Sardinians have been producing honey since Roman times and, with more than 200 species of nectar-producing plants on this Mediterranean island, even a modest village supermarket might easily stock 20 varieties of local honey. Sampling Sardinian honey reveals hints of everything from eucalyptus and rosemary to myrtle and orange.
I’ve been a London beekeeper for five years, with a couple of hives in a community garden in Hackney, where the range of nectar-producing plants can’t quite match up to Sardinia. Since I’ve been spending more time in Sardinia, I wanted to see how bees are managed and honey is processed there. So I tracked down Luigi Manias, an organic beekeeper living in Ales (Abas in the Sardinian language), a small town in the province of Oristano on the west side of the island. Ales also happens to be the place where Antonio Gramsci, the Marxist theoretician and communist activist was born. But that is another story.
The good life
Luigi invited me to stay for a few days, so I started to make plans. Sardinia may be small, but journeys take time: seven hours, to be precise, from my base on the east of the island to Ales. Luigi picked me up from the railway station at Uras, 17 kilometres from Ales, and drove me to his traditional bee farm.
“I inherited the place in 1977,” he explains. “From my maternal grandfather. He was one of the first to introduce beehives with moveable frames on this island. You’ll be able to see one of grandfather’s original hives.”
Luigi has built his own house, relying on natural elements like adobe and wood. He’s also constructed a mieleria where the honey is processed. There are three apiaries underpinning the business — one at Luigi’s home, and two on the slopes of Monte Arci, a mountain range rich in obsidian, the material once used to fashion prehistoric tools and weapons. The mountain range forms part of the Parco Geominerario della Sardegna where the varied geology supports a rich profusion of wildflowers and plants so there’s plenty of forage for the bees. Then there are plentiful orchards around Luigi’s home with almond, apple, olive and pear trees.