Artisan Gin may be all of the rage right now.  Indeed a new Gin distillery is about to open in our local town of Gubbio, but beers have been brewed here for centuries.  Lovers of real beers need to head this weekend to the charming village of Casacastalda where they are holding their first Artisan Beer Festival.

Carbonesca is know to many of our regular guests who join our Bellaugello party for our annual trip to the “Sagra of Polenta and Salsice” held in the village the first weekend in August.  Just hidden over the hills across the valley from Bellaugello Gay Gust House this small village manages to attract over two thousand people to the sagra and us Bellaugello Guys are part of the numbers.  Sitting in the open air we feast on polenta, sausages and pancakes. Imbibe seemingly never-ending quantities of wine whilst listening to a live band, and of course we all get up and dance…  All for the ridiculously small entry fee of a few euro.  How they manage to organise and get huge crowds to such an amazing event, I just don’t know, but they do.  In mid July head one village further on and you arrive at the pretty village of Casacastalda.  This is their month.

The “Pro Loco” in Casacastalda is a very dynamic organisation and this Artisan Beer festival is a new exciting addition to their calendar.

Come join the fun on 14th and 15th of July.  Artisan Beers, Micro Breweries, Hobby brewers, Street Food, Live Music… and you can watch the actual production of live beer.  The list goes on and on, all in the setting of a quaint Umbrian village just over the hill from Bellaugello Gay Guest House.

For further information on this artisan beer festival click on this link to the official website: https://www.procasacastalda.it/calendar/beercollando-2018/

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.

 

 

By any standard five o’clock in the morning is a rude hour to have to climb out of bed, but that was the hour that the other morning my alarm went off and I had to rise.  Stumbling into the bathroom and turning the shower onto full power I sleepily wandered what I was doing, and if this was yet another mad idea.  As the hot water pierced my body I slowly awakened and felt invigorated.  I so love a good shower.  As my guests here know all the bathrooms at Bellaugello are large and there are no shower cabinets, just open wet-room style bathrooms and outdoor showers.  I am allergic to shower cabinets and shower curtains.  Indeed the very thought of a shower curtain sends shivers down my spine.

GPS set, I jumped into my car and with two guests following in theirs headed towards Bevagna, one of my favourite towns in Umbria.  The drive south westwards was magical, a red sunrise vivid over the hills to the east, and a very light mist in the Tiber valley.  Stopping enroute at a little bar for my obligatory coffee macchiato and cornetto, the three of us felt excited.  Or at least two of us did, for the third in our party had no idea where we were heading or why it entailed such an early start.  In less and fifty minutes we had reached Cantina Dionigi, our destination, and all was revealed and the third member of our party discovered the great gift from his husband!

We were to be flying in the largest hot air balloon in Italy, and it was already in mid erection.

Piloted by a very hospitable, enthusiastic and highly qualified pilot who goes by the name of Peter, the balloon holds sixteen passengers.  Peter gave us a safety briefing, including a practice at the landing squat position, tough on the thigh muscles…  As the balloon continued to inflate and became vertical it was time for us all to clamber aboard.  The basket is divided into five compartments, four in the corners each holding four passengers, and a central compartment with the pilot and the gas tanks.  A burst of the burners and soon we were up up and away…

If you look closely at the photo you can see me madly taking photographs hanging out of the left hand corner of the basket.  The weather was perfect, a very light breeze, enough to gently move the balloon along at if I remember correctly about 20km an hour, but not enough to blow away the wispy mist in the valleys below.  As we brushed the tops of some young olive trees, (no photo because I was too slow) Captain Peter explained his planned flight and destination both to us and the airport at nearby Perugia.  Safety was always coming first.

Stupidly I had thought being early morning and up in the sky, it would be cold, but it was not.  The heat from the burners was intense, and as the sun continued to rise the flight became ever more magical.

We flew silently over medieval villages and hamlets, past olive groves and up along wooded hillsides.   The balloon cast a heart shaped shadow on the wheat fields.   The views were huge, to Lago Trasimeno in the west, to the Apennines and Assisi, and south beyond Todi.  But as in the film ‘Chocolat’ the wind blew from the east and took us over the river Tiber to the ceramics town of Deruta.

The town not only straddles the river Tiber but also the E45 the main highway up from Rome.  Now there were some beautiful fields, but many were sown with crops and Peter did not want to incur the wrath of the local farmers, so he kept the balloon at a height to fly past the fields, over the river – to keep us dry he maintained, and also away from the houses.  Eventually we started to descend and it seemed as if he had chosen for our landing spot the local sewage works…  We were all aghast, pilot included, and thankfully he thought better of landing in the cess pit, so to our slight relief identified a seemingly tiny plot of abandoned grassland adjacent to a light industrial building and landed the balloon on the outskirts of the town.  All of us passengers were amazed at the precision of the landing.  We passed just a few metres over the corner of a building, and took our brace positions as the basket came to earth gently in the long grass.  It was not only soft, quick and a quiet landing, but the space chosen was hardly larger than the 60 metres required to allow the fabric balloon to fall gently to earth, truly astonishing.

The ground crew were waiting and together with us hunky guys the basket and now bagged fabric were loaded onto their trailer.  We passengers boarded two smart mini-buses for the twenty minute drive back to Cantina Dionigi where Roberto the owner and pilot Peter’s neighbour was waiting in his chic stylish hospitality suite to meet us with a hearty Umbrian breakfast and a tasting of his fabulous wines.

