Menton Lemon Festival: A Little Guide

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The most Italianate and the warmest town on the French Riviera has become famous for the colourful Menton Lemon Festival. This carnival like no other is a major event on the French Riviera. In fact, each Winter it attracts no less than 240,000 spectators in Menton, France. Visitors come from faraway to marvel at the impressive citrus sculptures and colourful parades.

 

The Lemon Festival of Menton, France

Every February, the little town of Menton on the French Riviera runs one of France’s most popular events: the Lemon Festival (Fête du citron).

Lemon head in Menton © Paul Downey - licence [CC BY 2.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Lemon head in Menton © Paul Downey – licence [CC BY 2.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The Menton Tourist Board has organised the event towards the end of February since 1928. Today, each edition uses 140 tonnes of citrus fruit to decorate its gigantic structures and floats.

The festival has now become the second largest Wintry event on the French Riviera, after the Carnival of Nice and before the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Monte Carlo. It takes place around the same time as the carnival of Nice.

Each year, the festival features a given theme: Disney, Music of the World, Spain, etc.

Menton Lemon Festival @dvoevnore via Twenty20

Mary Poppins in Menton! @dvoevnore via Twenty20

The Recent Lemon Festivals

  • 2013 – the 80th edition of the Lemon Festival was “Around the world in 80 days: Menton, the secret port of call”.
  • 2014 – the 81st edition of the festival was themed on a novel from Jules Verne: 20,000 leagues under the sea.
  • 2015 – the 82nd edition was dedicated to ‘the tribulation of a lemon in China’.
  • 2016 – the 83rd edition paid tribute to Cinecittà, the Italian cinema of the 50s and 60s.
  • 2017 – the 84th edition was dedicated to Broadway and musical comedies.
  • 2018 – the 85th edition was dedicated to Bollywood.
  • 2019 – the 86th edition was “Des mondes fantastiques” (Fantastic Worlds).
  • 2020 – the 87th edition takes place from 15 February to 3 March and is themed on “Les Fêtes du Monde” (Festivals from around the World)

Menton Lemon Festival: Facts and Figures

  • 20 days-long Festival
  • 240,000 spectators each year
  • 1928: 1st exhibition of flowers and citrus fruit in the gardens of the Riviera Palace
  • 1934: 1st edition in 1934 of the Fête du Citron
  • 1st edition of the carnival-style event in 1935
  • Each year has had its own theme since 1955
  • Over 750,000 elastic bands for attaching the citrus fruit
  • 140 tonnes of citrus fruit for the gardens and floats
  • 8 kms of synthetic garlands
  • 10 floats covered with citrus fruit parade the Promenade du Soleil
  • 13 decorated displays in the gardens

And the festival has its own mascot: John Lemon!

In Menton, it's all about lemon! © Office de Tourisme de Menton

John Lemon in Menton! © Office de Tourisme de Menton

Warning! Things you should know for safety reasons!

There are a number of things you should know before entering the gardens or attending the parades.

You can’t bring with you:

  • your dear pets (dog, cat, golden fish!)
  • large suitcases or bags 
  • weapons, including artificial weapons
  • crackers and fireworks
  • glass and metal containers (bring plastic water bottles with you!)
  • coil bomb
  • roller skates, skate board…
  • blunt, sharp or pointed objects
  • lastly, don’t come with disguises that may lead to confusion!!

I know this makes common sense but it always a good reminder!

The 4 not-to-miss events during the Menton Lemon Festival

During the Menton Lemon Festival, make sure you attend its four main events:

  • The Exhibition of citrus pattern (Exposition des Motifs d’Agrumes)
  • The Gardens of Lights (Jardins de Lumières)
  • The Golden Fruit Parade (Corso des Fruits d’Or)
  • The Night-Time Parade (Corso Nocturne)

Here’s a snapshot of what to expect… with links to buy your tickets.


The exhibition of citrus patterns (Biovès Gardens)

The long and narrow Biovès Gardens next to the casino are walled off for the occasion. It features an impressive display of large wire-framed structures and sculptures built from thousands of citrus fruit (lemons, grapefruit and oranges). This dazzling display of sunshine colours requires nearly 15 tonnes of fruit and thousands of hours of creation and handling.

Menton Lemon Festival @dvoevnore via Twenty20

In the Biovès Gardens @dvoevnore via Twenty20

Menton Lemon Festival © Bohyunlee - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Menton Lemon Festival © Bohyunlee – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Menton Lemon Festival © Bohyunlee - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Menton Lemon Festival © Bohyunlee – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Menton Lemon Festival @dvoevnore via Twenty20

The citrus exhibition in the Biovès gardens @dvoevnore via Twenty20

Menton Lemon Festival 03 © Bohyunlee - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Menton Lemon Festival © Bohyunlee – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Menton Lemon Festival 2013 © Perline - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Menton Lemon Festival 2013 © Perline – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Menton Lemon Festival © Ville de Menton

French history at the Menton Lemon Festival © Ville de Menton

The gardens are open from Monday to Saturday from 10am to 6pm and on Sundays from 9am to 6pm. Admission is €12 for adults (2020) with concessions applicable to groups and children. More info


The Gardens of Lights

At night time, the citrus structures at the Biovès Gardens are lit up to create a magical atmosphere with the addition of unusual sounds.

Admission is €15 for adults (2020) with concessions applicable to groups and children. This event only takes place on three nights (15, 21 and 28 Feb in 2020, from 8.30 pm to 10.30 pm). More info


The Golden Fruit Parades

Each Sunday afternoon, colourful citrus fruit floats parade along the pebbly beachfront of Promenade du Soleil, accompanied by dancers, folk bands, fanfares and confetti.

