Whenever anyone thinks about special events on the French Riviera, invariably the Cannes Film Festival, Monaco Grand Prix, Nice Carnival and Menton Lemon Festival spring immediately to mind. Digging a little deeper one might think of Mimosa, Violet and Jazz Festivals. Yet there is another festival that brings together both local tradition and artisans, that is all too often over-looked, if not unknown: the Fête de l'Oranger in Le Bar-sur-Loup.
Built on a rocky promontory overlooking the Loup Valley between Grasse and Vence at a height of 320 metres, Bar-sur-Loup has been lovingly restored and still retains some of its historic architecture and original ramparts. As was the case for many perched villages in this region, its privileged position found favour with the Celts, Gauls, Ligurians and Romans.
Since the 19th century Bar-sur-Loup's economy has been centred around the bitter orange tree "bigarade" and the tree has become the symbol of the village. The Bigarade orange, or bitter orange, is cultivated primarily for its essential oils and use in liquers such as Triple Sec, Grand Marnier, Curacao and, of course, another very French drink: Picon.
From the first days of May, men, women and children, many of whom came from Italy specially for the season, picked the delicate flowers one by one, to sell to the Parfumeries of Grasse. I should say however, that this orange tree is particular to the south of France and especially the Nice region, but seems to have found the micro-climate around Bar-sur-Loup very much to its liking.
The day following the end of the harvest, the orange fields became the venue for the "bello souoïdo" a celebration that brought together both producers and flower pickers for a banquet with local orange wine. Today, this tradition has been kept alive every year on Easter Monday with the Fête de l'Oranger that culminates into a competition to find the best orange wine producer.
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