The Popular Lemon Festival in France

Since 1928, the Fête du Citron has been held each year in Menton, France, to celebrate the annual cultivation and harvest of specialty lemons and other local citrus. Also known as the Menton Lemon Festival or the Carnaval de Menton, the end-of-winter event attracts more than 240,000 spectators from around the world.

The Popular Lemon Festival in France

The festival is now the second-largest winter event to take place on the French Riviera, between the Carnival of Nice, which is the largest, and the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Monte Carlo. Each year the festival showcases a different theme.

The Popular Lemon Festival in France
The Importance of Lemons to Menton

A little town in France, Menton is situated about 19 miles (30 kilometers) east of Nice, along the Mediterranean Sea. Tucked in a pocket where the steep mountain cliffs and terraces steeply slope toward the sea, the location is unique to France. The surrounding mountains create Menton’s unique climate, protecting the town from the Alps’ cold winter winds, allowing residents to enjoy one of the warmest winters in the South of France.

The Popular Lemon Festival in France

Because of the warm winter climate, Menton is the only metropolitan French area where lemons and other citrus thrive and grow. Today, 15 growers harvest more than 150 tons annually from approximately 5,000 lemon trees in Menton and the nearby communities of Roquebrune, Sainte-Agnès, and Castellar.

Menton lemons are distinguished from other varieties by their unique taste as they are sweeter and less bitter than the classic type. They have a more oval shape versus the typical round shape and are bright yellow in color. The three varietals grown are Eureka, Santa Teresa, and Francavilla.

The Popular Lemon Festival in France
The Legend of Menton’s Lemon

Legend states the lemon trees of Menton should be credited to Eve as she fled the Garden of Eden. When expelled with Adam, Eve took with her a beautiful golden fruit. Fearful of divine wrath, Adam begged her to cast it aside, saving them from further punishment. Eve agreed on the condition she may leave it where she chose.

They traveled across mountains, down into valleys, and through plains looking for the perfect spot, to no avail. When they came upon the Bay of Garavan in Menton, the beauty of the bay, the mild climate, and the luxurious vegetation reminded Eve of paradise. She buried the lemon in the soil, and the town of Menton later sprang up in its place.

The Popular Lemon Festival in France
History of the Lemon Festival

In the late 1920s, the Hotel Riviera’s hotelier had the excellent thought of organizing an exhibition of flowers and citrus fruit in the hotel’s gardens to entertain winter guests who had come to enjoy the sunshine. The event was so successful that it moved into the streets the following year, with carts covered in lemons and oranges.

With the desire to develop local tourism, Menton decided to give more attention to this young event, and the Lemon Festival was born in 1934. The following year, the first carnival-style exhibition began in the Biovès Gardens.

The Popular Lemon Festival in France
Facts and Figures of the Menton Lemon Festival
The Popular Lemon Festival in France
4 Main Events

The Menton Lemon Festival consists of four main events, each with its own spectacular allure:

The Exhibition of Citrus Pattern (Exposition des Motifs d’Agrumes)

During the festival, the long, narrow Biovès Gardens adjacent to the Hotel Riviera are sectioned off to showcase an impressive display of large wire-framed structures and sculptures crafted from thousands of lemons, oranges, and grapefruits. This prominent display of sunshine colors takes nearly 3000,000 pounds of fruit and thousands of hours to create.

The Popular Lemon Festival in France
The Gardens of Lights (Jardins de Lumières)

Every night after dark, the citrus structures and sculptures displayed at the Biovès Gardens are lit in full glory to create a magical atmosphere, unlike the daytime ambiance. Stroll through the gardens under the moonlight between 8:30 and 10:30 p.m., taking in the splendor.

The Popular Lemon Festival in France
The Golden Fruit Parade (Corso des Fruits d’Or)

Each wintery Sunday afternoon during the Fête du Citron, 10 ornately decorated floats parade down the two-kilometer beachfront of the Mediterranean Sea, accompanied by fanfares, folk bands, dancers, and plenty of confetti.

The Popular Lemon Festival in France
The Night-Time Parade (Corso Nocturne)

On two nights during the Menton Lemon Festival, the Promenade du Soleil hosts a colorful and exuberant parade for the festival attendees. This street festival features the 10 floats loaded with citrus fruit, orchestras, brass bands, and folk groups and dancers. The after-dark extravaganza wraps up at 10:30 p.m. with a brilliant fireworks display for everyone to enjoy.

Tips for Attending the Carnaval de Menton
The Popular Lemon Festival in France