The 130-kilometer Mimosa Route in France

The stunning road, which features eight towns and villages, brings a different kind of sunshine to the French Riviera, when the region breaks out in giant brushstrokes of rich yellow.–2022–tips-to-pass

I followed my guide Maddy Polomeni further along a corridor of golden mimosa blossoms as we hiked towards an abandoned quarry in the Massif de l’Esterel mountain range, as the snow-capped peaks of the Maritime Alps faded into the distance behind me. Despite the fact that it was the end of the flowering season, there were still plenty of blooms along this trail, unlike many of the other mimosa circuits higher up in the peaks behind us.

The correct term for each bud is glomerulus, but Polomeni’s nickname for the fluffy, featherlight balls that filled the late February air with the sweet aroma of marzipan felt more fitting.—100-Guaranteed-Success/wiki

“It feels like spring has arrived,” she said. The largest mimosa forest in Europe can be found in the rocky ranges behind Mandelieu-La Napoule, a coastal town west of Cannes in southern France. Polomeni has been one of the few registered guides leading small groups along the walking trails that crisscross this dry Mediterranean landscape for six years. She’s become a resource for travelers like me who are following La Route du Mimosa, a 130-kilometer road trip that begins in Bormes-les-Mimosas, 35 kilometers west of Saint-Tropez, and ends in the perfume-scented town of Grasse in the Cannes hinterland, an itinerary best travelled between January and March, when the region bursts out in giant brushstrokes of rich yellow.

Mimosa, also known as wattle in its native Australia, was introduced to the French Riviera by British aristocrats who flocked to its resort towns in search of winter sun. The Acacia dealbata (or silver wattle) they brought in their luggage quickly took to the acidic soils of the French region’s mountainous western terrain, making its first appearance around 1880. “The plant spread because it found the same growing conditions as it did in Australia,” horticulturist Julien Cavatore explained.

Pépinières Cavatore, his family nursery in Bormes-les-Mimosas, stocks over 180 species of the plant, and it has been designated as one of the country’s finest collections by the Conservatoire des Collections Végétales Spécialisées (a French association modeled after Plant Heritage). “One of the things I like best about mimosa is that it blooms at a time of year when there aren’t any other flowers,” Cavatore said.

The Route du Mimosa was established in 2002 along existing secondary roads, and while it isn’t clearly signposted, a brochure that serves as a guide to the various waypoints and activities is available in local tourist offices (and online). People frequently ask Cavatore why there aren’t “huge forests of mimosas” as they leave Bormes-les-Mimosas – in fact, the landscape is the dusty greens and winter browns typical of the season for much of the early stages of the drive. However, as he explained, the route is more about a theme. a showcase of eight towns and villages on the French Riviera that have developed cultural ties to a plant that has become a symbol of winter.

The route begins in shady Bormes-les-Mimosas, where French presidents have vacationed since Charles de Gaulle first visited in 1968, and proceeds along the coastal D559, a two-lane road heavy with holidaymakers seeking clean air and sandy beaches in summer but which flows freely at this time of year.

The D559 continues past pétanque courts and waterfront restaurants towards the popular resort town of Saint-Raphal after bypassing Saint-Tropez for Sainte-Maxime (its low-key but charming neighbor across the bay). The Corniche d’Or, the road that mimics the twists and turns of the craggy coastline before opening out onto the Bay of Cannes, is a 30km stretch between Saint-Raphal and Mandelieu-La Napoule, where majestic red ochre rocks tumble into the sparkling Mediterranean Sea below.

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Mandelieu-La Napoule bills itself as the mimosa capital, and has hosted La Fête du Mimosa, a 10-day festival of parades and street entertainment, since 1931. Despite the fact that the 2022 event was canceled due to the pandemic, the town is still a must-visit for an exquisite mimosa-infused pause. Mathieu Marchand, executive pastry chef at Riviera institution L’Oasis in La Napoule, first drew inspiration from the colorful blooms surrounding his kitchen last year, creating a mimosa-flavored macaron that became a menu mainstay during the 2021 flowering period.

He’s added a delicate cake to the seasonal menu this year. “I started with a cheesecake base, then layered in a caramelized peanut and finished with a white chocolate ganache,” he explained. Even though each individual pastry contains less than 2g of the distilled flower essence, the bitter-almond and orange-blossom flavors of mimosa are distinct. “Another creation that demonstrates the many possibilities of mimosa will be unveiled next year,” he promised.

The number of artisanal products that highlight the plant’s culinary attributes is steadily growing. A display of locally made mimosa products in Mandelieu-La Napoule’s tourist office includes chocolates, honey, and even a vodka-based liquor called Mimocello.

However, the profession of mimosistes – or people who cultivate mimosa – is on the verge of extinction. At the turn of the century, Le Capitou, Mandelieu’s oldest neighborhood, was home to 80 growers. In the 1920s, entire railroad cars of cut mimosa would leave Cannes and La Napoule for flower markets as far away as Moscow and London, the precious blooms protected by baskets woven from cane and willow, an artform in and of itself. Only a few mimosistes remain today, mostly cultivating the flowers in the area surrounding the Massif du Tanneron, the mountain range between Mandelieu, Tanneron, and Pégomas known as the ‘Golden Triangle’ of mimosa.

In Pégomas, on a quiet cul-de-sac, I met Cécile Reynaud at La Colline des Mimosas, her family’s horticultural business, in a 16th-century village just inland from Mandelieu. She was frantically wrapping bouquets of freshly cut branches for a steady stream of passing customers. Reynaud is a third-generation mimosiste; her grandmother first planted mimosa in the 1930s to sell to perfumeries. Today, their market is cut flowers, and they supply over 100,000 bouquets per year to a diverse range of individuals and professionals, as well as seasonal festivals. “I’m so infused with mimosa that I can’t smell it during the season,” she explained.

Mimosistes like Reynaud are masters of their craft, having honed their skills over a lifetime of harvests. This is most visible in the forcerie, a temperature-controlled room where branches of yet-to-open buds are “forced” into flowering in hot, humid conditions for six to 36 hours. The technique extends both the life of cut flowers and the growing season by up to 10 days. The mimosiste’s skill is in determining how long to leave the flowers in the forcerie – “if we leave it too long, there is a point of no return and the flowers fade,” she explained.