Honey and more

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.

Al Benefizio

Al Benefizio

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.

Al Benefizio

Al Benefizio

Al Benefizio

Once the filled trays are collected they are put into a machine which scrapes the wax off.

Al Benefizio

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.

Al Benefizio

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.

Al Benefizio

Al Benefizio

Al Benefizio

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.

Al Benefizio

La Benifizio

La Benefizio

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.

La Benifizio

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.

Al Benifizio

Al Benifizio

Il Fienile has a bedroom, bathroom, living area, kitchen and balcony.

Al Benefizio

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.

Al Benifizio

Al Benifizio

Al Benifizio

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.




Al Benefizio…www.albenefizio.it

Heather Jarman…www.sapori-e-saperi.com





Meet Catia from Giocondo in Lugliano

I joined Heather Jarman’s group recently to visit the farm of Catia and Maurizio Citti in Lugliano. Giocondo has 20 hectares of land with chestnut trees, olive trees and various crops. The main attraction was their herd of Cinta Senese pigs.

Cinta Senese is an ancient breed of Tuscan pig. They have been raised in the area for centuries. After almost becoming extinct, the breed is now being bred again. Unlike normal pigs which are usually intensively bred, Cinta Senese are kept in large outdoor pens and fed a diet as close as possible to their preferred diet of acorns and food from the forest floor.

They are prized for their excellent flavour. Catia makes her own prosciutto, sausage and other pork products. Once you try salumi from Cinta Senese you will be spoiled forever.



As well as the pigs, there are cows and sheep bred for their milk to make cheese, and donkeys just for fun.



Catia also grows apples, pears, figs, strawberries, raspberries and chillies to make jams and preserves.


While Catia was preparing our delicious lunch I wandered around the forest on the property.




The views from the property are spectacular.


Lunch was prepared using only local products. First we had porcini mushrooms with polenta and pecorino cheese made by Catia.



Next was prosciutto, salami and a mature pecorino with onion jam and chillie jam, and crostini with lardo and sausage with stracchino.




Catia had also made a cake for us, which she served with a blueberry sauce.


Take a look at Giocondo’s website to see all the products they produce. I don’t know when they sleep.



Thank you Catia (right) and Heather for a fun day.


Meet Heather from Casabasciana


Heather Jarman lives in Casabasciana, one of the gorgeous mountain villages of Bagni di Lucca. In her career as an archeologist she researched the early history of agriculture. She is passionately interested in food, from growing and production to cooking and eating.

Her knowledge of food production in the Bagni di Lucca and Garfagnana is amazing. I first met her last year when she took me along to meet a local cheese maker. We set off into the mountains and met the delightful Marzia who spent the morning showing us how to make cheese and ricotta. Click here for the full story.



On another adventure we went high in the mountains to a village called Lupinaia for their chestnut festival. It was one of the most delightful afternoons I have ever had, topped off with a walk back to the car along an old mule trail.




Click here to see more of the very beautiful Lupinaia.

This year we headed off to the Slow Food soup finals in Lucca and got to try some delicious soup and listen to some great folk music. Click here to see more.


I have learned how to make bread using traditional methods in a wood fired oven with Paolo after visiting his gorgeous farm in the Garfagnana. He grows farro and breeds beautiful cattle. Click here to see the gorgeous cows.



That’s Paolo blessing the bread as it goes in the oven.

I went with Heather to the huntsmen’s dinner in Casabasciana, where we helped the hunters eat the cinghiale (wild boar) they had caught during the season. Both the food and the company were wonderful after we had worked up our appetites with a walk around the beautiful village at sunset.






Click here to see more of Casabasciana.

We went to the Lucca Wine and Food festival and met lots of local wine makers.




And we ate some wonderful local food. Click here to see more.


Quite possibly best of all she introduced me to the delightful concerts in Lucca organised by Mattia. I became a regular visitor on Tuesday and Friday nights. Click here to find out more, or check the website http://iconcertidegliangeli.com




There is a never ending list of things to do in Bagni di Lucca and the nearby areas…..and Heather knows all about them. She organises tours for small groups to do things you would never find in a guide book. In her own words she is “Making tourism work to sustain the rural economy and the people. …you will encounter an endangered lifestyle which we don’t want to disappear.”

Visit her website for more information…..www.sapori-e-saperi.com