The mimosa: a flower at the heart of a local tradition

MimosaWithin a few days of this Reporter’s distribution there should have been the first blooming of the mimosa, that wonderful golden flower which has become a symbol of the Côte d’ Azur and has a tradition all of its own. But this flower which brings, as the locals say “a thousand suns” to the sometimes-greyish days of our late winter, was actually brought to Europe from Australia by an expat, Captain Cook. How it got to this region is not altogether clear. One claimant to the title of first importer is the nicely named Duc de Vallombrosa. Many readers, though, we imagine, will favour the cause of Lord Brougham, formerly Lord Chancellor of England, who settled in Cannes in the 1830s. It’s in and around that town that mimosa first flourished. It now has a notable presence elsewhere, including around Ste Maxime, St Raphaël and Grasse – and, of course, Mandelieu and Bormes-les-Mimosas.

A quarter of all horticultural production in the Alpes-Maritimes consists of mimosa – that’s some 550 tons or around one million blooms annually. This represents a turnover of €3 million a year. Ninety per cent of the production goes for export (Italy, Scandinavia, USA, Canada, even Japan). Despite a buoyant market the calling of mimosiste is unattractive to younger azureens involving as it does hard physical work, especially during the winter harvest. Their number is down from 169 in 1990 to barely 70 today – and one in four is over 60.

And that local tradition? There are two ways to find out about it. One is to follow, in whole or in part, the 130km Route des Mimosas between Grasse and Bormes-les-Mimosas. This takes in eight villages, all of them interesting and memorable. Gassin, which is well into the Var, is rated (you won’t want to argue) one of France’s most beautiful villages; and then there’s Pégomas where you can take your coffee with a mimosette, that’s a brioche bursting with mimosa-flavoured cream. If you like festive events with lots of other people you should get along to the annual Fête du Mimosa in Mandelieu-La Napoule, which had its 18th edition (actually, it can trace its history back to a rather modest start in 1931) between February 15th-24th this year. This is a spectacular show featuring some 12 tons of the golden bloom woven into floral sculptures illustrating the chosen theme (this year it was Mimosa fête les Contes).