By tradition the World’s Largest Christmas Tree is lit each year on 7th of December and, as with many, we are in town to party. Since 1981 Monte Ingino the hill above our beautiful medieval town of Gubbio is illuminated by over five hundred huge coloured lights.
A team of volunteers start work early October. To erect the 650 metre high tree the guys lay over eight and a half kilometres of electric cable. It is a monumental task. So it merits only the most important people to be given the honour of turning the switch, lighting the tree and initiating a splendid firework display. Just some given the honour in past years are the President of the Republic and the Pope. This year the honour was given to the pilots of the “Frecce Tricolori” Italy’s Airforce formation flyers.
Waiting for the captain to press the switch we congregate in main piazza, witness flag throwing, pageantry, and speeches. Italy and Gubbio certainly know how to throw a great party. A torch-lit procession wends its way down the dark hill from the basilica of S Ubaldo seen in the top of the photo below. The city wall through which the procession passes is seen brightly lit on the right.
Passing by the Palazzo dei Consoli seen illuminated in the photo below the procession arrives with a fanfare in the piazza to be greeted by the ‘Sindaco’ or mayor.
This is the signal for the Captain of the “Frecce Tricolori” to hit the button and eureka! the dark hillside is now a multi coloured display of the World’s Largest Christmas Tree radiates over the medieval town.
The light sponsored for you readers, guests, and friends of Bellaugello Gay Guest House is right in the centre 🙂
Maybe for once I should be thanking global warming (did I really write that!?) but this unseasonally glorious weather made an excuse to take an away day. These days are warm and sunny. Early morning mist clears to reveal clear blue skies, the colours are magical. What better to leave off raking leaves and explore Umbria and head to Orvieto in the south east of Umbria. The town, like so many in Umbria is a gem, and it is also one of my real favourites.
The road to Orvieto takes the traveller south of Perugia following the course of the river Tiber. Passing by the hilltop town of Todi, voted in the 1980’s Condé Naste’s Top 100 places to live and itself worth a day visit, one peels off and takes the road following Lago di Cobarra. The twisty road along the artificial lake never ceases to amaze me. Because of the need to raise the road above the lake it hugs the shoreline and passes over curved bridges and through a series of short tunnels. The scenery is attractive in an artificial sort of way, and there are several lay-bys presumably meant as places to appreciate the view. I well remember driving this road in the 1980s and seeing many camper vans parked up, presumably tourists enjoying the scenery and peace. But, no, I have for long known these are not the reasons.
The camper vans are places of work. Unlike the road near Gubbio where ‘ladies’ stand by the roadside or sit in cars, at Lago di Cobarra the ‘ladies’ work openly in their camper vans. Clearly there is more money in this area. Passing this time, the vans without exception, looked shabby and unkempt. I guess business is bad. I’ve never understood why there are not ‘gentlemen of the night’, but there are not. It is just part of the Italian culture. I am not advocating this lifestyle, it saddens me and I find it weird to find it so evident in a Catholic country.
However I digress. In the time I have known Orvieto the opposite is true, it has seen a boom and rejuvenation. Approaching Orvieto the road passes by well tended vineyards and slowly winds its way up the volcanic tufa hill to the entrance to a stunning medieval town. We parked the car just off a piazza which has overtures of pompous 1930s architecture and headed off to explore. Our first stop is the hanging gardens. Entered through an imposing stone arch the views westwards are expansive. The gardens immediately giving a sense of calm and contentment.
A few paces away we bought tickets for the Pozzo di S Patrizio. This 53 metres deep well was constructed by Antonio di Sangallo the younger between 1527 and 1537 to ensure a good supply of water when the then Pope was in residence. A small circular building gives no idea of the architectural gem that awaits the visitor.
Entering through a digital turnstile you start the descent. There are two concentric staircases lit by seventy arched windows. It is ingenious. The double helix staircases allowed a constant flow of mules to descend and ascend with water, and these steps are the ones we follow.
We walked to the bottom and crossed the bridge to start the ascent. The ascent on the second staircase was, even for the unfit, surprisingly easy.
We stopped for the obligatory coffee in one of the many small bars that line the street heading uphill to the town centre we breathe in the atmosphere. Main streets are lined with alimentari, galleries, stylish design stores, artisan craft shops and a myriad of restaurants. Side streets are narrow, residential and even in early December flower filled. This town has a vibrant feel.
Our destination is the Duomo or cathedral, my favourite in Umbria. From the first glimpse the visitor has no concept of just how well it sits in its environment.
The elaborately carved and mosaic facade begins to reveal the magnificence of this building. Dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary work on the cathedral started in 1290 with work continuing until the twentieth century. The body of the cathedral is constructed in alternating layers of white travertine and black basalt. The golden facade attributed to Maitani was built between 1325 and 1330 with additions to 1590. Wow! it is breathtaking, a masterpiece. Three pointed gables top mosaics and intense carvings and bronze figures. The entire cathedral sits so well in its piazza, to me a perfect harmony of spatial architecture.
