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Nice's spectacular carnival ready to return

PUBLISHED: 13:33 01 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:53 19 February 2019

The characters on the Nice Carnival floats are always eye-catching. Pic: Thierry Garcia/CC BY-SA 3.0

The characters on the Nice Carnival floats are always eye-catching. Pic: Thierry Garcia/CC BY-SA 3.0

Archant

A carnival atmosphere is assured as the city prepares to host one of the biggest parties of the year

Nice Carnival takes place from 16 February - March 2. Pic: debs-eye photostream/CC BY-SA 2.0Nice Carnival takes place from 16 February - March 2. Pic: debs-eye photostream/CC BY-SA 2.0

Mid-February is still a time for hibernation in the UK but in the south of France, hundreds of thousands of people are preparing for one of the biggest parties of the year. While we are battling the cold and rain, down on the Riviera, Nice Carnival is ready to return in another riot of colour and sound, played out against a beautiful blue sky and the beaches of the aptly-named Côte d’Azur.

The Nice showpiece is known as being one of the biggest and most popular events of its kind in the world, alongside the carnivals in Rio de Janeiro and Venice. It’s also one of the oldest, with records showing that it may have taken place in some form as early as 1294.

It is held over two weeks, with spectacular shows taking place around the Place Masséna, Le Jardin Albert 1er and the Promenade des Anglais. This year it is being held between 16 February – 2 March and the theme is Roi de Cinéma (King of Cinema), following last year’s Roi de l’espace and 2017’s Roi de l’energie. This year’s film theme has been chosen to mark the 100th anniversary of the city’s mythical Victorine Studios, opened in 1919, which have hosted the great and the good of cinema down the years, including Brigitte Bardot, Woody Allen and Alfred Hitchcock.

Nice Carnival characters in action. Pic: Jesmar/CC BY-SA 3.0Nice Carnival characters in action. Pic: Jesmar/CC BY-SA 3.0

Anyone who has ever been to Nice Carnival, or even just seen pictures of it, will know it is truly an event not to be missed. Over 1,000 dancers, musicians, acrobats and other performers take part in the celebrations, with the stars of the show arguably being the giant moving characters mounted on floats. The characters are incredibly well-designed with great attention to detail shown on the faces and body of the cast of well-known stars stretching into the night sky. There’s plenty of room for imagination, humour and satire in the choice of characters too.

Political figures regularly come under fire, with Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and François Hollande having less than flattering portrayals included in the parade. They share the limelight with a diverse line-up including fairytale queens, ET and Darth Vader.

Another large part of the carnival is the Bataille des Fleurs, or Battle of Flowers, where immaculately dressed performers throw tonnes of fresh flowers to the assembled crowds in a tradition that dates back to 1876. It began as a simple exchange of flowers to entertain visitors but the idea was developed to pay tribute to local flower producers, with 80 per cent of the flowers used, coming from the immediate area.

Le Bataille des Fleurs is a popular part of the event. Pic: Zil/CC BY-SA 3.0Le Bataille des Fleurs is a popular part of the event. Pic: Zil/CC BY-SA 3.0

Flower parades will take place at 2.30pm on February 16, 20, 23, 27 and March 2, with the carnival parade of lights at 9pm on February 16, 19, 23, 24, 26, and March 2.

It wouldn’t be France without a food and drink element too, and as the wine and champagne flow, visitors love to eat one of Nice’s favourite foods, socca. Huge pizza ovens are brought in to make copious amounts of the large round flatbread which are then taken out and divided up between hungry punters.

It is best to buy tickets before the event if you want to be close to the action in the reserved seating area. Tickets can be bought online at en.nicetourisme.com/pro-carnaval-de-nice as well as at the Office de Tourisme et des Congrès, or if you like to leave it until the last minute you may find some are still available on the day – no guarantees at this popular event though.

A Nice night to remember. Pic: Bohyunlee/CC BY-SA 4.0A Nice night to remember. Pic: Bohyunlee/CC BY-SA 4.0

A tip is to dress up for the carnival as spectators wearing full fancy dress (not just a mask) can get free access to the standing area in Place Masséna and Le Jardin Albert 1er for the parades.

Watch out for the spectacular finale on March 2 with the burning of the King – that’s right, the 20 metre main character is set alight to mark the end of the festivities. But don’t worry, the story goes that the King rises from the ashes, ready to return the following year.

A full programme of events, as well as ticket prices, can be found at en.nicetourisme.com/pro-carnaval-de-nice

The parade attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to Nice. Pic: Bohyunlee/CC BY-SA 4.0The parade attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to Nice. Pic: Bohyunlee/CC BY-SA 4.0

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