The past several days of glorious weather got me back into the garden here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House.  The garden is huge, it seems as if every year it physically grows, by that I do not mean the plants but the actual garden itself, it is as if a metre stretches itself, thus increasing the workload.  However days spent in the garden are for me pleasurable.

Blowing spring leaves from under the huge fig tree the first primroses and violets are already in bloom.  Cheeky wee violets show timidly from their deep verdant foliage, yellow primroses stand proud and erect, trees are beginning to show bud and the fruit trees the first signs of blooms, all heralding the onset of spring.  Days are getting longer and time before we open on 8th April is getting shorter.  I discover I am not the only one working in the garden, there has been an istrice or porcupine busy.  These devils devour all tubers and bulbs.  Two years ago they ate all the potatoes, this spring they have demolished what was left of my irises, several daffodils and my prized alliums that were looking promising.

Up on the roadside until I manage to burst the tyre I barrowed loads and loads of leaves uphill, burning the dry ones and tipping the soggy ones over the greppo.  A real satisfaction to see the entrance roadway at least half cleared, and the smouldering leaves taking me back to childhood working in the garden with dad.

Even at this time of year the variety of colours never ceases to amaze me.  Rosemary is flowering, pinks and purples, bees buzz busily already seeking nectar, energetic song birds gaily coloured flit from branch to branch checking out possible nesting sights, my lawns are growing in clumps of varying shades of green through yellow, there is a myriad of colours all around, which took me to thinking about other places full of colours and my mind came to rest on the “Festa dei Ceri” the race of the candles run every 15 May in our local town of Gubbio.  This event traces its roots back to pre-christianity a fertility festival, and is the reason our city still exists.  Nothing in Gubbio comes before the Ceri.

Early in the morning there is a buzz in the town, like wasps to a honeypot the streets are filled with people in white pants all heading towards the centro storico.  Some wear yellow shirts, some blue, some black, all adorned with red sashes and neckerchiefs, they are the participants and team supporters.  Others are dressed ‘normally’ the spectators and tourists.  Cramming into the Piazza Grande that magnificent space half way up the town, the tension rises as the ceremony commences. The Sbanditore  or flag throwers arrive, dignitaries, men on horses, trumpeters, all resplendent in traditional costumes, and then the Ceri themselves it is a veritable orgasm of colour and tradition.  The crowd in fever pitch, supporters and ceraioli the guys who will actually carry the three ceri await the appearance of the ceri; San Ubaldo the patron saint of the city, San Giorgio, the saint of the merchants and city dwellers, and ours San Antonio the patron saint of the farmers and country-dwellers, are carried horizontally (and at a run) out of the maginificent Palazzo dei Consoli, the appropriate saints are attached to the ceri and with a blessing from the bishop and baptism with a ceramic pitcher of wine, the ceri are erected to the vertical and the run around the town really begins.  It is amazing to witness.  Here is a wee video that I shot last year of the actual ‘alzata’.

The ceraioli pause for a huge lunch before in the early evening starting all over again and the race begins.  Relay teams carrying the three ceri literally run through the town before racing up through the top city gate and up to the basilica of Saint Ubaldo on the top of the hill behind the town.  Hot sweaty work, muscles bulging, determination on faces, it is a serious event which you really should witness at least one time in you life, and Bellaugello Gay Guest House is the place to stay.

Today the usually tranquil Umbrian skies were filled with the roar of fighter jets flying high.  The jets traversed our skies for most of the day.  The last time I remember such a busy day it was before a war in North Africa.  I really hope today was just an aerial display practice not some country planning something unpleasant.

Yesterday I had planned to continue painting.  I am busy re-decorating the bedroom in the Specchio Suite.  Oh dear! I have long ago come to the conclusion that when it comes to choosing the wall colour for a newly completed space I am dysfunctional.  It first happened a few decades ago in a delightful William and Mary terraced house that I restored in my home town in the part of South West Scotland from whence my family hails.  Double entrance doors opened onto a small square hallway and a staircase with the finest bannister rail which danced balletically up four floors from cellars to attic.  The space faced south and I painstakingly, scraped, cleaned, filled, smoothed and painted all of this myself, yellow.  I used gallons and gallons of paint and when finished I hated it.  It was not long until I called professionals in and had them wallpaper the space, a huge black and white Timney Fowler imperial design.

