When you think to the Italian Riviera, it usually comes to your mind the sea, but often the most precious treasures are hidden in the green valleys just behind the coast. They are very well hidden: no signs for tourists, no buses, no guidebooks, you just have to find them.
And I’ve found one of these secret treasures in the Riviera dei Fiori: an ancient distillery where the producers grow flowers and herbs to extract precious essential oils, continuing the family tradition from the eighteen century.
Leaving behind the bright coast, I go towards the green inland part of Liguria. Following a narrow lane I go forward among olive trees and mimosas till reaching a small group of ancient stone houses.
Here it looks like time has stopped; it’s a pleasant, green valley, spotted with orange trees, olives groves, aromatic plants and small palms.
This has been for a long time the reign of The Guglielmi family that from father to son, hands down the land and the know-how of distilling essential oils: form Bernardo to Pietro, from Pietro to Bernardo, the same names coming in succession from one generation to the other.
Orange blossoms, roses, rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, these are the perfumed “raw material” that The Guglielmi family have been handling with skillful hands for many seasons.
I meet Pietro Guglielmi, the young man whose passion made his orange blossom water become a Slow Food presidium.
Last week Pietro invited a group of friends to celebrate the beginning of the new season, piking-up flowers with him and telling us with passion about the ancient distillation process.
In the field, Pietro shows us how to choose and pick-up the right orange blossoms. What a wonderful fragrance! We pick-up paying attention to the delicate flowers and put them on clothes spread out on the grass as an old times washing.
Then we start the distillation ritual: nothing chemical, it’s an old process made with vapor that strokes flowers, filling with their essence and is than condensed just with fresh water.
And here is the magic: the vapors transforms into orange blossom water, full of precious essential oil!
Pietro takes an ancient “Florentin alembic” (precious because nobody produces it any more) that, as if by magic, divides the orange blossom water and the essential oil that remains on the surface. As a magician, Pietro knows instinctively distillation’s doses and times and he doesn’t’ waste a single drop of the precious essence.
It really looks like being back in old times but, at the same time, I know that these are Italian excellences, secrets for which it’s worthy to plan a trip to this part of Liguria.
If you are planning to visit the Italian Riviera take a look to our experience Authentic Flower Tradition in the Italian Riviera