Thinking back now, the end of February wasn’t really the best choice for our wedding – it was a cold, wet and ultimately snowy day (although wonderful of course) – and for the last 28 years we haven’t really had a long list of ways to celebrate – until now that is!
Having the opportunity to spend so much time in France has meant that this year we’ve discovered our anniversary falls at the same time as both the Menton Fête du Citron and the Nice Carnaval. So (we thought) what better way to celebrate 29 years together than to pack ourselves off to the Cote d’Azur for a couple of nights for a much needed injection of colour and fun.
To be honest I’ve wanted to go to the Fête du Citron since I was 11, seeing postcards of the incredible citrus constructions when I visited the town with my parents. The images have stayed with me since and so I leapt at the chance of finally having the chance to experience it first hand, after a long & very patient 40 year wait!
The Fête du Citron is an incredible event that takes place each February in the beautiful town of Menton, nestled on the Mediterranean Coast, a stone’s throw from the Italian border.
Back in 1928, when Menton was the main European lemon producing area, a local hotelier had the idea of organising an exhibition of flowers and citrus fruits in the gardens of the Hotel Riviera. This proved to be a great success and the following year the exhibition was extended, with displays of oranges and lemons in carts placed around the town.
The town recognised the popularity of the event and its potential to increase tourism at an otherwise quiet time of year, taking control of the Festival and 1935 saw the first official ‘Fête du Citron taking place. The following year saw the first exhibits being built in the Jardins Biovès, which has been home to the event since.
Now in its 85th year, I’m sure the Fête bears little resemblance to the original events. Hosting approximately 250,000 visitors over the 2 weeks it is in place, it certainly is a major event and brings amazing colour and life to the town in the depths of Winter.
Each year it takes a different theme and this year’s was ‘Bollywood’, a great opportunity to inject even more vibrant colour into what is already a wonderfully mad, bright event.
The Fête sees a number of incredible displays being built in the Jardins Biovès around the year’s theme. The sheer size and scale of these works of art are a sight to be seen and I am in awe of the team that design and then build them.
These sculptures are built in wire, before being covered completely in nearly 150 tonnes of oranges & lemons that are individually attached to the structure with elastic bands and tightly wired olive leaves to create the finished pieces.
To be honest the effect is jaw-dropping and I found myself just marvelling at what has been achieved.
To a Sitar player…….
A model of the Taj Mahal……
And a dancing couple, flanked by two enormous lions…….
Amongst many others.
Access to the Jardins is by ticket only and these can be bought online or from Kiosks just outside. Looking at the queues I would suggest buying online if possible to save more queueing than is necessary, although you will need to be able to physically print the ticket as mobile phone options weren’t available. https://www.fete-du-citron.com
Inside the Jardins there are also a number of stalls set up around the edge, selling memorabilia and also locally made citrus products, including Liqueurs, Sirops and soaps…..
You can even buy your own Lemon, Orange or Mimosa tree – Needless to say I walked past these as I don’t hold out much chance they would thrive back on Dartmoor!
The displays in the gardens are just one aspect of the Fête, the other being the parades that take place (2 Thursday night ‘light’ parades and 3 Sunday afternoon ‘golden fruit’ parades) .
Happily this year our anniversary fell on a Sunday so we were able to watch the Corso (parade), which was taking place in the afternoon.
Again a ticket is needed to access the area set aside for the Corso, which runs on a secured circular route based on the beachfront. You have the option to stand on the route or buy a seat in one of the stands that are built for the occasion, but you need a ticket to gain entrance for either as the route is secured with block fencing so the parade can’t be seen any other way.
The Corso is again based on the year’s theme, with floats built from the citrus fruits, including this year a ‘Tuk Tuk’……
And the Goddess Vishnu…..
Amongst others including an incredible articulated elephant…..
All the floats are interspersed with dancers and bands bringing great colour & noise to the whole event.
The Parade lasts about an hour and is just good fun from start to finish, eventhough the day we went it was unseasonably cold and very wet indeed.
Early arrivals in the stands looked more like they were preparing to watch a Rugby Match from the terraces of a ground in England, than to enjoy a Carnival parade on the French Riviera
That said, the weather didn’t dampen the spirits of either the crowds or the participants, who kept performing for the duration of the Parade with great energy and a permanent smile!
Although we had a seat in one of the stands this time, I think when we go again we’ll actually just stand at the side of the route as there was plenty of space and you feel much closer to what is going on.
The whole day was full of noise & colour and the citrus theme continued into the evening when many of the restaurants included a dish flavoured with the local sweet lemons.
Weather wise the day was very similar to our wedding day – cold, wet and ultimately snowy – with Menton seeing its first snow in 33 years……..
However the colour, scent and vibrancy of the Fête was a real boost to the system and Menton is a beautiful place to visit.
To be honest I absolutely loved every moment of it and it was certainly worth the long wait!
It goes without saying that we’re already planning our return next year and I can only look forward to enjoying the Festival for many anniversaries to come!
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