We have bid farewell to 2016 and I am looking forward to what 2017 brings! For visitors to the French Riviera, February is an excellent month to visit because there are many interesting festivals and public events happening.
One of my favourite festivals because of it’s uniqueness is the Fête du Citron – the Lemon Festival – which is hosted each February in Menton.
In 2017, the 84th edition of Menton’s famous Lemon Festival will be held from Saturday 11th February to Wednesday 1st March.
History of Menton’s Lemon Festival
In Victorian times, the French Riviera was not known as a summer destination but was a popular winter resort where artists, distinguished royalty and the wealthy came to escape cooler climates, gamble in the purpose-built destination casinos or ‘take the air’ as it was referred to. The mild winter climate also attracted convalescing tourists who would stay in the towns believing that the exposure to sun and sea air would help their ailments.
Due to the seasonal population increase, Menton initiated a festival as a novel way of providing entertainment for locals and tourists.
Menton is one of the most picturesque towns in the region with a backdrop of the mountains, an eastward-facing Italianate Old Town and a promenade stretching toward Cap Martin.
It has the accolade of being the warmest town on the French Riviera with high sunshine hours that are ideal for growing citrus fruits, and in the 1920’s the concept of including lemons was added to the festival because Menton was the most significant lemon-growing town in Europe. The Mentonnais lemon is more elliptical than round, it has a high acidity and exceptional oil in the peel so it is favoured by top chefs.
Today, the Fête du Citron welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors and it is one of the region’s major festivals.
The Lemon Festival Theme & Programme
Each year, the Fête du Citron is based around a theme. The years from 2013-2015 were themed on a trilogy about Jules Verne and the Tourism Office decided that the next trilogy from last year would be based on cities or regions famous for their major art.
Therefore, last year’s theme for the Lemon Festival was Cinecittà about Italian film. If you have never been to the Lemon Festival, 2017 will be a great year to go because I can’t rate it highly enough. This year, the theme for Fête du Citron 2017 is Broadway.
Visitors to the 2017 festival will be able to step back in time and relive musicals from the 1930’s until the present day, all with a citrus-infused ambiance!
I’m a big fan of musicals so I think it will be fantastic and I can’t wait to see what they create for the displays and parade floats – from Mary Poppins in the heart of the music hall, to Dorothy and Toto along the Yellow Brick Road to the annual Cats Ball.
During the festival, there are all types of roaming street performers including buskers, clowns, stilt walkers and costumed actors. You can buy tickets for Sunday afternoon parades or Thursday night parades complete with lanterns, dancers, confetti, bands and fireworks. You can see a trailer video below which shows what to expect at the Fête du Citron (video: Ville de Menton):
The Jardins Biovès is very popular and this is where you’ll find the impressive citrus sculptures, some reaching heights of 5-10 metres.
The sculptures are constructed around wire frames using tonnes of lemons, oranges and agrumes and they really are an engineering marvel. I think the entrance fee is very fair to see a unique exhibition.
The gardens are open during in the day and also on select evenings, when the sculptures are illuminated with sound.
Adjacent to the Jardins in the Palais de l’Europe you’ll find the ‘Salon de l’Artisanat’, an arts and craft market with vendors selling citrus-themed products. Here you can find goods such as Provençal table linen adorned with orchard groves, limoncello, marmalades, orange-infused wine, old fashioned lemonade (which you can also find sold at many shops in Menton as ‘citronnade’), curds, olive oil and vintage art with photographs of lemons. The Palais also hosts an orchid display.
This year to match the Broadway theme, there are some additional shows. On Saturday 11 February and Tuesday 21 February, singers, dancers and musicians will perform at Theatre Francis Palmero a medley of Broadway hits from Mamma Mia to West Side Story to Phantom of the Opera. Tickets for these performances are available here
For more details about the Lemon Festival, click here Fête du Citron 2017 Programme
Where to buy tickets for Fête du Citron 2017
Tickets can be pre-purchased via various options:
- Online at www.fete-du-citron.com From past experience, if you buy them online they will be issued in your name and accompanying companions only as you have to give I.D. when entering the festival (though in reality, I have never once been asked for I.D).
- At the Menton Tourist Office, 8 avenue Boyer, 06500 Menton. During the festival, the Tourist Office is open Monday to Sunday from 9am-6pm, and from 9am-9pm the days that the night Corsos happen.
- For the citrus sculpture display at Jardins Biovès you can also buy tickets at the entrance (door sales).
