The area around Bagni di Lucca and the nearby Garfagnana produces delicious honey. In spring and summer the mountains are filled with flowering trees bees love, especially acacia, tiglio and chestnut.
My friend Heather Jarman took me to visit delightful Francesca, who keeps bees on her agriturismo, Al Benefizio near Barga, to see the busy little bees in action. Chestnut trees were coming into blossom and the bees were out collecting nectar.
Each beehive has between 40,000 and 60,000 bees working to produce honey. Once they have filled their own hives with honey to feed the community the beekeeper puts more levels on top and the industrious creatures keep working to fill those too.
The nectar is loaded into trays of wax honeycomb. Each of these trays can be filled within a day. There are scout bees who fly out and find suitable flowers. They fly in a 3 kilometre radius of their hives and like to take nectar from the most numerous blossoms. When the nectar from these blossoms is exhausted they will move onto another type. This is how it is possible to have honey from a single blossom. The beekeeper needs to watch to see when the blossoms they want honey from are at their most prolific.
Once the filled trays are collected they are put into a machine which scrapes the wax off.
They then go to a centrifuge which spins the honey out of the frames. Francesca uses no heat to process her honey. It is allowed to settle slowly to allow sediment and wax to go to the top or bottom of the honey.
Wax from the honeycomb is melted down and collected in blocks. Francesca then sends these books to be melted and turned into new bases for the bees to work from to build new cells for the honey. The bees could do this themselves, but having a good start allows them more time to do other things. There is one group of bees whose only job is to flutter their wings in front of the wax cells to evaporate the water from the nectar until it is the right consistency for honey…they are a very organised community.
Francesca took us to one of her gorgeous old wooden tables under the cover of strawberry grape vines to sample her delicious honey. She drizzled acacia, tiglio and chestnut honey on pecorino cheese for us to try.
The acacia honey is light and almost clear. The chestnut honey is much darker and has a much stronger flavour. Tiglio, or linden, is somewhere in between.
Francesca’s bees work hard on her gorgeous property which overlooks Barga…what a spectacular view. Guests also get to enjoy the view and the lovely gardens which surround the cottages. I would love to stay here and pick the cherries from the trees. Soon there will be plums and figs ripe for the picking. There are also olive trees and a prolific vegetable garden.
There are 3 apartments to rent at Al Benefizio. La Stalla has 2 bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and a wonderful private terrace with a spectacular view.
Il Fienile has a bedroom, bathroom, living area, kitchen and balcony.
Il Governo is a double room with bathroom. It was not available for me to see, but I’m sure it is just as lovely as the others.
Guests are free to wander in the terraced gardens, swim in the pool, meet Jubi the donkey, say hello to the chickens and tiny wildlife and delight in this gorgeous part of Tuscany.
Heather and Francesca work together to introduce visitors to a part of Tuscany they might not otherwise see. I visited Al Benefizio in late spring, a wonderful time to see the area. I think spring and autumn are the best seasons to see our beautiful area, you avoid the crowds and the countryside is at its very best.
Al Benefizio is a great place for weddings…and wedding photos. I think the old bed filled with hay is brilliant…these photos came from Francesca.