Welcome to The Aix-Files

Thanks for checking out The Aix-Files, my

blog postings inspired by my time in and around

Aix-en-Provence and the Vaucluse. The spot includes travel tips,

discoveries of local food and wine, recipes,

cultural events, interviews and historical

tidbits about Southern France. Enjoy!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Menton Lemon Festival

Welcome to the Menton Lemon Festival


Children participated in the festival, too

Citrus trees line the streets of Menton

It’s rather embarrassing to arrive with a burnt lemon tart. Okay, it was just shy of too-burnt-to-eat. Especially because during the meal Brigitte kept mentioning all of the cooking courses I have been taking. But between international phone calls and not really knowing what all the dials mean on the oven, it was a near disaster, and too late to start over. And pastry has never been my specialty anyway.

We were invited to our French teacher’s house for dinner. Her husband, Palomo, a Chilean artist and musician, built and decorated virtually every inch of the furniture and ornaments in their house. It was hard to take it all in. Wherever you turned, there was a new surprise, be it the hand railing, a mobile, a kitchen cupboard or a chair. It was like stepping into a cozy home in Chile (not that I’ve ever been there). He also cooked el pastel de choclo, a delicious Chilean dish based on corn. A few weeks earlier Brigitte invited us to an apéro-concert at a little café in Pernes les Fontaines where Palomo and his band were playing. It was a wonderful, intimate evening of Latin music and Jim joined in on his accordion for half of the evening. At the dinner mentioned above, Ignacio, the singer of the band, and Jocelyne politely asked for seconds of the lemon tart and even picked at the crusty bits in the pan.

I normally don’t offer to bring dessert, but seeing as how we had just returned from the Fête du Citron, the lemon festival in Menton, with a trunk full of Menton lemons and oranges, it seemed like a good idea.

Café with the Aunties in Menton

Lemon Festival Parade, Menton

Illuminated park in Menton

Menton is the last French city along the Côte d’Azur before reaching the Italian frontier. You hear as much Italian as French being spoken here. Because of the wall of sheltering mountains just behind, it is one of the warmest corners of France, producing the right conditions for citrus trees, palms and other tropical plants. Some of Menton’s prettiest streets are lined with orange trees, groaning with ripening fruit.

This is also the season for mimosas, which perfume a room with the scent of candy.


The lemon festival was a sea of yellow and orange. Ignoring the discarded fruit crates from Spain, evidently used in some of the decorations, we were truly impressed with the enormous structures, created from only lemons and oranges, a Herculean effort. The theme for this year’s lemon festival was “Great Civilisations”, so the vast Jardins Biovès displayed colossal monuments representing the Vikings, the Celts, Egypt, Greece, the Andes, Rome, Persia, Stonehenge, the local god ‘Citrus Limonia’, even cave men. How they were able to reproduce the language of the cavemen, I will never know. At night the garden is illuminated atmospherically, with talented actors animating the display.

Given that Menton is normally blessed with 300 days of sunshine annually, it was too bad it rained during the inaugural parade. That did not stop 23,000 people from attending. The confetti mixed with the raindrops and the lemons and oranges replaced the sunshine. There were smiles on everyone’s faces and we even managed to snap some photos in and around the bobbing umbrellas. The gigantic floats were once again impressive, alternating with marching bands from all over Europe and scantilly-clad dancers braving the cold and rain, jiggling to hot Brazilian rhythms.

Each city and town along the Côte d’Azur has its own particular atmosphere. Menton, where we visited the aunties, is stately and old-worldly with majestic buildings lining the streets. The Promenade du Soleil, or waterfront walkway, runs tight against the sea, so you can hear the waves being sucked up along the rocks, water even splashing up on the sidewalk on windy days. The vista is somewhat sullied at this time of year by the huge grandstands, an unfortunate necessity for the big parades of the festival. Guidebooks describe Menton as a geriatric holiday destination, and while you do see a few more people strolling with canes along with the joggers, really, the spirit is lively and bubbly, due in part to the festival, I’m sure.


The waterfront of Nice, where we visited Mom, Dad, Peter and Erika, further west down the coast, is vast, sweeping and sprawling. The Promenade des Anglais is thick with runners, skateboarders and strollers who can’t help but stop and gauk at the Hotel Negresco (well okay, speaking for myself). You could run from here to Cannes, as they do in the annual marathon in November.

