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France: A festival of fests for Mardi Gras season in Provence

January 21, 2011|By Benoit Lebourgeois | Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Colorful parade floats are featured in the Carnaval de Nice in France, shown here in 2010.
Colorful parade floats are featured in the Carnaval de Nice in France, shown… (OTCN / H.R. )

Most Americans associate Mardi Gras festivities with New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, not with Nice, France. But the city in the Provence region in southern France puts on quite a Mardi  Gras show. And nearby communities hold other festivals around that time too:

Nice (Feb. 18 through March 8): The exuberance of this Mardi Gras celebration will begin with the King of the Mediterranean’s lavish entrance -- accompanied this year by a queen -- to applause and rejoicing. Extravagant parades will feature floats decorated with gladiolas, daisies, roses, carnations and other flowers.

Lively street theater processions of musicians, dancers and grosses têtes--  characters walking on stilts and sporting enormous cardboard heads -- will entertain, night and day. On Mardi Gras itself, March 8, loyal subjects will walk his majesty to a fiery and resolute end to the Nice Carnival.

Info: Carnaval de Nice.

Menton (Feb. 18 through March 9):  In this community near the Italian border, the season is celebrated with the Lemon Festival, or Fête du Citron. The festival features parades, music, costumes, fireworks and general merriment but with a citrus theme. At night, fairytale creatures and unsettling sounds rattle the illuminated Biovès Gardens.

Info: Fête du Citron.

Cannes: (Feb. 18-27): It takes 12 tons of mimosas – locally grown flowers, not the drink – to decorate the floats that lumber down the streets of Mandelieu-La Napoule on the outskirts of Cannes to the rhythm of brass bands. A fair amount of the fragrant shrub will be tossed to spectators during the several parades scheduled at the Mimosa Fest.

Info: Fête du Mimosa.

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