Regardless of the time of year, Nice reigns supreme as the Queen of the French Riviera, its practically perfect year-round climate, coupled with a rich cultural and artistic heritage, picturesque Old Town and sweeping views over the Baie des Anges, making for an ideal short-break destination just a short flight from the UK. Visit in February however and you’re in for a real treat, as the city comes alive with carnival fever.
Nice’s carnival history dates back as far as the late 13th century, when the Count of Provence, Charles d’Anjou, spent “the joyous days of carnival” in Nice. Much like Venice, the Nice Carnival was synonymous with masked balls until the early 1800s when royal corteges and carriage processions paraded through the streets, thus shaping the carnival into the event it is renowned for today, though fortunately there’s less of the confetti, flour and egg throwing!
Kicking off on Valentine’s Day and running all the way through until Tuesday, 4th March, Nice’s renowned annual carnival brings this seafront city to life. Regarded as the winter event on the Riviera, this year’s event, entitled “Roi de la Gastronomie” (King of Gastronomy) will see grand parades of riotously-colourful floats make their way day and night around the Jardin Albert 1er along the Promenade des Anglais to and from the Place Masséna.
The carnival procession really is a sight to behold. The parade is made up of 18 floats, each designed on this year’s theme, with fabulous oversized papier-mâché characters bobbing along next to amazing and awe-inspiring floats, each one an immense and intricate work of art. Taking place at night, the Parade of Lights is utterly unforgettable, the music and dancers and the pulsating, party atmosphere really something not to be missed.
The Flower Parade meanwhile is a not only a feast for the eyes but also a treat for the nose, too, with some 20-flower covered floats infusing the air with a glorious fragrant scent as they make their way along the Promenade des Anglais from the Théâtre de Verdure to the Hotel Negresco. And as they go, gladioli, mimosa, gerbera, roses, daisies and carnations are thrown from the floats to the cheering crowds lining the streets.
So if you happen to be on the French Riviera in February and are looking to take in some carnival action, events take place each Tuesday and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, with the (free) opening festivities taking place on Friday, 14th February from 8.30pm. Each Saturday, you’ll see the Flower Parade take place from 2.30pm, with the Parade of Lights starting from 9pm. The first Sunday (16th) sees all manner of events taking place, from a 10-mile Rock ‘n’ Roll Carnival to a Zumba Party and Carnival ‘Dip’. There are further daily carnival parades on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday, with the closing fireworks ceremony and festival ‘incineration’ (free) scheduled at 9pm on the 4th of March. Tickets cost 10€ for the standing area or 25€ for a numbered seat, for children aged 6 to 12 years tickets are 5€ or 10€ respectively (free for under 6 years of age if seated on an adult’s lap).
And whilst you’re there, be sure to pop over to the beautiful town of Menton, just the other side of Monte Carlo, for its annual Lemon Festival. Now in its 81st year, this popular festival attracts over 160,000 visitors each year with some 145 tonnes of citrus fruits used to transform the town into a uniquely stunning spectacle with day time Golden Fruit Parades and evening processions, Gardens of Lights and exhibitions of giant citrus designs. Entitled “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, the 2014 Lemon Festival runs from Saturday 15th February to Wednesday, 5th March.