This local obsession with lemons reaches its peak in the middle of February when the city debuts the annual Fête du Citron. The festival first began in 1928 as a way to entertain aristocratic visitors and evolved into a celebration of gigantic proportions. Every year, 400 people design, create and build ten 30-foot-tall sculptures of fruit with 140 tons of lemons and oranges. The result is surreal and singular. Beyond the visual display of vivid orange and yellow sculptures, the fruits tinge the air with the heady smell of citrus.
The town just completed its 87th festival with the theme des mondes fantastiques or “Fantastical Worlds.” Each of the ten towering sculptures serves as a tribute to a different celebration from around the world, including Ireland’s St. Patrick’s Day, Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, Germany’s Oktoberfest. Over 200,000 people gathered to see the displays in Menton’s Jardins Biovès this year and to watch the Carnaval-style parades where they travel through town. When still-life and fashion photographer Philippe Jarrigeon visited this year, he described the festival as of another time. Menton doesn’t have the glitz or glam of Cannes and St. Tropez—and that can be a good thing. He looked forward to seeing a more traditional experience in an otherwise quiet town. Plus, as a still life photographer, he had often captured fruit and flower arrangements; this festival took that theme to new heights. “It was charming,” he noted. “The scene reminded me of France in the 1950s or in an old film.” After initially surveying the scene, Jarrigeon had planned to head back down to Menton from Paris for one of the festival’s parades, but the celebrations ended early because of the health threat posed by the coronavirus.
The otherwise humble town wears its devotion to citrus on its streets, and in every restaurant. Visitors can expect to savor citrus jams at breakfast, take limoncello shots at the end of dinner, and walk the streets with lemon gelato in hand. Menton’s famed farmers even send their lemon oil to Grasse for perfume, and three-Michelin-star chef Mauro Colagreco, whose acclaimed restaurant Mirazur has brought Menton renewed fame, grows his own lemon trees in a small orchard.
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