Entire buildings, clock towers, trains, and castles made out of lemons? Yes, that's precisely what you'll find on the French Riviera every February, when the Menton Lemon Festival rolls in.
Late winter is prime citrus season, so what better to do with the abundance of fruit that France is apparently harvesting than to make giant—seriously big—statues of animals, edifices, and the like out of them.
The Menton Lemon Festival—or as the locals call it la Fête du Citron—fills the streets and squares of Menton, France, with huge constructions made of oranges and lemons.
Dates & Location
The Menton Lemon Festival is spread over weeks, typically nearing the end of February. This year's festival will take place from February 15 to March 3, 2020.
During this time, you can see the massive sculptures on display in the center of Menton (you simply cannot miss them). Regular night shows make the citrus sculptures sparkle in the dark. Menton is a convention stop on the Côte d'Azure—you can either travel to it by car (it's 35 minutes from Nice) or fly into the Nice Côte d'Azure Airport and take a taxi.
What to Expect
You can expect about 150 tons of fruit made into everything from windmills to champagne bottles to mythical creatures and beyond. The locals take this opportunity to get creative with their citrus art, but they do adhere to a different theme (this time being "parties around the world") every year.
All sorts of different events are on offer during the Menton Lemon Festival. There’s the Corsos des Fruits d’Or ("Golden Fruit Parades") which happen every Sunday at the Promenade du Soleil. This is when the ginormous sculptures strut down the street, accompanied by musicians, folk groups, and majorettes.
Then, there are evening processions followed by fireworks over the bay. The Biovès Gardens host the Jardins de Lumières ("Gardens of Light"), which exhibit the artworks in displays of light and sound. There are various exhibitions in the Palais de l’Europe, next to the Gardens, such as the The Orchid Festival, where you can pick up citrus-inspired jams, jellies, honey, soaps, and perfumes.
Local bands play during the day and there are evening shows at the Palais de l’Europe. There are various guided tours (of a jam factory and the lemon grove, for instance), and the chance to visit the gardens of the Palais Carnolès, which has the largest collection of citrus fruit in Europe, from grapefruit trees to kumquats.
Some of the events are free, but you need to buy tickets to see the parades. See the website for more information.
A popular stop along the Côte d'Azur, Menton has a blissful, warm climate. It's surrounded by mountains, offering it a stunning backdrop, and is right on the border of Italy.
Its hot summers and mild winters make citrus trees grow aplenty. The locals have been making art out of the excess fruit by decorating wire cages with it for almost a century now. The Fête du Citron was officially founded in 1928.
Now, the festival attracts about 250,000 people every year. It's certainly the most popular attraction in Menton, which remains sort of sleepy (compared to the rest of the coast, at least) for the rest of the year. If you can't make it to the Lemon Festival, then be sure to visit one of Menton's lush gardens throughout the year.
- Serre de la Madone: This is one of the best-known gardens in the region. It was founded in 1924 by an American born in Paris, Lawrence Johnston, who spent decades traveling for plants and it shows in the vast, botanical fantasyland he left behind.
- The Maria Serena Villa and Gardens: Built in 1880, this seafront villa has surrounding tropical and sub-tropical gardens as well as palm trees and cycas trees.
- The Botanical Gardens of the Val Rahmeh: There are tons of exotic plants and trees here, particularly from Japan and South America. Among the 700 different species is the rare Sophora Toromiro, the mythic and sacred tree of Easter Island.
- Fontana Rosa: Ceramics actually take center stage at this historic garden, with the plants being a sort of an afterthought. Still, though, any amateur botanist will love the Fontana Rosa gardens.