In 2007 Bellaugello was still an abandoned Umbrian farmhouse, it had a roof but nobody had lived here for some decades.  You will detect a similarity with my William and Mary house, another large careful restoration project, this time resulting in a home for me and luxury suites that others might share, to enjoy my home and the peace, tranquillity and beauty of this magical part of central Italy.  I guess you know what is coming… not only did I paint all the Specchio Suite yellow, a deep difficult to mask yellow, but also the bedroom of the south facing Giardino Suite and to cap it all my private kitchen, the yellows were different but all yellow, very yellow.  This came after other houses and other yellows, I should have learnt, I am no good at choosing yellow paint for walls.  First to go was the hideous yellow in my kitchen, replaced by what I thought was Tuscan red, and turned out to be a ghastly shade of deep pink/terracotta now replaced by a pantone green that goes so well with the travertine floor and wall tiles.

The yellow in the Giardino Suite is a nice warm yellow.  I have thoughts to change it for a steel grey, so of the moment, maybe it will come to pass, but I don’t hate that yellow, like the sun it is warm and comforting.  Last year the dining/kitchen in the Specchio suite was painted a creamy taupy colour, it better went with the kitchen units and furniture, this year I am attacking the bedroom and the yellow has gone, hidden under a coat of white and two coats (well when finished it will be two coats) of soft sagey greens.  Ever one to give myself extra work I decided to frame with a white band each wall and the ceiling…. so lots of measuring, masking tape and touching up!  Yesterday was to have been the concluding day, job done, but…

In the morning sunshine I went to rake out a few leaves and put Cyril the robot into the pool to get on with cleaning.  It was one of those days when it was noticeably warmer outside then in, and on the way back to my painting job I stopped to pick some weeds out of one of the gravel paths.  I hate the use of chemical weedkillers so down on my knees, a position I am accustomed to,  and though rough on my hands it may be, pulling weeds out by hand is for so many reasons so much better than resorting to chemicals.  Thr ground was soft, lubricated by the early morning dew, so weeds relatively easy to pull.  The dogs lay out on the grass, the birds sang, the little breeze wafting up the sounds of burbling river Chiascio down below, in my little paradise I got into weed removal.

Soon weed removal turned to fruit tree pruning, lavender trimming and rosemary cutting back, and the usual panic over just how far to prune back the roses.  Basically I spent a delightful full day in the garden, the warm February sun caressing my back, and before I knew it it was gone five o’clock and time to feed dogs, get showered and cleaned up before heading out to meet friends for a pizza in Pierantonio.

This morning the sun streams through my kitchen window, I had suggested to somebody that I was going to post on my blog yesterday, but the garden got the better of me, today has the prospect of the same, caressingly warm weather, and I feel almost guilty to be sitting at my computer.  I have been up for hours, sleep is a stranger right now, the only benefit being I did catch the sunrise

and because tomorrow I am at another two meetings in our local town of Gubbio where I have been co-opted onto a tourism committee, I am now going to dress and go outside and decide between painting or gardening, both need doing, and unlike the meetings both will make a discernible difference.

Thursday, it has been raining, wet wet rain, the type of rain that goes straight into the marrow of your bones and makes you both wet and very cold.  Not that I am unhappy with the rain, we need rain or snow to ensure a continued supply of water throughout the year.  It did snow heavily, the peaks of the Apennines are still magically white but at our 500m altitude the snow did not settle for long so rain in spring even if cold and penetrating is good.

Of course with heavy rain the water in the balancing tank of the infinity pool gets too high and alarms sound, so I have to don the one remaining dry coat and head down to the plant room to empty off the surplus, and why does this always happen last thing at night just as I am warm and cozy and wanting to head straight to bed…

Earlier that same afternoon in a break from the rain, I had let the dogs out and they I thought had been wandering close to my house, but Jenny has evidently been further afield as she returned somewhat slowly and sheepishly seemingly unable to lift her rear off the ground.  Her front legs were working but back ones not.  I lifted her up, gave her a warm shower, cleaned her up and dried her with the hairdryer, now she is old she lets me do that without too much complaint.  I put her to bed and she slept soundly.  My immediate thought was that she had pulled a muscle, she is after all 15 years old and infirmities come to us humans well before that age.

