I wake early.  The sun manages to pierce the small gap in the shutters on my bedroom window and land on my still somnambulant face.   I stretch and slide silently out of bed and tiptoe to open the outside door.  Birdsong fills the air, the dawn chorus is in full flight.  Remembering my phone I step outdoors and look over the heady lavender bushes and the swimming pool to the valley below and as far as the Gran Sasso in the depths of the Apeninnes, this is summer living in our gay guest house in Italy.

Almost every morning I follow this ritual and am never disappointed by what I see and occasionally manage to photograph.  Sometimes still hiding behind the cypress tree almost too shy to come out of hiding, the sun is golden yellow.  Sometimes it is already high in the azure sky burning off the mist that swirls in the valley below, and sometimes it is just peeking over the top of the mountain peaks.

Today as I head down to the pool there is a blackbird singing his heart out sitting in the topmost branch of a pine tree.  The water on the infinity edge is glistening.  Cyril the robot has done his overnight cleaning job and is now napping.  Still naked, I dive in.

Swimming naked is a wonderful sensation that I honestly believe everyone should try at least once in their lives.  Of course you are welcome to wear swimming shorts, here the choice is yours.

I exit the pool and brush through swathes of now heady deeply purple lavender busily being caressed by honey bees, butterflies and hover moths, and jump under the shower.

It is an amazing year and Umbria is looking splendid.  Now dressed I head down to the terrace where Mauro has prepared a delicious breakfast for our guests.

Home baking, fresh sourdough and wholemeal breads, jams made with fruit gathered from our large gardens, and eggs boiled in the machine that when the eggs are ready sounds like an alarm at a nuclear plant, it is all part of the fun and joy of the place.

I grab a coffee and chat with the guys.  Maybe they were out in Gubbio last night, I hear about their evening.  Maybe they are wanting advice on a town, museum or vineyard to visit, or maybe it is just banter for banters sake, it is all good and relaxingly light hearted.  Kindly they all humour me! Another example of summer living in our gay guest house in Italy.  I head through the dining room and notice a bunch of generous cream roses  brought in by Daniela my smiling housekeeper fresh cut from her garden.  It is Daniela that tidies up and keeps the suites spotless for the guys, a sometimes arduous task that she does with a huge smile.

I’m now off to check on the daily tasks, yes, I am a bit of a control-freak, highly detail oriented.  I like things to be right for my guests.  Once again so many guys are returning for their holidays.  It is such a reward for me and my team to welcome back guests many of whom I now count as real friends.  Be it from Italy, or Europe or points farther abroad, the Bellaugello network is growing every day.

This week some of the guys went up in the hot air balloon,

…whilst others chose to do something really energetic and hike the long walk from their suite to the infinity pool and relax poolside under the Umbrian sun.

Whilst others just lazed in the garden with a good book.

There are a multitude of quiet corners to hang out in at Bellaugello.  You can be as lazy or energetic as you wish.  Some guys take a copy of my trusted map and walk some of the many tracks that crisscross the valley.  Others take one of our picnics and head for some more serious hiking into the Monte Cucco regional park.  The views from the top are to the Adriatic and Lago Trasimeno. Most stay poolside…summer living in our gay guest house in Italy.

As you can guess I am in a reflective mood. Such beauty surrounds me on a daily basis, and so many guys come here to enjoy and photograph it.

My selection of photographs in this post have been taken over this past month.  Most are tame but this next one is decidedly hot…

460˚c to be precise, in the wood burning oven as one of our delicious pizzas is cooking.  We get through a whole lot of wood here…

Now the day draws to a close and before heading back to bed I make a final inspection.  I have the notion to paint the wall at the infinity swimming pool Klein Blue.  This photo of the pool at night puts me even more in the mind.  This is summer living in our gay guest house in Italy.

 

 

The 15th of May every year is held sacred to the heart of every citizen of our town, Gubbio.  This is the day that diaries are cleared to allow everyone to be in town to celebrate the “Festa dei Ceri” or “race of the candles”.   It marks the culmination of several weeks of partying as the Ceri are erected and paraded around the town before being raced up the hill to the basilica of S Ubaldo the patron saint of Gubbio. It is indeed the very finest of pageantry and hospitality at the Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio, Italy.

