The town of Menton, located on the France-Italian border, has one of the highest allocations of sunshine hours in France and it is this climate that supports the growth of tangerines, oranges and one of the symbols of the town – lemons.
In celebration of these citrus fruits and their importance to Menton, each February an annual festival – the Fête du Citron (Lemon Festival) is held.
This year the Fête du Citron is from Saturday 14 February – Wednesday 04 March 2015, and not to be out shadowed by another prominent festival happening along on the French Riviera at the same time, the Fête du Citron promotes unique events based around lemons and all the citrusy fruits they can muster.
The significance of lemons to Menton
In the late 19th century, a group of hoteliers, suggested to the city council that there should be a parade in the town to provide entertainment for locals and visitors as it was very fashionable at that time to spend winters on the French Riviera.
A parade was initiated in 1896 (a shadow of the festival as it exists today), and in 1925 the concept of including lemons in the festival was suggested to give it a local colour as Menton was the number one lemon-growing region in Europe.
The festival was a huge success, and has continued to grow year after year.
Attractions of the festival
Every year, a theme is chosen – 2015’s theme is ‘Les Tribulations d’un Citron en Chine’ (The tribulations of a lemon in China).
The choice of the theme originated from Jules Vernes 1879 adventure novel ‘The Tribulations of a Chinaman in China’, and it a brilliant strategic option to attract more Chinese tourists to the region. France is one of the premier destinations for Chinese tourists in Europe, and more Chinese are travelling outside of China due to increased disposable income and relaxation of travel regulations, including fast-track visas for France.
Chinese visitors are the top spenders for outbound tourism, and when they visit France they love themes – art, museums, wine discovery and life in France so a citrus-based festival is excellent for tourism promotion and attraction (On another note, I will be writing an editorial about the Fête du Citron and Chinese tourism to France for Ctrip, the largest travel agency in China).
Here are some photos of displays from previous years:
The festival has parades with lights and lanterns, decorated floats in the evening and the central park Jardins Biovès has an exhibition of large sculptures made of citrus fruits decorated in the annual theme.
The Jardins Biovès also has stalls selling citrus-themed products – vintage postcards with photographs of lemons, Provençal table linen adorned with orange groves, citrus produce including curds, limoncello, marmalades….anything and everything that can be made of citrus is there!
This is a great event if you live in the region or are visiting – I think the entry fee for the sculpture display is very reasonable, it’s quite unique to see towering citrus sculptures.
Menton has many restaurants in close proximity to the action so it’s possible to visit for a few hours and combine a visit to the Fête du Citron with lunch or dinner. Other attractions in Menton include the Jean Cocteau Museum, Musée de Préhistorie and also the Via Julia Augusta route (an important Roman trade route) which you can find out about here www.viajuliaaugusta.com
And if you’re wondering what happens to the tonnes of fruit at the end of the festival, it is offered up for sale so you can whip up your own versions of ‘tarte au citron’.
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.
Or you can buy tickets for the sculpture display only at Jardins Biovès entrance.
Adult tickets cost €10 for the citrus sculpture display at Jardins Biovès, and between €10 – €25 for the parades. Note: If you pre-purchase online, you will receive a discount on these prices.
Children 6-14 years cost €5 for the citrus sculpture display at Jardins Biovès, and between €8 – €10 for the parades. Note: if you pre-purchase online, you will receive a discount on these prices.
Children under 6 years are free of charge.
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).
If you are attending the parades, there is a designated wheelchair area on Place Saint-Roch.
The central train station of Menton is called ‘Gare du Menton’, and is just 200 metres from the main garden sculpture display. Do not alight at the station ‘Gare du Menton Garavan’ which is the next station heading towards Vintimille (Ventimiglia) in Italy.
If you are driving, Menton is located at Exit number 59 on the A8 highway. There is a designated free car park just off the highway at the beginning of the industrial area (Intermarché Shopping Car Park) with free shuttle buses running to the festival. Town car parking was ample 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.
For the duration of the festival, hotels in Menton are offering special packages including accommodation, breakfast, seated tickets for one parade, unlimited entry to Jardins Biovès and more. Participants include Hôtel Ibis Styles and Hôtel Napoléon. To see the deals, head to the website www.hotelmenton.fr
More details of the festival programme can be found on the official website www.fete-du-citron.com or download the free app on iTunes or Google Play (app is in French language only).
(YouTube video courtesy of VilledeMenton)