The details are stupendously daring. The stone carving is detailed and intricate. Four bronze statues, symbols of the, Angel, Ox, Lion, Eagle dart forward leaving the facade. I particularly like the winged Ox signifying S Luke.
On my first visits the tourist was free to enter and leave the cathedral at random. Now it is ticket entrance guarded by handsome young men in smart uniforms. We enter the cathedral by a side door, the main bronze doors sculpted in the 1970s by Emilio Greco are rarely opened – see a later photo on this post. I am blown away. Inside the travertine and basalt layers seem to continue, but in fact the basalt finishes at one and a half metres in height, the remaining contrast layers being painted. Yes, I read the guide book!
This in no way spoils the effect. Softly lit by alabaster windows and lit by large wrought iron chandeliers, it is a harmonious space.
But it is the chapel of the Madonna of San Brizio with its rich frescoes that draws us. The vault – “Christ in Judgment” is by Fra Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli and is magnificent in itself;
However it is the Signorelli frescoes that are the real draw. In 1499 Luca Signorelli was commissioned to paint frescoes depicting the apocalypse and last judgement and his treatment of the nude male is utterly stunning. The figures are heavily muscled and exude life and movement. I particularly like the “Damned taken to Hell and received by Demons” .
We tear ourselves away from the chapel and head to the exit. As a funeral cortège is leaving the main doors are open, we have to wait. We follow through the enormous bronze doors and out into the warm sun.
It’s Italy and time for lunch. Lunch is very important. Having remarked earlier on a sign outside a small trattoria of a huge pig lying on her side whilst her piglets are suckling, somewhat gross we thought, we decide to return and check it out. The window is filled with home cooked antipasti and salamis and pecorinos. It looks real and locals enter, and, so we dive in to “L’Oste del Re“. The marble topped tables in the small ground floor space are taken and we are shown upstairs. Choosing hand cut prosciutto and marinaded figs to start, we follow with a local pasta ‘Umbriachellini‘ made with only flour, water and red wine, yeah! Served ‘in bianco’ with luxurious plump porcini, it is exquisite, a good choice. The kitchen is on the top floor, above where we are eating, those smiling waiters sure have their work cut out.
Time marches on….
….and we still have not seen the extensive underground city but that will have to wait for another visit. After a creamy gelato we head back to the car and wend our way back down the narrow streets still busy with tourists and with smiles on our faces and on to Bellaugello Gay Guest House.
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.
Friday morning brought a bit of sun and our first guests of the season. It had been a frenetic few weeks at Bellaugello Gay Guest House getting everything ready and preparing for the arrival of the first guys. I am always amazed that no matter how much I fill my days throughout the winter there is ever a seemingly endless list of small jobs that still require attention right up to the last minute.
Mauro is back, (yippee!) he will be here once again for the season and together we welcomed guests and friends and on Friday evening headed into Gubbio for the “Processione di Cristo Morto” which I have described in previous posts.
On our way in to town the skies opened and torrential rain fell and bounced off the streets. We divedd into an enoteca and squashed around a tiny table and downed a couple of glasses of prosecco and enjoyed an aperitivo of prosciutto and pecorino, whilst waiting for the rain to subside.
The crowds began to accumulate so we headed out to grab our vantage point at the corner of Piazza Bosone and whilst struggling with umbrellas attempted to capture the event.
I am a creature of habit and we headed to Ristorante dei Consoli for dinner as ever served by the welcoming Francesca. I like this restaurant as it is on the route of the procession and midway through dinner we were able to see the celebrants still processing in the historic centre.
By Sunday the rain had turned to intermittent hail, but keeping with tradition some of us headed over to a neighbouring organic farm where we have an invitation to join them for Easter Lunch and Egg rolling. Now I never remember the rules of the egg rolling. It does not matter how many times and in what languages they are explained to me I simply do not remember if I should aim to break my egg or aim to roll it intact. Two results, one means that someone in your family will get pregnant, the other that things will stay the same. Needless to say although I lobbed my egg gently it smashed to smithereens. I think that means no babies for me, hooray! Lunch was exquisite and by the time puddings were brought out we were able to enjoy them in the sunshine in the wonderful courtyard at Pratale.
Replete we headed back to Bellaugello Gay Guest House, time for the guys to relax. For Mauro and me to light the sauna, arrange massages and for me to jump into the kitchen to prepare for dinners. More guests were due to arrive late afternoon. I planned a light supper which grew into something rather larger. Alessandro another friend and my yoga master had brought Arancini with him from Rome, Mauro had brought up the most dreamily creamy delicious burrata from Puglia, and my great friend Otto spoilt us all with a superb Passito from Pantelleria;
At midnight we opened Prosecco to celebrate Roberto, another guest’s Birthday, it was a great international party.
