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La Route des Mimosas

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The Mimosa Trail on the Côte d'Azur offers a feast for the senses.

La Route des Mimosas

The flowering of the mimosa trees is a cause for celebration on France's Côte d'Azur. Imagine you're a bird soaring over the red ochre cliffs and brilliant blue shores of the region. Beginning in late January, you see the ground below you begin to light up with the sunniest yellow imaginable. Zoom in for a closer look and you see entire trees aflame with enormous trusses of fluffy, round, bright golden blossoms. A piercingly sweet, yet ethereal scent permeates the air. Winter is officially over!

The mimosa (Acacia spp.) is found in gardens, greenspaces, and forests all over the south of France. Over 1200 species of mimosa exist worldwide, distributed over primarily Australia, but also Central and South America and Asia. Around 1850, several mimosa species were introduced to the Côte d'Azur by wealthy English, who used them to enliven the off-season landscapes of their winter homes there.

It wasn't long before Acacia dealbata, a fast-growing and vigorously stoloniferous plant, had escaped and spread throughout the surrounding hills. Native to Australia, this tough legume was perfectly adapted to the silicaceous soils around Cannes and the Gulf Juan. Today it forms entire forests around the village of Tanneron (see photo at left).

This is a classic story of an invasive exotic plant, a phenomenon most gardeners and all botanists view with a jaundiced eye, as exotic invasives tend to wipe out the native vegetation in their path. But don't try to convince the population of southern France that they should get rid of their mimosas! They'd just snort with incredulity, for no other plant is as much loved in the region as this tough little tree with its clouds of sunny, fragrant winter blossoms that banish thoughts of winter. Go to the Côte d'Azur at mimosa time, and you'll see people everywhere with armloads of the golden blossoms.

To celebrate it's blossoming, the region has organized a constellation of events that are spread over two months (15 January-15 March) and 130 kilometers'drive. Eight regional villages participate in what has become known as la Route des Mimosas, a "trail" that the visitor can follow at his or her leisure anytime during the time period allotted and be assured of finding lots of celebrations, activities, guided walks and tours, and other animations centered on the explosive blossoming of the beautiful mimosa. The villages, going from west to east, include Bormes-les-Mimosas, le Rayol-Canadel, Sainte-Maxime, Saint-Raphaël, Tanneron, Grasse, Pégomas, and Mandelieu-la Napoule.

Included in the activities are a special mass celebrating the flowering of the mimosa; many parades (corsos) of mimosa-decked floats (called chars); batailles des fleurs, where people pelt each other with flowers; walks of varying lengths guided by naturalists; tours of mimosa forcing facilities (where branches are forced into bloom for the cutflower trade); courses in perfume making at Grasse; and more. The most widespread activity is without a doubt the corso with its attendant batailles des fleurs. Almost every village along the Trail has one, and we stopped in at Mandelieu-La Napoule to see the local version.

Since we had been to the glamorous bataille des fleurs at Nice the day before, the parade at Mandelieu had a delightfully small town feel. Floats were organized by the local girls' volleyball team, for example, and except for the incredible bounty of mimosa, had much in common with American hometown parades. However, even this very local event had healthy participation from other countries. Particularly in evidence were several goofy Italian kazoo bands. Their specialty seemed to be the creation of ornately decorated and often humorous kazoos. One entire orchestra had kazoos shaped like giant flowers, while another had them decorated in all sorts of offbeat ways--one as a giant pizza and another had a doll sitting on a chamber pot which was levitated into the air by its operator (player?) You had to see it to believe it...

However homespun this parade, it had a huge and respectful audience, who, as at Nice, sat obediently in the bleachers behind the barricades and exuberantly caught the mimosa branches thrown to them by the girls on the floats (not supermodels like at Nice, but rather your garden-variety hometown girl, and none the less cute for it). All ages participated, from the very aged to the youngest drummer of all, who kept the beat perfectly and marched with a bemused solemnity in front of a group of his elders (right).

The upshot of the parade was mimosa bouquets for all. It was a wonderful sight to watch the crowd disperse, everyone's arms loaded with the sweetly fragrant blossoms. I have to say it was a sight I found profoundly touching. Perhaps it's just the strain of world events at the moment, but I find my eyes filling with tears again as I recall watching these people, strolling toward their homes, carrying the bright yellow blossoms, talking and laughing. It was such a peaceful sight.


Products of Interest:
Mimosa appliquéed ellipse cache-pot
Collection Herbier--Mimosa
Enamel thermometer--Mimosa blossom
Enamel wall clock--Mimosa blossom

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Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur





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