Feeling Fruity in France

February 15, 2017

The biggest producer of citrus fruits on the continent, Menton, a small town in the French Riviera, is already a town of energetic colour, whether that’s the turquoise waters, piercing blue sky, or 316 annual days of sunshine. The tall buildings, too, reflect the luminosity of the citrus fruits in their sherbet coloured walls and shutters. However, once a year a citrus celebration takes over the city and the vibrant beauty of this festival is breath-taking.

Menton’s Lemon Festival takes place annually in the latter fortnight of February. It is a fantastic exhibition of the region’s title as largest producer of citrus fruits in Europe. 145 tons of citrus fruits attract 240,000 visitors as 300 professionals organise this amazing event.

With biblical roots, the importance of the lemon tree to the quaint Riviera town of Menton stems from the tale told by the townsfolk. Legend has it that, after expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Eve had stolen a lemon and, convinced by Adam’s pleadings to get rid of it, buried the lemon in the beautiful Bay of Garavan. From this lemon sprung Menton and the internationally renowned citrus fruits that fall from its trees.

The festival, which began in 1933, takes over the town for a few short weeks. The Biovès Gardens, a strip of landscape running up from the seafront into the city centre, is used to display an array of sculptures, made entirely of citrus fruits. The sculptures can reach up to 10 metres or more in height, past sculptures include castles, hot air balloons and bright orange elephants. The reflections of the colours remind one of holding a buttercup under your chin as a child, but to a much grander scale as the entire avenue is made more radiant.

Visiting this garden during the day is one thing, but as the sun sets, the Garden of Lights comes to life. The sculptures are lit up in a magnificent multi-coloured display. The lights are even used to alter the perspective of the sculptures, as if you were in a visually-distorting hall of mirrors. Unusual, yes, but an absolute feast for the eyes.

Each Sunday during the festival, which runs 11 February until 1 March this year, is the huge Golden Fruit parade. The magnificent event winds through the narrow cobbled lanes before it all comes together at the beach. There’s confetti, performers, brass bands and folk groups as well as spectacular floats. Like the sculptures, the floats are comprised of thousands of citrus fruits and the outfits of the performers are suggestive of Rio’s Carnival. The atmosphere is captivating, it’s hard to imagine that at all other times of the year this is a rather quiet town, surrounded by hills and greenery.

To bring the celebrations to an even greater climax is the nocturnal parade, the explosive fireworks coincide with the amazing dynamism of the performers and the overpowering colour of the citrus fruits becomes only more penetrating under a veil of darkness.

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