Throughout early May the town awakens, and the excitement rises tangibly.  People gather and parties are held.  A lot of food and wine is consumed.  On the evening of 14th May the ‘Taverne‘ are in full swing.  Townsfolk open their doors and invite friends and neighbours to share copious quantities of food and wine.  I and all the Bellaugello guests received an invitation from my dear friends Laura and Roberto to join them at their friend Roberto Rossi’s Taverna.  We walked through busy streets and arrived at the house, but no host!  After about half an hour Roberto appeared, more than merry, he had been at a good and clearly bucolic lunch.  As the sky lit red we were warmly greeted, lots of kisses on both cheeks, and rapidly supplied with wine and delicious food laid out on tables in the street.

There are three Ceri, S Ubaldo, (yellow) the patron saint, S Giorgio, (blue) the saint of the townsfolk and merchants, and S Antonio (black) the saint of the farmers and countryfolk.  As a peasant farmer my saint is Antonio, and dressed appropriately I headed into town for the day.

I met up with my Ben, my best friend and together after the obligatory coffee we headed into the historic centre of Gubbio.  Guys in white pants and coloured shirts filling the streets of the city of stone.

Why am I always the shortest in every photo?

We climbed to the Piazza Grande where as the huge bell high in the bell tower is tolled by hand the pageantry and splendour of the Alzata or ‘raising’ started at 11am.

A bit about the history of the event as told by the city itself:

The tourist arriving in Gubbio for the ancient folk tradition known as the “Ceri festival”, is left in awe by the morning ceremonies; The Holy Mass, the procession with the saints’ statues, the parade of the “Ceraioli”. They cannot help but breathe the extraordinarily festive, excited, and passionate atmosphere that engulfs the town. After the medieval ceremony of investiture, they find themselves buzzing with excitement in the Piazza Grande. Then, like a colourful cascade the “ceraioli” rush down the staircase of the Palazzo dei Consoli into the square. As the Ceri are raised skywards accompanied by the tolling of the big bell, emotions in the piazza also rise higher.

Here is a video clip of the actual moment the Ceri are washed with wine by the ‘Capodieci’, the jugs then thrown high into the crowd as the Ceri are erected and then run around the flagpole three times before exiting the piazza to go and salute the townsfolk.

During the afternoon race the thrill of the event continues to enrapture the tourist. This is when the three Ceri, topped by the statues of St Ubaldo, St George and St Anthony, run along Corso Garibaldi, the main street of the town. The spectator is caught by sudden excitement as shouts of joy and applause merge into a deafening roar that rises up to the sky. It is as if everyone has become an actor on a huge open air stage.

But before the run up the hill I had an appointment to keep.

I had received an invitation from the Comune to the VIP lunch held for the ‘great and the good’ in the Palazzo dei Consoli, the building that dominates the piazza in the cente of town.  This “Tavola Bona” is a lengthy banquet of fish dishes (the day is the eve of Saint Ubaldo, so only fish is consumed).

Five hundred guests are seated and the party got underway…  I ran unsteadily up the stairs and got a bird’s eye view 😉

Wow! do the Eugubini know how to party.  Wine flowed and flowed and the band played more and more frequently, second and third helpings were offered.  Napkins were twirling, people dancing, everyone, laughing, chatting, merrily having an amazing time.  For me as a foreigner it was very special to be invited to the lunch, the ‘inner sanctum’ of the event.  Now I totally understand the soul of Gubbio and what makes the townsfolk tick.  Their passion and enthusiasm is infectious and real.

Several hours later as I headed out I stopped to chat and say ‘thank you’ with a couple of the people working in the kitchen.  They told me they were a team of only twenty, and as well as feeding the VIP lunch they also fed 1000 ‘ceraioili’ – the team members who ate in the huge arcone below the piazza grande.  What a feat! Bravi!  This passion to me sums up the spirit of the town which has welcomed me and my guests and which I have come to love and call home.

