The French riviera town of Menton, like Riverside in California, has a sentimental love-affair with its citrus-growing past. Riverside has its "Orange Blossom Festival" and Menton its "Fête du Citron" when a cavalcade of citrus-decorated floats passes through the streets.
Menton is theoretically north of the normal growing range for citrus, but the protection of the Alps and the proximity of the south-facing slopes to the Mediterranean creates a limited area of suitable climate.
The combined pressures of tourist development, intermittent freezes and Spanish imports has almost wiped out Menton's commercial citrus production. Although encouraged by the local authorities, only a few dedicated specialist producers remain.
In August 2002, November 2006 and February 2007, I had the pleasure of visiting Menton and its citrus collections. There is a major collection in the grounds of the historic Palais Carnoles, a superb private collection on the hillside of the Garavan area and many interesting old specimen citrus trees in the 'Jardin Botanique Exotique Val Rahmeh'. I also visited the wonderful gardens of the Villa Hanbury, just across the Italian border, which contains yet another historic collection.
My visit in early February 2007, co-incided with start of construction work on the fruit covered pavilions for the forthcoming 'Fête du Citron'. The heart of the carnival is in the town centre's 'Jardins Biovès' which is lined with fruitful Bitter Orange trees, Citrus aurantium
The lemon variety 'Citron de Menton' is claimed by locals to be superior in flavour to any other variety. Indeed a web-search will give you any number of gourmet French recipes which specify this specific variety.
In the market of Menton I found a seller of 'les citrons du pays' (local lemons), and although it's difficult to be sure, I think you'll agree this lemon does look like the one shown on the front-cover of a citrus information booklet sold in the Palais Carnoles. Moreover it had enough stem attached to bring home and attempt a couple of 'buddings'!
The main producer of these lemons is ex racing driver Francois Mazet, owner of La Citronneraie a few kilometres north of Menton centre. There are some 450 productive lemon trees - the fruits are sold locally, delivered to restaurants throughout France and made into various aperatives, liqueurs and jams.
CITRUS in and around MENTON - SEE THESE OTHER PAGES
Buddha's Hand Pink Grapefruit
Thornless Thai Lime
Australian Round Lime 'Mela Rosa'
page created 2 September 2002
updated 29th November 2006
revised 7th February 2007
re-built 20th December 2016
A Menton postcard from 1904 showing a lemon seller - La Limoneuse.