Posted by Palma Hansen – Palmabella’s Italy
We spent the first two weeks of July in bella Umbria, 10 days with our guests of Palmabella’s Italy. Umbria is the in the center, or “the heart” of Italy with Tuscany to the west, and Le Marche to the east. Our group visited a total of nine lovely Umbrian towns, ate and drank wonderful food and wine, and enjoyed the warm, sunny weather. One of the definite highlights of the trip was being surrounded by sunflower fields in full bloom.
In Italian, sunflowers are called “girasole”, meaning turn toward the sun. It is one of the amazing things about a sunflower. As the young seedling is very small, it finds the rising sun in the east, and as it emerges from the soil, it establishes itself to face that direction throughout its lifetime. This ability gave it the beautiful name of “sunturner.”
These bright, happy flowers also produce a cash crop: sunflower oil, which is obtained by extracting oil from the “seedy center” of the flower itself. Sunflower oil can then be used as a cooking oil, as a base oil for use in massage or aromatherapy products, or in the production of margarine and biodiesel automobile fuel. Sunflower oil is less expensive than olive oil, though obviously not as popular for cooking in Italy.
The sunflowers in Italy are usually at their best in early-to-mid July. As you drive in Umbria or Tuscany at that time of the year, you will see many different kinds of yellow highlights in the scenery. As the flowers mature, the yellows become more and more intense. During our two weeks in Umbria, we enjoyed this experience immensely.
Each day, as we set out for a new adventure, we seemed to pass new sunflower fields at every turn of the road. When we could find a reasonable turnoff, we often stopped to take a picture. As part of our small-group tour, we made a couple of intentional sunflower photo runs to particularly stunning spots for guests to take their 2009 holiday card shots. We couldn’t seem to get enough. These wonderful flowers seem to smile at you, and certainly made us smile back.
The needs of a “girasole” are really quite simple. They like full sun, fertile soil, and a good watering after they are planted. No wonder one sees so many fields of these smiling “faces.” A hillside of sunflowers, with neighboring ripening grapevines, and/or an orchard of olive trees, creates a spectacular landscape. Add a blue sky and some big puffy white clouds, and…you must be in Umbria in July. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Palma Hansen is an Italian-American who enjoys cooking, music, art, and all things Italian. She and her husband, Brad, have been exploring and enjoying Italy travel since 2001. They live and work in Palm Desert, California, and are looking forward to sharing their love of Umbria with travelers who want to experience the wonders of Italy in a slow, personal, and casual way.