In February there is an explosion of colour along the Cote D’Azur when the hillsides are fringed with yellow from the bright flowers of the Mimosa trees and the citrus fruits glow orange and yellow against the dark green leaves – it’s as if the plants are reminding us of the sun that is to come, as Spring starts to force itself onto the scene.
The flowers and fruits though aren’t the only sign of colour ……
Not only is there the Fete du Citron at Menton, but also the bright and very animated Carnaval that takes place in Nice for the last couple of weeks of the month, bringing the city to life with quite incredible parades.
Let me start by saying that probably my last experience of a Carnival was about 9 years ago in the small seaside town of Bude in Cornwall, and prior to that I had only ever been to events in small rural towns, where the floats are built on old farm trailers and towed by tractors, with the occasional lorry thrown in for good measure. I simply had no idea of how different Nice Carnaval would be.
We hadn’t really planned to go and only booked tickets when we decided to extend our visit to the Menton Fete du Citron by a night and realised it was on, so we went with no real idea of what was involved and certainly no expectations.
The Nice Carnaval is one of the oldest in the World and really started to appear in its current form in 1873, when the first Carnaval, organised by the city’s Committee of Festivities took place. Over the years traditions have built up around the event, from the appearance of the ‘massive headed characters’, that walk with the floats…….
….to the Carnaval King, a large model designed around the Carnaval’s theme.
The involvement of the King in the parade started in 1882 with a figure made of straw and rags that had originally sat on the Prefecture balcony (following the huge success of the visit by the King & Queen of Sardinia many years earlier) – his arrival now heralds the start of festivities, as his firey demise signals the end of the Festival.
We were visiting the town on the middle Saturday of the Carnaval and so booked standing tickets for the 2 parades taking place that day. The ‘Bataille Des Fleurs’ in the afternoon & the ‘Parade of Lights’ in the evening (I say evening – it started at 9pm, so in effect it was nearly past our bed time!).
As with the Fete du Citron, the event takes place in a totally secure area and can only be seen along the designated route, happily it proved very easy to book the tickets online via the event website http://en.nicecarnaval.com/ and although there was seating available we opted for standing tickets along the route, which runs along a small section of the sea-front.
Understandably there were considerable security measures in place, so we arrived in good time at our allocated entrance to get through the screening process and into the Carnaval Zone.
Once we were through we were hit by the scent of thousands of flowers, which were decorating the floats along the route, waiting for the parade to start.
The floats were truly beautiful, all designed to fit in with the Carnaval’s ‘King of Space’ theme and covered with floral displays that would win prizes galore at County Shows in the UK, or grace any wedding.
We walked around the route finding a space on the barriers just off the promenade, from where we could watch the spectacle.
From the noise in the main arena on the Place Massena, a short distance away, it was clear the parade had started and the floats all began to move, separated from each other by other entertainers that had come from around the world, including flag twirlers from Italy, bands including this one from Spain….
And other amazing floats such as the flying Pterodactyl, complete with rider….
And the huge inflatable dinosaur, the height of nearby buildings that was manipulated brilliantly by its handler……
As the floral floats passed, the Carnival Queens on them threw Mimosa into the crowd and I ended up with an enormous bouquet of the scented, golden flowers (delightful)
We thought that the throwing of the Mimosa was the ‘Bataille Des fleurs’, but we couldn’t have been further from the truth as the floats started to come around again. This time we quickly realised that they were being dismantled as they passed with the beautiful displays being taken apart & the flowers thrown again into the crowd.
I wonder how many hours work are done by the florists on each of the floats, only for their work to be destroyed in minutes?
It is, though, great fun and I joined the scrabble to grab the flying flowers with roses, carnations & gerbera soon added to my bouquet, and others placing flowers wherever they could find space….
Within minutes of the last float passing the gates were opened & the crowd spilled out of the area back into the city. It was over as quickly as it had begun, leaving a further parade of street cleaners to come in & start the clean-up.
Already on sensory-overload we quickly realised that we still had the evening parade to see and after having witnessed the afternoon’s events we could only wonder at what it may entail.
So after a rather ad-hoc picnic on the Promenade Des Anglais…….
……we once again passed through security & found a spot for the night’s parade.
It was quickly evident that this would be a very different event, once we spotted some of the floats that would be involved…..
Again the build-up took place in the main arena and we could see the lights and hear the countdown ahead of the start. This time there was not a flower to be seen, but huge floats that started to rumble past us, lit from inside with amazing detail…..
Then the ‘King of Space’ came into view and I just wasn’t prepared for the scale of the character, whose head was almost level with the roof-line of the hotel opposite us. It was an extraordinary sight……
There were also the floats designed to make comment on current-affairs. Again the work that had gone into designing and creating these vast constructions was incredible. From Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un (as Rocket Man)…..
To a Royal guard, sat on Big Ben surrounded by representatives of Europe ……
And perhaps the most telling (and honestly disturbing), ‘King Kong’ Trump (beating his chest) ahead of Theresa May (clinging desperately to Big Ben) with Putin holding his laptop…….
Amongst others more simply based on the ‘Space’ theme…..
Once again the floats were separated by bands & dancers, adding great variety and noise to the occasion……
The whole evening event was quite overwhelming in terms of its scale, visual impact, passion and energy. It took us a long time after the last float had passed and the final strike on a drum had stopped reverberating, for us to settle down and walk the few hundred yards back to the hotel, talking non-stop about what we had just seen.
I have to take my hat off to the organisers of the event, which totally knocked my socks off. The effort that must go into the design & creation of all the floats we saw, both during the afternoon and evening is incredible and goes way beyond anything I have seen before, or to be honest even imagined possible.
I felt like a child again, immersed in a new experience and loved the fact that entertainers were there from across the globe giving a really different feel to the event. It’s fantastic to see such a wide array of performers in such a short period of time and of course it is well-worth the entrance fee.
This last weekend saw the end of this year’s Carnaval and it finished, as usual with the fiery demise of the Carnaval King (video link to Nice Carnaval Facebook Page)
Yes, it’s sad to see the end of the ‘King Of Space’………… However 2019 will see the arrival of the ‘King of Cinema’ and I, for one, can’t wait to see what he brings with him.
All I can say is – Thank you Nice for a wonderful day – we’re already looking forward to next year.