Lemon Festival History
A new event to liven the city up
In 1895, a group of hoteliers, seeking a way of providing winter entertainment for the city, suggested to the municipality that there be a parade through the city. By 1896, this new event of Menton was as popular with the local population as with the rich winter visitors. At the time, it was fashionable to spend the winter months in the mild climate of the French Riviera. Kings, Queens, Princes, artists and performers stayed in the palaces of Menton, or had splendid villas built.
The festival of 1882 was a memorable occasion, attended by Queen Victoria in person, and ending in a grandiose fireworks display on the Bay of Garavan. The festival of Menton was then very similar to its cousin in Nice: a parade of “big heads”, confetti-throwing, flower processions…
the Mardi Gras parade leading to a bonfire to sacrifice His Majesty King… with merrymaking in the streets, feasting and all the extravagance characteristic of the revelry before the austere time of Lent.
The tradition of the “Moucouleti”
On the evening of the second parade or Corso, the people of Menton enjoyed a traditional pastime, called “Moucouleti” or “Moccoletti”( for the small candles everyone held in their hands).
The game involved keeping your own candle lit, while trying to blow out the others’! This game was often a pretext for amorous encounters, as recounted by Pierre Masséna: “Young men were expected to use the utmost dexterity in putting out a young woman’s candle, who held it well lit high over her head.
Often, after having succeeded in this feat, the young man could relight the charred wick, and receive a kiss in return.”
And the lemon enters the scene
In 1928, Menton was still the number one lemon-growing region in Europe. An hotelier had the excellent idea of organising an exhibition of flowers and citrus fruit in the gardens of the Hôtel Riviera. It was so successful that, the following year, the event moved into the streets, with carts covered with orange and lemon trees along with lovely local girls.
Wishing to develop tourism, the municipality sought to give to this new event a typically local colour: The Lemon Festival was born in 1935. One year later, the first exhibition of citrus fruit and flowers was launched in the Biovès gardens.
François Ferrié was in charge of designing floats decorated with lemons and oranges and decorations in the gardens. It was proven to be an enormous success, confirmed year after year with some visits, street’s animations, night’s parades, and the Gardens of light!