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.

If you want to discover more about Orvieto you can check this website in English: http://www.inorvieto.it/en/

We open Bellaugello Gay Guest House for the 2018 season at the end of March.  Today, sitting at my kitchen window overlooking the grey frozen Umbrian countryside, with the Burian in full force, outdoors is silent, the birds are sheltering from the storm and it hardly seems possible that the weather is soon to change and spring is on its way, but it is.  My view of blown snow is abundant, trees are sheathed in ice, their branches are glistening in the intermittent sharp sunlight.  With the backdrop of the Apennines magically white and deeply blanketed with crunchy with snow it is winter at its finest and a good time to plan a gay holiday spring break away.

By tradition we open our doors a few days before Easter and for good reason, there is a special event I adore and love to share with Bellaugello guests.   The evening of the Friday before Easter in Gubbio, a magical and beautifully preserved medieval town is filled with haunting chanting of the Miserere as the “Processione di Cristo Morto” winds its way slowly through the narrow city streets.

To quote from the body responsible for the procession; the Confraternita Santa Croce dalla foce “the Procession of the Dead Christ is a sacred symbolic representation of the Passion and Death of Jesus.  It represents a popular religious tradition that has been embodied for centuries in the social and cultural fabric of the people of Gubbio and in which the whole city participates with devotion“.

The first sound we hear is the clacking of the ‘battistrangoli’ the decorated wooden boards with metal rings turned by hand that announce the arrival of the procession.  Soon to arrive are ‘incappucciati’, the celebrants sheathed in a hood that covers the entire face with just two holes for the eyes.  The hood is seen as a sign of humility and anonymity:  Faces and social classes are hidden … all are seen as equal in the eyes of Jesus.  Soon the streets are filled with the haunting sounds of the Miserere a mournful chant that precedes the arrival of the dead Christ carried high by the celebrants.

We spend the evening in Gubbio, dining in a restaurant which is passed by the procession.  For those interested you can read more, see many photographs and listen to the Miserere and the beautiful chorus of the “Pie Donne” by clicking on this link: Santa Croce Gubbio

April is a time when Umbria comes alive.  Come discover it!  Come take advantage of Bellaugello Spring deals.  We are offering four night midweek breaks at a huge 25% discount on our daily rates.  Choose your luxury suite, check-in Sunday or Monday and stay four nights.

Pay three nights and we give you the last night accommodation and breakfast for free.  See the website Deals page for full details, or just click HERE  to book your break now!  To take up our offer during the booking process simply enter “Rock” in the promotional code box.

Fields that have been sown over the winter begin to turn verdant green, roads are not too busy.  Umbrian blossom trees give generously, vines are pruned and new shoots are appearing, a fine time for that long wished for vineyard visit and wine tasting.   Cantinas like Di Filippo who make stunning bio wines, and Lunelli with their unusual Carapace visitor centre welcome Bellaugello guests.

If your preference is for leisurely eco-tourism wend your way on a bike along quiet roads in beautiful countryside through some of Umbria’s many beautiful hilltop villages.  Of course, always remembering to stop off for a delicious lunch.

For those keen to keep fit there are many challenging bike trails.  The thrill seekers in you will head up the slopes of the Apennines in the Monte Cucco regional park where challenging trails take you through spectacular scenery far from the madding crowd.  Our local bike shop can rent you a great bike, helmet and all the required kit. Just let me know and I will arrange it for you.

Or, maybe you prefer to be Italian and rent a Vespa….  All is possible here!

rent a vespa on your gay holiday ini Italy

Maybe you prefer to go by foot?

Go ‘Urban Trekking‘ and you will find yourself walking through one of the many beautiful medieval towns in the region, allowing you to discover the thousand faces of a town, its hidden places, its people, its underground, its curiosities and its artistic treasures.  My favourites are many and include Spoleto, Bevagna and Montone.

Still not convinced? Here are some further ideas for places to visit during your gay holiday at Bellaugello:

Driving up from Rome you pass near Orvieto.  Take time to look around the Etruscan town. Explore its astonishingly impressive Duomo with its sculptured facade, to my mind the most beautiful in Umbria, and inside some very interesting frescoes, frescoed indubitably with a love that dare not speak its name.  Head underground to the city below the city, two thousand five hundred years of digging has produced a labyrinth of passageways and chambers.  The underground tour takes one hour.

make a visit to Orvieto cathedral on your gay holiday in Italy

Not to be missed is the ‘Pozzo di san Patrizio‘.  Designed by the architect-engineer Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and completed in 1536  The 53 metre deep well (248 steps) is encircled by double helix ramps allowing mules to bring up water to the city.

A hop skip and a jump away from Orvieto brings you to the long footbridge to Cività di Bagnoregio, a 2500 year old car free hamlet that sits atop an extinct volcano.  I discovered it on my first trip to Umbria many many years ago.  Then it was forgotten, deserted, desolate, and had a population of five.  Now it has become a heritage site and is becoming too busy in the summer to visit, but April is a perfect time.  Walk over the long bridge and soak up the atmosphere, wander freely through the timeless film-set like streets.  Enter the church, drink a caffè or Aperol Spritz in one of the trattorias that offer local dishes, absorb ‘la vita quotidiana’ as it has been lived through the centuries.

make a visit here during you gay holiday in Italy

Another great day trip from Bellaugello takes you to southern Umbria.  In the 1950s the Milanese architect Tomaso Buzzi purchased the old former Franciscan convent and turned it into a theatrical fantasy known as ‘La Scarzuola“.  Embodying architecture and allegory from throughout the ages the village is a unique gaily whimsy delight.

…and not forgetting the sybarites who are able to tear themselves away during their gay holiday from Bellaugello’s sauna a ‘must’ trip takes you past Lago Trasimeno and just into Tuscany to the Terme at San Casciano dei Bagni.  These ancient Roman terme were restored some thirty years ago. Three simple baths sit by the side of a dirt road below the charming town.  We tend to go early evening, it can be more fun.  The water is deliciously hot, not too sulphurous, jump in, relax, enjoy.

gay holiday in Italy, the terme at San Casciano

The choice is vast. Umbria is not only a region of churches and museums but unique curiosities.  With a gay holiday stay at Bellaugello you are going to be captivated and want to return.

For more in depth information on the region visit the: Umbria Tourism Website

For a glimpse of times gone by in rural Italy take a trip from Bellaugello gay guest house near Gubbio to Civita di Bagnoregio.

A lovely drive through Todi past the lake of Cobara towards Bolsena takes you just over the border in Lazio to the ancient hamlet of Civita di Bagnoregio.

Originally founded by the Etruscans, this time warp had, because of its inaccesibility, by the early twentieth centur, fewer than twenty permanent residents.

Sitting on a tufa plateau and connected by a pedestrian only bridge (car parking at the start of the bridge) Civita has crumbled over time, and is now definitely ‘shabby chic’  The central piazza with its church and selection of houses is a delight and together with winding streets represents a wonderful photo-opportunity.

An upsurge in tourist visits means now there are a selection of lunch venues and Civita can be combined with a trip to nearby Orvieto.