For those interested in the origins and history of this amazing event please do read on;

In the 1950s, journalist Franco Cremonese wrote: ” The people who cram the streets on May 15th are not a public of spectators, but a delirious crowd, floating, shouting, crying, sharing the Ceraiolis’ passion. When the Ceri run, nobody can be just a spectator: for a few moments, even perhaps for a few minutes, no-one can avoid feeling a collective anxiety, an excitement that leaves one wondering whether to either smile widely or cry”. These few words express the unique charm of the festival. Of course words alone cannot describe in full the atmosphere pervading the spectacle. That can only be experienced by running after the Ceri.

To have a close at the Ceri and even touch them, it is necessary to follow one “Cero”, the one that attracts you the most at first sight. During the so called “show” you have a chance to get close. At certain points as the Cero is carried along the streets it stops and the Cero circles three times to honour old “ceraioli”, who then reach out and touch the saint from their window.

At 6.00 p.m. the great race begins. After the three dizzy ”birate” (turns) in the Piazza Grande, the ceraioli rush towards Mount St Ubaldo, and in 8-9 minutes, the Ceri fly along the winding uphill road to reach the Basilica. This is where the incorrupt body of St Ubaldo lies. To renew the promise of everlasting devotion by the citizens of Gubbio made on May 16th 1160, the day when St Ubaldo ascended into the sky, the Ceri, the ancient symbols of medieval craft guilds, are placed at his feet.

What can we say about the origins of the Ceri? There have always been two theories: Some scholars, claim their origins go back to the ancient propitiatory rites that the “Ikuvini” celebrated to obtain the favour of the numerous gods mentioned in the seven Eugubine Tablets. Christianity did not eradicate such ancient rites, but preferred to “Christianise” them. As quoted in the 11th Canto of Dante’s Purgatory, this policy was also implemented in relation to the worship of the “Blessed Ubaldo”. The other theory suggests that the origins lie in the candles and lights that illuminated the whole town on the death of St Ubaldo. It was then that the citizens of Gubbio said prayers and held a wake for their bishop.

It is not appropriate at this point to delve more deeply into this discussion. However, we cannot but, agree with Don Angelo Fanucci: “Even if the Ceri had had pre-Christian origins, since Gubbio has St Ubaldo, and the Ceri belong to him, the history of their origin is of no importance”.  The Ceri, in their deepest significance, are sacred vessels which have always cemented the very strong sense of community of the people of Gubbio. It is this community who, on May 15th, share love, joy, pain and passion with almost a purifying fervour.

It is not every morning before dawn that I stumble out of bed at Bellaugello Gay Guest House, manage to find my iPhone and set it at the window to record.  However this morning was one of those rare occasions, and I just have to share the result with you.

Clumsily, sleepily I balanced my phone precariously on a pile of books and set the ‘slo-mo’ record and via the bathroom went back to bed.  About one hour later I awoke in my now light bedroom and went over to check the phone.  I switched the camera off and replayed the video.

Sunrises can be amazing here, often red, often misty, magical, and special.  A couple of years ago one guest at our gay guest house caught on video the mist below in the Chiascio valley.  Unbeknownst to me it was visibly running downstream with course of the river.  I had imagined the movement of mist was vertical, but no it is more complicated.  I have often thought to try to recapture that stunning show, but I love my bed.  This morning the sunrise was no less magnificent.  The orange sky grows, and to my entertainment it seems like the clouds are jumping a race over the peaks of the Apennines like new born lambs gambolling on a bale of hay or a small hillock.

I just love the clouds reflected in the infinity pool and the mist cuddling the hills.  Umbria is a truly magical place.  The region is central in Italy, between Lazio, Toscana and Le Marche.   If you can tear yourself away from the many beauties of Umbria you will discover that Bellaugello is a perfect base for day trips to Rome, Florence, Siena and Rimini to name but a few.

Here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House you find a special peace and harmony.   Our aim is to indulge you and at the end of your stay to return you to your daily life refreshed and invigorated.  Bellaugello offers a holiday escape away from the worries of daily life, and who doesn’t need that?