Hotel Negresco, Nice

Excercising on the Promande des Anglais

Strolling on the Promenade des Anglais

Socca with pepper

Peter and Erika

Cannes, where we strolled for hours with our friends Alexis and Nestor, is chic and sophisticated. There, the boulevard de la Croisette feels more intimate, lined with palms and lush greenery, with fashionable shops and Hotel Majestic crowding the other side of the street. There seem to be fewer joggers here. I guess it’s not that comfortable running in a fur coat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many furs, even in Winnipeg. On one street corner we saw four women in furs, and it was +12 degrees, although the wind was a bit nippy.

Alexis & Andrea, Cannes

La Croisette, Cannes

Interesting work in Cannes

Looking for work in Cannes

Shop in Cannes selling Russian icons and other "objets d'art"

-Sampled an authentic meal at Café Restaurant de la Bourse in the old town of Nice with Mom and Dad. It’s the tiniest little hole-in-the-wall, full of locals enjoying sardine fritters and daube de boeuf with ravioli. The 12-euro menu even includes a kir.
-Enjoyed breakfast on the terrace in Nice overlooking the sea.
-Nibbled on the local specialty, socca, like a chickpea pancake.
-Went out on the town in Nice with Peter and Erika.
-Revisited the incredible indoor-outdoor Fondation Maeght in St. Paul near Nice with incredible works by Miro and Giacchometti.
-Enjoyed a fabulous lunch at Les Bacchanales in Vence where we sampled an inventive dish of artichokes with fish and radicchio de treviso.
-Located one of the few remaining wineries in les Alpes-Maritimes, Domaine des Hautes Collines, le Vignoble de Saint Jeannet, where the vigneron still ferments his wine in glass bonbonnes.
-Were the first to try out the brand new restaurant called VII on ave. Edouard VII in Menton with a very creative menu.
-Took the train to Ventimiglia over the border in Italy where we drank cappuccino, bought raddichio de treviso at the market, ate pizza and climbed up to the old town.
-Sampled loup de mer (sea bass) at La Cantinella in Menton, encrusted with sea salt and chipped open with a very large implement, filleted perfectly by our friendly server.
-Sipped limoncello after dinner at the apartment in Menton.

Menton lemons and oranges


I will not offer a recipe for lemon tart, as it clearly needs a bit of work. But we have been making variations of this salad every few days and it has served us well through these cold days (ho ho ho) of winter.

Mâche is one of the most popular winter greens around here. The leaves are small but sturdy. They are generally sold with the tiny root still attached. I like just to trim the root and serve the greens with their bouquets still intact. Wash the greens carefully and spin them dry. Make a vinaigrette of lemon juice, Dijon mustard, chopped shallot, a drizzle of honey, salt and pepper and an excellent extra-virgin olive oil. Dress the greens, tossing gently. Separate sections of clementines and add them to the salad. If you use oranges instead, cut the peel off with a sharp knife, cutting away the white pith. Separate the oranges into sections, adding them to the salad.
I have become quite fond of the firm goat cheeses available here, called crottins. They look like hard, mouldy discs, not very attractive, but in fact are delicious when grated on a salad. If you can get your hands on one, grate it onto your salad. Garnish with toasted pine nuts.
Add to or replace the mâche with Belgian endive. Slice it cross-wise into strips.
Add or replace fresh fennel for the mâche. Shave it thinly with a mandoline.
Add a few cured olives for garnish.

Mâche at the farmer's market, Velleron

Caroline served this simple dish at the end of a meal at her home in Carpentras alongside chocolate mousse, and following a chicken and pear tagine prepared by her husband Bernard. The oranges are so juicy and sweet they stand up on their own.
This is hardly a recipe, just a great, refreshing end to a meal. Simply cut off the peel of several oranges with a sharp knife, ensuring you cut away the white pith. Cut out the sections, leaving the skins behind. Do this over a bowl, squeezing the skins over the fruit to retain all of the juices. Garnish with lime zest and a bit of mint if you have it. Chill before serving.

Lemons, oranges and bubbles
 À la prochaine,


No comments: