12 OCTOBER 2017
In the places of fairy tales: Sarmede, the Cansiglio Forest and the Prosecco Hills
It is the land of fairy tales but also of great wines and perhaps the combination is not entirely without relationship.
It might not be a coincidence that Stepan Zavrel, an illustrator exiled from the Prague Spring, landed right in these hills, attracting friends and colleagues from all over the world, finally deciding to give life, almost for fun, to that International Illustration Exhibition for the ‘Childhood which today is the most important of the Old Continent.
If you think that Sarmede, the town that welcomed Zavrel and which has hosted the Exhibition for 26 years, is a village of a few hundred inhabitants, it is not surprising that the exhibition that was born and lives here has reached the Beaubourg or Reina Sofia, as well as in many other European cities, involving, every year, at least 200 thousand visitors along its stages. If we take into account that, at the same time, there are at least three “made in Sarmede” exhibitions on tour around the world, we understand why the name of this district is better known than that of cities and towns of very different dimensions.
Every autumn (the exhibition traditionally begins at the end of October and continues until mid-December) there is a continuous pilgrimage that brings thousands of children and families up here in search of a territory where the imagination is still expressed with color on paper, with stories ancient or modern, where images convey sensations and information even to those who still don’t know how to read.
In the summer, these hills are populated by young people who come from countries even at the antipodes of the world to follow illustration courses held by great illustrators. Spring sees the same masters busy populating the walls of the houses that overlook the roads that connect hill to hill with fantastic stories, thus enriching the “Fairy Tale Itineraries” recognized as peculiar by the European Union. In winter, alongside the larin, old and new tales are plotted, creating the natural environment for the flourishing of imagination.
All around are villages that have distant roots, immersed in the vineyards that comb the hills and, higher up, chestnut trees and, even higher, the famous, imposing beech woods of the Gran Bosco del Cansiglio, the very protected “rowing forest” of the Serenissima. It was up here that Venice went up to supply its Arsenal with wood.
A new name, Vittorio Veneto, coined in the aftermath of the Great War, to give a unitary and symbolic face to two ancient cities, Ceneda and Serravalle with an unmistakable Venetian imprint. The elegance of the buildings, with their often frescoed facades, the loggias, the churches overflowing with masterpieces, the castles, measure the importance of these cities in controlling the main communication route between the Serenissima and Alemagna.
Along with other goods, the trade of wines that are called Prosecco, Cartizze, known all over the world, but also Torchiato and other wines with ancient and rare names and flavors passed along it.
Where the vineyards give way to other crops, the chestnut area begins (the Combai chestnuts are highly sought after, to which a great popular festival is dedicated) and the woods that culminate in the Cansiglio Forest. Imposing and magical place, populated by deer that, when the mating season arrives, call up here people from half the world to attend the primordial rite that precedes mating, with male individuals who, for days and nights, fill the woods and valleys of the their baritones and harrowing calls of love.
It is also the ideal setting for stories of spirits that are not always benevolent, despite the beauty of the pristine green scenery. Again not entirely by chance. Here the forest is suddenly interrupted by very deep holes, the “buses” de la Luna, della Genziana (declared a Speleological Reserve). Up here sometimes water stagnations, the “blades”, form in the sinkholes. The karst chasms that descend into the belly of the mountain and which, even in not very distant periods, have swallowed men and stories.
Here we witness a particular phenomenon, that of thermal inversion, whereby the temperature increases with increasing altitude. And so it happens that in the bottom of the large basin we have the pastures, higher up the conifer woods and above the broad-leaved trees. All clearings have this conformation.
The woods are certainly the main attraction of the plateau. The large forest consists mainly of pure beech trees, or mixed with silver firs, more sporadically spruce, larch and birch. Rhododendrons, blueberries, honeysuckles, rowans, elderberries are some of the species that make up the undergrowth. Particular is the vegetation present around the “blades”: eriophores, sphagnums, marsh violets, the carnivorous Drosera rotundifolia. And then in the meadows, a sample of alpine flora: gentians, soldanella, primroses, bluebells, edelweiss. And there is no shortage of rarities either: here are species mainly found in Eastern Europe such as Cardamine trifolia and Doronicum Orientale. The fauna is also noteworthy. The isolation of the Cansiglio, a typical “refuge massif” for the species during the glaciations, has given rise to several evolutionary adaptations, especially in the underground fauna: there are fourteen species and subspecies that are endemic (ie exclusive) of the plateau. The symbol of these lands is the capercaillie, but rare birds such as the green and black woodpecker and dwarf owls live among the centuries-old trees of the “great wood” and various birds of prey nest, including brown kites, goshawks, eagle owls. All immersed in 5920 hectares: the Cansiglio Forest is still today, by extension, the second largest forest in Italy.