Winter is the time to visit Menton, a delightful, historic town nestling between the mountains and the sea at the far end of the French Riviera, just a stone’s throw from the Italian border. Its exceptionally temperate climate makes it the ideal place to grow citrus fruit, especially lemons, and every year that fact is celebrated by the amazing “Fête du Citron”.
2014 marks the 81st anniversary of the festival, which has lost nothing of its zest despite its advancing years. From mid-February to early March, the streets and gardens of the town resonate to the warm, vibrant colour of lemons and oranges under an azure Mediterranean sky while citrus aromas and sounds of carnival fill the air.
A bit of history
Menton is no stranger to British visitors. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the town was the winter retreat of the British aristocracy including Queen Victoria herself who visited in 1882, an occasion commemorated by a rather grand monument in the square which bears her name. This was Menton’s heyday as it basked in the glory of its illustrious tourists and of its reputation as Europe’s biggest producer of succulent lemons.
The first large, public display of fruit and flowers was held in 1929 in the garden of the Hotel Riviera and proved such a success that it became an annual fixture and, in 1933, was given its current name of “Fête du Citron”. Soon the static displays were complemented by street entertainments and carnival floats, and since the mid-1950s each year has been devoted to a particular theme.
In recent times, both the garden displays and carnival floats have got progressively grander and more impressive, and 2014 will be no exception, taking as its theme Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”.
Some 140 tonnes of oranges and lemons will be used in the construction of the fantastical models and floats, hopefully leaving enough for visitors wishing to sip a citron pressé in a pavement café.
The juicy bit
It has to be said that while the “Fête du Citron” has gone from strength to strength, lemon production itself went into decline, a trend which was fortunately reversed in the 1990s when some 5000 new trees were planted in the region.
The lemons themselves are of several different types, elliptical in shape rather than round and are particularly bright yellow in colour. Locals claim that they have an exquisite and immediately discernible aroma making them ideal for use in a wide range of dishes as well as for candied peel.
If your knowledge of lemons is limited to the addition of its peel to a G&T, then head to Menton to discover the whole story. P.M.
For more information on the Fête au Citron visit www.fete-du-citron.com
French Travel Service offers tailor-made holidays all year round in Menton including travel by Eurostar and TGV and hotel accommodation. If you can’t go in February but would like to visit Menton a bit later in the year, FTS now offers a self-catering option at the aptly named Résidence Les Citronniers. Full information at www.F-T-S.co.uk, please quote The Foody Traveller when booking.
Images copyright: Office de tourisme Menton – www.tourisme-menton.fr