If you take a drive anywhere in the south of France during the months of January, February or March, chances are you’re going to see some beautiful, flowering trees covered with bright yellow blooms. These would be mimosa trees. They are so popular in the southwest that there is a “Route du Mimosa” and over a hundred activities and events associated with the tree. Festivals, carnivals, parades, nature walks, markets, workshops, you name it. For many years I’ve wanted to check out some these events, but I’ve never been here during the season for this amazing flowering tree. Now that Carole and I are living here full-time I’ve downloaded a schedule of festivals and activities and plan to visit as many of them as I can. Last week I drove up to Tanneron (about an hour drive) for their “Fête du Mimosa” (Carole was in the US visiting friends, so I was on my own).
[more info after the photo gallery]
So, what exactly is a “mimosa” tree you ask? Well that seems to depend on where you live. Apparently there are over 1000 different species! The variety found here in our area is “Gauls (Acacia Dealbata)” and it was originally imported from England (via Australia) in the 19th century when a lot of Brits had settled on the Côte d’Azur. I’m told that it bloomed during the summer months in Australia but that when relocated to Britian and the south of France it kept blooming at the “same time” which are the winter months here. It’s different than the mimosa trees that grow in the US. It’s a fast growing tree that easily “escaped” from the English gardens and began to grow in abundance all over the area. The flowers look like little yellow “puff balls” on the end of the branches and they have a delicate scent. They are used for a variety of purposes, most commonly cut flowers and perfumes. Yves Saint Laurent, Guerlain and Jean Patou are just some of the famous perfume makers who have used mimosa in their products. The trees themselves have many uses as well. They make beautiful ornamental plants, great hedges or windbreaks and excellent sand and soil stabilizers.
For the French the mimosa signals the beginning of the end of winter. The bright yellow flowers covering acres and acres of trees really brighten up the countryside and remind you that the cold, grey days of winter are coming to an end. (Well, in truth, they aren’t really that cold and they aren’t really that grey down here on the Côte d’Azur.)
The Route du Mimosa stretches for over 130 kilometers from Bormes-les-Mimosas to Grasse, from the Var department to the Alpes-Maritimes department. There are eight villages along the way that participate in and celebrate the trees and flowers in one way or another: Bormes-les-Mimosas, Rayol-Canadel-sur-Mer, Sainte-Maxime, Saint-Raphaël, Mandelieu-La Napoule, Tanneron, Pégomas and Grasse. There’s a very detailed website which I’ve listed below and you can even download a beautiful PDF brochure with all the information you’d ever want (parts of it are even translated into English).
The small village of Tanneron has the most mimosa of any of the eight villages along the official route. The highlight is the “forêts jaunes” (yellow forest) which is the largest wooded area of mimosa in France. The locals call it “Mimosaland” and the flowers are an integral part of life in this village.
Several villages hold Mimosa festivals but the one in Tanneron is the first each year, held on the first Sunday in February. The entire town is closed off (I had to walk over a kilometer from where I was able to park) and the streets are full of merchants, games, rides, food and activities. Booths are lined up and down the main street through town and the variety of goods was amazing. There were booths for jewelery, perfume, soap, clothes, oil, hats, candles and more. Food everywhere: roasted nuts, tapenade, cheese, honey, fruit, olives, biscuits, crepes, pissaladière and lots of candies and sweets. I was especially curious about the many mimosa related products: syrups, jellies and more, though I didn’t buy any of them. The line for the socca was quite long but the one for raclette and lardonade was really crazy! People were waiting in that line for a long time. It must have been very good.
I had a wonderful afternoon in Tanneron. The village was packed with locals and visitors and everyone was having a great time. For the kids there was a small carnival ride, several games and a petting zoo with sheep, goats, rabbits and more. I didn’t buy too much, just some juice, postcards, mimosa soap and a magnet. If you go, on the way out of town make sure to stop at the “forcerie,” a shop where they process mimosa. You’ll find all kinds of products and souvenirs. The Office de Tourisme is very easy to find and they can give you lots of help and advice.
Next up Carole and I will be heading to the big Mimosa festival in Mandelieu-La Napoule on the 19th. There’s a big flower parade in Bormes-les-Mimosas a few days later and I hope we can make it to that as well.