THE IONIAN HUM
When visitors arrive to the Ionian islands, they are subjected to an exquisite assault on the senses. The intense blue of the sky; the bold, bare rocks of the mountains; but most of all the powerful scents of its incredible flora. A wall of aroma greets you from the coast and climbing up through various microclimates to the highest mountains. It is a paradise for the insects who feast on the nectars of these flora, and growers and producers across the islands ensure that they look after their honeybees as well as they would livestock. In fact, the topography of the Kefalonia in particular doesn’t lend itself to large scale farming anyway, so many simply work with what grows best in the hills and the mountains on smallholder farms, or the endless fields of wildflowers.
An abundance of these flowers mean that farmed bees don’t actually need to go far throughout the year, but still may travel up to 5km to find their choice flowers. Bee populations are kept going out of the thyme-flower season and produce other honey (such as sage, which is not as commercially viable) before the thyme flow starts. In the springtime, the fields are so rich and diverse after the rains that there is no specific flow produced by the honeybees. Your senses are overwhelmed by scents of the flowers, the buzzing of the bees and blooms of the almonds. It is this almond honey in February that gets the bees going and kicks them into season, with one nectar after another until around the middle of May.
From this moment, until the middle of June, the bees slow their flow, and consume a lot of the spring honey they produce. The beekeepers then remove the remaining honey and head up to the mountains together. That first morning in the mountains, the bees come out bursting with excitement. The microclimates of the mountains produce extremely potent and bold aromas, in particular from the wild thyme, oregano and wild mint. The dryness of the soil intensifies these flavours even further – both for the bees and us, who get to enjoy their honey.
They start to reorientate since the hive is now facing a different direction. Flying in concentric circles, the first bees to emerge – the foragers – start to gather information from their new environment and seek to find the most nutrient rich areas. They then return to the hive to perform what is known as a dance. In simple (and non-scientific!) terms, within the hive they dance a figure eight, which is positioned according to the direction of the sun and to the direction of the flower source. The duration and frequency of their buzzing tells the other bees the distance to the prize.
The most famous types of honey produced by the bees on island are thyme honey, méli thimaríou and pine honey méli elátou made from the Kefalonian fir as well as from the wild herbs of Aínos mountain. Their health benefits have been discussed since Ancient times, and like Maunka honey, it has excellent antibacterial and antifungal properties and used in many traditional remedies. More commonly, you’ll find many Greek sweets drenched in honey, such as local favourites doughnuts called loukoumades. Many speculate that this dousing is a throwback to the Olympian gods’ love of nectar and ambrosia, forbidden to mere mortals, who made do with their delicious honey instead.
‘In the springtime, the fields are so rich and diverse after the rains that there is no specific flow produced by the honeybees and your senses are overwhelmed by scents of the many flowers,’