One of the stereotypes about the French that is actually true is their passion for life, or joie de vivre, as the French themselves would say. There’s no occasion too small, no historical figure too obscure, no food so insignificant that it doesn’t qualify as a reason to celebrate. One of the most spectacular celebrations of this kind is the Fête du Citron (or Lemon Festival), held every February in the seaside city of Menton.
During this two-week event, which is known as the Carnival of the Mediterranean, the virtues of the simple citrus fruit are celebrated with citrus monuments and life-sized scenes (like this one of New Orleans, pictured at right) as well as a parade of floats constructed using oranges, lemons, grapefruit and limes. 200,000 visitors descend on Menton during the festival to see the sights, cheer on the parade and taste the fare at the many stalls offering everything from fresh orange juice and lemonade to crepes, pies, jam, candy, liqueur and even olive oil made with citrus fruits. There are also bath and body products and candles with a citrus scent to enjoy at home.
Why citrus fruit? Why here? Menton is home to a micro-climate that allows its delicate lemon and orange trees to bear fruit year-round. As the story goes, in 1929 a hotelier tired of the February tourism slump had the bright idea of organizing an elaborate display of flowers and citrus fruit in Menton’s public garden to attract out-of-towners. It was such a runaway success that the Fête du Citron is now celebrating its 75th year as an offical celebration.
As stunning as this was to witness, I couldn’t stop thinking about what a waste of lovely fruit it was. And no one we asked seemed to know what happened to all the fruit when the festivites were over, but “fed to animals” was a popular guess. This festival is definitely worth a visit if you are ever in southern France in February, though! More pictures are at right, under “Photos.”