French Riviera in February: Menton Lemon Festival 2017
By Mike James
If you’re looking for the perfect excuse to visit the South of France in February, here it is. One of France’s most popular and quirky annual events, the 84th Lemon Festival (Fête du Citron) will take place between 11th February and 1st March 2017.
The charming and elegant resort of Menton on the French Riviera, close to France’s border with Italy, is the setting for this spectacular, colorful and fragrant festival which has a history dating back all the way to 1928.
The Pearl of France
Menton, nicknamed ‘the pearl of France’ (la perle de France), has its own microclimate and is rumored to be the sunniest and warmest town on the Cote d’Azur – the perfect conditions for growing lemons.
Legend has it that lemons first arrived in Menton from the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve were expelled, Eve reputedly took with her a golden fruit, deciding to plant it in the Bay of Garavan. The lemon tree flourished and Menton was born!
The history of the lemon in Menton can be traced back as far as the 15th century. The local fruit differs from Italian, Spanish and Corsican varieties through its bright golden yellow color and pronounced elliptical shape.
Yielding a great deal of juice, it is rich in essential oil and has a fresh, sweet fragrance. No wonder that the Menton lemon is loved by chefs and highly prized by gourmands all over the world.
The Lemon Festival is the second biggest event on the Cote d’Azur after the Carnival of Nice which happens around the same time every year. Why not kill two birds with one stone and visit them both while you’re in the area?
250,000 Visitors a Year
Menton’s Lemon Festival is a unique regional event which attracts nearly ¼ million visitors every year – more than the Monte Carlo Grand Prix – and involves the hands-on participation of over 300 professionals. A staggering 145 tons of lemons and other citrus fruits are required every year to create a myriad of stunning citrus sculptures and decorations that are displayed all over the town for the duration of the Festival.
Come and see Menton burst into life with zest and color as fruity floats and street partying takes over for three weeks in February.
Festival highlights include:
Golden Fruits Parade
Come and watch the high energy Sunday parades and colorful celebrations which are the undisputed highlights of the Lemon Festival.
Street artistes, brass bands and folk groups keep crowds of onlookers entertained with high jinks while the magnificent fruit floats wind their way through Menton’s pretty streets all the way to the seafront. Expect to see giants, horses, dinosaurs, elephants, Buddhas and many other zany citrus creations, along with fanfares and confetti all the way.
Night Parade and Fireworks
In the evening, it’s time to party in the streets, with music and dancing and a parade that has a touch of mischievousness about it. At night, a spectacular fireworks display lights up the sky above Menton – a magical sight to behold.
During the Lemon Festival, the Jardin Biovès gardens are given a complete transformation with dazzling sunshine colors.
In a tradition going back to the 1920s, every year almost 15 tons of citrus fruit are used to create truly wonderful sculptures of giant proportions up to 10 meters high, all over the park.
It takes thousands of hours of painstaking work to complete these magical statues made entirely of individual ‘golden fruit’ – a truly astonishing sight you won’t want to miss.
Gardens of Lights
Take a walk through the Jardin Biovès gardens after dark and be captivated by the magic of the light. The Gardens take on a new look as the play of light sparkles and creates amazing visual patterns on the orange and lemon monuments and citrus sculptures to stunning effect.
Listen out for unusual sounds that combine with the strange creatures of the light – and marvel at this magical and enchanting place of wonder and surprise.
Arts and Crafts Show
The Lemon Festival wouldn’t be complete without a chance to taste the Menton lemon. Come and sample the citrus flavors and local foods that make up Menton’s gastronomic delights in a market setting.
See local artisans present their wares which include glass engravings, ceramics, pottery and wooden sculptures – and shop to your heart’s content.
Mike James is a freelance writer from London, he works for South France Holiday Villas.