Blogging as ever I find myself sitting in warm sunshine which streams through my kitchen window. My view is huge, commandingly southward over the slightly hazy Chiascio valley.  The air is softened by the lightest of mist and radiant with gold, orange, and red hues that put me in a reflective mood and so at this time of festivities for the first time in my many years of blogging I thought to blog a recap of this past year.

The first thing that comes to mind is the abundant sunshine, the balmy heat, warm breezes, working with the sun kissing my body, and at the same time, a considerable lack of rainfall.  Last winter was dry,  just a slight dusting of  snow came for for a couple of days to Bellaugello and negligible rain.  The drought that was to continue throughout the year, even now the rain is scant, but thankfully enough to replenish the ground water springs.  It has been one of the driest years for many, perfect for those wanting a sunshine holiday.

At the invitation of Bellaugello guests who have become friends I grabbed a week away and headed to the Netherlands and then on to Denmark.  It was stunning to visit guys in their own homes and to get to see something of their countries.  One day in the Netherlands we were five Bellaugello couples and Alec together.  I was taken to museums, restaurants and concerts, even going backstage in the Copenhagen Opera House, in both countries absolutely spoilt rotten.

After a busy time tidying and preparing in the garden and grounds spring saw our first guests of the season, as ever Bellaugello opened in time for the Easter holiday.

On the evening of the Friday of Easter Gubbio, our local town, medieval and traditional is mystically engulfed by the haunting chanting of the hooded singers, part of the procession of “Cristo Morto“.  Their chant and the clacking of the “battistrangole” the hand held wooden clackers goes right to your soul.

By tradition the Sunday is a day when we always head over to a neighbouring organic farm to join in the fun at their Easter party.

We roll eggs down the hill and a devour big lunch, guests from Bellaugello bringing gifts of food from their home region to share with others. Local organic food always features here as indeed it does on the breakfast and dinner menus at Bellaugello.

In early April I said goodbye to a good friend.  Jenny my Cocker Spaniel who had been part of my Italian adventure from the start at the age of fifteen died.  Adored by guests, she had enjoyed a spectacularly happy life here at Bellaugello, after all it is a beautiful place to live and work.   Ever spoilt and never keeping still, her life was driven by search for food.  She had her evening routine of patrolling the terraces of the suites where guys were taking their Aperitivo in the hope of being given a crumb or two, and failing crumbs on the first visit would circle the house and begin all over again.  In the absence of food she amused herself in moving rocks!

As April headed into May all was excitement in Gubbio as the final preparations for the “Corsa dei Ceri” or “Race of the Candles” is held on 15th of the month.  The race involving three ginormous ‘phallic’ ceri is comprised of three teams, all dressed in white pants with depending on which saint’s team they represent black, blue or yellow shirts.  The festa is taken very seriously.  This is medieval pageantry at its very best.  You probably have not heard of it because the race is run by the town for the town, which on 15th of May the town is packed solid.  All are welcome to watch the day’s events unfold.  We from Bellaugello are always in the main square for the “Altzata” the moment the teams depart, it is an amazing experience.  For more information here is a link to the Ceri website:https://www.ceri.it/

As I wrote at the time, in plagiarising Oscar Wilde;  “To lose one dog may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness”, and so it was in May that I said goodbye to Bobby my rescue English Setter.  Bobby had come to Bellaugello some three years ago.  I discovered him on a very wet day in a very distressing condition and brought him to Bellaugello. Although already an old dog he was full of life, loyal to a fault, and followed me like a shadow.  He gave me joy and I believe being here with you all gave him joy too.

May soon headed into June and we welcomed a Yoga teacher from Rome who had us stretching and reaching places and using muscles that at least I did not know ever existed.  The grounds and nature at Bellaugello are a wonderful place to practice yoga.

With the infinity pool basking in hot sun it delightfully welcomed back many returning  together with several first time guests.  The pool and terrace is the place to relax and soak up the sun.  The pool system makes natural chlorine, so easy on the skin and eyes and at fifteen metres in length it is great for some serious lap swimming, or for those of you just wanting to be lazy just to dip in and cool off.

June is the month when we really begin to eat fruit so generously given to us by the gardens at Bellaugello.  This year we harvested a bumper crop of Apricots and Figs, and for the first time our own juicy melons.  I find myself busy baking pies and cakes and making home-made conserves for the breakfast table.  The guys cut fruits to make fresh juices.  Seasonal foods still predominate in Italy, you eat well.

Summer dining at Bellaugello is on the terrace, under the stars.  In June we are visited by fireflies, they dance around the garden their small green lights flitting mesmerizingly among the lavender and rosemary bushes.

