A mere couple of hours drive from Bellaugello takes you to the beautiful cities of Florence or Rome,  to the seaside at Rimini and Ravenna or to the slopes of Monte Amiata in southern Tuscany, and it was to the latter that on Friday I headed for a walk in the woods and the challenge of climbing this extinct volcanic plug.

Driving through uncluttered Umbrian roads via the delightful road from Chiusi that winds its way through the Val d’Orcia, that wonderful landscape made famous by the sterling works of Iris and Antonio Origo who in the nineteen thirties bought the then decrepit inn of Le Foce and surrounding million and a half odd hectares of scrubby crete sinese and through sheer hard work, determination and a large help from Iris’s paternal grandfather’s money turned it into one of the most innovative estates, I arrived in Tuscany.  The delightful legacy of Cecil Pinsent‘s garden remains, and is occasionally open to the public, a very do-able day out for guests at Bellaugello.   Antonio’s roadside planting of cypress trees toward one of the estate farm houses opposite the main house created the archetypical Tuscan landscape, and the building built for the estate workers social club, the ‘Dopolavoro’ – ‘after work’ now a delightful restaurant (even if a bit over -frequented by tourists) it serves good local cuisine, with cute wait staff.

After a hearty lunch of Tuscan bean soup and bruschetta with new olive oil

I continued onwards and began the climb of Monte Amiata and found a delightful track that led me through chestnut woods.  Chestnuts are and have been a hugely important resource for this part of southern Tuscany which like Umbria has always suffered from poor soils, poor farming conditions and hardship.  Many of the woods are now privately owned and chestnuts are picked for the table, roasted on braziers all over the world.  They are also ground into flour, baked into breads, cakes and used as an ingredient in salamis.  The trees make building materials and the broken branches, fuel for winter fires, much needed as we rise to 1700 metres.  To me they make a perfect place to walk, scrunchy leaves deep and abundant, trees with silver lichen covered bark, leaves bright green and translucent yellow, dappling the sunlight, and chestnut husks everywhere.

Climbing uphill I hap across a wee chapel, built in the 10th century and still maintained.  Close by two ancient  ‘seccatoio’ the ovens where chestnuts were slowly dried over wood fires, even here on a hillside history abounds.

The more I looked the more nuts I found…

Gradually climbing higher the chestnut woods give way to beech woods, one species melds into the next, long slender beech trees, mottled trunks majestically thrusting skywards, their leaves making a deep carpet of burnt siena on the forest floor.

I headed to the top where there are views to the west of the island of Giglio and east over Lago Trasimeno to the Apeninnes, home to Bellaugello.

Leave the hill and drive north, the roads are slow and winding, land becomes richer and more intensively farmed and you arrive at Pienza, that delightful photogenic Tuscan town, home to the Piccolomini Palace and Pecorino cheese (the town positively reeks of cheese) and of course, lots of tourists.

Continuing the turn back toward Umbria I just had to stop in Montepulciano where they are currently filming season two of the Netflix series “Medici” starring Dustin Hoffman and ‘Rob Stark’

Although I came across neither Dustin or Rob, I did by sheer chance meet up with Toby and David two American guys who stayed at Bellaugello whilst searching for their dream home in Italy last year.  They ended up buying a property just outside the town and are currently in the process of having it restored.   It was great to meet these two guys just embarking on their ‘Italian Dream’ and learn of their news and plans for their bed and breakfast estate.  Their experiences took me back to the early days of my own Italian adventure.

Saying ‘ciao’ to the guys and walking back to the car, as ever parked on the outskirts I cut through the local park and was confronted by a huge pair of balls…

They belong to the more than lifesize modern version of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Cavallo di Fransceco Sforza’. You can see why the horse is smiling…. which leads me by curious means to a side trip of this adventure.

Drive south of Monte Amiata and you come to the town of Saturnia home to many spa resorts and the famous terme at the ‘vecchio molino’ or ‘old mill’.  Again a much photographed spot, thermal waters at 40˚c rush out of the ground and down a torrent at the side of the old mill cascading into a series of pools.  Yes, the place is always busy, but there are quiet corners and it is well worth putting up with the crowds for the chance to soak in the sulphurous waters…

It is unseasonably warm here in Umbria, temperatures in the high twenties ˚c and strong sunshine. The leaves are turning deep gold and red, but we are still awaiting rain, of which there has been little this year, global warming is certainly here.