- For groups of 20+ people, you receive a small discount per person and can order tickets via email email@example.com
Ticket prices for Jardins Biovès
Day time citrus displays (Exposition des Motifs Agrumes) between 10am-6pm: Adults €10 / Kids (6-14 years) €6
Night time citrus displays (Jardins de Lumières) between 8.30pm-10.30pm on select nights only: Adults €13 / Kids (6-14 years) €8
Ticket prices for the Corsos (parades): Thursday night Corso Nocturne at 9pm OR Sunday afternoon Corso des Fruits d’Or parade at 2.30pm
Standing: Adults €10 / Kids (6-14 years) €6
Seated: Adults €25 / Kids (6-14 years) €10
Combo tickets include entrance to either the Corso des Fruits d’Or parade OR a Corso Nocturne parade PLUS the Jardins Bioves citrus display
Standing (Forfait Promenoir): Adults €17 / Kids (6-14 years) 10
Seated (Forfait Tribune): Adults €30 / Kids (6-14 years) €15
For a routing map of where the parades go, see below – Circuit Dimanche (for the Sunday afternoon Corso Fruits d’Or) or Circuit Jeudi (for the Thursday night Corso Nocturnes):
Important information for persons with reduced mobility
The festival has free entrance for wheelchair bound visitors to the Jardins Biovès and parades. For their accompanying person, they are entitled to receive free entry to the gardens and standing access to the parades (seated admission is at reduced price).
For persons with 80% mobility with disability card I.D and their accompanying person who must be named on the same card, they are entitled to free entry to the garden display and access to the parades but without seating. You are entitled to reduced prices 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 ground-level gate with an attendant).
The Palais de l’Europe where the orchid display and Salon de l’Artisanat is located is wheelchair accessible with an elevator to the first floor, and this is where you will find accessible toilets located on the ground floor. Entrance is free to Palais de l’Europe.
If you are attending the Corsos (parades), there is a designated wheelchair spectator area on Place Saint-Roch which is the eastern end of the parade route you can see in the map above.
For persons with restricted mobility wishing to enjoy the beach, you can access the south-facing stretch of beach opposite Hôtel Royal Westminster.
Special package deals for visiting Menton
For the duration of the festival, hotels in Menton are offering special weekend and week-long packages including accommodation, breakfast, seated tickets for parades, unlimited entry to Jardins Biovès and more.
Séjour Tangor are deals for 1 and 2-star hotels
Séjour Citron are deals for 3-star hotels in the centre of Menton
Séjour Calamondin are deals for 3 or 4-star hotels on the seafront
For accommodation only, the Menton Tourist Office’s hotel booking site is found at: http://www.hotelmenton.fr/hotel-menton/
Getting to Menton for the Fête du Citron
The closest train station to the Fête du Citron is called ‘Gare de Menton’, and is just 200 metres from the Jardins Biovès that host the main citrus sculptures. Beware that you don’t get off at the station ‘Gare de Menton Garavan’ which is the next station heading towards Vintimille (Ventimiglia) in Italy and 3 kilometres from the festival.
To check train timetables, you can go to http://www.ter.sncf.com/paca
The easiest (and quickest) driving route is via the A8 highway, get off at exit 59 (sortie 59).
For car parking, take your chances with public parking in the town or use the designated free car park located just off the highway exit at the Intermarché du Carei Shopping Centre; regular shuttle buses link this car park and the festival sites on the Sunday parade days. There is also a car park at Stade Rondelli and Stade Val d’Anaud, again regular shuttle transport links the parking with festival sites.
It’s important to note that there are some street closures and detours around the centre of the festival, however all detours are well-signposted. On the days of the Corsos (Sunday afternoons and Thursday nights) traffic access to and from Menton is usually busy. See road closure info below:
Dimanches = Sundays
Jeudis = Thursdays
Axe rouge stationnement interdit = Red zones, no parking
Axe noir circulation & stationnement interdits = Black zones, no access or parking allowed
Axe vert = Advised routes
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 parades the bus schedules from Menton to Nice do not run late in the evenings. You can find these bus timetables here: https://www.departement06.fr/vous-deplacer-en-bus/lignes-et-horaires-3029.html
For any organised group tour buses they drop off passengers at the Musée Cocteau on the seafront and the distance is 15 minutes by foot to the Jardins Bioves.
Around Menton itself, you can take the local Zestbus for €5 per day for unlimited travel, buy your ticket on board from the driver. www.zestbus.fr
When the curtain closes….buy your citrus here after the Lemon Festival
The Fête du Citron uses an enormous quantity of citrus fruit during the event. A huge percentage is thrown away due to rot or composted, but once the main sculptures are disassembled the rest is sold off cheaply to the public.
So, at the end of the festival you can buy a kilo of lemons for 30 centimes and oranges for 50 centimes as well as beautiful flowers from the displays, and I’m quite sure there’s no limit – besides, they have plenty of stock to move!
Top sightseeing and other things to do in Menton
Musée Jean Cocteau collection Séverin Wunderman is situated in an architecturally distinct building on the seafront and has extensive film excerpts and collections of the works of Jean Cocteau who spent much of his life in the region. Sadly, he died before this museum opened. Another Cocteau site to visit is the Hôtel de Ville (Menton’s Town Hall) where Jean Cocteau was invited to decorate the Salle des Mariages, the official room for marriage ceremonies with Provençal images such as a fisherman and his bride.