But Oh! I cannot ignore the pool it is such a delight, like a magnet to metal or moths to a flame it keeps attracting the most beautiful guys!

As summer progressed I found myself away from the business for a night.  No I was not off galavanting, but a persistent pain in my chest had finally forced me to go to hospital, and yes, despite being told not to, ever thinking all would be fine and quickly resolved I drove my self there.  No, it was not.  Tests were conducted and they kept me in overnight, grrrr….  I had come unprepared, and was very much on my own, no family support network for me, it was tough and I was not at all happy.

Frustration, feeling unwell and not wanting to be in hospital I was stuck there for over thirty hours, barely a drop of water and a telephone with no charge, I could not bark commands to anyone!  When they finally released me I got back home and hosted one of the Bellaugello dinners, guests come first, work goes on, it is work I adore.

Rarely but just sometimes for pleasure I manage to tear myself away from Bellaugello, and this summer there were three occasions.  The first a seminar for Gay businesses hosted by Google Milano, and my first time to Milan since I have been living in Italy.  An obscenely early start, the train from Terontola to Milano, breakfast in a chic bar with the cutest barista, a beneficial meeting and then on my way home getting off the train at the wrong station… how had the managed to so radically change the piazza in a day?  durrr…..

My second outing was with all the guys from Bellaugello as we clambered into a minibus and headed over the valley to the Sagra di Polenta e Salsiccie at the village of Carbonessca.  Now Carbonesca is just over the river from Bellaugello, hidden by a small hill and what you would consider a ‘two horse town’, blink and you miss it, but for two weeks in summer it runs the most amazing sagra culminating on a Saturday evening with live music and dinner of Polenta and sausages, red and white wine, water all in a never ending supply for the huge sum of 12 euro.  Kitch music, a great singer (almost as good as one of our guests) and lots of dancing, Bellaugello guys performing a hilarious line dance, a superb evening, and one that the guys had said if they had stumbled across they would have driven past and not known how much fun they would have missed, some are even booked back next summer for the same week just so they can go again!  Such is the joy of a holiday at Bellaugello

The destination for my third evening way from home was a couple of hours drive to the town of Macerata in neighbouring Le Marche where in the summer the town hosts the Macerata Opera Festival in the magnificent setting of the Sferisterio.   Here is a link to the 2018 programme: Sferisterio Macerata 2018  For opera lovers this is a “Must do” event.

As they say, ‘meanwhile back at the ranch’ Bellaugello had been invaded by a family of pink flamingoes….

clearly heading poolward…..

At Bellaugello we are a small team, all dedicated to ensuring your holiday is the best.  This year all the way from Puglia I had the pleasure of welcoming back Mauro who is known to many guests from his time here in 2016.  Mauro is a real nice cheery fun guy to have around and somehow manges to keep me in order, most of the time!

As Summer headed into Autumn, an at first timid visitor became more courageous and regularly at five o’clock came to be fed.  Clara as one guest called her was a delightful visitor to Bellaugello.  Ok, I reluctantly admit she was possibly responsible throughout the season for a series of Havaianas that went missing overnight from terraces, but she was much admired and revelled in the company of our guests.

Late October and I find myself up a tree, several trees to be exact as it is olive harvesting time.  We harvest by hand, nets are placed under the trees, we climb ladders or up into the tree branches and pluck the ripe fruit from the slender silvery green leaved branches.

We then take the fruit to a mill or ‘frantoio’ in Gubbio where the olives are ground by huge stone grind wheels and slowly turned into the most beautiful extra virgin cold pressed Bellaugello Umbrian olive oil.  You will find a gift bottle in your suite on arrival, and we have larger bottles for you to buy and enjoy at home.

So December arrived and on the evening of the seventh with a signal from the International Space Station the “World’s Largest Christmas Tree” was magically lit up and so a month of Christmas celebrations began in our local town of Gubbio.

Gubbio rocks at Christmas, craft market, fireworks, live music, life size medieval street scenes, a skating rink and a ferris wheel, fun for all.

Wow! a marathon post, but just a hop skip and a jump skim through my memories of 2017 at Bellaugello.  There is so much more I could have mentioned, written of the many many guests who have become friends and have returned once again for their holidays, of the new friendships made.  The delightful days when guests chatted feely and openly at breakfast over another cappuccino, the hilarity in the swimming pool, the odd queen or dowager duchess or two, witnessing the romance of newly-weds, the enjoyment poolside on the new day bed, the countless photo opportunities, brave midnight swims, romantic dinners enjoyed by couples on their private terraces, the relaxing in a clothing optional environment, couples lazily reading a book in a hammock in the shade of a large fig tree, many a relaxing massage on a terrace deep in the garden, dappled sunlight, birdsong and capable professional hands easing away the cares of a chaotic world.  Museums that were visited, hill top towns perused, vineyards explored and wines tasted, concerts attended and Umbrian restaurants that fed guys well on truffles, boar, home made pasta and wild mushrooms.  That and much more is Bellaugello of 2017.

