The Nice Carnival has developed into the most popular winter festival on the French Riviera coastline, attracting well over a million visitors to this beautiful city every year. A fortnight of carnival processions and flower parades, combined with fireworks and parties, reaches its climax around Shrove Tuesday – Mardi Gras.
Historical records show that there were carnival festivities in Nice as far back as 1294 but it was in 1873 that a committee was established to oversee the activities. The first ever Flower Parade – a genteel affair in which the city’s wealthy visitors drove their carriages along the Promenade des Anglais and exchanged bouquets – has developed into the modern Bataille de Fleurs. Twenty spectacularly decorated floats, manned by extravagantly costumed revellers, travel the same sea front route but now approximately 100,000 flowers are thrown to the crowds. The floats are accompanied by marching bands and drum majorettes. Carnival organisers are proud of the fact that the vast majority of the flowers are locally grown and the colour of the gladioli, gerberas, daisies, carnations, roses, mimosa and other ostentatious blooms is totally breathtaking.
The Promenade des Anglais – named after the English gentry who ‘wintered’ in the south of France and proposed the sea front road initially – is closed off for the Flower Parades, and there is a charge to attend. Reserved seating is available.
In addition to the Flower parades, there are, on the Sundays of the Carnival, full carnival parades, with gigantic papier mâché figures, masked revellers and all the other traditional elements that make Carnival such an exuberant time. For the Carnival parades there is an entrance fee at Place Masséna, otherwise it’s free of charge for spectators along the route. There are dazzling parades of some kind every single day for the whole of Carnival.
Carnival is always a time of unlimited celebration and Nice is famed throughout France as being the most party-loving city at this time of the year. Both day and night, the whole city is full of vibrant colour and effervescence.
Nice is famously one of the most popular cities on the French Riviera, with some delightful cobbled streets, romantic chateaux and a lively seafront. As well as the Promenade des Anglais, which must be one of France’s most recognisable images, there is the imposing Casino Ruhl and the Venetian-style Palais de la Meiterranee. It also has an endearing old town, with a labyrinth of narrow, winding streets and atmospheric shops. In the heart of the old town is the busy market of Cours Saleya, where you’ll find some more of those stunning flowers and plenty of art and antiques.
And while you’re here, it’s only a short drive along the coast to visit Monte Carlo.
Nice Côte d’Azur airport is actually France’s third largest, in terms of passenger numbers – only the two Paris airports have more traffic – and, consequently, access to the city is plentiful, from all around Europe. It’s also well-connected by rail.
There are a large number of visitors to the Carnival celebrations so it’s highly recommended that you book Nice accommodation well in advance. Some of France’s most prestigious hotels are along this coastline, after all, but there are around 300 hotels in total in and around the city so prices cater for all budgets. Interestingly, what has been voted France’s best hostel – and in the top five hostels worldwide five years in succession – is also here. The Villa Saint Exupéry – and that name will conjure up childhood memories for quite a few readers – is housed in a former Carmelite monastery and has a fantastic reputation – but you’ll need to make your reservation well in advance.
Nice Carnival is a marvellous French celebration with a wide international appeal; it is a wonderful reason for visiting a wonderful city. Further information can be found on the official Carnival website.