Villefranche-sur-Mer, French Riviera, February 16th 2015. It’s time for a special spring ball in Villefranche harbour, with wooden beauties dressed in yellow, red and orange parading one after the other in front of the crowds . At the end of the parade, they cheerfully take their dresses off and throw them to the audience. The belles are boats and their dresses are made of mimosas – in full bloom this time of year – and carnations.
It’s the famous annual Combat naval fleuri – the naval battle of flowers – a highly jovial battle among the thousands of flower catchers ashore. It is proudly announced as nothing less than un must de bon goût et d’élégance – a must in terms of good taste and elegance.
The first battle took place in 1902, at a time where carnivals were spreading along the Riviera, and the jet set soon flocked to Villefranche to celebrate spring and catch mimosas. It has been a yearly event ever since, on Monday before Mardi Gras, except for a break between the two world wars. Indeed the oldest participating belle is 86 years old. The battle is preceded by a carnival parade of just the right size for the tiny streets of this übercharming little town.
To be added to your list of things to do and places to visit during carnival holiday. Include the much bigger parades in neighbouring Nice and the Fête du Citron in Menton, and your week is fully booked.
Text and photos by Unni Holtedahl, Mardi Gras 2015