Picture this; You enter a park. It is crowded. You struggle to see what it is that attracts all these people. Then, walking through a portal, it comes straight at you! It is an old steam train with carriages and passengers, racing through the landscape. The sound is there too. The steam engine noise, the signal warning of its approach, the metallic sound of the rails.
You would be scared if it wasn’t for the train being yellow, and apparently made of lemons and oranges!
The Lemon Festival takes place every February and it follows a given theme each year. In 2013 it is “Around the World in 80 days”, celebrating the 140th anniversary of Jules Verne´s tale and also the 80th anniversary of the festival.
Past themes have included Viva España, Disney, Neverland, and India. The festival lasts a few days, with different bands passing through Menton’s streets on foot or on truck trailers. The Casino Gardens in the centre of town are decorated with huge iron-frame structures covered with citrus fruits, in shapes following the theme of the festival. In the nearby Palais de l’Europe is the also annual Orchid Festival.
The train I had encountered, together with two colleagues and families on a Saturday afternoon excursion, was in the opening scene after entering the park. If I had lived in Phileas Fogg´s days, maybe I would have been scared. Life was slower then. It took longer to react and adapt to new impressions. In those days it wasn’t just remarkable to go around the world in 80 days. It was remarkable to go around the world at all!
Throughout his journey Phileas Fogg used many means of transport. He went by train, balloon, steamship, riverboat, the innovations of his time, and then the more traditional but exotic means of transport like elephant and camel, to add a bit of old fashioned mystery.
These means and scenes from exotic locations are illustrated in the festivals real-life size sculptures,together with sounds and music adding to the illusion of being in the journey.
The Lemon Festival is a unique event in the world, each year attracting more than 230,000 visitors. It is the second biggest event on the Riviera after the Carnival of Nice and before the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monaco. It uses the services of over 300 professionals and requires 145 tons of citrus fruit.
If you want to know more facts about the Lemon Festival, click on the link below to download a brochure:
Menton is nicknamed la perle de la France and it has good reasons for this. The town benefits from a subtropical microclimate with 316 cloudless days a year and winter is practically unknown. Residents and visitors can enjoy a beautiful sea and the nearby sunny mountains all year round.
The town is full of old buildings, beautifully restored. The old town, le Vieux Menton, has an active pedestrian area, with the long Rue St Michel being full of shops of all sorts and terrace cafés.
The real heart of le Vieux Menton is the Medieval style buildings grouped around the Eglise St Michel and the Chapel de Pénitents Blancs at the top of the hill. Viewed from the sea front at the east, this area has the appearance of a hilltop perched village. The streets are narrow, with long step-streets and many very colorful old buildings.
If you get tired of wandering the streets then there is always the seaside and beach activities. And when the sun is down, there is Casino Barriére along the seaside near the center. It is perhaps not as grand as the one in Monaco, but I suspect you could loose your money just as fast here. As in most casinos though, there is a good restaurant and well priced food and drinks.
The writers Guy de Maupassant, Robert Louis Stevenson, Gustave Flaubert and Emile Zola found Menton a place to relax and write. Menton is still a relaxing place. Its residents are mostly senior citizens and its visitors often come from nearby Italy.
The place brand offering
One of the 14 principles of Place Management is to differentiate a place through unique combinations. A good place manager must have a natural talent for combining various observations, which for the managers of Menton must have come as a quite obvious opportunity, given the unique assets the town has in its climate and the local tradition to grow citrus fruits.
In 1895, hoteliers of Menton proposed to the municipality to create a parade as a regular event in the winter. At the time, it was fashionable for many affluent Europeans to spend the winter months in the mild climate of the French Riviera. Kings, princes and artists came to Menton, building palaces and splendid villas.
In the first decades of the 20th century, Menton was the largest producer of lemon on the continent. In 1929 an innkeeper had the idea of organizing an exhibition of flowers and citrus fruits in the gardens of the Hotel Riviera. It was so successful that it became an annual event.
By 1933, the place managers in the municipality, wishing to develop tourism, decided to combine the annual parade and the exhibition of citrus fruits, to give the parade a typically local color. Thus the Lemon Festival was born.
From a place branding perspective the tourism industry is a volatile area. But the results of investment can be easily measured and a place branding programme can generate quick results that place managers can easily see.
The Lemon Festival of Menton turned out to be a very successful combination of two previous local events, building upon the towns assets of clear skies and the citrus fruit industry.
The place management principle of combination implies that even the smallest detail can be combined and add value to the place brand, given that it can be explained and is natural in its origin and historical foundation.
We are reminded of this when we fly Austrian Airlines and approach Vienna or Salzburg, the latter airport is appropriately named W.A. Mozart Airport. The choice of music reinforces the place brands: the captivating music composed by Johann Strauss or Mozart welcomes all passengers in the cabin. You are consciously reminded that you have arrived in Vienna or Salzburg. It might seem like a detail but it all helps to build the place brand.