In 2020 the day-time parade takes place on Sundays 16th February, 23rd February and 1 March from 2.30 to 4 pm along the Promenade du Soleil. Buy your tickets here.


The night-time Parades

For two nights only the Promenade du Soleil welcomes a colourful and exuberant parade.

The street festival features floats loaded with citrus fruit, brass bands, orchestras, folk groups, and dancers.

The night-time parade closes with a fireworks display at 10.30pm.

The Lemon night parade © Ville de Menton

The Lemon night parade © Ville de Menton

The night parade © Ville de Menton

A great party on the Promenade du Soleil! © Ville de Menton

The night parade © Ville de Menton

The night parade © Ville de Menton

Menton Lemon Festival © Ville de Menton

During the Night Parade of the Lemon Festival © Ville de Menton

Menton Lemon Festival © Ville de Menton

The fantastic night parade © Ville de Menton

Menton Lemon Festival © Ville de Menton

The floats of the night parade © Ville de Menton

In 2020 the night-time parade takes place on Thursdays 20 February and 27 February at 9 pm along the Promenade du Soleil. Buy your tickets here.


The lemon from Menton

Menton, French Riviera © Vinbaron - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Menton, French Riviera © Vinbaron – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The little town of Menton, France is located 30 km east of Nice where steep mountain cliffs and terraces slope dramatically to the Mediterranean Sea. The location of Menton is unique in France: the last coastal town before the Italian border is protected from the cold winds of the Alps by the surrounding mountains and therefore enjoys the warmest winter in the South of France (Corsica excepted) with more than 300 days of sunshine per year. This explains why this is the only place in metropolitan France where lemons are grown.

Fresh Lemons @sea_wave via Envato

Fresh Lemons @sea_wave via Envato

Until the 1930s, Menton and the Maritime Alps region were Europe’s largest lemon producers. The local production went into decline until recently, when about 15 citrus growers preserved the tradition. Today, some 5,000 trees produce more than 150 tonnes of lemons yearly in Menton and the neighbouring communes of Roquebrune, Sainte-Agnès and Castellar.

Different lemon varieties

The lemon varieties which grow in Menton have names such as Santa Theresa, Villafranca and Eureka. According to the Tourist Office, the shape of a Menton lemon is “more elliptical than round with a bright yellow colour. It is also characterised by generous branches bearing up to fifteen fruits, while there are less than five to a branch on most lemon trees. The research together with the INRA reveals that the lemons grown in the Menton region are rich in acid and essence, with a high essential oil content in the peel”.

Lemons from Menton © Perline - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Lemons from Menton © Perline – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Menton is therefore famous for its lemon tart (tarte au citron) and many shops in the old part of town sell lemon-related products: gingerbread, almond paste, boiled sweets, wine, vinegar, jam, soaps, candles and perfume…

Lemon Tart © French Moments

Home made Lemon Tart © French Moments

The Menton lemon is used by many great chefs who appreciate its flavour: Ducasse, Robuchon, and Bocuse.

Are all lemons used in the festival from Menton?

The lemons that are used in structures and floats during the festival have not grown in Menton but in Spain.

In fact the production of Menton lemons is labelled IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée or Protected Geographical Indication). As the production is quite exclusive it would be a shame to use such great produce in the carnival… in addition there wouldn’t be enough lemons anyway to cater for the event!

What happens to the lemons after the festival?

After the end of the festival the 140 tonnes of lemons, citrus fruits and flowers used in the structures and floats are sorted manually to be sold at a special Sunday market for the price of €1,50 / 3 kg (in 2018).


About Menton, the “Pearl of France”

Menton is nicknamed the “Pearl of France”. Located at the border with Italy and 30 km from Nice, the little town (pop. 30,000) is part of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.

Menton French Riviera General View © MOSSOT - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Menton French Riviera General View © MOSSOT – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons


Find out more about Menton, France


How to get to the Menton Lemon Festival

Menton is a very accessible destination, between Nice and Genova, Italy.

TER at Menton Railway Station [public domain]

TER at Menton Railway Station [public domain]

Take the car!

Menton is the last French town before the Italian border. It is accessible from Nice by the A8 motorway (exit number 59) or by following the Corniche Roads through Monaco (30km).

Land in Nice!

The closest airport is Nice-Côte d’Azur (42kms) which is France’s second airport after Paris. Many international flights land here.

Catch the train!

Menton is easily accessible by train from Nice and Italy. The railway station in Menton is 200m from the Biovès Gardens. Trains take 30 minutes from Nice and 2h30 from Genova (Italy). TGV (high-speed trains) also connect Menton to Paris.


Menton Lemon Festival: English-French Vocabulary

Menton Lemon Festival © Nicolas sartore - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Lemon exhibition in Menton © Nicolas sartore – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

(f) for féminin, (m) for masculin, (adj) for adjective and (v) for verbs

  • carnival = carnaval (m)
  • citrus fruit = agrume (m)
  • Festival = festival (m), fête (f)
  • fireworks = feu d’artifice (m)
  • float = char (m)
  • French Riviera = Côte d’Azur (f)
  • garden = jardin (m)
  • Italy = Italie (f)
  • lemon = citron (m)
  • lemon tart = tarte au citron (f)
  • Mediterranean Sea = Mer Méditerranée (f)
  • parade = défilé (m)
  • town = ville (f)

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

2 Comments

    • Excellent question, thank you for asking! I updated the article with the answer:
      “After the end of the festival the 140 tonnes of lemons, citrus fruits and flowers used in the structures and floats are sorted manually to be sold at a special Sunday market for the price of €1,50 / 3 kg (in 2018).” 🙂

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