The Villefranche-sur-mer Naval Flower Battle is one of those quirky small-town festivals that most tourists hope to run across. Usually held the first Monday after the start of the three-week Nice Carnival celebration, the action is centered on the seafront of the tiny town of Villefranche-sur-mer (population 5,500) a couple of miles east of Nice. Although up to 7,000 people attend the event each year, it manages to retain a small-town, non-touristy feel.
Originally designed as a complement to the land-based flower parades held throughout the region in the lead-up to Easter, the current incarnation of the festival features up to 20 local fishing boats. Each one is decked out in elaborate, colorful flower arrangements.
Some of the more adventurous boat crews arrange the flowers into recognizable shapes, as can be seen with the seahorse in the image below.
Parade on Land
The festivities kick off around 1:30pm with a mini parade down the seafront promenade. Because the parade route is less than 200 yards (180 meters) long and there are only five or six groups in the parade, it doesn’t last very long. To keep the excitement going, as soon as the last group reaches the end of the route, all of the groups turn around and march back the way they came. Although it takes less than 15 minutes, it’s something you don’t want to miss. Because the crowd can be quite large for such a small area, I’d recommend standing near the start of the parade, on the uphill side near the Hotel Welcome.
Parade on the Sea
After the parade wraps up, there’s a break before the activity moves to the water at 2:30pm. Local fishing boats, called pointus, crewed by fishermen and their families and friends take turns sailing right along the promenade. This gives the crowd a chance to see the displays up close in a calm and dignified manner.
Flower Battle Between Land and Sea
Soon after the final boat glides by the spectators, the actual “flower battle” begins. The same boats once again parade in front of the crowd. This time, though, they throw flowers at the people lined along the shore.
In theory, the people along the shore are supposed to throw the flowers back. But, in reality most people prefer to keep the fresh flowers they nab rather than throw them away. The real battle therefore tends to be between the spectators. As bouquets of flowers are launched into the air, everyone pushes and shoves each other to try to grab them. By the end of the event, most people on the shore are holding armfuls of slightly bashed up flowers. And the waters along the shore are a multicolored carpet of carnations and mimosas.
For such a small, short festival, this is one of my local favorites. If you’re anywhere in the area the first Monday after Ash Wednesday, I’d strongly recommend heading to see it. Check online before heading out to make sure the schedule hasn’t changed. Note that if bad weather is expected, the festival might be moved to a different date.