Flowers, Fruit and Fantasy on the Riviera

Originally posted on & updated on 12th March, 2024

Beth’s article for this month highlights the most popular events and festivals on the French Riviera during the early part of the year. This region is quite different from her estate and animal sanctuary in Occitanie. Interestingly, I heard dogs tend to be smaller on the Cote d’Azur…

“If you wondered whether the first few months of the year are quiet here in France, I promise they aren’t. The Riviera is one of those areas that starts the year in style and parties all year long. Here are some of the early high points.  

The Mimosa Festival

The Var countryside lights up from January to March as glorious scents fill the air. This is the flowering season for mimosa trees, a plant with stunning yellow flowers. They were introduced to the area during the 1850s and flourished in their thousands.

The Mimosas’ abundance and beauty are locally celebrated at festivals during the flowering periods. One of the most famous is in Mandelieu-la-Napoule, nestled beside the Mediterranean Sea.

For four days in mid-February, Mandelieu dresses up in yellow. Stunning displays with themed floats take to the parades accompanied by breathtaking sideshows. This year, the festival began with a children’s carnival jam-packed with razzmatazz and a costume competition.

A host of activities followed, including themed markets, food events, exhibitions, and local forest walks, along with these featured highlights:

  • Nightly shows at La Napoule
  • Election of the Mimosa Queen at the Centre Expo Congrès
  • Evening parades with lights and fanfares
  • Grand Corso Fleuri on the seaside promenade

Heading towards Italy, there’s a little town with big ideas regarding a specific fruit.  

La Fête du Citron in Menton

Menton on the French Riviera is sandwiched between Monaco and the Italian border. This ancient town is protected in the north by the soaring Alps and lapped by the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Benefitting from a subtropical microclimate, Menton’s citizens say ‘Pah!’ to chilly winters.

The town is a gem renowned for its architecture, fine beaches, horticulture and a particular fruit: the lemon – its emblem. There’s even a beguiling legend that binds them:

‘Eve, driven out of the earthly paradise with Adam, took away a golden fruit…

Adam, fearing divine wrath, asked her to throw away this fruit. After crossing mountains, valleys and plains, they saw Garavan Bay. The gulf, the mild climate, the luxuriant vegetation…everything reminded Eve of the sweetness of Eden.

She buried the lemon there. In this place, a little paradise was born, Menton…’

Since 1934, Menton has held their Fête du Citron (Lemon Festival), celebrating its unique varieties of lemons and the trades that form its cultural heritage. Today, the two-week festival is hugely popular, attracting more than 200,000 visitors.

Crowds line the Promenade du Soleil as floats bristling with lemons pass, flanked by dancers, orchestras and folk groups. Numerous excursions, foodie experiences and other events take place, including these favourites:

  • A behind-the-scenes tour to learn about preparations for the Lemon Festival and those fabulous floats.
  • Heaven for horticulturalists: visitors tour one of the seven Maison Gannac private orchards. Hosted by an orchard owner, participants learn about their coveted citrus fruits.
  • An artist’s dream: a drawing workshop is held in the Municipal Nursery (La Casetta). Inspiration comes easily here. After all, this lemon nursery commands a stunning panoramic view of Menton.
  • Visiting La Casetta mature orchard, networked with paths overlooking the Mediterranean is a magical experience. The municipal orchard has over three hundred trees, with lemon and other citrus species.
  • Passionate about growing citrus fruits? Philippe provides expert advice on growing, pruning and cultivating Rutaceae family plants.

During this period, partying continues along the coast in Nice.

The Nice Carnival

It’s one of the largest of its type in the world. Billed as the premier international carnival in France, Nice bursts with life in February. Celebrating its 151st event, following tradition, the opening saw the giant Carnival King accept the city keys before taking his place at the parade head. This heralded a host of spectacular revelries with these headline activities:

  • Themed parades run day and night with dance troupes, music, and flower parades. (A whopping 100,000 flowers are given to visitors.)
  • Attendees don masks and enjoy a Night at the Opera with a quirky difference.
  • Families flock to the Creative Workshops run in the Carnival Village.
  • Party-goers love K-Pop Night, which celebrates Korean music, food, and fun.
  • The famous Frenchy Brunch offers food for all palates, music, pétanque and funfair attractions.

There’s no doubt about it. The Nice Carnival is a dazzling extravaganza.

There’s barely a pause for breath before the Riviera lifts a glass to its next world-class event.

Film Festival de Cannes

It all happens in Cannes, the town that gracefully curves around a glorious beach. From early May, its bay fills with luxury yachts. They arrive in their droves and jets. Beautiful people, stars and wannabes fill sumptuous hotels, shop in designer boutiques and sashay along the promenades. This year, Cannes will raise its curtain with its 77th International Cannes Film Festival.

The event recognises artistic achievement and has become an iconic meeting place for the movers and shakers in the film industry. Deals are done here, ideas are shared, and movies are screened.  

The festival is reserved for film industry professionals and associated media representatives, but there’s still plenty for fans to see. Here are a few ideas:

  • Join the crowds and take photos of stars walking the Palais des Festivals red carpet.
  • Stroll down the emblematic Croisette boulevard, where stunning natural sights meld with festival VIPs. You’ll often see celebrities posing for their adoring fans.
  • ‘Fait le Mur’. The photographs of stars form giant posters on walls and banners in the Rue d’Antibes and other streets, offering passers-by a slice of glamour.
  • Cult films and classics are screened at nightfall on the Macé beach close to the Palais des Festivals. The setting and experience are unforgettable.

So, if you fancy shaking off those winter blues with a boost of vibrant energy, you’ll know where to come next year. Whether it’s a celebration of nature, food, culture or fun, these early months see the Riviera welcoming all-comers with open arms.

Thanks, as always, Beth; it’s been too long since we’ve been to one of those “delicious tables” on the hill in le vieux Cannes or the old narrow streets of Nice. For more stories about rural living in France, discover Beth’s website. She’s got a new book out this spring.

Back to articles