As if by magic our local town of Gubbio hidden away in a quiet corner of Umbria, itself a beautifully sleepy region in the centre of Italy has a distinguished historical connection with Harry Potter, and now you can live the Hogwarts experience yourselves.

The unassuming village of Ponte d’Assi is not only home to a great bakery and friendly petrol station, the drop off point for packages by lazy courier drivers, the joiners who made the large table that sits on the terrace at Bellaugello Gay Guest House, around which so many meals in great company have been enjoyed but it is also home to a small light industrial estate where one company is truly global.

MedioEvo started many years ago in metalwork, and through their dedication to excellence and detail won the contract for supplying props and costumes two major Hollywood film series, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.   Recently as if by magic they have opened a store dedicated to Harry Potter memorabilia.  Here you can shop for wands, broomsticks, gowns, potions and Flying Cauldron ‘beer’ and much much more.

Oh! doesn’t Daniel Radcliffe look so young!

Gubbio our local town is a gem a precious medieval gem.  Nestling in the foothills of the Apennines in north eastern Umbria, the town is both beautifully preserved and a delight to visit.  Narrow streets lined with aged stone houses wind slowly uphill towards the cathedral and ducal palace, the summer home of Frederico Duca di Montefeltro.  There begins the long climb out of the city walls to the abbey of San Ubaldo atop the slope of Mont Ingino.  The simple plain abbey cloister exemplifies the unadorned beauty of this little know town.  From the air the little streets and small houses are, like so many Italian towns very visibly overshadowed by the huge monasteries and cloisters, so evident is the historic dominance, control and wealth of the church.

Arriving from Bellaugello you have a great panorama, the town shows itself, proud, erect, bold. Park you car and walk.  These are streets meant to be trodden, wander slowly into the historic town centre.  You pass along cool narrow streets, many houses having a second front door, ‘porta dei morti’ through which legend has it bodies of the dead were removed.  Good Osteria and Trattoria abound, try a ‘Crescia’ the delicious local flat bread filled abundantly with prosciutto or pecorino or braciole, so very good is the food in Umbria.  Climb up to the large open space of the Piazza Grande which offers great views over the cotto rooftops of the lower town.  Supported on huge arches it is a unique space in Italy and home to many pageants and feste that feature prominently in the life of this ‘city of stone‘.

One side of the piazza is delineated by the council offices, the second by a grand scabious facade of an hotel, the third by the imposing Palazzo dei Consoli or city chambers built between 1332 – 1349. This is arguably the building that has the most significance for the town. With its soaring bell tower it is prominent in every photograph, and fundamental to the life of the city, this is where pageantry begins.  High in the campanile announcing significant events the huge bell is tolled literally by hand by a team with skills passed down from father to son, and to whom safety harnesses do not exist,  the palazzo is also home to the extensive town museum.

We climb the staircase and enter this historic building and commence our tour of the museum.  Prominently featured are the Iguvine Tablets, seven bronze sheets dug up in a nearby field in the 1440s.  Written in the previously lost ancient Umbrian dialect and Etruscan and Latin they date from 3rd to 1st century BC. and provide scholars with unique source of translation and daily life and worship in pre-history Umbria.  The museum is home to a large collection of paintings and ceramics.  Historically Gubbio was a centre of ceramicists, Maestro Giorgio being the one to perfect the technique of Maiolica, lustre glaze brought from the Islamic world and now so emblematic of Italian decorative ceramics, think of those souvenirs and plates from the Amalfi coast.

The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, and currently on loan from the museum in Montepulicano, Tuscany is the “Ancient Instruments of Torture and Death” exhibition.  Naturally ‘curiosity took the better of the cat’ and I just had to have a look.  The exhibits are well described and displayed, and without exception are vicious and sadistic, examples of state and church brutality.  As I wondered from exhibit to exhibit I could not help but wonder what sort of evil mind invented these tortures,  how inhuman were the organisations that forced the infliction of torture, and what sort of person would send in a c.v. to apply for the job of torturer.  These are exhibits of institutionalised torture, failure to obey or you will be painfully tortured and even die.  The descriptions are graphic, the pain and degradation must have been unimaginable.  There is no element of choice, inhuman.