I am often asked when the pool at Bellaugello Gay Guest House opens for the season, and how warm it is at various times of the year. I hate being asked questions about the weather. These days as we all know the weather is so totally unpredictable, seasons seem to want to be a mix of every other season. We are all becoming weather obsessed. When I am in charge of the world one of the first things I will implement will be a ban on cellphone weather apps. They are always wrong, constantly changing their predictions, everyone is fixated on them, and their lives revolve around the mis-predicitons, I so despair! The pool is not officially open yet but it did not stop one brave guest sneaking in and taking a dip….
And just because I like it so much here is a short clip of the “Miserere” sung in Gubbio last Friday:
It’s always hard when waking early, but getting up is not a problem especially when the day begins warmly and magnificently. Then to be greeted with an enormous full bloodied sunrise through the window at Bellaugello Gay Guest House I just know the day is off to a good start. So it was this morning;
The suns rays streamed through the window bathing the bedroom in a golden light. The shadows cast playing with movement in the room, golden rays bouncing off the mirror and splashing the stone walls. Sometimes it is good to lie back and enjoy.
In moments like these I occasionally think of the people whose lives have been part of the history of this ancient Umbrian farmhouse. Were they like me blown away by the energy and beauty, or were some oblivious? When St Francis of Assisi walked these hills passing Bellaugello on the way to Gubbio surely he and his followers revelled in the beauty, they walked slowly they must have. I wonder did the soldiers fighting in the last war dug in on both sides of the valley whilst firing shells over the house and hard worked land have time to admire the beauty? I guess rarely. Bellaugello is a fixture, it has been a farm for over four hundred years, and parts of the house date way back then. Through history the house has been home to many families. I know some members of the last of the ‘Mezzadri’ as happily some including an amazing woman now over ninety still return and share wondrous stories. Reading between the lines they recount of their lives, they were anything but easy. Did they have time in their hard lives to pause and be amazed by such sunrises? I know their work days were ruled by daylight, so I guess they probably did pause and get blown away. From their return visits and my experience I know the pull of this place is strong.
Now like the times, the use of the house has changed. We concentrate less on agriculture instead our focus is on welcoming guests from all over the world. Mind you we do still produce dazzlingly delicious extra virgin olive oil. Bellaugello is the leading Gay Guest House in Italy. Where two families once lived there are now five luxury suites for you guys to enjoy. Here I know guys find a huge level of peace and pleasure, they find time to breathe and enjoy nature. Bellaugello is an utterly magical spot and many guys capture its beauty in their holiday snaps that they choose to share with me. You too can come and stay, take your own photos and experience the magic.
Enough of the lyrical melancholy! I spent yesterday in front of the computer correcting errors on the Bellaugello website. It seems that the ‘experts’ had made a mess of things on some of the Dutch and Italian pages (for which mijn verontschuldigingen) and having worked hard eventually I discovered how to correct them. It was a very satisfying day. I had to write some new copy and took time to add some new Spring Offers to our ‘Deals’ page. If only I could translate that page into other languages I would be a veritable star!
The amazing sunrises are not the only reason to visit Bellaugello. Continuing the red theme, Spring in Umbria is a time when there is lots going on not forgetting the stunning “Festa dei Ceri” the Race of the Candles on 15th of May. The planning for this historic tradition commences on 16th of May each year. At large autumnal dinners the teams, each named after saints there are three, start to choose their ‘Capodieci’ or captain who responsible for the strategy for his saint’s team. Wearing golden yellow shirts is the team of S Ubaldo the patron saint of Gubbio. The merchants follow S Giorgio and wear blue shirts, and the farmers and countryfolk support S Antonio, their shirts are black. Each team has white pants and a red bandanna.
Early on 15th of May the teams assemble and head to the Piazza Grande, the large open space standing on huge arches half way up the hill in the ancient town centre. The ceremony really gets underway when to the sound of trumpeters the Ceri are carried out of the town hall and fixed to their supports and then raised. Each wooden ‘candle’ weighs 300kg and is carried in relays by team members round the historic centre. After a long lunch – this is Italy after all, the race proper up the hill to the basilica begins. S Ubaldo is always first, after all he is the patron saint, the distance between the three ‘ceri’ is the important element. The town is full to capacity, the atmosphere electric, and we at Bellaugello are mere spectators, but what a spectacle! Here, soak up the atmosphere, watch a clip for yourselves…
To help you guys come and enjoy a spring break at Bellaugello Gay Guest House I have reduced the price of two of our suites. Special Offer prices for a suite throughout April and May now start at €155,00 for double occupancy and our delicious daily breakfast. In addition we have a four night mid week break also applicable in October Simply book four nights arrival Sunday or Monday, pay for three and we will give you the fourth night for free.. For further details and to book your spring break click here you will be taken to the page of our website. Or simply book your room now: click here you will be redirected to our online booking service.
As if that isn’t enough, as I seem to be writing this post backwards I finish with a photograph of the equally impressive red sunset over the farm at Bellaugello Gay Guest House last night: