Le Corso Fleuri is the annual flower parade in Bormes-les-Mimosas. This is the oldest Corso on the Côte d'Azur, the only one using only fresh flowers, and the only one with no barriers between the spectators and the floats and performers, making it a very immersive experience.
An exciting part of the Bormes-les-Mimosas Corso Fleuri is that as a spectator you're part of the event. No tribune seating or barriers keeping you away. The spectators stand along the edge of the road, the sidewalks, and the overlooking terraces while the parade passes. You can mingle with the floats and performers until start time, when your asked to please step back and try to keep out of their way while the parade moves off.
A Corso Fleuri is a parade of flower floats, often related to a carnivale. They began in the 17th century, in the South of France, when the nobles paraded their decked-out carriages down the main street of the village. It faded away during the French Revolution, then started again with the carnivales in the 20th century.
The modern version began in Bormes-les-Mimosas in 1920 to celebrate the beginning of Spring, and to forget the ravages of the long war to end all wars. With the hillsides covered in bright yellow mimosa and other Provencal flowers blooming, they had the idea to decorate their carts and parade through the village. The original carts pulled by donkeys evolved into elaborate floats pulled by decorated tractors.
For the first few decades the floats were decorated only with the local flowers from the surrounding hillsides. As time went on, the source of available flowers diminished, while the amount and size of the elaborate floats demanded more and more. The Bormes-les-Mimosas Corso Fleuri still uses local flowers, but augments them with flowers imported from other areas, but still only fresh flowers.
Entry into the village for the Corso Fleuri is 6 euros (2019) per person; under-10 free. Bormes-les-Mimosas village is a compact space, the event is popular, and the crowds are thick, so early arrival is recommended.
Parking is available in the village-side parking lots. It's free, but you pay for your Corso entry on the way in. Since the village-side parking is up through the center, and the only road into the village is used all day for the Corso floats and parades, once you get into the parking lot your car is stuck there for the rest of the day. Free parking is also available in various areas down below the village, and free shuttle buses (navettes) run every 15-20 minutes between there and the village. We got up to the village-top parking lot around 9h30, and there was still plenty of parking available, but the road into the village was closed by 10 AM. Departing at the end of the day is another matter. The road exiting the village was finally opened around 17h45. We used local knowledge of small streets to avoid the local blockages and got down to the coast road. We then put-putted along with the crowds along the only coast road very slowly, but in good humor.
Bormes-les-Mimosas Corso Fleuri is a weekend event, with lots of activities in the village on Saturday and Sunday. The main event, though, is the actual corso, the parade of flowered floats. We spent the morning touring the old village, and picnicking for lunch. There are a lot of café-restaurants, they're good, and they all have long lines for entry.
After lunch, the floats collect down on Boulevard du Soleil (the main road into the village), 4-500 m from Place Gambetta at the top. The street is full of wandering spectators, and parade participants joining their starting places.
At 13h30, with a Mediterranean lack of precision, the Corso begins parading up the road, past the Place Gambetta hairpin to Place St-Francois.
The Corso circles around the top, then parades back down the road to the starting point, so you have a second chance to see them. The Corso then returns in a third pass, back up to the top of the hill at Placee Gambetta and
Place St-Francois, and the parade is over; and the fun begins!
The Bataille des Fleurs begins shortly after the final parade up to the town center. In the beginning of the Corsos (some fifty years ago), the Bataille des Fleurs was a real "battle", with spectators tearing the flowers off the floats and throwing them at each other and back at the floats. Now days, the spectators help themselves to the flowers, and the float people also remove the flowers and hand them out (or throw them) to the spectators. Everybody goes home with beautiful bouquets of colorful fresh flowers.
During the Bataille des Fleurs the streets are packed with mobs of people surrounding the floats, the mood is joyous and relaxed, and beautifully flowered floats gradually morph into wireframe skeletons.