was a blessing! The snow, while somewhat unexpected in early April, made the dramatic views across the mountains, behind the Gorge du Loup, even more spectacular. You really can’t beat the setting for this lovely traditional festival.
The village twists up steeply cobbled alleyways to a magnificent square at the top, dominated by a 13th century keep, now (another) fabulous restaurant (formerly the Tourist Information Office) and an old château. Leading off the square there are secret lanes and tiny tunnels hiding pretty shuttered stone houses, covered in wisteria and the ubiquitous orange tree in tiny gardens.
If you are ever in the area at Easter time I highly recommend a visit to the orange festival on the French Riviera, and at any other time of year le Bar sur Loup is definitely vaut le détour as they say in French (worth seeing).
One word of warning though, don’t be tempted to eat one of the bitter oranges, left out in baskets with kindly notices saying “help yourself”. JF did and he nearly bit his tongue off with the shock. There’s a clue in the word bitter!
Do you enjoy traditional fairs like this? Are there any where you live? Do tell!
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Oranges might not be the only fruit but they certainly deserve a festival. Great post!
I can almost smell the oranges looking at your photos! We usually visit my sister in Phoenix, Arizona, for a week in mid-March. Her neighborhood is full of orange trees, and at that time, they are usually thick with fragrant flowers. My sister will often close the windows to the house because she finds them too intense. So I go sit in the back yard and breathe deeply. ~ Sage Scott, the Everyday Wanderer
What a great festival! I love Grand Marnier and oranges, but thanks for the tip about the bitter oranges! 😉
Heaven! The last time I was in Nice (way too long ago) I commented that the city just smells good!
Wow I’ve never heard of this but I could practically smell it!! Adding it to my list!!
I can practically smell those oranges! The Orange Festival looks like so much fun–plus, Gran Marnier! I was just talking to my husband about visiting the south of France, and this is one more reason to plan a trip. Love your photos.
An orange festival! How fun! and yummy! I love everything orange! I want to try that orange wine!! I also want to go to the Lemon festival in Menton! #farawayfiles
I have heard about the lemon festival but not about the orange festival. Looks so nice! I am a fan of festivals dedicated to a single product. It is incredible what you can find there. #FarawayFiles
How I love all these great festivals you keep finding for us, Phoebe! The oranges strung up like garlands look so pretty. It sounds like the perfect excuse to visit a pretty hill village. Wonderful share for #FarawayFiles
Oh soo lovely! I love the orange garlands decking the streets and what an insanely beautiful place to celebrate! All the orange products actually reminds me of the Neretva Valley in Croatia – huge citrus growers and all the little farm stands sold tons of different products made from them. This would be so up my alley. Love little unique festivals like this! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin
Love it! A little bit more low key than the lemon festival but so charming. I love the orange peel decorations. I would love to smell that citrus air! #FarawayFiles
I love these traditional festivals tucked away in little villages – I’ve never come across and orange one before. Love the photos, and I can just imagine how fabulous it must have smelled with the drying peel. I love very bitter orange marmalade so it sounds the perfect kind for me to try as well: vin d’orange on the side perhaps. #farawayfiles
What an unusual, charming and totally picturesque festival. I’ve never seen vin d’orange before. I love little festivals like this. Your post is very evocative I can almost smell the oranges! Love the orange garlands and the peeling in one piece. How wonderful it must be to live in such a lovely area. #FarawayFiles
Thanks, Phoebe ~ I’ve sourced orange pâte de fruits Ã Â l’orange on the web, both recipes and vendors, so hope to taste some for myself soon!
Hey Marisol, you’ll have to book yourself in to Lou Messugo next Easter and visit this place with me! I’d love to show you around. 🙂
Hi Phoebe, thank you for taking us it this delightful fete! I really enjoyed every scenes in the photo. I felt I was there with you. I have not heard of this festival before. It looks very local and so colorful and I bet it must have smelled so good everywhere. And the town looks quaint and really charming. Thanks for the introduction to this town and festival. I hope to experience it someday.
It certainly is fragrant!
Thank you Zena.
My guess is there are a lot of Ss and Cs, so Simon, Sarah, Charlie and Catherine and not so many Fs or Ws. Bad luck Fiona, Fred, William and Wendy!!!
Yes Jess, there is a good communtiy feel to this sort of village fair, everyone gets involved.
Hi Melodie, the block of jelly is called “pate de fruits” which is sort of “fruit pulp”. It’s often sprinkled with crystalised sugar and served chopped into bite sized pieces as a sort of candy. Here it would be made with orange and sugar.
It is a really pretty village. And there are plenty of others like it around here. It’s a great place to visit.
I wonder which photo in particular you’re refering to Emma? It does smell good, you’re right.
Thanks for your kind comment!
Thank you! 🙂
I’m glad you enjoyed my post Michelle
The oranges around here are pretty much all bitter oranges for cooking/distilling. The industry isn’t big enough for export, even to other parts of France.
I can almost smell those oranges – what a wonderful looking festival. WAnt to try the orange wine
What a bright, colorful and exciting festival.
Wow what an amazing festival, I love how these things are celebrated x
oh wow what an amazing festival .. i love to see the original traditional festivals i the places that we travel. this does look like a really fragrant one! 😉
I love how the Europeans still celebrate the traditions in this way. You’re photos are lovely, capture the atmosphere and colour perfectly.
What a great festival. I love oranges and have to have one a day. Where I come from children try to peel an orange in one go. If they succeed they throw the skin over their left shoulder and if it forms an initial then that is who they are going to marry. Used to happen. Probably doesn’t any more
oooh want fun , the sights the sounds the colour
Such a wonderful festival, beautiful photos you’ve really captured the oranges
Wow all those oranges I had no idea such a festival existed.
How fab! Orange everything, and great photos too x
What an amazing festival. Your photos are so vibrant. I wish I could peel an orange in one go, that’s quite a skill.
I love all the oranges everywhere it looks so colourful and I bet the whole place smells amazing! I think traditional festivals like this are lovely and you can a real sense of people coming together.
wow what a marvelous thing to witness
How wonderful! The air must smell fantastic.
THIS is a festival I want to go to! The colorful coulanes remind me of chile ristras you see here in New Mexico. Also would love to know the name of the block of jelly being sliced in the 6th photo . . . some favorite Japanese jellied sweets like yÃ…Âkan (made with azuki bean paste) look similar so know I’d want to try this.
What a wonderful festival, it sounds like so much fun
Wow how lovely does this look, I would so love to visit. The village looks really pretty.
We have all kinds of strange festivals here, but no orange festivals! Love that photo, so vibrant! Bet it smells amazing there when it happens! 😀
wow that looks amazing! If only we had things like that in scotland
What a fantastic day! A really informative post too, thanks lovely xxx
Oh wow, that looks amazing. I wish we had more of this sort of thing in the UK!
Oh wow I would love this! Orange is one of my favourite colours and fruit so this would feel so invigorating to me. Our little rural town here in Essex does have a traditional Christmas fayre every year and we love it. We also have a carnival and street fayre every year in September which is the highlight of our year. I love anything that brings the community together. Beautiful photos
Wow, what an amazing festival! I can almost smell the citrus through the screen. I have loved looking at your photos and reading all about the Orange Festival and it’s exactly the sort of thing we would love to see. x
There are some traditional festivals around here, of course, but they are often livestock-themed, which doesn’t appeal to me as much as a fruit theme! To be honest, we don’t go to many of them. I loved these photos, though.
It seems to me that not many Côte d’Azur oranges make it our way. Are they mainly bitter oranges cultivated for flavoring, or are there any regular juice oranges?