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Silvia La Padula

12 February 2018

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A Warm Welcome and Wonderful Wildflowers

A Warm Welcome and Wonderful Wildflowers

Today marks the start of an exciting new adventure for us as our new blog finally goes online!

We’ll be telling you all about Cammarana, about glorious South East Sicily, about the island’s Baroque cities and UNESCO world heritage sites, and about our house with its lovely gardens, its elegant world of hand-embroidered sheets and snowy-white towels, the soft almond and Modica chocolate biscuits we serve at breakfast, the house’s book-filled shelves and the serenity of this peaceful corner of paradise.

A warm Sicilian welcome

Seven years have gone by since we first opened up some of our rooms at Tenuta Cammarana to welcome guests, but for all of us here in the house the arrival of each new guest remains a huge pleasure. It always feels as if the house itself opens its doors to our guests, welcoming in new friends – for whom we hope every stay will become a very happy memory to be long-treasured and, hopefully, repeated. That’s the warmth of a Sicilian welcome… and the warmth of Cammarana!

It’s a welcome I have experienced first-hand, so I’ll begin by telling you a little about my own arrival here and how I fell in love with the estate and its wonderful setting.

I am an architect and was born in Rome, but I arrived in Cammarana about twenty years ago. It was a world I tiptoed my way into gradually and a little uncertainly, trying to “listen to” and understand the landscape of the estate and the surrounding countryside which, over time and with the passing of the seasons, have become my great passion. For a life-long city dweller like me, it wasn’t easy to learn the rhythms of the land, but the estate and nature herself patiently taught me (occasionally raising their voices) that nature is perfect, and I continue to be surprised and delighted by her reliability and rigour.

The rural adventures of an architect (part 1)

As soon as I arrived at Cammarana I grabbed my camera and a notebook and began what was intended to be a sort of catalogue of the local wildflowers.

In this part of the world the seasons are very different from what I was used to. Spring and summer arrive much earlier than elsewhere in Europe, and late February is a magical time to wander into the uncultivated fields and meadows. Flowers of all kinds are timidly beginning to lift their heads and fields of wild anemones are followed by fields of asphodels while, climbing among the rocks (which here they call “timpe”), one finds wild irises and narcissi, and fernsgrow on the drystone walls. The effect is spectacular: it looks just like the fields that children draw!

Corn marigolds or wild chrysanthemums (coleostephus myconis) also poke up shyly in the middle of the meadows, but in the space of a couple of weeks the spectacle changes entirely and these little wildflowers suddenly become towering giants.  The marigolds can grow over one and a half metres tall, and venturing into these meadows can feel a bit like swimming in deep water: all landmarks disappear and the drystone walls are swallowed up by a sea of yellow flowers. The only thing emerging from this yellow sea is a variety of thistle that grows to the size of a large bush and the white-flowered cicuta (water hemlock) which, from a distance, looks a little like our small wild pear trees.

In the rockiest, hardest-to-reach spots one finds the gladiolus italicus or common sword lily, a slender dark-pink flower almost always bowing her head modestly, although maybe she’s just turning away from her arrogant neighbours, the weeds.

Amidst all this colourful chaos, one looks around for some sort of certainty – and finds it in the ancient carob trees, whose gnarled trunks speak of century-old battles with the passing of time and whose warm reddish bark is one of nature’s wonders. And then your gaze drops and you see that, on one side, the base of the trunk is wrapped in the embrace of a bryony or mandrake (bryonia dioica), and on the other a dandelion clutches at the base of the tree. It is a continual, perennial battle, without victors or vanquished.

Should we lay down our arms? Which would mean tilling the meadows… But sooner or later nature will claim it all back, so here at Cammarana we have decided to let nature take her course and be our guide. Amid this triumph of flowers and perfumes there is, however, a constant happy bustle: that of our Sicilian black bees. Protected from the wind by drystone walls, their hives are the treasure chest from which we draw our honey. They’ll be here until June, and then they’ll pack their bags and fly off to the fields of Modica where the purple flowers of the wild thyme will be waiting for them.