Thanks to the festival in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is a term well known throughout the world. But did you know that its origin dates all the way back to 13th century France, and more precisely, Nice? What most people think about when hearing about Nice and the French Riviera are lazy summer days and sunbathing. While this might be true - if that's what you're looking for, you'll find it - this doesn’t mean that nothing happens here during winter. Towards the end of February, you'll find that it is actually at its liveliest: when the Carnival of Nice captivates the city.
A colorful winter getaway
February isn’t the month to travel to Southern France and Nice if it’s warm weather you’re looking for. As for many other countries in Europe, this is also a colder month here. Still, for a getaway in a mild winter climate, packed with excitement and celebrations it’s perfect. With people who have traveled for miles to enjoy the magical atmosphere, this is one of the largest happenings in Nice. For almost a month you will forget that it’s winter and just marvel at bright colors, parades, music, fireworks and fabulous costumes.
© OTCN - A.Chailan
At the origins of the carnival tradition
The Carnival’s origin is from the Mardi Gras celebration. For many this is associated with the festivities in New Orleans and the handing out of beads to the audience. However, the tradition actually comes from Nice. Where New Orleans has its necklaces, the French city has flowers as a central part of the parades. It all starts off with an opening ceremony at Place Masséna, said to be one of Europe’s most beautiful squares. From then, up until the closing ceremony visitors can attend daily events, amongst others the two parades Carnavalesque Illuminés and Batailles de Fleurs. The first is a parade which takes place during the evening, and the other is known as the flower battle.
According to the website of the festival, there are about 4000 stems per float, of which 70% are produced locally. To make the flower parade possible 72 hours are spent picking flowers over two and a half days. During the battle, 27 models throw 5 tons of mimosa, as well as all the flowers decorating the floats. The parade follows the route several times until all the flowers are thrown out to the crowds. Everyone watching will try to catch them and, as opposed to New Orleans, nobody has to expose themselves. You will, however, still find Mardi Gras masks and people having a good time in crazy, elaborate costumes.
The French Riviera, a winter destination
The Carnival of Nice is well worth a visit and showcases the French Riviera as more than a summer destination. In 2019, the festival takes place from 16 February – 2 March, and the theme is “King of Cinema”. Make sure you fully join the festival spirit by dressing up too as this is acknowledged by giving you free entrance to the enclosed Place Masséna.
Over 2 weeks and 3 week-ends, come and discover the Nice Carnival with its multi-colored parades and traditional flower parades! Should the full 14 days be too much fun to consume at full length, it’s recommended to go towards the end. This way you will get to see the magnificent fireworks which are characteristic for the Carnival of Nice closing ceremony.
© Carnaval de Nice / Facebook
The advantages of going to Nice during this time of year, besides the carnival, are many. Airfares are generally cheaper, crowds are noticeably thinner outside the carnival events, and even if it’s too cold to go sunbathing the weather is perfect for strolling or biking along Promenade des Anglais. Or why not enjoy some wine at one of the many cafes and a picnic by the seaside? Regardless of what you decide on, Nice awaits you this winter. The Radisson Blu Hotel, Nice is located right on the promenade, so excellent views of the Mediterranean guaranteed.
Psst! More options for carnival fans: check out Dusseldorf's carnival or Cologne's carnival!
Top image © Carnaval de Nice / Facebook