Thankfully most of these instruments of torture have long been abandoned by church and state, but searching my mind I must admit sadly and unacceptably in some instances they have been replaced by other more modern forms of torture, both physical and mental, plus ça change.  As I wandered aghast from one instrument to another it came to mind how these ‘gadgets’ have been adapted and adopted by S&M practitioners.  Walk through the average gay store (and I am sure any hetero sex shop) and there at the back is inevitably a huge range of ‘gadgets’ that are clearly based on the medieval instruments of torture.  There is to me, one fundamental and acceptable difference, S&M practitioners do so willingly and the gadgets are now used  for ‘pleasurable pain’ and voluntary subservience.  Like architecture or literature starting with few basic ingredients there evolve many variations and adaptations, and I am sure the exhibition will, for various reasons be of interest to some of our guests.

The exhibition runs until 1st May admission is €7  Read more from this link: Gubbio Civic Museum

Yet again another sunny day and as I was pressure washing the terraces and sundecks my thoughts turned to summer here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House.  Like my guests, I love my swimming pool.  It is 15 metres long, with an infinity edge giving a huge view to the south over the beautiful Umbrian countryside.  Today I am the only person at the pool, in the summer it is busy, guys soaking up the sun, swimming, reading, chatting, gazing longingly at the huge view (and each other).  This is the place to be, a place where you can breathe and simply let the cares of the world pass you by.

There is no nasty chemical chlorine in the pool, instead we treat the water with natural chlorine made by passing lightly salted water over electrolytic plates, the result clean safe water so much kinder to your skin and the environment.  To answer your question no, the water is not salty like sea water, there is a much smaller percentage of salt than you find in the sea.

Oh my summer thoughts lead me to the series of “Bellaugello Backs” photo section on my blog.  This series started early one spring morning when there was a guest in the pool gazing into the distance and I asked if I could take his photo to use on my blog.  Little did I know then that this first posted photo would grow into the Bellaugello Backs series and over the following seasons feature many guests.  One day a gorgeous guest asked  if I could add his photo to the set and if he could lift himself up on the infinity edge.  He did so and I took some photos, thus expanding the series to Bellaugello Backs and Butts!  I have one rule for the series;  no ‘dangly bits’, I want this blog to be suitable for even my grandmother to read, so no frontal nudity is permitted.  In all honesty it was also meant to be backs view, no faces, thus preserving anonymity, but faces creep in now and then, happy about that!

Anyway I digress, as the title of this post implies the subject should be Mauro, one of the Bellaugello team of 2016.  To my delight and that of I know many guests, Mauro has confirmed he will be returning to the Bellaugello team for the 2o17 season from mid May to end September.

For those of you who have yet to meet Mauro, a little introduction;  He is from deep in the south of Italy, Puglia, smiles alot, has a wicked sense of humour, speaks great English, and is here as my general assistant, will be here to serve breakfasts and dinners, and will be in charge of our new poolside cocktail hour (more details of that to follow).  In fact as you will discover he is a great guy and a valued member of our team.

In the afternoons you will usually find him poolside relaxing or chatting on the phone (at length..) to his partner.  Having asked Mauro for a photo of his to add to this post as to introduce him to you, I come back to my glorious swimming pool, for he sent me this one:

on the edge…

This past winter Mauro has gained a qualification in massage therapy and I am delighted to announce he will be our in-house masseur, offering relaxing Swedish massages to our guests. We have a glorious quiet shady terrace deep in the garden where his massage table will be set up, and you can enjoy your treatment listening to birdsong, the breeze rustling in the trees, and the burbling river deep down in the valley below, so very much nicer than being stuck in some featureless room in a spa.

It could be you.  To be featured in my ‘Bellaugello Backs’ series join us and stay at Bellaugello, I’m always on the look out for new guys to add to the collection.