More Cocteau influences can be found at the old defensive Bastion that was built on the harbour wall, not far from the modern Musée Cocteau. It is the original small museum that was redecorated by Jean Cocteau and until the purpose-built museum opened it was the main location for his new exhibitions to be displayed there. The seafront walkway is flat and paved and therefore ideal for family outings and nearby is a small children’s playground.
The Musée des Beaux Arts is housed in Palais Carnolès, which was the former summer residence of Monaco’s Grimaldis. The collections include art from the 13th century onwards from artists including English painter Graham Sutherland and Dufy. The surrounding gardens have one of the largest fruit tree collections in Europe with over 120 different fruit trees such as limes, Seville oranges, clementines, lemons and grapefruit trees.
Foodies will enjoy visiting Menton. You can find stores such as Au Pays de Citron and Prestige de Menton selling lots of lemon-infused goodies as well as great restaurants using local produce such as Michelin starred Mirazur.
Menton has a number of beautiful churches including Basilique Saint Michel and Chapelle des Pénitents-Blancs located near to each other in the Old Town.
Basilique Saint Michel is a Baroque church that is one of Menton’s landmarks, its 16th-century altarpiece is by Manchello (1565). The square in front of the church is paved with pebbles in a design of the Grimaldi coat of arms and is a magnificent setting for an annual classical concert in August, the Menton Festival de Musique. The surrounds were also filmed in Bond movie Never Say Never Again where Bond chases Fatima on his motorbike and crosses down the stairs at Place de la Conception.
The 17th-century Chappelle des Pénitents-Blancs has a ornate façade and is historically listed; don’t miss stepping inside if you visit as the interior is beautiful.
Menton’s seafront is a lovely place for a stroll – Promenade du Soleil sprung a number of Belle Époque buildings during its heyday and has a wide, wholly accessible seafront pathway with plenty of cafeterias and restaurants for a meal or drink.
The promenade leads all the way to Plage des Sablettes, the main beach that curves around the bay beneath the Old Town. You can see the road that follows the bay; this is built over a series of arches built by Napoléon I who wanted to move munitions and men quickly without losing time in the steep, narrow alleyways behind.
The French Riviera is dotted with numerous famous gardens, a legacy of many foreign residents. Menton has some well-known gardens – in fact, they have held an annual festival to celebrate them, Le Mois des Jardins held each year in June. In 2017, the Jardins Biovès will also participate in the Côte d’Azur’s first Garden Festival from 01 April to 01 May 2017.
The hillside 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 for many decades he travelled and looked for plants to acclimatise in Menton. His French garden has fountains, statuary and orangeries for exotic plants.
The Jardin Botanique et Exotique Val Rahmeh was established by a former governor of Malta in 1905. There are over 700 tropical plants including edible varieties such as medicinal plants and spices from the Americas and Asia, as well as a rare tree from Easter Island. The water lily pond is really pretty as the Victorian waterlilies grow up to 2 metres in diameter.
One of the French Riviera’s best kept botanical secrets is the historically-listed Jardin des Colombières. Part of a private estate created on the site of an old olive grove, the gardens were designed by Ferdinand Bac, who also painted themed Mediterranean frescoes inside the villa. You can visit the gardens and villa by guided tour only by booking via the website http://lescolombieres.com/en/index.php Due to the hillside layout, the gardens are not accessible for people with mobility issues.
The Jardin et Villa Maria Serena is on the seafront beside the Italian border and was built around 1880. The garden is a hectare and a half of tropical and sub-tropical plants including palm trees, agaves, and cyclads with a nice view of the sea and Menton.
Jardin Fontana Rosa is a Valencian-styled garden created by Spanish writer Vicente Blasco Ibañez in the 1920’s. The garden is dedicated to the memory of important writers such as Cervantes and Dickens and is decorated with ponds, columns and busts of writers. The Rotonde de Cervantes is very vivid with benches and bright mosaics.
Musée de Préhistoire Régionale has exhibits and archaeological pieces from Menton and neighbouring Liguris up until the end of the Bronze Age including rocks and the skull of ‘Grimaldi Man’.
Visiting a cemetery may not be the top of any tourist’s list, however Menton’s Cimetière du Vieux Château (Old Château Cemetery) is situated high above Menton and is worth visiting for the panoramic views over the sea and tiled rooftops. The cemetery is home to some famous burial plots including those of William Webb Ellis (the founder of rugby) and English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley.
Fête du Citron website: www.fete-du-citron.com
Menton Tourist Office, 8 avenue Boyer, Tél . +00 33 (0)18.104.22.168.76, www.tourisme-menton.fr
Image credits: Access Riviera, Belhamba, France Voyage, Garden Visit, Les Colombières, Menton Tourist Office, Pinterest
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