The Côte d’Azur…the name can conjure up images of sun-filled days…belle epoque villas..twisty scenic roads…medieval hilltop villages…and turquoise water that takes your breath away with its beauty. Summer brings throngs of people, sweltering heat, and higher prices…February brings comfortable weather, lower prices, and three ‘must see’ festivals.
Nice — the ideal base
Carnaval in Nice is one of the oldest…first mentioned in 1294, and becoming one of the best known festivals throughout the world. Celebrated Pre-Lent, initially it was designed for the local people to drink, eat, and enjoy themselves before the 40 days of self-denial which comes with Lent. This tradition continued for centuries.
Carnaval as seen today, originated from a parade organized for a foreign King and Queen in 1830. The first parade consisted of a group of carriages driving slowly past the dignitaries for their amusement. The idea of a parade took hold and eventually grew…and grew. Today Carnaval draws a million people over a two week period.
To save time and money use Nice as your base. Sandwiched between Antibes and Menton, it’s easy to reach both areas from this delightful seafront town. Nice has a plethora of accommodations in all prices…trains run often and roundtrip tickets are inexpensive.
Pain, Amour et Chocolat — Bread, Love and Chocolate in Antibes
Pain, Amour et Chocolat is the smallest of the three festivals with an average of 20000 visitors. It was designed to showcase French and Italian foods, wines, and artisans.
At the many tented stalls, you can sample and purchase the best of both countries. Flavorful meats, aromatic cheeses, pâtés, breads, macaroons, delicate chocolates, traditional nougat, and more…the variety is unparalleled. Bring your appetite.
Of course there is music, a lively parade (this is France after all) and activities for the children. Surprisingly, this festival is free.
Take time to explore this seaside town, there is so much to see.
The Musée Picasso has an extensive collection of 245 pieces spanning his career. While the Picasso exhibit will be closed for renovations during the festival, (it reopens in March) you can still visit the Chateau Grimaldi (where the Museé is housed) and view modern art by Nicolas de Staël, Anna Eva Bergman, and Hans Hartung. The terrace has a permanent collection of unique sculptures. A visit is time well spent.
If you go:
The location is Port Vauban (a destination itself). The backdrop…some of the world’s most spectacular super yachts.
2018 Dates: February 14th – February 18, Hours: 10 -19 (7 pm)
Antibes is 17 km from Nice…a fast train will get you there in 15 minutes.
Fête du Citron in Menton — 85th Anniversary celebration
2018 marks the 85th anniversary of this extraordinary festival. Menton is known as the lemon festival capital of the world and home to the famous Menton lemon. What started as a ‘humble’ exhibition of lemons, oranges, and flowers has morphed into a world class event with parades, enormous stationary displays and fireworks. Every year there is a theme…this year…Bollywood.
While the themes differ, the creativity of the artists is consistent…year after year. Fifteen tons of metal is used to create the infrastructure of the floats and structures which are then covered with metal netting. The fruit is attached to the netting by elastic bands. 145 tons of lemons (not Menton lemons as they are too pricey) and oranges adorn the structures. Checked daily, if the fruit looks less than perfect, it is replaced. No detail is overlooked.
Jardin Boivès — A scent filled paradise
The stationary displays can be found at Jardin Biovès (across the street from the tourist office). This long, rectangular garden with pea gravel walkways is stunning on its own but becomes almost magical with the addition of the fruit covered structures and the scent of citrus perfuming the air.
February 17th, 23rd, and March 2nd, the gardens are illuminated. Even if you’ve visited during the day, it’s worth the time and money to see the Garden of Lights. It is an experience you’ll not soon forget.
The Promenade du Soleil — Parade time
The seafront Promenade is the location of the Golden Fruit Parade…and what a location. With the Mediterranean as its backdrop, the fruit covered floats roll along accompanied by hundreds of dancers, musicians, and merry makers (throwing confetti). The crowd is just as energetic as the dancers. The Golden Fruit Parade is held on Sunday afternoons, 2:30-4 pm. Reservations are required.
The night time parades feature an impressive firework display over the sea (my favorite). These are held on Thursday evenings, 9-10:15 pm with fireworks at 10:30…reservations required.
Explore — Before or after the festival
Menton was made for walking. Minutes from the Italian border, this seafront town looks as if it were plucked from a Hollywood movie set. With a lively pedestrian street (Rue Saint Michel), picture-perfect old town and port, bars and restaurants to suit every taste, and a Cathedral that brings gasps when first viewed…the town is enchanting. Just walk…you might get lost…and that is a very good thing.
If you go:
Tickets can be purchased at the Menton Tourist Office — 8 Avenue Boyer, Palais de l’ Europe.
2018 dates: February 17- March 4th
Admission: Jardin Boivès: €12 adults, €6 children 6-14, under 6 free.
Garden of Lights: €13 adults, €8 children 6-14, under 6 free.
Hours: 8:30-10:30 pm
Admission: Seated Parades: €25 adults, €10 children 6-14, under 6 free.
Standing room only: €12 adults, €6 for children 6-14, under 6 free.
Trains run regularly from Nice…the trip takes about 35 minutes. It’s a pleasant 15 minute walk from the train station to where the festivities are located.
Make way for the King of Carnaval — The King of Space
The themes change yearly and center on the focal point of Carnaval…The King. 2018 brings us the King of Space. The 17 mechanical floats which make up the parade, are often tongue-in-cheek but always reflect the theme.
The floats are accompanied by people wearing giant puppet heads, thousands of dancers, street performers, and too many bands to count. Loud, fun, festive…the energy is contagious. Expect confetti showers!
At night, the parade is illuminated and becomes the Parade of Lights. It takes on another dimension when lit up under the twinkling stars. If your budget allows, try to see the evening parade as well. The energy of the participants is incredible…i’d like to bottle it.
Flowers galore — The Flower Parade
The Flower Parade, also known as the Battle of Flowers is a crowd favorite for good reason. Thousands of locally sourced flowers adorn the imaginative floats and are also tossed to the outstretched hands in the crowd. Many end up with a colorful bouquet at the end of the parade. Parade walkers in glamorous costume personally hand a flower to every child they come across. The smiles that light up their faces are priceless.
Nice has something for everyone….Museums…tantalizing shops…a walkable old town, and the famous Promenade des Anglais. You might find yourself planning your next visit before you leave town.
If you go:
2018 dates: February 17- March 3rd
Admission: Carnaval Parade €21 adults-seated, €12-€5 adults standing
Parade of Lights €26 adults-seated, €12- €5 adults standing
Flower Parade €26 adults-seated, €12 adults standing
The difference in price for standing room only – Carnaval Parade and Parade of Lights is the location.
Children: Carnaval Parade- €10 children 6-10 seated, €5 Zone A, Zone B free
Parade of Lights- €10 children 6-10 seated, €5 Zone A, Zone B free
Flower Parade- €10 children 6-10 seated, €5 standing
*Five and under free. One lap child per adult in the grandstand seats*
Additional links for reference, if you go:
Pain, Amour et chocolat link: www.amourchocolat.fr/index.php?lang=it
Museé Picasso link: www.antibes-juanlespins.com/cilture/musee-picasso
Menton Tourist Office link: www.tourisme-menton.fr/Menton-French-Riviera.html
Nice Tourist Office link: en.nicetourisme.com