Celebrating the Gourd in Nice, France

Celebrating the Gourd, nice, france, gourd festival

Nice is a French city, of course, but it also has a strong and proud culture all its own. It was Niçois long before it was French and the people work hard to keep their Niçois traditions alive. It has its own language, anthem, traditional costumes, dances, songs, and food. The language is taught in schools and there are dance groups that perform at many events throughout the year. These associations ensure that the traditions are passed from generation to generation. And the calendar is dotted with several events each year that are typically Niçois.

gourd festival, nice france, dancers, musiciens, celebrating the gourd
Note that the little girl has a long gourd hanging around her back. She played it in the band with the little stick that is tucked into her apron.

One such event is the gourd festival that takes place each spring in the park, in the hills of Cimiez (above Nice). It is the perfect place to see all things Niçois. You could sample the traditional food, enjoy the music and, of course, discover numerous ways to decorate a gourd.

nicois gourds, celebrating the gourd, nice, france
These little gourds are painted wearing the traditional Niçois costumes.

Cougourdon or cougourdoun is the Niçois name for this inedible vegetable that was introduced to the region in the 16th century. The special type of gourd that is grown here has a long history with the people of Nice and was so important to them that it was given its own festival.

Historically, the gourd contributed in many ways to Niçois life. The vines were used on trellises to shade patios and windows from the hot Mediterranean sun. When the fruit was dried it could be made into lightweight waterproof kitchen utensils or used as a thermos to carry water or wine out into the fields. The clever Niçois even made musical instruments from gourds.

gourds, nice, france, celebrating the gourd

“A home without a gourd is like an empty nest.”
This Niçois saying shows how important these gourds were to the local life.

Gourds are used less today because we have so many other items that take their place. But the festival that started in the Middle Ages to celebrate the gourd continues.  Today they are used for more artistic purposes. The gourd’s unusual shape inspires artists who come up with countless ways to decorate them. If you have been wondering what you could do with a gourd, this is the place to go for inspiration.

gourds, nice, france, celebrating the gourd

At the beginning of the 20th century, when the newfound tourism industry was booming, the decoration of gourds started to flourish. These painted gourds made great souvenirs for the tourists. It’s said that Queen Victoria bought a few of them herself.

And speaking of Queen Victoria, this is her old stomping ground. The grand Hotel Regina (now private apartments) that was built to accommodate her on her winter visits to Nice is just across the street from the park and the monument to her is just a bit further down the hill. She probably rode in her little donkey-cart through this very park.

cimiez, nice, france, celebrating the gourd

It’s easy to see why she liked it here. The park is worth a visit even when there isn’t a festival going on. It sits on a hill with views overlooking Nice and the sea. Its olive groves make a great picnic spot and there are gardens, a monastery, the Matisse museum and, of course, the roman ruins.

cimiez park, nice, france, celebrating the gourd

Cimiez was not always a part of Nice. It was a Roman hilltop settlement and Nice was its Greek sea-side neighbour. Around the 6th century, the Roman town went into decline while Nice continued to grow until it eventually enveloped Cimiez.

Another traditional Niçois celebration, the May Festivals, also take place in this park. To read about last year’s events, see the link at the bottom of the post. There are festivities every weekend in May.  Check the Office of Tourism’s site for more information.

Find Out More – You can read more about the history of Nice in my book, Curious Histories of Nice, France.

Nice France traditional dancers
To see some traditional Niçois dancing, click on the image.

Follow Me – If you would like to keep up with my articles, you can receive an email every time I post (every other week or so). Just enter your email below and click the Follow the Curious Rambler button.


  1. Lively post. What gourds! The Nice tourism department needs to pay you for your blog. It makes me want to buy tickets and visit this summer.

    1. Hi Alice, I’ll be sure and bring that up with the tourist office – I’m sure they’ll agree. 😉 And you definitely should visit this summer. Summer in Nice is really buzzing, there are all kinds of events.

  2. What a lovely post Margo! These little gourds would make an interesting addition to my Russian matryoshka dolls… they are all painted in local styles, reflecting local culture.

    Your photos are wonderful (not sure what the message is from the “muslim” gourds, but I’m sure there is one)- I especially love the expressions on the last gourd pic. It reminds me of traffic going into DC every morning! 😉

    1. Hi Jonelle. Yes some of these are really beautifully painted – and then some are just funny. You think there is a message behind the ladies in burqas? I just thought they were cute like the little Niçois people. And I have no idea what that last group is supposed to be but I like your traffic image.

    1. Isn’t it amazing the different and creative things that people do? I have since found out that there are lots of gourd associations – especially in the southern United States. Who knew?

      1. I’m a southwest US gourder and I very much enjoyed your article on gourds in Nice. My daughter is living in Paris this year and I may get a chance to visit so will keep this idea on my list. We have a wonderful festival here in Arizona each Februrary (Casa Grande) where gourd artists show/sell/and compete for statewide recognition of their gourd art. Come on over and check us out! ;o)

        1. I looked up your festival and it’s much larger than the little one in Nice. But it might still be of interest to you if you are a gourder. I really never thought much about gourds, but since I wrote this, I have heard from several gourders. They are quite beautiful when decorated. Thanks so much for writing. All the best. ~ Margo

Leave a Comment