For over 90 years, the Fête du Citron in Menton, has been one of the major winter events on the French Riviera, rivalled only by the Carnival of Nice. Despite having been around here now for the best part of 30 years, until now I had never bothered to go to visit it, so this week I decided to take advantage of the fact that I have more spare time than I have had over the last 7 years to check it out and I really loved it: the friendly vibes, the bright colours, the amazing creativity, the positive energy radiating from the town, clearly the fruit (pardon the pun) of thousands of hours of hard work.
This article will first explain the background of the festival and how it’s organised, then I’ll share some photos from my recent visit for you to get a general feel of it and I’ll finally finish up with some practical information on how to make the most of your visit and avoid some easily avoidable logistical mishaps.
The “winter” weather this February has been exceptionally mild and beautiful on the French Riviera, especially compared to this time last year when it snowed at quite low altitudes and I had to go to Belgrade where it was -17C… After my Monday morning visit to the Fête du Citron in Menton, I just took an hour to wander around and soak in the sunshine, it was pretty amazing and everyone else in the town seemed to agree, given how full the terraces were, long may this weather continue!
The lovely town of Menton, at the border between France and Italy, is one of the hotspots of the Riviera in February, thanks to the Fête du Citron festival for lemons and oranges (which explains the logo of this blog). I’ll try to go and visit it, for the first time ever, next week before I travel to Asia for some work so watch this space – but in the meantime, this beautiful town has a huge amount to offer, between its great microclimate, the colourful houses, the Cocteau museum and simply the great vibes you can feel just from walking through the streets of the old town! The cliff in this photo marks the border with Italy by the way… Go and explore the delights of the city with the info contained in my article!
The geographical proximity to Italy means that you can get very good pizza and pasta on the French Riviera, almost as good as the real thing… This excellent quattro formaggi totally hit the spot on a chilly February Sunday, I tasted it at the very pleasant Restaurant Quai 29 just opposite the market and close to the sea, I can definitely recommend it as they were nice and generous with the gorgonzola which some restaurants are quite skimpy on!
Forget the bling-fest that is normally associated with the French Riviera. I much prefer the down to earth way of life that has made this area thrive from generation to generation… And what better way to discover this than by walking through a typical market where the locals buy fresh produce that ensures that the best products end up on their dinner tables? This weekend I visited Menton and had a lovely walk through the local market, a great way to get a feel of the real French Riviera!
It’s the start of the week and I’m already thinking of escaping! Actually, one of the great advantages of the French Riviera is that it’s really easy to escape plenty of wonderful places within a short drive, especially in Italy, something I take advantage of a lot. Each time I drive down the motorway, past Menton, into this tunnel and emerge from the tunnel into Italy, I definitely feel like I’m experiencing the dolce vita as one can immediately feel the change of vibe and scenery, even on the motorway. I recall in the 1980s when I came here on holiday crossing the border by train, having a passport check and then changing money from French francs into lira – so much nicer no longer to have all that hassle, I hope that we don’t go back on this in the future as from a purely practical perspective, a united Europe is brilliant!
The summer season is fully upon us and the French Riviera is filling up with tourists: this means fireworks, music festivals, farniente beach time and outdoor dinners, amongst plenty of other activities, so here’s a quick guide on how to enjoy a fun-filled week here.
Of course, plenty of visitors just want to relax and enjoy days at the beach, but feel free to pick and mix according to your centres of interest. These day-long excursions are ideal if undertaken from Nice, located bang in the centre of the French Riviera, but plenty of them are also feasible if you are based further down the coast, either east or west, as long as you have access to the main railway line.
The Old Town of Menton viewed from the Bastion and the waterfront
When heading down the coast from Nice towards Italy, the last town you will encounter before crossing the border is beautiful Menton. Located in a stunning setting between the Mediterranean and the Southern Alps, the town has a distinct subtropical microclimate that keeps it warm and sunny most of the year and the wonderful old world atmosphere that still pervades the place makes it well worth a stopover if you are heading to Italy or wish to combine it with a trip to the hilltop villages of Gorbio, Sainte Agnes or Roquebrune Village.
Like in most towns of the French Riviera, there honestly isn’t that much to do in terms of pure sightseeing in Menton, but I’d advise you to take a couple of hours to wander around the old town, enjoy the delights of the waterfront, have a melancholy trip around the Old Castle cemetery and discover the Cocteau museum celebrating this multi-talented artist, all in a setting that already provides a taste of Italy with its warm colours, fresh air and greenery.