France offers a wide variety of unique and exciting festivals. Tourists from across the world flock to these events to experience regional traditions and get hands-on experience with under-the-radar aspects of French culture. One of the most unique festivals in France is the Menton Lemon Festival, locally called the Fête du Citron. It is a 20-day French festival in the town of Menton, located just east of Monaco, that celebrates the region’s specialty crop. It started in 1875 as a parade to liven up the winter months. Today it includes a wide variety of shows, arts and crafts workshops for all ages, cooking classes, garden tours, and more.
Attending the festival? Check out our basic French phrases guide with everything you need to make new friends, ask for directions, and more. And if you want to feel even more confident speaking French, prepare with Rosetta Stone’s immersive, bite-sized lessons.
Read on to learn about theMenton Lemon Festival’s history, the must-see events, and how to make the most of your experience.
How did the Menton Lemon Festival start?
The Menton Lemon Festival has a long and winding history. In 1875, a group of hotel owners pitched a carnival parade to the city to bring some excitement to the dreary winter months and attract tourists during the slow season. Before it became the Lemon Festival, it took inspiration from the neighboring Nice Carnival and other nearby Mardi Gras celebrations. During this time, it became popular for Europe’s upper crust to spend their winters in charming towns in the French Riviera, like Menton. In 1882, Queen Victoria even attended the carnival.
When did the lemons come into play? Not until 1928. That year, Menton was Europe’s top producer of the fruit. To celebrate this, the owner of the Riviera Hotel organized a private display of citrus fruits and flowers in the hotel courtyard. The display was so successful that the local government started hosting one of their own the next year. By 1934, the carnival and the citrus show merged to create the inaugural Fête du Citron.
When is the Menton Lemon Festival held?
The Menton Lemon Festival takes place from mid-February to early March every year. True to its Carnival roots, the exact date changes every year, though it no longer takes place on Mardi Gras.
What kinds of citrus are featured in the Menton Lemon Festival?
Menton is the primary area in metropolitan France where lemons are grown. The town is protected from the chilly winds from the alps and enjoys 300 days of sunshine, making it an ideal location for this warm-weather crop.
Menton Lemons aren’t like the ordinary lemons you’ll find at the grocery store. They are sought out by chefs across Europe for their subtly acidic flavor and are recognizable by their bright, almost fluorescent color and round shape. Since they are so rare and valuable, they are not typically used for the festival. The majority of the citrus used on the floats and sculptures is imported from Spain.
The Citron de Menton also isn’t the only citrus fruit that is unique to France. The island of Corsica is also uniquely suited for citrus growing. The Corsica Clementine (Clémentine de Corse) is a small, tangy, and bright orange fruit notably sold with its leaves still attached. The Corsica Pomelo (Pomelo de Corse) is a seedless grapefruit-orange hybrid that’s been growing in Corsica since the 1990s. It is sought out for its sweet, juicy taste.
Key elements of the Menton Lemon Festival
There’s plenty to do and see over the 20 days of the Lemon Festival. From the Golden Fruit Parade to the mascot, John Lemon, here are the must-see elements that make the festival so memorable:
Though the overall theme of the Menton Lemon Festival is citrus, each year the festival has a theme of its own. The sculptures, parades, and events are consistent with the theme. In 2024, the theme is “From Olympia to Menton” because Paris is hosting the Summer Olympics this year. Some recent past themes include:
- 2023 (89th festival): Rock and opera
- 2022 (88th festival): Operas and theater
- 2020 (87th festival): World festivals
- 2019 (86th festival): Fantastic worlds
- 2018 (85th festival): Bollywood
- 2017 (84th festival): Broadway
- 2016 (83rd festival): Cinecittà
- 2015 (82nd festival): The tribulations of a lemon in China
- 2014 (81st festival): 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
- 2013 (80th festival): Around the World in 80 Days
The Biovès Gardens—a long, narrow stretch of parks located near the local casino—transform into a citrus wonderland during the Lemon Festival. This is where visitors can see huge, wire-framed sculptures covered in up to 15 tons of sunshine-hued fruit. All sculptures are related to the festival theme for the year and take thousands of hours to build.
