The 86th Lemon Festival in Menton embraces “Fantastic worlds” as this year’s theme15-02-2019
Fantastic worlds: enough to set hearts racing in Menton at this year’s annual Lemon Festival.
With endless scope for monumental displays, multi-coloured floral carpets, dances and songs; not to mention a whole host of new attractions for 2019.
The history of the Lemon Festival
In 1929, a local hotelier came up with the idea of organising a flower and citrus fruit show in the Hotel Riviera gardens. Its success was such that the following year the festival poured into the streets, and trailers planted with oranges and lemon bushes glided through the town. The local powers that be, keen to promote Menton’s tourism, looked to inject a splash of local colour to the parade, and the rest is history. The Fete du Citron® – its official French title – was officially created in 1934. Two years later, the first citrus and flower festival opened in the town’s Biovès gardens. Francois Ferrié was responsible for designing the orange and lemon laden floats and displays in the gardens. It was an overriding success that has been repeated year on year.
The Riviera’s popular festival
Photos : @ninachamla
Menton’s Fete du Citron attracts more than 250,000 spectators from around the world to admire the floats and huge sculptures decorated entirely with oranges and lemons. Visitors also come to watch the famous procession of ten floats animated with fanfares and entertainers. Up there with the world’s greatest street carnivals. Every year, around fifteen giant sculptures made of oranges and lemons are lovingly created on a set theme. Lemons are attached to wire netting covering the floats, held securely in place with elastic. To fully comprehend the scale of the event, it takes 30kg of fruit – almost 200 lemons and oranges – to cover one square metre of wire netting. An average total of 500,000 elastic bands and more than 145 tonnes of fruit will ensure the magic permeates throughout the town.
On the evening of the second day’s parade or “corso”, Menton locals dabble in a spot of “Moucouleti” or “Moccoletti” tradition, which are small candles spectators carry in their hands. The game involves keeping your candle lit, while trying to blow out everyone else’s! This playful ploy is often a pretext for romantic intentions, as Pierre Massena explains. “Young men were expected to use all their dexterity to blow out the young ladies’ candles, which they held high above their heads.” Once the deed done, the men were allowed to relight the candle and would receive a kiss in return.
Several varieties of lemon are grown around Menton, including Santa Theresa, Villafranca and Euréka. The fruit is more elliptical than round, and bright yellow in colour. It is also known for its high-yielding branches. Each capable of producing as many as fifteen fruit, compared to the average five. Lemons from Menton are high in acidity and flavour. While the skin contains large quantities of essential oils. Around fifteen specialist citrus growers in Menton, Roquebrune, Saint-Agnes and Castellar produce some 100 tonnes every year. Menton lemons have been awarded the much-coveted protected geographical status (PGI), recognising their distinctive character and quality. For Menton, the citrus fruit has become an important element in its history and heritage. Menton lemons are essentially recognised for their intense perfume and release intense aromas of fresh citronella.
A global reputation
Menton lemons are highly prized – for the quality and perfume of their zest and their lemon juice – by leading chefs such as Alain Ducasse at « Louis XV » in Monaco, Christian Moine at Montparnasse 25, Alain Llorca at Moulin de Mougins, Paul Bocuse and the Troisgros brothers and Philippe Givre at Fauchon. Not to mention luxury hotels including the Ritz, Meurice, Ledoyen, and also les Crayères in Reims. Acclaimed French chef Joël Robuchon describes the lemon’s “unique perfume, delicately zesty flavour and highly perfumed skin.” The unique qualities of Menton lemons also make them a popular ingredient in a range of produce such as cakes, jams, lemon liqueur and flavoured olive oil.