It’s no wonder that visitors to the Carnaval de Nice  may get a little confused by the riot of colour, fun, music, sand and sea. Winter? What winter? Okay, so it may be a little too nippy to go for a swim in the sea during the Carnaval, but you can rely on Nice’s luminous sky, deep blues and vivid greens to instantly wipe away any winter doldrums. As if that were not enough, there’s the glorious food. This year’s Carnaval theme celebrates the proud gastronomic tradition of the area and the journey from market to table.
Carnivals are a period of revelry as a final hurrah in the last week before withdrawing into the restrained period of Lent, and Nice offers one of the best-loved experiences of this upturning of routine anywhere in the world. The air is perfumed by the blooms of the Flower Parade along the seafront as those riding the floats throw flowers to the public. You’ll most certainly be able to get a hold of some mimosa and, if you are a good catcher, even a few wild orchids. Then there’s the Grand Parade, which performs a loop along a predetermined circuit so that everyone can catch a glimpse from one of the route’s many vantage points. To enjoy the total experience, you can always get a ticket to access the seated areas and join in the fun.
The evening performances have a different atmosphere – the floats look spectacular when they are lit, and there are also international music troupes, fire-eaters, fireworks and special lighting effects. The festivities even include a rock’n’roll parade, a zumba party and the traditional burning of an effigy.
If you need a break from the excitement, a morning stroll along the Promenade des Anglais or through the market in Old Nice is an experience which you will talk about for years afterwards. The market offers up a wonderful celebration of tastes, fragrances and colour, but if it is peace and quiet that you crave, just head for the hills and visit one of the placid villages in l’arrière pays Niçois.
You will need a ticket to see the Flower Parade, but this purchase is well worth it. With such a wonderful setting as Nice, the Carnaval offers an opportunity to splurge a little. After all, how often are you in the Côte d’Azur? Prices for the rest of the venues vary, but it is free to enter the Place Massena if you are wearing fancy dress – so what are you going as?
Carnaval de Nice “King of Gastronomy” , February 14- March 4, Nice, Alpes-Maritimes. Entry is 35 euros for two events (free for children under 6). Tel: +33 8 92 70 74 07.
Originally published in the February-March 2014 issue of France Today