A legend tells that Eve, driven out with Adam from the earthly paradise, took away a golden fruit. After crossing mountains, valleys and plains, they saw the bay of Garavan. Everything reminded Eve of the lost Eden: the mild climate and the luxuriant vegetation. She then buried her treasure there. And it is in this place that a little paradise was born on the Côte d’Azur: Menton (Alpes-Maritimes). With the lowest thermal amplitude in France, with its mild winters and summers without heat waves, this strip of land, between the Mediterranean and the Pre-Alps, has offered conditions conducive to the cultivation of this citrus fruit since the 16th century, recalls the Association for the promotion of Menton lemons.
From 1860, this mild weather will attract the aristocratic elite in winter. And it was precisely for these wealthy customers that a hotelier organised, in 1929, an exhibition of flowers and citrus fruits in the grounds of his establishment. The city took up the idea to organize the first Lemon Festival in 1934, during the peak of the Menton lemon harvest, in February.
If you decide to visit Menton during these festivities, start your walk with the Biovès gardens (1), which host monumental citrus structures. Going down to the sea, the Palace of Europe (2)a construction from 1909, signed by the Danish architect Hans-Georg Tersling, recalls the sumptuous times of the Belle Époque and its palaces*.
To watch the Lemon Festival parade of floats, head for the Promenade du Soleil to the Halls (3). Designed in 1898 by the Menton architect Adrien Rey, they house the stalls of local producers, every day until 1 p.m. The opportunity to taste a specialty, the barbajuan, a fried turnover made from Swiss chard, before continuing along the seafront to reach theSablettes esplanade (4). Inaugurated in 2018, this meeting place for the people of Menton makes it possible to connect the old town by taking the Saint-Michel ramps (5). This imposing double staircase erected in 1753 leads to a parterre in “calades” (a mosaic of small pebbles), at the foot of which stands St. Michael the Archangel (6), proclaimed a minor basilica in 1999 by John Paul II. Despite the damage caused by the earthquake of 1887, the 17th century building has retained the splendors of the “Nissoligurian Baroque”, like its altar. As for the bell tower of the monument, nicknamed the Campanin, it is distinguished by its slender silhouette of 53 m.
A few flights of stairs, the Chapel of the White Penitents (7), built between 1680 and 1687, recalls the importance of the brotherhoods in the city. Going up in the maze of alleys, our wandering ends at the Old Castle Cemetery (8). Between two graves of wealthy tourists who have come to retire in Menton, the site offers a fabulous belvedere from which to admire this little paradise, revealed by its legendary little yellow fruit.
Did you know ?
The citrus fruits used for the festivities are resold to Menton residents and tourists or transformed into liqueurs, marmalades, jams… Objective: zero waste!
89th edition of the lemon festival: A concentration of entertainment
The theme of the 89th edition “Rock and Opera” is expressed through monumental citrus structures exhibited in the Biovès gardens, and parades of floats by the sea on Sundays during the day and Thursdays at night. On the menu: tastings offered by the Association for the promotion of lemons in Menton, a visit to La Casetta: the municipal nursery dedicated to citrus fruits, hikes in contact with lemon producers.
fete-du-citron.com and at the tourist office located at 8 avenue Boyer, tel.: 04.83.93.70.20; menton-riviera-merveilles.fr