While many people visit Nice during the sweltering days of summer, if you want to see the King, visit in February during Carnaval Nice. Every February a million people flock to Nice for the largest winter festival in the South of France…Carnaval. This is when Nice comes alive and has a joyous energy that outshines those summer days. It is my favorite time to visit.
History of Carnaval Nice
Records indicate that Carnaval Nice was first mentioned in 1294. It was a way for the townspeople to eat, drink and literally make merry before the lean days of Lent arrived. This tradition continued with a break during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Empire.
When Charles-Felix, King of Sardinia and Duke of Savoy along with Queen Marie Cristina of Naples and Sicily visited Nice in 1830 prior to Lent, a parade with carriages was organized on their behalf. Over the years the parade grew and eventually became what is seen today…world class floats in several parades, and thousands of musicians and dancers from around the world. The 2017 Carnaval begins February 11 and ends February 25th.
For decades the parades rolled along the seafront Promenade des Anglais before turning and moving slowly up to the Place Messena but this year the route has changed due to heightened security. It will move through Place Messena and turn around the Promenade du Paillon. This could be the beginning of a new tradition as dictated by the times.
Carnaval Nice in Modern Times
The themes change yearly and are in line with world topics. The King of 2017 is the King of Energy. I am always astounded by the imagination and skill used in creating the floats and costumes. Clearly, there is so much attention to detail.
The main parade is the Carnaval parade where the King is the featured float. The crowd roars as each float passes but they are drowned out by the noise of the parade itself. It is deafening but exhilarating. The crowds sway along with the music and it is not unusual to see a dancer pull someone onto the parade route for an impromptu dance while the crowd whistles and cheers loudly. This parade runs daily. At night it is called the Parade of Lights as the floats are illuminated making for a magical sight.
A heady fragrance precedes the Flower Parade. Thousands of flowers are used to decorate these floats and ninety perfect of the flowers come from the area. Beautifully and sometimes scantily dressed women throw armloads of flowers to the crowds. Children perch on their parents’ shoulders with outstretched arms hoping to catch a flower or two.
While Carnaval Nice has become more sophisticated over the years with its astonishing larger than life size floats, one element has remained unchanged since the first Carnaval…revelry. Stands abound with food, drink, noisemakers, cans of Silly String, and bags of confetti.
The confetti is tossed while the Silly String is sprayed into the crowd covering those “lucky” individuals. Many in the crowd spray their Silly String right back at the parade walkers. At times it can be almost blinding but definitely fun. It is easy to become a child again at Carnaval.
If You Go
Transportation: There are numerous buses running from the airport to Nice. Taxis or Uber are another option.
Ticket pricing: Adults are 40E for reserved seating. This includes 2 events excluding Saturdays. Children 6-10 are 6E for reserved seating. Infants up to age 5 are free if seated on an adults lap. Standing room only is free up to 10 years of age.
Accommodations: Can be booked through Nice Tourism or find a hotel, like the Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Mediterranee, on TripAdvisor, a Miles Geek Affiliate. You will find a variety of hotels and prices to choose from.
Save Time to Visit
Fete du Citron in Menton. This yearly festival features life size stationary displays decorated with citrus. Parades are held as well. Take the train from Nice (21km) to the Main Menton train station. Walk 15 minutes to Les Jardins Bioves where the displays are located. For more information visit Tourism Menton.
Pain, Amour et Chocolat festival in Antibes. This French-Italian festival is held February 9th-12th and February 16-19th. It celebrates bread, love, and chocolate and is an ideal place to spend St. Valentine’s Day.