March 18-19, 25-26: ANTICHE CAMELIE DELLA LUCCHESIA
The advent of spring in Tuscany is heralded by the annual opening to the public of the hidden camellia gardens above Lucca at Antiche Camelie della Lucchesia. The scene, with medieval architecture, villas, the Tuscan landscape and the first warm breezes make the journey to the gardens a must for those who enjoy outdoor events and a touch of nature.
Camellias, known as Camellia japonica, first arrived in Italy in the late 18th century. Discovered to be quite adaptable to the climate, the flowering plant with spectacular blooms became very fashionable in the prestigious villas of Lucca. In 2005, aided by a delegation from Japan, the International Camellia Society planted the first camellias on the terraced slopes of Monte Serra, which proved to be an especially suitable microclimate for the plants. Today the park has grown to 7,250 square meters with more than 40,000 plants.
For the past 30 years, two small villages in Tuscany provide the setting for the Ancient Camellias Festival. Sant’Andrea di Compito and Pieve di Compito lie at an elevation of 1000 meters (3,000 ft.) with cool, shady woodlands with streams and brooks providing the optimum environment for the camellia.
Exiting from the highway up the winding road to the camellia villages, one enters the slow pace of the Tuscan countryside with dry stone walls, carefully tended villas and gardens and ancient bridges crossing streams which come down from Monte Pisano. The cool, clear water in these parts enables the camellia to thrive in this part of Tuscany. That and the clean air, and an elevated habitat not far from the sea, hence temperate, sheltered by nearby mountains make the perfect environment.
The camellia’s genus camellia japonica provides a hint of the shrub’s origin and a related species camellia sinensis, which originated in SW China, is what we know as the tea plant; besides beautiful blossoms, camellias are the source of a beverage loved the world over.
For three weekends visitors are welcomed to experience the spectacular flowering plants in their lush natural environment set around the small medieval borgo, or hamlet. The open days, filled with activities for all ages, exhibits, concerts and competitions, include free guided tours led by botanical guides throughout the day.
This year’s offerings include a display of fine Japanese paper with artists demonstrating the art of making lanterns and candle holders, jazz and organ concerts, an opportunity for those aged 6-14 to create a painting inspired by camellias and the medieval village, juggling shows and tours of the village.
A daily luncheon featuring typical local cuisine such as salami and cheese plates, farro soup, ribollita soup, sausages and roast pork accompanied by local wines can be enjoyed with reservations (€20 per person: email@example.com or call 338.257.2695).
The Japanese tea ceremony, a ritual rooted in the principles of Zen Buddhism, can be enjoyed on Saturday, March 25 and Sunday, March 26 by reservation (€5 per person: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 331.731.5874).
Camellia festival hours are 10 am to 6 pm. Tickets are €8 with free admission for disabled, youth under 18 and journalists. The villages are closed to traffic, but for those arriving by car free parking is offered at the Compitese oil mill (Via di Tiglio, 609, Pieve di Compito Capannori). Shuttles leave from there every 20 minutes from 9:45 am to 5 pm and are free.
Guests should allow a minimum of two hours to visit all the venues. Times and venues of events can be found at the festival headquarters in the Compitese Cultural Center. In addition to the reserved luncheon, food and beverages will be available at the Compitese Cultural Center.
Complete information and map to the festival with parking indicated and information on shuttles can be found on the website: www.camelielucchesia.it