Last year, for the first time we found ourselves at Nice Carnaval – it probably sounds really awful, but we hadn’t really planned to go, only noticing it was on whilst we were planning a trip to the Fete du Citron at Menton for our wedding anniversary so thought we’d extend our stay to watch the Saturday parades.
We’d never really heard about the Carnaval de Nice so this came as rather a surprise
We didn’t really know anything about the Carnaval and so went with no expectations; we had no idea of where was best to stand and to be honest really just stumbled our way through organising our time there. We simply hadn’t appreciated the size of the Carnaval and were totally unaware that it is rated as one of the best in the world. Having watched the first few moments of the first parade though we quickly realised what a fantastic event it was, with the vibrant & scented Bataille de Fleurs during the afternoon, where beautifully decorated floral floats are stripped of their displays and the flowers thrown into the crowd….
I can’t tell you how happy I was last year to be part of this, perhaps this sums it up!
Then the jaw-dropping sight of vast illuminated floats making their way around the route during the evening’s Corso Carnavalesque Illumine……..
The illuminated floats are truly beautiful
One thing was certain, even as we made our way back to the city centre hotel that evening, and that was that we would be back this year and that we would plan our time a little better.
Last year, we had standing tickets for the part of the route that runs along the Promenade des Anglais, which was great, but we were aware that much more seemed to be taking place in the Place Massena, where there were tiers of seating and what appeared to be a light show too. In some ways it felt as if we may have missed out on something and so decided to book tickets for this central area for this year’s Carnaval celebrating the ‘King of Cinema’.
Last year’s King of Space, who like all the Carnaval Kings is set alight after the final parade
The tickets are sold online and the booking process is very simple, via the Carnaval’s website Nice Carnaval so as soon as the tickets were made available for this year’s event (late December / early January) we booked our tickets – reserving second row seats in the well-placed Jaures stand for the Bataille de Fleurs (26e each) and standing tickets in the Place Massena for the evening;s Corso Illumine (12e each).
We were staying in Menton again, which we love for its peace and pretty old town so caught the train from the main station to Nice, which we felt would be much nicer than driving into the city and trying to find parking. The journey was really easy and it was nice just to sit back and watch the beautiful villages along the coast flash past on the 25 minute trip to Nice central station and for 10e each return it was an absolute bargain.
Understandably there are queues running up to each of the entrances to the Carnaval route, however they are really well-managed with large numbers of security staff and search equipment on hand and we quickly got into the Place Massena for the afternoon’s event. We had realised last year that there seemed to be a lot of activities there before the parade started so we made sure we were there in plenty of time.
Settling into our seats for the Bataille de Fleurs
Entering the Place Massena and walking under the King and Queen of Cinema to get to the seating, there is a real sense of occasion and this is enhanced by the pre-parade show led by the rather wonderful BAT, a vibrant group of local dancers, gymnasts & athletes who really brought the crowd to life – it was a shame some people missed this as it was such a great way to start the parade and is worth arriving early for.
Then onto the parade itself, once again packed with incredibly beautiful flower covered floats, designed around the King of Cinema theme, which must have taken hours to create and decorate. Each float had a Carnaval Queen dressed accordingly – from Harry Potter & Mary Poppins to Marilyn Munroe.
Between the floats are other entertainers – from vast floating balloon creatures…..
To automaton cyclists……
Acrobats on hoists……..
And even a vast articulated elephant……
Coupled with marching bands, dancers and other Carnaval groups from around the world…..
Once the floats have been around the route once they go around once more when the flowers are pulled from the displays and taken into the crowd, with people clutching handfuls of flowers as they start to drift away.
Within a short time the arena empties and all that is left are the streamers, confetti and crushed flowers didn’t quite get to someone’s hands and as the crowds file out the cleaning trucks move in to clear the route before the night-time parade.
So with a few hours to fill before the evening event we ambled back into the city, found a rather nice fish restaurant, grabbed an early table and managed to waste a good couple of hours relaxing over food and wine….
…. before heading back to find a space in the Place Massena for the evening event, again arriving early to get a good place and to ensure we were there for the build-up to the start that we had heard from afar the previous year.
We managed to stand just in front of the Jaures stand where we had been sitting during the afternoon, which is a great location as the warm-up entertainment was taking place just in front of us. Once again the BAT were on fine form and as they were so close their energy was infectious and we quickly realised that we had made the right decision to buy tickets for the Place Massena as the atmosphere was incredible. With the big screens, light shows and music it was a totally different experience than the previous year, which we had thought was pretty superb anyway.
By the time the Confetti cannons went off and the King of Cinema started his slow progress around the route, the arena was packed and standing so close to the parade gave us a fantastic insight into the scale of the floats and the incredible skill that goes into creating them each year….
The Queen of Cinema with her wild hair and filled underskirts ……..
The truly stunning characterisation of Charlie Chaplin with Laurel and Hardy sat on his legs…….
The 2 CV…….
And the political commentary too with floats such as this, highlighting the #MeToo campaign, depicting Weinstein surrounded by ‘Oscars’ taking ‘Hear No, See No, Speak No Evil’ poses……
Again the principal floats are split with the traditional walking ‘heads’, performing artists, with their bright, illuminated costumes
and musicians, including (this year) a group from South Korea.
This really is an event that brings the world to Nice and I can understand why they come.
The Parade is long and as it was the first time we had come by train, we felt we needed to get back to the station to catch the last-but-one train back to Menton just in case we missed it, so we left just before the King of Cinema came back into view, sadly missing the last couple of floats as we headed back through Nice to the station.
It was a shame, but it’s just something we will just have to fix for our visit next year.
Otherwise this was the most perfect day – the weather was perfect (a far cry from last year’s rain & ultimately snow) but setting that to one side the Carnaval is an incredible experience. It may sit up there with the best in the world, but the little touches we saw, such as a toddler being welcomed in by ‘La BAT’ during their afternoon show & being personally handed flowers by one of the Carnaval Queens ….. Local youngsters dancing on the floats in the evening parade, or simply the acrobat taking the time to make sure he flew over the crowd to hold the hand of a youngster being held up by a parent…..
….. These all gave it the sense of being something much more local, a show for everyone to enjoy and to feel part of and it is this that makes it so special.
It goes without saying that we will be back next year, although there won’t be many changes to what we did this year ( apart from perhaps just accepting we’ll catch the last train back to Menton) for an even later walk along the beach back to the Hotel
As the King of Cinema has met his fiery end, I am sure the planning is already underway for Carnaval 2020 and rising from this year’s King’s ashes is The King of Fashion – and now that I can’t wait to see……
But for now…..
Le Roi du cinema est mort ………..Vive le roi de la mode
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