Friday morning and it was obvious she could not properly walk, so I lifted her into the car and we headed off to Perugia to see the vet.  A thorough examination showed that she has weak spine, head down, unable to lift herself up.  She was given a homoeopathic painkiller and I was told to return tomorrow.  That day she hardly moved, I had to carry her outdoors to do her ‘essentials’ it was rather embarrassing for us both.  The Saturday visit resulted in a stronger painkiller and a dose of painkiller tablets.  Happily by mid afternoon she was managing to walk even if it meant being picked up and put on four paws.  Progress continued throughout Sunday, I plied her with ‘anti-dolorifici’ and she managed to get up for food, that dog lives for food…

I had friends over for dinner, very informal, I cooked a soufflé and through time we entered into a deep debate as to what to do, give her little medicine or continue with painkillers and resort to cortisone.  It is a toughie to answer.  Cortisone damages liver and kidneys, so that therapy would potentially reduce her lifespan but keep her out of pain, or stop the painkillers in the expectation of a longer lifespan.   On the subsequent vets visit on Monday for blood tests, the vet was against the cortisone, her kidneys are a bit dysfunctional, and he said to stop the other painkillers, which I have done.  She is eating and sleeping and if lifted onto all fours manages to walk and do everything.  That is the point I am at. niente facile.

Meanwhile I have been at two meetings in town, a presentation of yet another ‘Tourism the way Forward’ with the local and regional administrators, and a sub committee of rural businesses targeting interests specific to businesses out-with the town centre.  Now I am an old hand at these meetings, either as in the case of the second meeting they have no chairman so all is chaos and the loudest shout the most or as in the first instance the chairman accepts interventions and questions from the floor thus effectively filibustering the issues meaning that he and his team do not really have to do anything or justify their inaction.  It is very frustrating, but a glimmer of hope shone at the big meeting.

The province of Perugia, that is the northern part of Umbria in which we are situated have discovered €200,000 for additional marketing and allocated €100,000 for a dedicated social media team.  Last year they launched a new website, which whilst good has appalling errors in both English grammar and syntax.  Hopefully they will employ a competent professional linguist, they sure need to as I feel certain their Dutch translations are also lacking.

The second piece of good news is the proposed increase in flights to our regional airport of Perugia.  Poste Italiane has designated the airport as a new freight hub, going a long way to securing the airport’s  survival, and the region is in negotiations with Ryanair and EasyJet to increase the flight routes and as reported by the vice chairman this will include direct flights from Amsterdam.  That would be great, I know just how much you Dutch guys love Bellaugello and of course Umbria.

Incidentally bookings are coming in, a delightful mix of returning guests and new ones, I am really looking forward to this season.  Some weeks are already fully booked, so come on guys act now.

The Summer schedule of flights into Perugia are currently from London Stanstead, Brussels, Munich, Catania/Trapani Sicily, and Bari/Puglia.  The last two destinations making a two centre holiday either Umbria-Puglia or Umbria-Sicily very easily achieved.  Here’s hoping they pull off the Amsterdam flight.

Back on the ranch an email from the finance department of the local comune.  Oh how I hate these emails.  This one is concerning the tourist tax or ‘tassa di soggiorno’ that they introduced in late 2015.  Currently in our capacity as unpaid and unthanked tax collectors for the comune of Gubbio we operators are required to submit to their accounts department four monthly returns three times a year, and obviously to make a bank transfer of said tourist tax income.  Needless to say this is a thankless and somewhat complicated task, especially for the May and September returns when I am really busy with a full house at Bellaugello, but do it like others I must otherwise there are huge fines applied.  Now the comune are wanting in addition an annual return and for us operators to assume legal responsibility for any errors including those of the comune.  It is exasperating, and so bloody pointless.  Already we are required to send a list of arrivals and departures to the region, its called ‘Tolm’.  These statistics include country of origin and length of stay, so why can the comune not simply extrapolate the figures from the ‘Tolm’ and send us a bill?  We would check that, if some guest had refused to pay the tax, then we would have to demonstrate that document, life would be much simpler and more efficient, but hey ho! this is bureaucracy and keeping jobs open for the incompetent.

