This is the Todolí Citrus Fundació, a Valencian citrus orchard | The traveler

It is early morning. And in the Bartolí game, in Palmera (in the Valencian region of La Safor), an intense emulsion of orange blossom surprises the visitor in the respiratory epithelium. Everything is in order while the air plays to spread that powerful sweetness and the bees resume an ancestral cycle. In this privileged place, Vicent Todolí has ​​made a foundation available to the public for researching and disseminating agricultural, environmental, historical, culinary and industrial issues related to the citrus universe. What awaits us, then, is a unique sensory walk through 400 varieties of the genus.

Todolí (Palmera, 1958) has returned to his origins to continue doing what he likes the most: working in museums. His career includes managing the IVAM in Valencia, the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art (Porto) or the Tate Modern in London. At present, he combines the management of the HangarBicocca exhibition space in Milan and other consulting work with his passion for citrus. Between 1982 and 1985 he lived in New York. But his stay in the city of skyscrapers made him, paradoxically, rethink his roots. The bittersweet memory of those youthful Saturdays in which his father forced him to get up at six in the morning (an essential custom in Valencian peasant families) was intensifying its lycopene component, the enzyme that causes the intense red of oranges sanguine and its delicate sweetness. Suddenly he understood the meaning of those early rises and from there the project of returning to mother earth would emerge.

His family has dealt with oranges for five generations. The first Todolí arrived at La Safor in 1609, when the Moors were expelled. From the 19th century on, the area became a privileged space for the cultivation of citrus fruits due to a particular microclimate: at four in the morning, in the orchard the thermometer can register a degree centigrade, but at four in the afternoon it it can easily reach 20 or 22. This thermal oscillation is perfect to ensure a good harvest.

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The father of Vicent Todolí bought the original orchard of the Todolí Citrus Fundació (calle de l’Es Excelencia 28, Palmera; 962 89 32 79) from a businessman nicknamed El Burrianero. Now that space of about 50 hectares (more than 41,000 square meters) has gone through history in reverse, towards its origins. The project accelerated while Todolí was still in London. In the first decade of the century, an urban action program (PAI) threatened to devastate the place and turn it into a buildable area. It was the time when the most conscientious sectors of Valencian society proclaimed, with a certain melancholic irritation: “There is a country, not a PAI.” The place was saved and, instead of terraced houses, now all kinds of hybrid trees flourish there from the four ancestral varieties: poncil, mandarin, pummelo and papeda.

Now Todolí accompanies the visitor on a loving tour of this small garden. He does not forget to remember that, for the Arabs, the enclosed citrus garden, originally from Persia, was the closest thing to paradise on earth. With running water and singing birds, this place represented, vegetally, the three stages of life: youth, maturity and old age.

With a delicacy that is more Japanese than Western and a collector’s eagerness typical of the Medici, he cultivates his species with ecological methods and immemorial practices. Some of its trees are more than a century old and stand among dense bushes of weeds that no one threatens. To recover from their ailments, he has recovered practices such as uncool (remove diseased parts from your core or heart). The fruits of this passion are fully exploited: some convince by their pulp or juice, others by the aromas of their rind. Certain species, such as inotto, they provide a complete pharmacopoeia: the flower is sedative, the leaf antacid and the fruit acts as a liver tonic.

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To share all this knowledge, he has sought complicity with famous chefs. The crush on Ferran Adrià comes from ancient times: everything there is about citrus in the Bullipedia it comes from these orchards. With British pop art pioneer Richard Hamilton he edited such an iconic book as Food to think about, think about eating. Some of the best chefs of today, such as Ricard Camarena, Quique Dacosta, Andoni Aduriz or Albert Raurich, are also regulars at Bartolí. A whole laboratory dedicated to gastronomic research that is in charge of systematizing the aromas, textures and pairings that emerge from the garden. From here sprout essential oils or jams, and also brilliant imbrications of everything citrus with the overflowing imagination of those cooks.

A lost valley

Vicent Todolí gives me, to finish the visit, a box with his products. Don’t forget to include your own brand of Tot Oli oil (pun intended with your surname). This extra virgin has its own history: it arises from its determination to recover cultivated lands of olive trees and other fruit trees in La Vall de Gallinera, in the Marina Alta region (Alicante). Precisely visiting this lost valley —but strangely close to the most opulent civilization, Benidorm— is a perfect complement to a visit to Palmera.

No more than half an hour by road separates both paradises. The Gallinera Valley includes eight towns with fifty inhabitants. The capital is Benialí. In Arabic, the prefix ben means “sons of”, so the genealogy of these places cannot be hidden: Benirrama, Benissivà, Benitaia, Benissili… There is a 14-kilometer signposted route that runs through the entire valley, with a maximum difference of 600 meters. It can be traveled all year round, but in March it has the attraction of its cherry blossoms, and on the spring and autumn equinoxes, with the solar alignment of the Penya Foradà, a rare phenomenon during which the sunlight it penetrates through a crack in the rock and is projected onto the altar of an old Franciscan convent destroyed by an earthquake, with the ensuing uproar of the superstitious. To regain strength, the area has some top restaurants, such as Flavors (Calle de la Font 21, in Beniaia; 966 40 66 46) or He looked at the kitchen (Calle Major 54, in Benirrama).

It was in this magical reference point that Todolí, without a telephone or electricity, gave himself up to the secular tenacity of working with the land. And again the rigor of the parental call on Saturdays, at six in the morning, had its effect. The visit is over, but the penetrating insistence of the orange blossom no longer leaves the hypothalamus. For a few hours, we have been in paradise. Because paradises exist, they allow guided tours and have a website. And they taste citrus, of course.

Joan Garí is the author of ‘Cosmopolitans with Roots’ (published by Onada).

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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