The Menton Lemon Festival fills the streets and squares with huge constructions made of oranges and lemons. It’s like a carnival but known as a festival when the citrus fruits that bring Menton its wealth and reputation are celebrated.
All sorts of different events are on offer. There’s the Sunday Corsos des fruits d’or (Procession of Golden Fruit Floats) when decorated floats move along the Promenade du Soleil bordering the sea accompanied by musicians, folk groups, and majorettes.
There are evening processions followed by fireworks over the bay. The Biovès Gardens host the Jardins de Lumières (Gardens of Light) which fill with sound and light effects. There are various exhibitions in the Palais de l’Europe, next to the Gardens such as the Craft and Orchid Fair of flowers and traditional products of the region inspired by lemons: jams, jellies, honey, and liqueurs; soaps and perfumes and glass engravings, ceramics and more.
A local brass band plays 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, mandarin orange to clementine trees.
And finally, you can buy the citrus fruit used in the festival to make copious amounts of jam, syrup and more.
Some of the events are free, but you need to buy tickets to see the parades. See their website for more information.
One of the Cote d'Azur resorts, Menton has a blissful climate. It's surrounded by mountains which give a magnificent backdrop and is right on the border with Italy.
As is the case with so much of the south of France, it was the English who discovered the town and put it on the map. Dr. James Henry Bennet wrote a piece on the benefits of the mile all-year-round climate for TB sufferers and the rest, as they say, is history.
It's a pretty town with plenty of gardens to keep the keen horticulturist more than happy. Perhaps the best known is the Serre de la Madone, a garden started in 1924 by an American born in Paris, Lawrence Johnston. He's well known in the UK as the creator of the delightful Hidcote Manor Gardens in Gloucestershire.
Serre de la Madone is an exotic garden surrounding his expanded house and revealing itself through doors and steps with fountains and pools that keep the place cool. For 30 years he traveled seeking out plants. The garden today is delightful.
Other Menton Gardens
The Maria Serena Villa and Gardens is on the seafront. Built in 1880, the villa has surrounding tropical and sub-tropical gardens as well as palm trees and cycas trees.
The Botanical Gardens of the Val Rahmeh is another garden full of exotic plants and trees, particularly from Japan and South America. Among the 700 different species is the rare Sophora Toromiro, the mythic and sacred tree of Easter Island. It was an Englishman, one Lord Percy Radcliffe, a former Governor of Malta, who started the garden in 1905.
Fontana Rosa is different, created in the 1920s by the Spanish writer Blasco Ibañez. Here ceramics take center stage along with the plants. There are benches, ponds, and pergolas decorated with ceramics.