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Fairytale locations

 

Sarmede, Cansiglio Forest and the Prosecco Hills

It is the land of fairytales but also of great wines, and it may well be that there is more than just a circumstantial link between the two.

Perhaps it was not by chance that illustrator Stepan Zavrel, an exile from the Prague Spring, ended up among these very hills. He went on to attract friends and colleagues from all over the world here and eventually decided to create, almost for the sake of enjoyment, the International Exhibition of Illustrations for Children, which is now the biggest show of its kind in Europe.

Considering that Sarmede, the place that offered Zavrel its hospitality and the home of the exhibition for 26 years now, is a village with just a few hundred inhabitants, it is truly astonishing that the show which was founded and is based here has made it to the Pompidou Centre and the Reina Sofia Museum, as well as many other European cities. Every year it has at least 200,000 visitors during its various stages. When one takes into account the fact that there are always at least three exhibitions from Sarmede travelling around the world at any one time, it is easy to understand why this small community is more famous than much bigger towns and cities.

Every autumn (the exhibition traditionally starts at the end of October and runs until mid-December), there is a continual pilgrimage up to the village. Thousands of children and families come looking for a place where imagination is still expressed with colour on paper, with stories both ancient and modern, and where pictures convey feelings and information even to those who still do not know how to read.

In the summer, young people from the four corners of the globe come to these hills to follow drawing courses led by great illustrators. During the spring, these same artists cover the walls of the houses along the roads between the hills with imaginative stories, thus enriching the “Fairytale Trails” whose distinctive nature has been recognized by the European Union. In the winter, old and new tales alike are told in the “larins”, traditional areas in Veneto farmhouses consisting of a fireplace surrounded by benches, creating a natural atmosphere for the imagination to flourish.

All around are settlements with ancient origins, immersed in the vineyards that line the hills and, further up, in chestnut groves. Higher still the villages are surrounded by the famous, imposing beech trees of the Great Cansiglio Wood, the Republic of Venice’s favoured “forest of oars”. This area provided the maritime power with the wood needed to build its ships.

A new name, Vittorio Veneto, was coined after the Great War to give a united and symbolic identity to two ancient towns with an unmistakeably Venetian feel: Ceneda and Serravalle. The elegance of the buildings, which often have frescoed facades, the loggias, the churches packed to the rafters with masterpieces and the castles show the importance of these towns, which watched over the main road between the Republic of Venice and Alemannia. Along with other goods, this was a trading route for wines with names that are known all over the world, like Prosecco and Cartizze, but also Torchiato and others with ancient and rare names and flavours.

The area where the vineyards give way to other crops marks the start of chestnut tree country (the chestnuts of Combai are highly sought-after and have a large traditional festival dedicated to them) and the woods that culminate in the Cansiglio Forest. It is an impressive, magical place populated by deer. During the mating season, people from all around head up here to witness the primordial rituals that come before the reproductive act itself. Day and night, the stags fill woods and valleys with the sound of their harrowing baritone mating calls.

It is also the ideal backdrop for tales of spirits, who are not always of a kindly disposition, despite the beauty of the unblemished greenery in this setting. Once again, this is no coincidence. Here, in the Genziana speleological reserve, gaping caverns unexpectedly appear in the forest floor. These are known as the “bus de la Luna”, or the “holes of the Moon”. Pools of stagnant water sometimes form in the dolines and are given the name “lame”. Karstic chasms descend into the heart of the mountain and, in the not too distant past, swallowed up people and their stories.

An unusual phenomenon known as temperature inversion occurs in this area. The higher you go, the warmer it gets. This means that at the bottom of the great basin there is pasture land, higher up there are conifer woods and above these there are broad-leaved trees. This conformation is present in all of the glades.
 
The woods are definitely the main attraction in the upland area. The large forest is for the most part made up of pure beech groves, in parts mixed with silver fir. Also present in smaller numbers are Norway spruce, larch and birch trees. Rhododendrons, blueberries, honeysuckle, service trees and elders are some of the species that can be found amongst the undergrowth. The vegetation around the “lame” is quite distinctive and includes cotton grass, sphagnum, marsh violets and the carnivorous Drosera rotundifolia. In the meadows there is a range of Alpine flora: gentians, snowbells, primulas, bellflowers and edelweiss. There is no lack of rarities either: species which are mainly found in Eastern Europe grow here, such as Cardamine trifolia and Doronicum orientale. The fauna is also impressive. The isolation of Cansiglio, a typical refuge on high ground for animals during the ice ages, has brought about numerous evolutive adaptations, particularly in the hypogean fauna: there are fourteen species and subspecies endemic (i.e. exclusive) to this upland zone. The wood grouse is a symbol of the area, but the age-old trees of the “great wood” are also inhabited by rare birds such as green and black woodpeckers and Eurasian pygmy owls. In addition, birds of prey that nest here include black kites, goshawks and eagle owls. All of this is spread out over 5920 hectares: still today the Cansiglio Forest is the second biggest in Italy in terms of the surface area covered.
 
It is a sprawling area packed full of sights to take your breath away, which come to a climax in the Grotte del Caglierion, a watercourse that cuts through the mountain. It could just as easily be the location for a horror film as it could for a modern-day Garden of Eden.

 
 

Treviso, 14/05/2009

Ufficio Stampa - President Staff 

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