What is Fête du Citron? Everything you need to know about Menton’s unique lemon festival

Menton’s citrus-loving festival celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. Here’s everything you need to know…

Jessica Reid
15 February 2024

Sitting along France’s stunning Côte d’Azur close to the Italian border, pastel-coloured Menton is best known to draw in glamorous holidaymakers seeking out sun-soaked, palm-lined beaches and swanky restaurants during the summer. But winter attracts a different crowd, eager to experience one of the most unique carnival events in the world.

Fête du Citron celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2024. Here, we tell you everything you need to know about the fascinating and flamboyant festival, from what to expect to the history behind this lemon-loving festival…

What is Fête du Citron?

Fête du Citron, perhaps more commonly known as Menton Lemon Festival, is a unique carnival event held in the town of Menton along the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera). The event attracts more than 200,000 visitors annually, and it might not come as a surprise, but it has a particular focus on lemons! The festival has a different them every year, with past themes including: ‘The Lemon and the Sea’ (1971), ‘A Walk Through Menton’s History’ (1978), ‘Wonders of the World’ (1988) and ‘Menton Goes to the Movies’ (2010). The theme for 2024 is ‘From Olympia to Menton’, in celebration of the French capital hosting the Olympic Games.

When does Fête du Citron take place?

Those performing in the carnival often dress up in bright yellow costumes (Shutterstock)

Like most carnivals, Fête du Citron takes place in mid-February to early March, marking the end of winter and the welcoming of spring. It takes place across approximately 15 days.

What happens at Fête du Citron?

A castle constructed of lemons and oranges for Menton’s Lemon Festival (Shutterstock)

There’s no doubt that one of the main highlights of Fête du Citron is its extraordinary exhibition of lemon and orange sculptures, displayed in the city’s central Biovès gardens. Reaching up to 10 metres in height, some of the artistic designs are constructed with more than 15 tonnes of citrus fruit, and in the past have depicted dragons, elephants and palaces.

The festival comes to life with the processions through Menton’s streets. On specific evenings, parades of brass bands, folk music performers, orchestras and dancers make their way down the Promenade du Soleil, accompanied by enormous citrus floats. The night then ends with a spectacular firework display.

If you want to admire the fruit floats in the daylight, a similar parade takes place each Sunday afternoon of the festival. Golden parades lines the waterfront, with bright (often yellow) carnival costumes and confetti cannons, along with plenty of music and dancing of course. It’s recommended to arrive in Menton in the morning due to the popularity of the event and the closing of roads.

The lemon is celebrated throughout the two-week-long event, with activities such as craft fairs, food and art workshops, historic tours, and lemon-themed hikes to get involved with. Coinciding with the event is also an Orchid Festival, allowing you to escape the party atmosphere for a more soothing experience.

What’s the history behind Fête du Citron?

A street band performs during Menton Lemon Festival’s Golden Parade (Alamy)

Although the festival is celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2024, its origins date back further. In the 1890s, hoteliers in Menton were considering ways to boost the French Riviera’s appeal during the winter months. Inspired by nearby Nice carnival, they proposed a similar parade, and in 1896, the first version of Menton’s festival took place.

So, where did the lemons come from?

Menton was once the Europe’s leading lemon growing region (Shutterstock)

Menton was reported to be Europe’s number-one lemon producing region in 1928. In celebration of this, Hôtel Riviera decided to showcase flowers and citrus fruits in the gardens of their hotel. It was a roaring success, and the following year the fruit show was transferred to the streets of Menton, with market carts decorated in oranges and lemons. In efforts to increase tourism, the town decided to combine its festival with the fruit displays to create a unique event, and in 1934, the inaugural Fête du Citron was held. A year later, the first exhibition of citrus sculptures was created and displayed in Biovès gardens, a tradition continued to this day.

What else is there to do in Menton?

Basilique Saint-Michel in Menton (Alamy)

Temperatures reach approximately 12-14°C in February, making it ideal weather for mooching around Menton’s medieval old town with its 18th-century Basilique Saint-Michel. For a museum fix, a visit to the Jean Cocteau Museum is a must, an exhibition space dedicated to the 20th-century visual artist and poet, Meanwhile, the Musée de Préhistoire Régionale was Menton’s first museum created in 1878, displaying archaeological findings that explore the prehistoric lifestyle of people in the Alpes-Maritimes region. If you’re visiting during one of Menton’s 316 days of sunshine, make sure to take a stroll around the scenic Serre de la Madone Garden, originally sculpted more than 100 years ago by Major Lawrence Johnston, and home to rare, subtropical plant life.

For more information on Fête du Citron, go to fete-du-citron.com

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