“Right Alec, be ready in fifteen minutes we are off to see Castello di Solfagnano” so it was Monday morning when I was almost awoken by a neighbour. The offer had been made many months ago and Monday was the day when the visit was to become a reality. A thirty minute drive in the warmth of an October day in Umbria took us there.
The Castle is owned by a local family from Gubbio who bought it in a perilous state and have spent the past six years restoring it. I am told that they do not plan to live there – I know they have several other houses and castles both home and abroad, but rather they are creating a piece of decadent heritage as a fabulous venue for vip events, and presumably to host their own celebrity gatherings. It is really weird as there is a castle recently restored situated in the comune of Gubbio our local town that the family had looked at restoring but decided not to purportedly because it lies in the comune of Gubbio and planning permisions are reputedly easier in Perugia. The castle was bought by a Canadian, who with his husband have commissioned a huge restoration programme and I am told done a fabulous job. I say weird as everyone asks me if I know the castle and the guys who owns it… why is it that just because I am gay I must automatically be bosom buddy with every other gay in the world, the mind truly boggles…
Back to Sofagnano, it is situated in rolling countryside on the lower ground above the banks of the upper river Tiber. Immediately one turns off the main road and drives a gently winding road under massive umbrella pines, it is apparent that the castle had connections with Mussolini. I believe there is a room used by Il Duce that remains as it was in his time, alas we did not get to see that. A small unprepossessing gateway leads past some administration buildings and up to the castle proper. The original driveway being deemed unsuitable for modern traffic is now the most fabulous emerald green lawn, which sits under the stand of huge umbrella pines the luxuriant growth being maintained by a watering system that just for this short section consumes a mere 400 litres of water a minute.
To call it a castle is perhaps not strictly accurate the existing house is built on the site of a medieval castle but there is little evidence of that today, what you see in the photograph is a later C19 wing now housing a hairdressing and fashion school and meeting centre.
We walked past the chapel, still consecrated, up the main stairs, over the bridge and and up into the cortile
large, mindbolwing, beautiful pavement, designed in small squares of pebbles set in soft rinzaffo bordered by cotto tiles placed on edge, all new, but an exact copy of the original and done by local craftsmen, the original having collapsed into the cellars below which are now a huge swish banqueting suite.
Under the clock which sits atop the main facade solid imposing oak doors lead to a cool corridor running the depth of the castle, decorated in two shades of soft grey and lit by Murano glass sconces it is elegant and inviting. The ground floor itself is surprisingly intimate there are a couple of elegant small sitting rooms, the cut moquette covering the sofas is so thick you could get lost in its pile, the painted ceilings a joy. There is also a family dining room, delightful state of the art kitchen and a billiard room the deco Murano light above the table apparently used to hang in an old palazzo, the castle owners saw it and wanted it, it was not for sale but they eventually named the price and got it, so lavish is the restoration.
On the first floor there is an elegant large drawing room and bedrooms, the roof housing a swimming pool, which sadly we did not get to see.
There are still squads of workmen, they are busy finishing off work in the former servants wing, creating more bedrooms and suites, meanwhile outside in the perfectly groomed leaf and rubbish free grounds a vineyard has been tended and many new lines of vines planted, within the decade they will be large payers in Umbrian wine.
The gardens are simple, immaculately maintained by only two gardeners and lots of water, and lit by hundreds of uplighters some I’m told by the chief electrician costing six hundred euros a pop and when the bulbs blow which they apparently do you just chuck the whole lot away and buy a new one…..
For those of you celebrities and uber gents wanting a prestige venue for an unforgettable event Solfagnano is the place… Contact me and I will put you in touch. Meanwhile I am back to reality we are pruning lavender and I am making what will probably be the final cut of the lawns at Bellaugello Gay Guest House, they are not evenly green, some parts definitely suffered in the summer drought but they are substantially green and without the huge quantities of irrigation water, they give me pride 🙂