The Scents of the Mediterranean
By Carol Drinkwater
‘Take the time to smell the roses.’ Never has this adage seemed more timely. I live on an olive farm in the south of France overlooking the Bay of Cannes. I write books and I travel, which means that I am usually hopping on and off planes or speeding up the motorway to my office outside Paris. However all that has been put on hold now, for all of us. So, I gratefully stay home.
Mid-march is spring here in southern France. The almond blossoms are almost over and, for those of us who live on the shore of the Mediterranean, the arrival of the palest of pink almond flowers is the forerunner to spring. They appear before the tree’s leaves, in early February. Their perfume is exquisite, delicate and, not surprisingly, mildly nutty. They are the first food for the honeybees when they venture forth from their winter hives.
After, comes the heady wisteria which garlands our balustraded villa with thousands of blossoms, and sends the black Carpenter bees into a frenzy of activity. The fragrance is sweet as honey and powerful. The spring this year has been one of the loveliest I have known with almost wall to wall sunshine and temperatures reaching 21C. We have been lunching beneath the shade of the centennial Magnolia grandiflora. Its huge white waxy blossoms do not appear till June, but when they do, they discharge the most potent perfume of almost any plant on the planet.
Early April brought the fruit trees into trumpeting blossom. Cherries, nectarines, sweet oranges, pears, peaches, lemons, and mandarins. There are also five bitter orange trees for making marmalade and vin d’orange, although there is nothing bitter about their scent. Following the lead of the oranges, and joining the chorus sometime mid-April, are walls of hanging jasmine. Just to walk outside onto the terraces at this time of year, early mornings and evenings before sunset especially, is inebriating.
Now the lavender and roses are also in blossom along with the apples, which follow the other fruiting trees, walking the grounds is like walking on air. Deep breath and another. Listen to the birds and the excited hum of the bees. They are as noisy as lawnmowers. And still to come are the fruits. Fat sweet cherries eaten beneath the stars as a dessert, with a glass of wine, while listening to the nightingales.
Carol’s latest novel, The House on the Edge of the Cliff, is published by Penguin