This month’s #AllAboutFrance post hosted by Lou Messugo is a zesty way to say ‘Au Revoir’ to winter! Menton on the French-Italian border is blessed with high sunshine hours and it is this climate that supports the growth of citrus fruits, in particular the famous Mentonnais lemon.
Each year in February the town celebrates its citrusy wonders by hosting Fête du Citron, literally the Lemon Festival, which is being held this year from Sunday 13 February to Wednesday 02 March.
The origins of the festival
The festival began back in the late 19th century when Menton was thriving as a winter resort, and it was a novel way of providing entertainment for locals and convalescing visitors who believed the mild climate would help their ailments. In the 1920’s, lemons were added as a unique concept because Menton was the most significant lemon-growing town in Europe.
What to expect
Each year has a theme – 2016 is Cinecittà – so expect lots of Italian film-related sculptures, and see if you can tune in to Italian accents as you walk around; Menton is popular with Italian day trippers.
The Jardins Biovès is very popular and this is where you’ll find the huge citrus sculptures. The sculptures are very impressive, some towering 5-10 metres high and the entrance fee is very fair (in my opinion) for such a unique exhibition. Look for masterpieces based on films from Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Sergio Leone and many other filmmakers.
Beside the Jardins in the Palais de l’Europe you’ll find the ‘Salon de l’Artisanat’ market stalls selling citrus-themed products – artisan produce including limoncello, orange-flavoured wine, old fashioned lemonade, marmalades, curds, olive oil, vintage postcards with photographs of lemons, Provençal table linen adorned with orchard groves, ….anything and everything that can be made of citrus is there! There is also an orchid display in the Palais.
During the festival, there is random street entertainment including buskers and costumed actors and you can buy tickets for afternoon parades or night parades with lanterns, dancers and music. To watch a video from last year, see here:
For the duration of the festival, hotels in Menton are offering special packages including accommodation, breakfast, seated tickets for parades, unlimited entry to Jardins Biovès and more. To see the deals, head here http://www.fete-du-citron.com/sejours-et-hebergements-fete-du-citron/
What happens to the citrus fruit after the Lemon Festival?
The festival uses over 145 tons of citrus fruit – lemons, oranges, agrumes – so what happens to it after the festival finishes? Obviously, a huge percentage must be binned or composted due to rot but once the sculptures are dismantled the remainder is sold off cheaply to whoever lines up to claim their share – you can grab a kilo of lemons for 30 centimes and oranges for 50 centimes. Even the flowers from the displays are for sale!
I think its quite comical that they put a sign ‘Jusqu’a à epuisement des stocks’ which roughly translates to ‘until stock runs out’ – I’m quite sure they haven’t ever sold the entire remaining fruit yet!
Where to buy tickets for Fête du Citron
Tickets can be pre-purchased online at www.fete-du-citron.com or at the Menton Tourist Office, 8 avenue Boyer, 06500 Menton.
You can also buy tickets for the sculpture display only at Jardins Biovès entrance.
Day time citrus displays at Jardins Biovès (10am-6pm): Adults €10 / Kids (6-14 years) €6
Night time citrus displays at Jardins Biovès: Adults €13 / Kids (6-14 years) €8 (the Jardins de lumières is open from 8.30pm-10.30pm on select nights only)
Watch a Sunday afternoon Fruits d’Or parade or a Thursday night Corso Nocturne parade:
Standing: Adults €10 / Kids (6-14 years) €6
Seated: Adults €25 / Kids (6-14 years) €10
For a routing map of where the parades go, see below:
Information for persons with reduced mobility
The festival has free entrance for persons with reduced mobility with disability cards and their accompanying person (free entrance applies only to the garden display and for the parades but without seating. You are entitled to reduced prices for a seat in the stands; accompanying companions must pay full price for a seat in the stands).
For persons with reduced mobility there is a footbridge and stairs separating half of the garden sculpture display at Jardins Biovès – however, if you are in a wheelchair you can exit at the bottom of the stairs and re-enter at the other side where the exhibition begins again (there is a gate with attendant).
The Palais de l’Europe is wheelchair accessible with an elevator to the first floor, and accessible toilets are located on the ground floor.
If you are attending the parades, there is a designated wheelchair area on Place Saint-Roch.
Getting to Menton
The central train station of Menton is called ‘Gare du Menton’, and is just 200 metres from the Jardins Biovès that host the main citrus sculptures. Pay attention that you don’t get off at the station ‘Gare du Menton Garavan’ which is the next station heading towards Vintimille (Ventimiglia) in Italy.
It’s possible to drive there during festival time however parking can be tricky. Town car parking was fine last time we visited with no major traffic jams from the highway, though there were some street restrictions and detours around the central garden however all detours are well-signposted.
The easiest (and quickest) driving route is via the A8 highway, get off at exit 59 – for car parking, take your chances with town street parking or use the designated free car park just off the highway exit at the Intermarché Shopping Centre; regular shuttle buses link the car park and the festival sites.
If you have more time to drive, arriving to Menton via either the Moyenne Corniche or Basse Corniche offer scenic views and nice detours through the coastal towns though traffic is always busy.
Bus number 100 travels between Nice and Menton and bus number 110 travels between Nice Côte d’Azur Airport and Menton. These are regular public buses and not put on specifically for the festival. Its important to note that if you plan to attend the night parades the bus schedules from Menton to Nice do not run late in the evenings. You can find the timetables here: https://www.departement06.fr/vous-deplacer-en-bus/lignes-et-horaires-3029.html
Other things to do in Menton
Musée Jean Cocteau located in a modern building facing the covered market has extensive collections of the works of Jean Cocteau.
The Bastion was built in the 17th century on the harbour wall. It is a small museum that was redecorated by Jean Cocteau and until the Musée Jean Cocteau opened was the main location for his new exhibitions to be displayed there.
Plage des Sablettes is the main beach that curves around the Baie du Soleil and is a nice place for a stroll along the promenade or a coffee in one of the many beachside restaurants.
Basilique Saint Michel and Chapelle des Pénitents-Blancs are two of Menton’s landmark churches and popular with tourists.
The Palais Carnolès which was the summer residence of the Princes of Monaco now houses the Musée des Beaux Arts with permanent and temporary art collections from the 13th century onwards. The surrounding gardens have one of the largest fruit tree collections in Europe with grapefruit trees, clementines, oranges and lemons.
Musée de Préhistoire Régionale details the origin of rocks, fossils and prehistoric man in the Menton and Liguria regions until the end of the Bronze Age.
The Jardin Botanique et Exotique Val Rahmeh covers one hectare and is a garden full of exotic plants and trees from California, Chile, India and Mexico.
Serre de la Madonne gardens originated in 1924 by an American born in Paris, Lawrence Johnston. In 1907, he created Hidcote Manor Gardens in the Cotswolds in England and his French version was intended to be stylish and spectacular with fountains, statuary and orangeries for exotic plants. Over 30 years he travelled and looked for plants to acclimatise back in Menton.
Jardin et Villa Maria Serena is on the seafront beside the Italian border with many species of tropical and sub-tropical plants including agaves, palm trees and cyclads.
Jardin Fontana Rosa was created in the 1920’s by Spanish writer Vicente Blasco Ibañez who decorated the garden with mosaic benches, ponds and busts of writers.
Laid out in tiers, Cimetière du Vieux Château (Old Château Cemetery) high above Menton has fantastic views over Plage des Sablettes. Port Menton-Garavan and to the Italian border. Famous grave sites here include William Webb Ellis (the founder of rugby) and English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley.
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