The Menton Lemon Festival: a great south of France short break

I was lucky enough to experience the 2018 Menton Lemon Festival – the “Fete du Citron”.  This was something I had wanted to do after visting the town the previous year.  

I did, however, wonder if it was worth travelling back for the Menton Lemon Festival. Would it be worth the effort? Would the early Spring weather ruin the experience?  Would it be a disappointment?

Read on for my thoughts on my weekend here…

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What is the Menton Lemon Festival?

The Menton Lemon Festival is an annual event held in the South of France over a two-week period in February and March.  

It’s a colourful, vibrant and fun event, involving over 140 tonnes of citrus fruit. So if you like France, quirky and unusual festivals, and of course, lemons, you’ll love this!

The Fete has been running since 1935. The 2020 Menton Lemon Festival is its 87th year. It has a different theme every year: 2018 was Bollywood.  

There is a programme of events that cover the fortnight’s festivities. However, as we were only visiting for a night, we chose to visit the Exposition des Motifs d’Agrumes and then watch the Sunday afternoon parade.

Where is the Menton Lemon Festival?

The Menton Lemon Festival takes place in the small town of Menton on the South of France’s Cote d’Azur.  

Known colloquially as The Pearl of France, its easy to see why. It’s a picturesque little town with small winding streets on which you’ll find an array of cafes and restaurants. It also has a small pretty seafront and promenade to wander along.

A view of the seafront in Menton
Menton

Menton is practically on the Italian border. So much so that you can actually walk into Italy. On our previous trip, we took the train to nearby San Remo, via Ventimiglia.

When is the 2020 Menton Lemon Festival?

The 2020 Menton Lemon Festival (Fete du Citron) will be held over a 15 day period from 15th February to 3rd March.

What happens during the Menton Lemon Festival?

There is always range of activities scheduled for the duration of the Menton Lemon Festival.  You can find a run down on the festival’s official website.

In 2020, these activities will include:

  • The Exhibition of Citrus Patterns: this runs throughout the Fete’s 2 week period
  • The Golden Fruit Parades: on 16th February, 23rd February and 1st March
  • Night-time parades: on 20th February, 27th February and 3rd March
  • The Garden of Lights: on 15th February, 21st February and 28th February
  • An arts and crafts fair and a festival of orchids: these also run throughout the whole festival

What did I enjoy about the Menton Lemon Festival?

For me, the colours, vibrancy and sheer life of festival was what I enjoyed most about the Menton Lemon Festival. And this is saying something given that the weather was not kind to us on the second day of our weekend here!

The Menton Lemon Festival’s Exhibition of Citrus Patterns

On our first day, we visited the festival’s Exhibition of Citrus Patterns (Exposition des Motifs D’Agrumes). This is an impressive display of what can only be described as “fruit monuments”.  It is laid out in the Bioves Gardens (near to Menton’s casino).

There is a fee to enter the gardens, which are enclosed from the surrounding streets by high walls.  This enclosure only adds to the sense of anticipation as you really don’t know what you might see when you get inside. 

The “monuments”

As this was my first visit to the festival, I had no idea what to expect. So, I was pretty blown away to come face-to-face with huge monuments soaring 20-30 feet into the air.  These were covered from top to toe with oranges and lemons.

A "monument" of oranges and lemon.  This is a monkey on top of a childlike house.  It is surrounded by palms trees
A monkey “monument” at the 2018 Lemon Festival

The use of this fruit is presumably a nod to the abundance of citrus fruit grown locally. This is the result of a warm micro-climate. (You’ll also see the fruit weighing down trees as you wander through the streets in the town).

The Bollywood theme meant that the Exhibition was filled with snakes, elephants, swans, tigers, monkeys and Buddas. These were all painstakingly assembled with hundreds, if not thousands, of oranges and lemons. 

A buddha "monument" - holding a flower in their hand
An exhibit at the 2018 Menton Lemon Festival
A large elephant made of citrus fruit.  It is standing to the left with it's trunk swinging out
A citrus fruit elephant
A person made out of fruit with an elephant head
A “monument” of oranges and lemons

There was even a Taj Mahal of fruit! 

A Taj Mahal made of oranges and lemons.  It has a walkway of citrus fruits and flowers leading up to it and a building on the right
A Taj Mahal of citrus fruit that I saw at the 2018 Menton Lemon Festival

Seeing these up close was a bit surreal – I’d never seen anything like it before. And I was staggered by the incredible effort that had clearly gone into each “monument”.

Having uttered this out loud, one local informed me that it takes about a month of work to design and assemble the entire set of displays and that it’s a real community effort. At the end of the fete, however, the locals benefit from being able to fill whole trolleys full of the citrus fruit. For just one euro! 

You can spend as long as you like wandering around the gardens taking in the sights. There are also a few stalls along the side where visitors can sample some of the local produce. This includes limoncello that is made from the local fruit.

This part of the Fete really has to be seen to be believed. But it really only whets the appetite for the Golden Fruits Parade.

The Golden Fruit Parade

The Golden Fruit Parade (Corsos des Fruits D’Or) will take place on 3 Sundays in 2020. We timed our visit to coincide with one of these in 2018.

The parade is essentially a carnival that takes place on the promenade in Menton. Again, there is a fee to enter the area as the route is cordoned off and you have to enter through designated entrances.

You can book to watch the parade from the tiered seating that is set up along the course.

The tiered seating along the parade route
The tiered seating along the parade route

Alternatively, you could find a cafe with outdoor seating, or stand amongst the crowds to get a closer view.

We opted to find a cafe. This was great: we had a close view of the route and plenty of opportunities for refreshment during the 90 minute parade.