Thursday 7th of December was the day.  The setting, the International Space Station linked to a medieval town in central Italy nestling on the lower slopes of Mont Ingeno.  That town is Gubbio our local town.  Settled in pre-history there runs throughout the town a strong sense of tradition and bond of loyalty, but that does not mean that the Eugubini are not open to a bit of change and progress and boy they certainly do know how to party and to invite celebrities!

So it was at dusk on last Thursday this surreal technological link took place as a signal from the International Space Station circulating some 350km above the earth was sent by Italian Astronaut Paolo Nespoli all the way down to deepest Umbria to switch on the 460 lights that make up the “World’s Largest Christmas Tree“.  Gubbio was packed solid, hotels, bed and breakfasts, agriturismi, and private homes all welcoming visitors from all over the world to witness this great switch on.  We from Bellaugello Gay Guest House were lucky to be invited to a private home to witness the event, great hospitality, wonderful apri-cena, and seemingly endlessly flowing prosecco and to boot a first class view of this tree which rises from the ancient city walls to the top of Mont Ingeno.


More than 460 lights are lit using 8,500 metres of cable stretching 650metres up the hillside.  It is a gargantuan task undertaken by a squad of 50 volunteers who start erecting back in October.  But such is the strength of the locals or Eugubini, they love a huge project and to do things together.  Gubbio really is a blend of the traditional and modern as this wheel spawned doubtlessly from the London Eye and landed in the lower Piazza and the following event goes to prove.

The next big date for the Eugubine calendar is May 15th when the annual ‘Corso dei Ceri‘ or race of the candles is run.  The first Sunday of May the three wooden phallic ‘candles’ are processed down from the church on top of the hill, seen to the right of the star in the photographs, and left in the Palazzo Ducale until the morning of 15th May when the three teams each representing  a saint; Ubaldo, Antonio and Giorgio, meet in the Piazza Grande in the ancient historic centre of Gubbio.  The Ceri are brought out of the palazzo horizontally and mounted in their H framed holders and after a dousing in wine they are raised vertically and processed round the town.


And then following a large and lengthy lunch, it is Italy after all, the Ceri are raced back up Mont Ingeno to the church of San Ubaldo.  This amazing day is the culmination of a year of planning, and is an event held by the locals for the locals, but one which you are welcome to attend.

We at Bellaugello always are in  town for the Altzata the town is seething with hot guys in white pants, an occasion not to miss!  For more information check the website: Click Here – Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio and Book Bellaugello: Book Now or enquire

Bellaugello is an official nominee for the 2017 Gay Travel Awards! To win I need your vote.  Have you enjoyed your stay at Bellaugello, have your friends enjoyed their stay or have they been told of your vacation here?  Please share this post and vote now.

CLICK HERE – VOTE NOW

By voting you have the chance to win a Gay Travel goody bag of Andrew Christian underwear and of course the knowledge that you have raised Bellaugello’s chances of winning for which I thank you. And now enjoy my blog post about Bellaugello nomination.

If you want only happy positive news jump to paragraph five, meanwhile if you are in a mood for a dithering rant here is mine.  Just what is happening?  Some days its all so horrid I am terrified to turn on the radio or look at social media, the news and posts are just so violent and angry  The reported world is in a very bad place and daily this hatred amplifies, and I find myself almost crying in exasperation.  Natural events, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, storms, insane heat, drought, is also as if the world is responding to humanity’s aggression in its own way and showing us the folly of our destructive ways.  I ask myself how did we get to this stage and will the ball of intolerance and hatred continue to spin and grow.  I yearn for good news.

Where to listen, where and what to read, and in posting this I ask myself if am I adding to the spinning ball…  America depresses me, a country that thinks of itself as ‘right’ is now so ‘wrong’, the decisions made in recent days showing increasing intolerance and a very scary belligerence and the terrifying control that the multi-nationals have over global decision making, with so many other countries freekishly, blindly and slavishly aspiring to be American.  Taxes, social mobility, disenfranchisement, embassies, travel rights, tolerance, Guns, the right to carry guns, well let’s not go there.  I cannot begin to believe the logic of guns or that after yet another tragic killing it will ‘all be all right’ because ‘we will pray for you’ is anything but insane claptrap by a bunch of very very nasty people.  Indeed some four weeks ago the hunters here murdered my delightful Clara the tame fox that had learnt to trust me, the team and so many of my guests.  I am still so angry and hurt and know this knowledge will bring a tear to more than a few of Bellaugello’s guests.  Brexit (not that I’m admitting to how I voted) a decision arguably admiral in concept, aiming to withdraw one nations influence over others is clearly an unplanned farce. If only Noël Coward, Oscar Wilde or Gilbert and Sullivan were still alive can you imagine the satire, the hilarity and raucous laughter that would be generated on stage.  Sadly the farce of Brexit is becoming violent with a small group of sectarian politicians now wielding huge amounts of power and aiming to divide a country and take it back to war.

