THE SYMBOL OF PROVENCE
As soon as the sunshine on the Côte d’Azur begins to warm again in late winter, nature awakens and fills the mild air with a bewitching scent. The mimosas, which are a symbol of Provence, alongside lavender, are finally blooming again in full splendor and transforming the surrounding mountain slopes and valleys into a sea of yellow flowers. Everyone is now waiting impatiently for the upcoming mimosa festival, which heralds the long-awaited spring on the French Riviera. A small town called Mandelieu-la-Napoule, in the beautiful area of the Massif de l’Esterel, between the Mediterranean coast and the Provence, plays the main role in the colorful natural spectacle, as it is considered the cradle of mimosa cultivation with the largest mimosa forest in Europe. Strangely though, the first mimosa trees were only planted here as recently as in the 1850s.
The most common species that grow are the Acacia dealbata from the Mimosaceae family. It comes from the southeast of Australia and was discovered and imported by Joseph Banks, the English botanist, on one of Captain James Cooks (1728 – 1779) trips to Australia. In the early 19th century, mimosa was introduced to France by wealthy British people who had their holiday residences built on the Côte d’Azur.
The mimosa felt amazingly at home in the milder latitudes and quickly became very important for the local economy. However, this changed suddenly when the winter of 1929 was colder than usual and temperatures fell below freezing point. The trees froze to death and with them the yellow flowers. Still alive at their roots and two years later, the trees came back to life and the town of Mandelieu- le-Napoule organized a mimosa festival to celebrate the event. The first Mimosa Festival took place in 1931 and has been a popular annual event on the Côte d’Azur ever since. The city celebrates extensively for 10 days to recognize the importance of mimosas to the local economy, drawing thousands from near and far to attend the spectacle.
Several tons of blooming mimosa are used for the ornate floats of Corso Fleuri, the parade through the city center. According to a custom, sprigs of mimosa are thrown into the crowd to bring luck to whoever catches them. Of course, a choice for the mimosa queen is just as important as a flower fight that is on the program.
There is a scenic tour, the Route du Mimosa, which stretches from Mandelieu-la-Napoule to Grasse. The 130 km long route has established itself on the French coast as a popular travel destination between January and March. Although the route is relatively short and can be done in one day, it is advisable to plan at least three to four days in order not only to enjoy the natural beauty of the Provencal landscape, but also to succumb to the charm of the idyllic villages.
Read the full article in Issue 16