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

Oh dear it is that time of year again, the shops are becoming gaudy and gaily lit up, supermarkets piled high with Panettone and beer, hunky workmen are in the streets hanging soon to be lit strings of soon to be twinkly lights, and people are already beginning to stress over what to buy for ‘auntie Maud’ and the rest of the clan and cope with a multitude of faddy diets and food allergies as they organise feasts.

The excitement reached my local town of Gubbio some months ago.  At a tourism committee meeting we learnt that the town is to erect a 40 metre panoramic wheel in the main piazza, it opened last weekend, coloured lights and views over the medieval city.  On 7th December the “World’s Largest Christmas Tree” starting from the city walls and rising the slopes of Monte Ingino to a star on the summit will be lit in an evening of fireworks and party.

Check the website here: Albero di Gubbio

The guys who are behind this spectacle have been stringing kilometres of cables all over the hillside and attaching hundreds of huge lights to trees and poles, it is a massive undertaking, all done by volunteers.  Bellaugello Gay Guest House got in early and we sponsored one of the lights, I just like to be part of the town and also to say thank you to all you guys that stay with us and support Bellaugello.

Come visit and stay at Bellaugello for the weekend of  7th – 10th December.  I have kept two suites open and as the services offered are more informal I am offering a special reduced winter rate.  Check the “Deals” page on the website for the offer and get booking.

Assisi, Bevagna, Montone and Perugia all have large Christmas markets.  The market in Perugia is held in the Rocca Paolina the underground medieval city beneath the now city centre.  Walk ancient streets and filled with artisan stalls, from crafts to cheese, baubles to bottles, ceramics to chocolate, a gift for everyone.

To show our support for the gay community on World AIDS Day we are offering a special discount rate for your gay holiday in Italy in the 2018 season.

What is World AIDS Day?

World AIDS Day takes place on the 1st December each year. This day it’s an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.

World AIDS Day, red ribbon NAT, offer for gay holiday in Italy

An holiday to champion the rights of people living with HIV

Bellaugello want to offer a discount in name of World AIDS day hoping this page visibility will help NAT to collect donations to support people living with HIV.

Holiday with your loved one in Italy staying at Bellaugello Gay Guest House in Umbria, Italy where you will discover a real gay vacation destination immersed in beauty and nature, yet only a couple of hours from Rome, Florence and Rimini.  Enjoy our infinity swimming pool, secluded gardens, luxury accommodation and convivial breakfasts.

Why Italy?  Because it is the country of “la dolce vita” home to great food and wines, world leading fashion, history, art, beautiful people, and at Bellaugello you will holiday in modern elegance with world-class hospitality.

Your holiday in name of World AIDS Day

We offer five individual suites, each with private terrace, kitchen corner and spacious bathrooms.  A daily cleaning service means you can be as lazy and hedonistic as you wish. Breakfasts prepared with love using many home made products are served daily, in cooler weather round our antique family dining table in front of the fire, and in summer together at one table on the terrace under the morning sun.  In high season we serve dinner three evenings a week, guests sit together, stories are shared, friendships are made.

Our south facing garden is filled with  the heady scents of lavender and rosemary, and of course there is a large salt treated swimming pool with an infinity edge.  Laze the day away on our day bed or a sunlounger, the choice is yours.  The views over the Apeninnes to Abruzzo and le Marche are almost infinite, birdsong fills the air, the perfect place to relax, revitalize whilst effortlessly working on your tan and, if you wish swimming ‘au naturel’.

Umbria may be Tuscany’s less well known neighbour but for us it is the nicest of regions and rewards visitors with a warm welcome and desire to return.  Quiet roads wind their way through vineyards and olive groves, past lakes and streams and up to long forgotten monasteries, and into bustling hill-top towns interlaced with narrow streets with a choice of restaurants and small stores.  It is a foodie and gastronomic paradise discovered by the eclectic traveller.

How to take advantage of the offer

For only 48 hours from midnight on Thursday 30th November until midnight on Saturday 2nd December we are offering a 15% discount on our published daily and weekly rates for all new confirmed stays in 2018 made in that 48 hour timescale.  All we ask in return is that you agree to pay for your holiday in full at the time of booking.

To take advantage of this offer all you need to do is to enter the code “HOMO” in the promotional box in our online booking form and the discount price will be displayed.  Choose your suite, then write in the comments box on during the booking procedure that you agree to pay for your holiday in full at the time of booking.. Book Now

We look forward to welcoming you to Bellaugello Gay Guest House

Official Website: for more information about World AIDS Day you can see the official website

Donations: donate to National AIDS Trust (NAT) by clicking here

Amarone, Barolo, Brunello, Burrata, Cute guys, Crescia, Passito, Pasta, Truffles and of course Sunshine in abundance, are all easy things for everyone to identify as being quintessentially Italian things to readily fall in love with, but there is more, much more that makes Italy a fabulous place to live and vacation.

As I sit at my kitchen window tapping away at the keyboard lazily emptying my brain of whimsical thoughts trying to put to the ether some of the reasons for my love of Italy, my gaze wanders south, out the window, the sky is bright blue, sun radiating overhead, shining brightly, dazzlingly bright, there is mist still hanging in the valley, clinging to the trees now decadently dressed with autumn colours, it is utterly beautiful and above all peaceful.