The Gardens of Lights (Jardins de Lumières)
The spectacle in the gardens doesn’t end when the sun goes down. At night, the Biovès Gardens light up to become the Gardens of Lights. Spotlights shine on the sculptures. Pyrotechnic displays zing nearby. Atmospheric music sets an ambient mood. It’s a must-see after you’ve visited the gardens in the daylight.
The Golden Fruit Parade (Corso des Fruits d’Or)
Every Sunday afternoon during the festival, the Promenade du Soleil comes alive with radiant floats covered in citrus fruit, similar to the sculptures in the gardens, accompanied by dancers, bands, and copious amounts of confetti. The dancers and the festival brass band are dressed in bright costumes that match the sunny hues of the floats around them.
The Night-Time Parade (Corso Nocturne)
Like the night gardens, the night time parade illuminates the parade for a lively, funky take on the art and festivities. However, unlike the Golden Fruit Parade, this version only happens on two nights. They always close with a firework display at 10:30.
Who is John Lemon?
Every festival needs a mascot. That role for the Menton Lemon Festival is the coolest lemon on the Riviera, John Lemon. He may not look like John Lennon, but his signature smile greets visitors and promises a sour good time. His hairstyle and outfit change every year with the theme of the festival.
Festival’s end: What to do with all that citrus?
About 140 tonnes of citrus fruit and flowers go into the Menton Lemon Festival. What do they do with it all when the festival is over? Don’t worry, it doesn’t go to waste! All of the material is sorted manually by dedicated volunteers and sold at a special market for less than €2 per kilogram.
>> Lemons aren’t your thing? Check out more French Festivals!
Know before you go
Here is some important information for planning your trip to the Menton Lemon Festival:
Getting to Menton
Menton may not be a well-known town to the average foreigner, but it’s easy to access. The closest airport is 42 kilometers away in Nice. The town is accessible by car via the A8 Motorway. Menton is also accessible by train from Nice (30 minute ride) and Genoa, Italy (2 hour and 30 minute ride). Menton is also connected to Paris by the TGV. The train station is 200 meters away from the Biovès Gardens.
Get your tickets in advance
Some events in the festival are free to enter, others require tickets. Make sure to plan ahead and get your tickets to any parades, shows, and tours that you plan on going to before they sell out. You can see the entire festival program and buy individual tickets on the festival website.
The gardens and parades have security in place. Visitors are not allowed to bring items like pets, large bags and suitcases, weapons, fireworks, glass and metal containers, and skateboards. Guests wearing disguises that hide their faces may also be turned away. As with any public festival, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings.
Other things to see and do in Menton
Menton is the last town in France before the Italian border. It’s pretty quiet compared to Nice, Cannes, and other Riviera cities, but there is still plenty to do outside of the festival. For example:
- Enjoy the seaside and year-round warm temperatures
- Visit the botanical gardens
- Eat a Menton Lemon Tart
- Tour the colorful, scenic architecture of old town
- Visit the Jean Cocteau museum
Get to know your French citrus-themed vocabulary
If you’re visiting the Menton Lemon Festival, you’ll need to know how to talk about citrus and the other essential components of the festival. Here are a few helpful words and phrases to keep in your back pocket:
|le citron (m)
|the citrus fruit
|le carnival (m)
|la fête (f)
|le défilé (m)
|le char (m)
|le feu d’artifice (m)
|la Côte d’Azur (f)
|the French Riviera
|le jardin (m)
|le citron vert (m)
Get to know France even better with Rosetta Stone
France’s wide variety of festivals are a testament to how much French culture has to offer. Experiencing events like these can open up the world for longtime francophiles and novices alike. But attending these events isn’t the only way to get better acquainted with the country!
A deeper knowledge of French requires immersion as well as cultural and historical context. That’s why Rosetta Stone goes above and beyond with real-world, culturally relevant exercises. Our Dynamic Immersion method helps students of all ages learn efficiently, letting them explore more in less time. Plus, our TruAccent speech recognition helps you sound convincing, providing immediate feedback based on data from thousands of native speakers.
Written by Luca Harsh