However, I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t a moment where I wondered whether it would be worth the effort. The second day of our trip coincided with a blitz of icy February rain…

…Finding myself sitting on a wet plastic chair at the side of the road, huddling a cup of tea that had long ago lost its warmth, was not really massively appealing…! 

But I needn’t have worried. At 2.30pm sharp, loud music erupted and the floats taking part in Menton Lemon Festival parade began snaking their way through the town’s streets. The whole area was transformed from a drab grey into a colourful celebration of life.

Floats, inflatables and troupes…

The parade is a fantastic burst of energy, colour and sound. The floats were a colourful mix of more orange and lemon Bollywood-themed figures (more monkeys, swans and tigers!).

A float at the festival in 2018.  The casino is in the background
A float at the 2018 Menton Lemon festival
A swan flat made of oranges and lemon
A float at the parade

There were also dramatic towering inflatables. There was a King Kong and a humongous spider. This made me wonder whether they’d recycled some floats from the previous year’s Hollywood Movies theme….. 

A huge inflatable hong kong with crowds around it
A huge inflatable King Kong!
A huge blue and white striped inflatable spider
The huge inflatable spider at the parade
An inflatable elephant on the parade.  It is patterned and coloured
An inflatable elephant on the parade’s route

In between were troupes of colourful dancers and orchestral bands. These were waving large plumes of feathers or sparkly jewelled headdresses to the beat of Indian music and showering the crowd with confetti. 

Some colourful dancers in the parade at the 2018 Menton Lemon Festival.  There are blue and purples feathers from their back and heads
Colourful dancers in the 2018 Menton Lemon Festival parade
More colourful dancers with a band.  The clouds are pink and yellow and there are drummers
More colourful dancers with a band

The colours were phenomenal – yellows, oranges, blues and purples. And the buzzing atmosphere was a great antidote to the wind and rain.

By the end of parade, we were a little bit cold and sodden. But the vibrant colours, energising music, and excitement of the parade more than made up for that. And It was impossible to come away without feeling a bit uplifted.  

The Gardens of Lights

The Jardins de Lumières, or Gardens of Lights, is in operation on 3 evenings. During a 2 hour period you can experience the citrus fruit “monuments” in Exhibition of Citrus Patterns lit up.

Our visit unfortunately did not coincide with one of these evenings. However, I can imagine its a sight worth seeing and very atmospheric in the darkness of the winter months.

Night-time parades

The Corsos Nocturnes will take place on 2 Thursday evenings in the 2020 Menton Lemon Festival.

Again, we missed these in 2019, but I would have loved to see it, particularly as they end with fireworks.

How do I book tickets for the Menton Lemon Festival?

Tickets can be booked from the Festival’s website: click here.

At the time of writing, tickets aren’t yet appearing online, but check back regularly. Booking in advance would be worth it if you wanted, for example, a reserved place in the tiered seating to watch one of the parades.

Alternatively, you can book tickets on the day. We did this and had no problems whatsoever. My only tip would be to get to the parades early to bag a good viewpoint.

How much are tickets to the Menton Lemon Festival?

For some parts of the Fete, tickets are slightly cheaper if booked in advance.

In 2019, the cost was 25 euros for a reserved seat to see the parades, and 12 euros for a standing ticket (the latter was 10 euros if booked online).

Entry to the Exhibition of Citrus Patterns was 12 euros or 10 euros in advance. All tickets were 13 euros for the Garden of Lights.

You can also buy combined tickets to see both the Exhibition and a parade. Where a reserved seat for the parade was included, tickets were 32 euros on the day and 30 euros for advance in 2019. For a standing parade ticket and the Exhibition, prices were 20 euros and 17 euros, respectively.

How do I get to the Menton Lemon Festival?

Menton is based on France’s Cote D’Azur, just a short hop from the Italian border.

Flights

The nearest airport is in Nice, just under 40 km away. This is served by a number of UK airports (London, Bristol, Liverpool, Newcastle and Edinburgh).

There are also direct flights from a variety of airports in a range of different European countries. These direct flights include from Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Switzerland, Portugal, The Netherlands, Austria, Bulgaria, and Poland.

There are also flights to Nice from other destinations in France, including Paris, Lille, Lyon and destinations on the French island of Corsica. This makes it a great place for a twin-centre French holiday.

Trains

From Nice, you can catch a train to Menton from The Saint-Augustin station near to the airport. The journey takes between 40 minutes and an hour.

Buses

The 110 bus runs from Nice airport terminal to Menton. This takes around an hour.

As Menton is only a small town, both the bus and train terminals are right in the centre.

Taxis

You can also pre book taxis to the town and other parts of the Cote D’Azur. Click here for more information.

Other nearby places

Menton is also near enough to the Italian border to access it from there. Alternatively you could pop into Italy for the day on a visit here.

On our previous trip to Menton, we took the train to nearby San Remo, via Ventimiglia. The trip was around an hour and so was a perfect afternoon out for us.

Monaco is also only a 20-minute train ride away.

Other posts

You may also be interested in other posts I have published – on an annual flower festival in the Netherlands and other destinations in France:

I hope you enjoy these!

 

2 Responses
  1. It’s been my wish already a long time to visit la Fete de citron and
    specially to visit Menton as it seems such a sweet place. With the
    theme of Bollywood the exposition looks so amazing. Thanks for
    sharing. This is a place to discover France.

  2. Emma

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, Menton is a great place to visit – with or without the Fete. It’s on the border with Italy and a few minutes from Monaco on the train – so plenty to visit in the area. Emma

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