So today there is a glimmer of blue sky, the huge puffy cumulus have stopped chasing each other across the sky and are hanging limpidly, I have already fished the dead leaves out of the pool and re-checked the field drains.  In town I bought paint, a light green/grey and mid green/grey, it is time to refresh the bedroom of the Specchio Suite, I am tired of the yellow, it has to go and I have a picture in my mind of how I want the room to look.  The room has been emptied of furniture, I have just devoured a bowl of soup so fortified I am heading down to take out my frustrations on four walls and a ceiling 🙂

Easter is a special time here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House.  We mix tradition – the ‘Processione del Cristo Morto’ with contemporary, lunch and egg rolling on a neighbouring organic farm. Most guys arrive on the Thursday when we offer a welcome aperitivo in front of the fire, a chance to meet your fellow guests.

On Friday late afternoon we head into our local town of Gubbio to witness the enigmatic ancient ‘Processione del Cristo Morto’ the haunting traditional procession of the ‘dead Christ’.  We watch as the candlelit procession wends its way through the historic centre of the medieval town, deep mysterious chanting and the clacking of the ‘battistrangole’ herald the arrival of the dead Christ carried high in the procession.  We head off to one of our favourite restaurants ‘Ristorante dei Consoli’ where there is a table booked for Bellaugello Guests, the procession passing down the street, a great chance for more photographs.

For more information on the procession click the link to a YouTube video:

Video of the 2016 Processione del Cristo Morto in Gubbio

Saturday is the perfect time to relax, you have enjoyed breakfast at Bellaugello in the company of your fellow guests, then maybe enjoy a sauna or walk with your loved on on the many winding tracks from Bellaugello, returning in time for a four course dinner around our antique family table in the dining room warmed by a roaring log fire.

 

 

At Breakfast on Easter Sunday feast on local specialities including the ‘colomba’ the dove shaped sweet bread and the local ‘crescia di Pasqua’ a risen yeast bread filled with cheese and best eaten with local prosciutto. This is a chance to paint your hard boiled eggs which we will take to our dear neighbours on their organic farm where they generously host a relaxing convivial lunch party for friends, neighbours and guests from Bellaugello.

This lunch is a long standing tradition of our hosts, on their peaceful simple organic farm, which for many years we have all been invited to participate.  The atmosphere is warm and inviting, we will not be the only people from outside the area, everyone bringing a gift of food to share from their local region it is a cosmopolitan occasion.

For further information about staying at Bellaugello over  Easter click on the ‘Deals’ page on the website. Prices for a four night stay are from €750,00 for double occupancy of a suite.

 

 

If you wish to join the Easter lunch party on the organic farm, and I hope you will, I ask that you bring some speciality food and or wines from your region or country or home to share with fellow guests.

TO BOOK: simply go to the ‘Book Now’ button , that annoying pink tab on the left of the page, enter the dates check-in 13/04 and check-out 17/04 and in the comments box write “Leap into Spring – Easter in Umbria” that way we will pick up your request to participate in the weekend.  Final price is dependent upon suite chosen, a supplement of €90 per couple is made for the non-optional items described in the ‘deal’.  Of course you can add additional nights either before or after the weekend.

For those of you who are curious to learn more about the ethos of Pratale Organic farm, living by the seasons, respecting nature, and being totally connected to the ground she and her family cultivate, here is a link to an interview in Italian with Etain

Return to the countryside, bioregionalism – an interview with Etain Addey the link opens in a new tab;

Today’s habit of city living has, I am reasonably sure certain benefits; one has a multitude of cinemas, theatres, operas and museums on your doorstep.  One can eat in restaurants offering cuisine from all over the globe, one is a hop and skip away from friends and neighbours, one has gyms, leisure centres and a ready supply of evening classes, taxis, airports and rail stations at hand, but and it is a huge but, one misses out on so very many great things that fortunately still thrive in our delightful region of Umbria, central Italy and my guests at Bellaugello Gay Guest House easily discover.

In my local town of Gubbio, Tuesday is market day.  Traditionally this was the day when the Eugubini and contadini came to sell their produce, and do their shopping.  This tradition continues, although legislation has made it much harder for individual smallholders to sell their produce, if you look you will still find an example of that delightful three wheeler so beloved of peasant farmers the ‘Ape’ parked up under the ancient stone columns of the loggia dei Tiratori, its back loaded with fresh picked vegetables, the damp earth from the field still clinging to them, this is what life is all about.