Poland and Hungary seem to be lurching catatonically to the right, their rulers ever more intolerant and xenophobic, whipping into a frenzy so many people who march so aggressively.  The culling by a young prince of rulers in Saudi already a country which exemplifies intolerance, but to to whose tune is the young prince dancing?  The ostracism of Iran, the cradle of the world’s cuisine.  Regime change in Zimbabwe that is probably not regime change.. give the guy another ten million dollars to go…. The ever increasing deforestation of the Amazon basin, the destructive march of genetically modified crops, oh yes, as if there was ever any doubt Putin intends to stand again.  So his, and the church’s institutionalised homophobic aggression will escalate.  Putin has banned Monsanto OGM in Russia, a move I thought good until I realised the motive, Russia must be working on its own OGM production, there is always a political motive for a move but why this homophobia, why?

Even in a country as liberal and progressive as the Netherlands guys tell me that it is not as easy to be openly gay as it was a few years ago.  Yes huge congratulations are due to Austria and Australia on passing same sex marriage laws Bravi! and wasn’t it wonderful to see during the vote the Australian politician asking his fellow politician boyfriend to marry him, a real tear jerker. Sadly, simultaneously there is increasingly in the world, an acceptance of institutional homophobia.  Only to read that Chris Johnston the reporter of the “Daily Blade”  one of America’s leading LGBTQ paper was, for the first time in seven years not invited to the President’s Christmas party, gives the level of institutional homophobia is reaching and being encouraged to grow and disseminate.  So much of sub Saharan Africa is fiercely homophobic, ah yes they were ‘civilised by the faithful’.  Liberties do not exist, in so many countries to be gay, is a death sentence.  I am genuinely scared not only for the present, but for future freedom, human rights and specifically rights of gay and transgender people.  Not that I hide my head under the haystack, but the tranquillity and beauty I find here on my Umbrian hillside is one of the reasons why I love being a ‘contadino’ or ‘peasant farmer’ living in Umbria, Italy.  It is bliss.  Bellaugello Gay Guest House is a haven, here it is truly special, you find peace, it is a place far away from the madding crowd to recharge and to inspire you.

My email has been playing up, my computer decides autonomously what it is, and is not going to do and whether or not the wifi will connect, (just how do you work on a computer with only wifi connection that refuses to connect?).  At the same time emails arrive, or, remain in the ether, the mail programme regularly freezes and Firefox scarpers from the screen seemingly going on holiday.  In that I have no idea what will happen pressing a computer key is always exciting.  Fans whirr, programmes and apps often do not load correctly, freeze or worse still crash and sometimes, just sometimes they load.  One email that did get through yesterday was it was a lovely one from Gay Travel informing me that thanks to you guys Bellaugello Gay Guest House has been nominated for Best Bed and Breakfast 2017.  I feel so very happy and proud we (yes my team are a huge part of Bellaugello) have received the nomination, , to know so concretely that we are doing something right.  We are one of six nominees, and with your help we can win.

Gay Travel Award Nominee Letter 2017

 

 

 

#gaytravel

I lost my grandparents when very young, not my fault, not theirs, but unfortunate and I wish it had not been like that. However I was very fortunate to have ‘aunt’ Mary in my life.  To me she was my surrogate grandmother.  In my early years our relationship was not strong, but as I reached puberty we seemed to get closer, a trend which happily for me continued throughout her life right to the end when she gave me her power of attorney.

Mary lived in London, a sunny second floor flat in Fulham, west London overlooking the Bishop’s Park to the river Thames.  I remember watching the University boat race from her sitting room window, mmm sweaty hunky athletic guys.  Her home was filled with eclectic antiques and objets d’art, collected by her and her late husband when they were definitely out of fashion and obscenely cheap. Open an exquisite Georgian Tallboy and out would tumble crested silver forks and spoons, her linen cupboard was stuffed full with hand embroidered nineteenth century napery.  Being born into a traditional Northumberland family in 1911, after-all a very different age not surprisingly her life was more than somewhat ritualised and very traditional.