In these days of turbulence it is a good feeling to be living somewhere tranquil and cosseted.  I came to Italy just over ten years ago, and so very much has happened in those years, some good, some great, and some painful, downright horrid and utterly ghastly, but the one thing throughout all is that Italy is a great place to live and work.   I often reflect on life as an immigrant, both from my point of view and that of my neighbours and friends.  When after five years of house hunting I arrived here and began to negotiate the purchase of a derelict farmhouse and lots of south facing land I am sure neither the vendors or people who were to become my neighbours had any idea of what was to become reality.

The house called “Bellaugello” has been here for over four hundred years, its shown on the map of Umbria dated 1600.  Owned by a family from our local town of Gubbio the land had been farmed under the “mezzadria” system, where the tenant farmers (and there were two families living here one of ten the other thirteen) had no security and paid their rent by giving 50% of their produce to the landowner.  By 1981 that system of agriculture had declined and terminated, people moved to towns and cities and life became substantially more urban.  So two guys rock up and negotiate the purchase, the house had a roof but not much more, the land abandoned, the intention, to create a ‘gay guest house’ and that is what I did.  During the three years of building work, not only was I a manual labourer but I learnt Italian and began to develop a network of friends.

Umbria is a laid back sort of region.  Although in the centre of Italy, it is a region often bypassed and so remains traditional and somewhat introspective.  This has both advantages and disadvantages.  What I discovered is a tremendous warmth of welcome and support.  As an immigrant I came here not only to open the gay guest house but also to try and live ‘an Italian life’, to integrate and make the most of my experiences.  Happily to me I have managed to achieve that.  From small tentative steps I began to take larger steps, neighbours offered to help, they became friends, and remain so to this day.  It must have been very odd for them to see the transformation of derelict abandoned farm to what it is now today, and to learn of the target market of the business, but I found huge support and encouragement and never judged by my sexuality.   If I fail to tidy the dead branches round my olive trees, I discover my neighbour saw them lying there and cleared them away as he knew I was too busy to get to them.  On the rare occasions that the valley was snow-bound we all take it in  turn to organise a simple lunch, moving from house to house and of course Bellaugello is on the list.  I speak Italian with a strong British accent, which I find embarrassing but my friends amusing.  I can usually tell when somebody does not understand me as they slowly screw up their face and look bewildered before saying “I don’t have a clue what you are talking about” and then helping me to resolve the problem.

I am a hopeless romantic and maniacal chatterbox – just ask my guests!  It doesn’t matter whether it is the petrol station, bar or supermarket, I am always ready to strike up a conversation, and am invariably met with a smile and time for a chat.  You may well say this is typical of life in any rural community, and you may well be right, but is it true of an immigrant and especially one with such different values to those of the indigenous population?   I have been accepted and welcomed and not witnessed homophobia or reluctance to do business with Bellaugello.

Two years ago I was co-opted onto a tourism committee as a representative of one of the larger farmers’ unions, and yes, of course they know I am gay.  I regularly attend meetings that include the Mayor and director of tourism for Gubbio and am able to contribute to future initiatives, I so want them to introduce a digital interactive map of the city that all of us hoteliers can send out to our guests when they confirm a booking to enable them to see and learn of the hidden delights of our city, and slowly I am winning them over.  ‘Domani’ is a real word here,and yes, it does arrive.  I also comment (I believe constructively) from a foreigner’s point of view on existing problems.  One an exciting project is growing the hosting of weddings in our area, also for same sex couples.  Bellaugello is on the list for registration as a venue for the celebration of civil unions which will be applicable to both Italians and non residents, yes, soon you you will be able to get married at Bellaugello.

I walk through towns and cities feeling totally safe and relaxed.  Long gone is the need to be careful when to open my mouth and speak, the need to be constantly looking over my shoulder in case somebody was following me and about to do me harm, or to be wearing the wrong colour clothes in the wrong part of the city.  As recently reported on “Red Bull TV”  click the Facebook link;  Red Bull – Festa dei Ceri – Gubbio every 15th of May our local town of Gubbio celebrates as they have done for literally millennia the “Corsa dei Ceri” or race of the candles. The town is packed solid, the race serious, competitive, the locals begin to plan for next year’s race on the 16th of May, and yet to be there and witness the tradition feels amazing, and despite the many thousands of people, safe and thoroughly exhilarating.

Head into another small town and there is an opera festival, music fills the air in Italy.  Climb the old worn steps high in the auditorium to sit in a sun-kissed box part of a huge arcade and listen to world class opera.  Old frescoed chambers are venues for piano recitals and modern ballet.  Enter a huge church seemingly empty and hear the faint murmur of Gregorian chant, haunting moving…

On crisp but sunny days climbing into an olive tree and letting the bunches of black fruit loose to run through your fingers, it is November and the olive harvest.  I pick with friends by hand as has been done round the Mediterranean for centuries.  Gathering the olives from the net and putting them into crates before taking them to the local mill to be pressed in the knowledge that four hours later we will be sitting round a log fire toasting unsalted Umbrian bread brushed with our own garlic and smothered in deep green spicy olive oil washed down with local organic wine, it is one of the best evenings of the year, a simple pleasure but a big one.