Stall holders are here from Norcia, the pork capital of Umbria, the town so badly damaged last year and now under a thick blanket of snow.  They have an amazing resilience are trying so very hard to rebuild their lives and keep production of their most delicious prosciutto, salame, coppa, and cheeses. To do your bit to help until you can make it in person to the market you can also buy online from this great co-operative website: prodottidinorcia.it

 

 

 

 

 

Our weekly market is also a social event, the old folk come to buy and moreover to meet and chat.  Long serious conversations, swapping of family news, maybe a birth in the family, relatives from abroad visiting, a new recipe to share, or simply the joy of still being alive and spending time with contemporaries.  I too am guilty of whiling away many minutes in conversation, yesterday by chance I bumped my ex-bank manager. She was promoted, and is now in the big office in town so I see her only infrequently.  As well as being in the Bank she has an agriturismo, it was a good way of getting the low-down on how the tourism sector is faring and what news is coming from the banks.  I also bumped into a good Dutch friend from the neighbouring town of Umbertide (their market is on Wednesday).  We had not seen each other for some time – we both have tourism related jobs so time in the summer for either of us to amble slowly through the market just does not exist.  The three of us ended up going down the road to the Bio store where there just happened to be shopping three other friends each from a different village so I sat them all down and we enjoyed Gabriela’s creamy cappuccinos and slices of vegan cake…  Just imagine Alec with six ragazze,  so weird for me not to have to rush back to work but have time to relax and gossip, it was a hoot!

Anyway I digress, back to the market where you can buy seemingly anything.  From livestock, chickens, geese and ducks, there are tractors, rotovators, all kinds of power tools and a myriad of lightbulbs, plenty to keep the macho guy happy.  Stalls, traditionally run by Neapolitans and now by Asians sell a vast assortment of clothing, targeted at the pensioner class, the stalls are populated by women rummaging through the big bins full of huge bras and panties and, well I did not bother to look too closely, or to disturb them by taking their photographs, but the chattering women were clearly out for a bargain. You can buy curtains, table cloths, dish-cloths, napkins, bedding and towels, the list goes on and on.  On one stall I discovered gay doormats, just had to be bought 😉

Require a pot or pan, that strange gadget for removing stones from cherries, or a strainer to cover the sink waste… all together with cooker parts, vacuum cleaner belts, and an array of gaskets, seals and filters for the Mocha machine are available at the market.

The part that all of my guests love the most is the food.  A van drives up from the Adriatic coast, fresh fish from the morning’s catch, another with breaded fried fish, salted Baccalá, and of course the porchetta van.  Porchetta is that dish best found in Umbria a whole pig stuffed with wild herbs, principally wild fennel, rosemary and sage  and spit roasted.  The local ladies buy it by the kilo to take home to serve to the family for pranzo, but for 5 euro you can buy a panino filled with the succulent fragrant meat, some stuffing and if you ask crisp crackling, utterly delicious, proper street food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vans drive all the way from Puglia and Basilicata in the deep south of Italy and bring fresh produce.  From vegetables to salad leaves, nuts, and tomatoes to cucumbers.  Now you will not fins melons or strawberries, or broad beans (fave), it is not their season, you have to wait a few months for them.  This is the season for citrus fruits, and despite the recent heavy snowfall throughout the south there was still some nice looking oranges and the sweetest clementines I have bought this year.  Oh and those huge knobbly un-waxed Amalfi lemons so perfect for making lemon curd tart or limoncello. Of course you can also buy citrus trees.  This vendor comes from nearby Assisi, his citrus trees I hazard from rather further south, here in Umbria we have to over-winter them indoors, and I buy many aromatics and salad plants for Bellaugello from him, they are always great quality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and of course late January, February and early March are the Artichoke months, they are just tooo goood!

The market held every Tuesday in the Piazza Quaranta Martiri in our local town of Gubbio starts early and runs until just after midday.  A mere hop, skip and a jump from Bellaugello, slow the pace, take your time choosing the finest produce, come and enjoy rural life,  then bring it back to your suite and prepare yourselves that simple Italian ‘pranzo’ #slowfood #eatbellaugello