The obligatory drinking of sherry before dinner was intimidating.  Choosing the correct Georgian glasses from the cupboard in the dining room, putting two on a silver salver, remembering not to forget the lace doylies, filling the glasses just to the right level, and then the walk across hectares of worn red Wilton to her favourite chintz armchair in the sunny bay window overlooking the gardens trying so very hard not to let the contents spill.  She would throw down the Daily Telegraph and her fountain pen, she had been doing the crossword, and she would smile up to me.  I put her glass on the exquisite polished wine table next to her, and then moved sheepishly to the other armchair, slightly larger than hers, it was that of her late husband.  Placing my doyley and glass on another pretty priceless table, I would wait for her to take the first sip before doing the same.  We would drink two or three manzanillas, after which Alec might be described as slightly tipsy.

Our friendship strengthened, and in the 1980s I would be given a front door key and allowed to come and go as I pleased.  What luck, a pied a terre that I, a guy in his early twenties could use in London, I visited whenever I could.  Obviously the rituals of sherry and formality continued, and whilst I did extensively explore London, I also spent time chatting with ‘aunt Mary’ in her sunny bay window.

By now she was in her early seventies, but still fit and with a sparkle.  She had reprised her interest in antiques, then so fashionable and was helping out in a couple of the antique shops below the flat and in the nearby King’s Road.  In the 1980s Fulham and Chelsea were the ‘in place’ and there were many specialist antique shops owned and run by a vast gamut of guys.  Mary would recount tales of exquisite pieces, of how they were discovered and to whom they were sold.  Her social circle increased exponentially and she recounted of the many dinner parties held in her flat with her ‘boys’ the guys who were in the trade.  Despite being very ‘Victorian’ she was also modern, one of her favourite menus being large battered plaice and chips from the chippy across the road, ok, served on the Meissen and accompanied by a crisp Chablis sourced from another of her boys, and served in Baccarat glasses, a real lady with style.

Over sherries on one visit to aunt Mary she started to tell me of Nick, one of her young friends, who she had talked of for a few years and through him got to know his mother.  Nick had gone into hospital.  It seemed he had been struck down suddenly and was seriously ill in Charing Cross hospital, the doctors did not exactly know what was wrong but they were very concerned.  He was in an isolation ward.  Needless to say aunt Mary found time to visit him.  Nick died, and his death was followed by the sickness and death of so many of aunt Mary’s guy friends in the antiques business, the illness knew no social boundary, owners of the smartest chicest uber expensive shops were struck down as equally as those who ran the ‘tat’ rag and bone second hand stores, as it did the wine merchant and the lawyer.  It was into that halcyon world in London that AIDS first struck, and it struck hard.

World AIDS Day Badge

At first I was unaware exactly what it was.  Aunt Mary knew long before me, and amidst the sadness of losing many many young friends she continued her hospital visits, comforted grieving partners and parents.  I know she was badly affected by these tragedies, and in those early days AIDS was highly stigmatized, the gay disease, stay away, don’t touch or sympathise, but this elderly lady did, she was a regular visitor to the special wards.  I remembered having met so many of these intolerably handsome Adonises, I was in love with many of them, why did they have to go, and in such a horrible way?

Roll the clock forward forty years.  I am in Umbria, Italy, running a gay guest house.  Since opening Bellaugello Gay Guest House, I am sure that there have been many HIV positive guys who have stayed as guests.  To see them outwardly one would never know they are positive, indeed I could not point them out, but statistically they must have been here.  Today thanks to much research and hard work involving many many people who have largely gone unnoticed, and of course the retro-viral treatments life with HIV is no longer a death sentence or a such a great stigma.

So I am proud to post on my blog on World AIDS Day, a day when I remember friends who have departed, and give thanks for the amazing work done by so many in developing treatments, those who fund-raise to support the cause, and most importantly of educating people of all sexual persuasions the need for safe sex.  This evening, I will be downing a glass of Manzanilla and toasting late ‘aunt’ Mary and remembering how very fortunate I was to have know such a very progressive and supportive person and just how she coped in an un-stigmatising way, maintaining friendships with people living with and dying of HIV.

And to close this post on a continuing happy note an anecdote that made me chuckle:

A friend called from Australia, we chatted and he told me he is on PrEP.  For those of you who don’t know pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at substantial risk of getting it to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day.  I went to my doctor to enquire.  He told me that although it is legal in many countries, here in Italy it has not been approved by the drugs administration and on account of religious sensibilities.  “But if you want it ask a friend who lives in Rome to go the the Vatican pharmacy, you can get it there…..”.

#WAD2017