Traditions are still maintained here in Italy.  Perhaps I want to hark back to an earlier time, but no, I do not, I just value the contact with the land and seasons and traditions are to me an important reminder of how we used to be intimate with our environment.  With the strong influence of the Catholic church many events and festa even if begun in pagan times are predominantly religious and taken very seriously.  To be in the heart of a medieval city, narrow streets lined with stone houses, each displaying in their disjointed stonework their evolution, and to hear chanting, the ruffle of medieval costumes, simple musical instruments, horses hooves on cobbles is magical, you have to be here and better still live here to fully appreciate the magic.  Flag throwing, archery, crossbow, wrestling, medieval no rules football, woodland festivals, all still part of life throughout Italy and I for one appreciate them.  Each year I take all my Bellaugello guests over the river to the neighbouring village of Carbonesca for their annual “Sagra di Polenta e Salsicce” – Polenta and sausage party.

Twelve or more handsome guys walk in and grab a table, long lines of tables and benches stretch across a small park in front of a huge stage.  We are amongst 1,500 other people all packed into this small village.  Dishes of polenta, and local sausage with fresh tomato sauce (all cooked by volunteers in the village) soon arrive, as does wine, all for ten euros a head, and both keep coming through the evening. The band strikes up, this year a group from Rome who in front of a ginormous led television screen sing their hearts out on stage.  Soon dancing begins, elderly couples waltzing precise and calculated steps, their heavy leather shoes as polished as their steps, they have danced together for decades, it shows.  They pass young people hugging and waltzing in a freer style.  The music changes, almost to line dancing and everyone including us from Bellaugello is up on the dancefloor.  At midnight our minibus returns to take us back home, the guys all chattering, some are still singing.  All talk is about the evening, how amazing to see and be part of such a large party in such a small village, how that would ‘never happen where we live’ and just how much they were able to enjoy themselves without a care in the world.

On days off (rare things, at work I’m a control freak!) I head to the hills, the Apeninnes regional park just behind Gubbio.  Climb high by car and higher still by foot to reach the summit where you can see east to the Adriatic, west to Monte Amiata in Tuscany and south to Abruzzo and Monte Sibillini, so many kilometres where so much happens.  Gazing over hillsides I walk by a herd of cattle, lazily chewing the cud, their necks swathed in a leather collar from which hangs a burbling bell, clang clang, the sound evocative of past times, I see sheep, and my thoughts wander to food.  Pecorino cheese, semi-stagionato my favourite matures with a liberal coating of musto from the vendemmia or wine harvest.

You eat so well here in Italy.  The “Materia Prime” or raw ingredients are so very very good and thankfully still seasonal.  Go into a supermarket and you will not find pre-prepared dishes ready to slide into the microwave, instead you will find fresh seasonal produce.  Enter an average Italian home and you are greeted by the dining table, it dominates the room and family life.  Families still sit together at meals, conversation is enthusiastic and always about food.  Where it came from, how it was cooked, how ‘my’ mother or grandmother cooked it, recipes are shared and remembered to be tried out.  Going to a dinner with friends one contributes something, maybe a starter, side dish or pudding, there is a huge tradition of sharing, which of course also makes the host’s job slightly easier.

The weekly market is for me not only a source of great fresh fruit and vegetables, fine cheeses and plump baccalà but a place to people watch.  It is a place where young and old come, many to shop, many to chat, a social and at the same time practical occasion.  Spring stalls burst with artichokes and beans, by summer replaced with melons, tomatoes and achingly crisp salads, which in autumn are replaced by nuts, pumpkins, and apples, food is fresh and so so good.

At the top of this post I listed wines, and Italy has many stunning wines and they are not heavily taxed so unless you go to the top when you can pay many hundreds of euro for a wine from a globally famous cantina you can drink amazingly well for a reasonably modest sum.  Wine is an accompaniment to food, not a tool to get ‘out of your mind’ it is something to be savoured and enjoyed with friends.  Every Italian city has a multitude of bars and early evening they all serve an ‘Aperitivo’ snacks alongside your drink.  It may be a prosecco, or Aperol Spritz, maybe a cocktail or artisan beer but it will be accompanied by a selection of snacks.  The better bars serve local prosciutto and salamis, tiny salads of fresh vegetables and pulses, patés and frittata, some so huge that dinner is not required.  Aperitivo is a convivial time, time to unwind from a busy day and meet friends before going off home or out to dinner.

I guess I should mention fashion, but I am not a follower of fashion, I’m more comfortable in a pair of jeans and a t shirt, or just being naked, but as you will already know Italy is the home to fashion and it is great to see people old and young carefully dressed enjoying an evening stroll or ‘passeggiata’.  Early evening in any Italian town families and non families are out and about, walking back and forth chatting, catching up with the gossip, taking a coffee, gelato or digestivo.  Groups of youngsters, the guys eyeing the girls, the girls feigning shyness, and us gays ogling the cute guys, time seems to have stood still.