As I prune seemingly never ending bushes I have spent many days immersed in the heady perfume of lavender, still strong after all these months of flowering.  The vegetable patch is looking sad and tired.  I went down and collected the last of the tomatoes, green now and have made several kilos of green tomato chutney, so delicious with the local pecorino, the sheep’s cheese famous throughout Umbria.  Apart from a few small aubergines and courgettes, I think that is it for this year in the vegetable garden.  Soon it will be time to dig the garden over and prepare for the next planting.

This is always a funny time of year for me, the rapid change from a house full of guests, a pool busy with handsome guys having fun,

to silence and often having the house to myself.  I am so used to being busy looking after guests, cooking, organising, cleaning and chatting, it is weird when the season draws to a close to be once again on my own.

This month I still have a few guys staying, and for the first time I am keeping a couple of suites open throughout November and December so you can enjoy the magic of Umbria in the winter.  Looking for a break away?  check our Autumn Super Saver on the “Deals” page; Click here for details of the discount offer to enable you to enjoy Bellaugello out of season, and also for our New Year’s Eve Houseparty programme.  Do come join me here for a few days.

We are working on a refreshment to the Bellaugello website and blog page.  Long overdue is the removal of the various blog categories, I blog, that is it and my posts can pass over many of the categories so you will see a change to the format, bye bye categories!  Also less evident will be the blog history, but look and ye shall still find!

Regarding the website our web designers have worked hard to correct the many errors instigated by previous ‘handlers’ and we are now doing some tweaking to make the site even easier for you to navigate.  On the mobile version you will have a direct WhatsApp chat link.  Shortly you will see new headers in the main menu bar, and some new photos.  If you have a photo of your stay here that you think worthy of inclusion in the website or blog please do email it to me, confirming your permission for me to use it, and who knows you may be a contributor to Bellaugello.

Gubbio our local town have a calendar of great events planned for the autumn, winter and spring, something to cater for all tastes.

In collaboration with the Museo della Tortura of San Gimignano in Tuscany the town museum is hosting an exhibition of medieval torture instruments, including some excruciatingly horrid devices that I wonder whose deviant minds thought them up and for what purpose.

This exhibition is currently open and runs until 01 May 2018.  Further details are to be found on the Gubbio Website: Exhibition of Medieval Torture, Gubbio

This year the switch on of the  World’s Largest Christmas Tree is on Friday 7th December, a great event as the hillside of Mont Ingeno comes alive with coloured lights in the shape of a Christmas tree topped by a huge star and illuminated by a great firework display.  As ever the town will be in Christmas mood, craft markets, a huge ferris wheel giving amazing views over the historical centre, and not forgetting the medieval street scenes in the quarters of S Martino and S Pietro.  Gubbio is a great place to immerse yourself in the magic of the festive season.  Come join the magical spectacle we have suites available at Bellaugello.  Book online: Click here to book Bellaugello

For an in depth look at this amazing tree take a look at the website: Albero di Natale, Gubbio 2017

In just over one week for a mere €10 you can even sponsor one of the lights on the tree and become a real part of the event just click on this link and have your credit card handy: Sponsor a light on the Gubbio Christmas tree 2017  Light up the tree with me.  When you have sponsored a light let me and others know by posting a comment on the blog and let’s see just how many lights Bellaugello readers can sponsor, remember be quick, they go fast!

Starting in March of next year and running until the end of May, the town is hosting an important exhibition of 14century paintings.  The full list of  artists  and paintings are still to be announced but judging by the enthusiasm in the comune it will be a very important exhibition, for lovers of renaissance paintings a “not to be missed opportunity”.

Lego, that amazing Danish toy that as kids we all played with and still manages to attract adults in the same way that guys go train and plane spotting is coming to Gubbio.  April, May and June are the months planned for a huge Lego display in the historic town centre.  As the project comes to fruition I will publish more information but for now you Lego aficionados out there keep those dates in your diary for a visit to Bellaugello.