Camillias and Tea with a Japanese Flavor in Tuscany

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The camellia (camelia in Italian) is a prized flower in the area of Tuscany around Lucca. So much so that each spring there is an annual camellia festival that takes place in some of the villas in the countryside around Lucca and in the small town of Sant’Andrea di Compito. 

I was able to visit Sant”Andrea during the festival in 2018 and was enchanted by the town, the festival, and those lovely flowers.

My memories were so wonderful that I was looking forward to making a return visit this spring.

This year the Antiche Camelie della Lucchesia festival marked its 30th anniversary with a special celebration that combined the beauty of the flowers (scientific name Camellia Japonica) with an exhibit reflecting the Japanese culture from which the flowers get their name and from where they were originally imported to Italy.

Ribbon cutting ceremony to open the exhibit at the Antiche Camelie della Lucchesia festival, 2019

Ribbon cutting ceremony to open the exhibit at the Antiche Camelie della Lucchesia festival, 2019

The focus of the Japanese exhibit was on tea - growing, processing, and serving. The connection with tea is that a species of camellia (scientific name Camellia Sinensis) provides the leaves used in making tea. Along with the many beautiful flowering camillias, there is also a garden in Sant’Andrea where the tea plants are grown.

Tea plants are raised in the Antica Chiusa Borrini, a large walled garden in Sant’Andrea di Compito.

Tea plants are raised in the Antica Chiusa Borrini, a large walled garden in Sant’Andrea di Compito.


The Japanese exhibit included a demonstration of the antique method of processing tea leaves by hand - a labor-intensive process that involves kneading the fresh green leaves over a heated surface to elongate and dry the leaves. The process takes five hours. 

Processing the newly harvested tea leaves the old-fashioned way - kneading over a cloth-covered surface heated from below

Processing the newly harvested tea leaves the old-fashioned way - kneading over a cloth-covered surface heated from below


There were also tea tastings (delicious!) and displays of Japanese tea accoutrements including tea pots, whisks, and cups, as well as a market selling a variety of Japanese items.

Of course there was also the traditional annual display of camellia blossoms, a plant market, and artisan stands. After visiting the market we strolled through town, admiring the beautiful houses, villas, stone walls and gardens - with the camellia as the star among flowering forsythia bushes, fruit trees, and wildflowers.

 

The entrance to the garden of Villa Borrina

The entrance to the garden of Villa Borrina

I enjoyed finding this unexpected bit of Japan in Tuscany and learning the history of the camellias, both their visual beauty and their flavorful use in tea. Italy is full of delightful surprises. -post by JMB

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Sant’Andrea di Compito on a lovely early spring afternoon

Signs of Spring in Lucca

Tiny yellow buttercups grow along the wall in Lucca, beautiful against a view of distant hills.

Tiny yellow buttercups grow along the wall in Lucca, beautiful against a view of distant hills.

I’ve been waiting, not very patiently, for spring to arrive in Lucca.

Winter and early spring were unusually cold and rainy this year and the little hints of spring that showed up in early April were fleeting - the tease of just one warm day followed by several days of clouds, rain, and cool temperatures. The trees along the wall remained stubbornly bare, lemon trees remained in the limonaia, and vines were stark without even a hint of new growth.

I began to doubt that the sun would ever come to stay, that trees would sprout leaves, or that flowers would bloom. Flora (the Italian goddess of flowers and spring) seemed to have deserted me.

Today, I can happily say that the wait is over. Temperatures have soared during the past few days, changing from hat and glove weather to short sleeve and sandals weather in a flash. As I write this in late April, temperatures have hit the low 80s, not one day of rain is in the forecast all week, and i fiori (the flowers) have arrived. Sono contenta! (I'm happy!)

The trees along le mura (the city walls) are now green with leaves, tiny yellow buttercups bloom along the walls, and the sycamores in Piazza Grande (also called Piazza Napoleone) provide a beautiful green canopy around the square and the now-busy carousel. 

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This week I visited my favorite garden (on the grounds of Palazzo Pfanner) and found that the lemon and orange trees had been moved out from their winter home in the limonaia and were full of fruit. Showy peonies were blooming as was a magnolia tree and several bushes. Can roses and hydrangeas be far behind? How I hope they bloom before I head home to the U.S. in a few weeks.

The most dramatic and lovely proof that spring has truly arrived comes in the form of the glicine (wisteria) that have bloomed throughout Lucca. They spill over walls and terraces and across arbors with their soft colors and long flower heads. For me, it isn’t spring until the wisteria bloom.

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I noticed the first wisteria blossoms along the wall that encircles the historic city. I then spent an afternoon wandering through town to the spots where I remembered the most stunning displays of wisteria from past years. While a few had not yet bloomed, several of my favorites, in Piazza Parigi and Piazza Antelminelli (pictured below), were just as beautiful as I recalled.

 Italy in spring, Italy in flower  - Bellissima!                  -post by JMB