The famous lemon festival of Menton (Fête du Citron) is a “homegrown” event organised in its entirety by Menton Town Council. Every year, the festival attracts 240,000 visitors from France and abroad, in just a fortnight of celebrations.
From the citrus-fruit structures reaching heights of several metres, down to the tiniest detail in the town’s flowerbeds, the entire council staff plays a part in the Fête du Citron preparations. It is also sometimes called Carnaval de Menton (Carnival of Menton).
The festival celebrates the annual production of speciality lemons and other citrus fruit in Menton. All the floats and sculptures present at the carnival are created from lemons and oranges.
The celebration takes place every year in mid-February. It has been recognised by the Ministry of Culture of France and entered into the inventory of intangible cultural heritage in 2019.
Besides requiring substantial Council funding, which in normal times is offset by the festival’s takings, the arrangements have to begin a long time ahead of the event, if only for the supply of citrus fruit.
In 1875, hoteliers proposed to the municipality to create a carnival parade to enliven the city in winter. As early as 1876, the event attracted locals and wealthy winter visitors. At the time, it was fashionable for the wealthy to come and spend the winter months in the mild climate of the French Riviera. Kings, princes, and artists flocked to palaces in the city or had villas built there.
The 1882 edition of the carnival was notably attended by Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and it culminated with a fireworks display over Garavan Bay. The Carnival of Menton bears some similarities to its cousin from neighbouring Nice: a parade of large heads, confetti streams, flower battles, Mardi Gras celebration, and finally, the burning in effigy of the "Majesty of the Carnival". The feasts which surround the celebration mark the period before Lent.
In 1928, Menton was the main producer of lemons on the European continent. A hotelier had the idea of organizing a private exhibition of flowers and citrus fruits in the gardens of the Riviera Hotel. The event's success was such that the following year, the municipality took up the idea on its own. The name "Fête du Citron" was born in 1934. The Lemon Festival combines traditional carnival events with a celebration of Menton's reputation as Europe's lemon capital. Today, Menton is not known for the quantity of lemons it produces but rather their quality, as they are of a speciality kind sought after by chefs from across the region.
The Fête du Citron is the second largest public winter event on the French Riviera after the Nice Carnival.
Learn more about the Lemon Festival in Menton