This was my first time in a hot air balloon, and days later as I write this blog post I am still blown away by the flight.  It was truly awesome.  As you can see from my photo as I look up at the balloon I am about to board…

I loved it (thanks J.A. for the photo).  Jane who organises the flights is charming and attentive and as with all the crew speaks great English. Peter the pilot, is witty and reassuringly professional.  The concept of finishing with a breakfast and wine tasting, with the chance of buying some souvenirs (wine) from the convivial Roberto is a great one and made it all a morning that I heartily recommend to any of our Bellaugello guests.

After the flight my guys headed off to explore the nearby wine towns of Montefalco and Bevagna, stopping for lunch at the Bottega di Assù. Thus by mid afternoon they were back poolside at Bellaugello Gay Guest House enraptured by their flight.  Be it a gift to your husband, simply a romantic gesture, or a place to propose to your boyfriend, a balloon is cool way to fly (even if my head got a wee bit hot!)

Now booking for flights until October.  Bellaugello Gay Guest House has now become a preferred partner of Balloon Adventures and if you book with Bellaugello we can offer you a 10% discount on the flight price of €180 per person.

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!

Promptly at 09:30 the driver arrived.  A smart Mercedes minibus pulled into the carpark at Bellaugello and we clambered aboard for a day out.

Our destination, the ‘Strada di Sagrantino’ just south of Perugia.  This panoramic road winds its way up through fields of sunflowers, starting at Torgiano it winds though villages with delightful names such as Bettona, Cannara, Bevagna, Gualdo Cattaneo, and arrives at Montefalco – the hill of the falcon famed for its Sagrantino wines, a grape specific to Umbria.  Why drive this road? because passing through hectare after hectare of beautifully tended vines, on rolling hillsides it is the road of the vineyards and we are in wine country.  Our specific destination is the Cantina ‘Di Filippo‘ at Cannara.  Turning off the main route we head slightly uphill and arrive at the cantina.  Outside waiting are two carts, harnessed to each a pair of horses, and we are to be taken on a tour of the vineyard by horse, for this is a vineyard with a difference.

Tasting wine at De Filippo Winery with Bellaugello Gay Guest House

In 1998 Roberto Di Filippo the proprietor of this estate broke from the fold and daringly started going organic.  Way back then organic wine production was unheard of and his neighbours thought him to be at least a bit eccentric.  What were his motives, the first was for the protection of himself, his family and workers, as he strongly believes the chemicals used in wine production are dangerous to health, with the sprays and treatments his staff would be inhaling toxins and they leech into the soil.  Secondly this man has a love of the land, he speaks animatedly with passion about his horses, some from Puglia, Murgese, some from the south of France, both rare breeds and both used for ploughing and cleaning in between the rows of vines.  These are not the only animals, for geese are used to clean around the vines, as we rode past a flock of them happily waddling in the half-shade.  Of course it was a clever marketing tool and one that is now being picked up by larger cantinas, but Roberto is one of the pioneers and perhaps because he has been doing it longer his wines are exceptional.

The vineyard covers 30 hectares, and we got to see the individual parcels of vines and experienced some vigorous uphill trotting before heading back to the degustazione or tasting room.

Tasting room at De Filippo Winery - Umbria

Accompanied by a platter of cold cured meats, some being the most fragrant goose Roberto presented eight of his wines.  We started with his light crisp ‘Grechetto‘ then to a ‘Trebbiano‘ much liked by everybody, and moved though the whites to the reds ending up with a rich smooth luxurious Sagrantino which as I can attest goes remarkably well with dark handmade chocolate…

Tour over, tasting over, purchases made for shipment abroad, all of us more than a bit tipsy we boarded the bus and headed to the stunning medieval town of Bevagna where I had lunch booked at my favourite restaurant la ‘Bottega di Assù‘.  Assunta has created a gem, the space is small, walls filled with ceramics, books, bottles of wine and candid photos of stars from an era when they were stars.  We ate spaghetti with truffles, another of Umbria’s wonderful offerings.  Assunta cooks herself and her warm smile means we were reluctant to leave, but leave we eventually did.

Pasta with truffle with Bellaugello Gay Guest House

On our way out I ran into Domenico and Luciano the guys who make our natural Argan soaps, shampoo and gel that we have in the bathrooms here at Bellaugello.  They live nearby and offered to show us some of the gems of Bevagna including churches with ancient Roman beginnings, the theatre, great town houses, hidden gardens, and well preserved ancient mosaic floors, in the warm sunshine the town glowed.

You could have such a day next time you stay at Bellaugello, Roberto also offers a picnic amongst the vines, his enthusiasm large, the options are great and with a driver provided there is no need to hold back.

You can buy wine directly from Roberto, he arranges shipping worldwide. Here is a link to his website: Cantina di Filippo. Assunta’s little restaurant in Bevagna does not have a website, but I can book a table for you.

Last weekend at Bellaugello was a real delight.  For the first time at Easter all our guests at Bellaugello Gay Guest House were Italian so I had to switch my brain permanently out of English into Italian, always good.

The weekend kicked off with the “Processione di Cristo Morto” in Gubbio our local town.  This was the subject of my last post, if you have not seen it then check the video it is mesmerising.  On Saturday the guys headed into the sauna to sweat away their cares and then we dined together, seated in front of the roaring fire around our antique family table, rounding off the meal with some of my home-made limoncello and a raucous conversation.  On Sunday the breakfast table as well as the usual home made breads, cakes, yoghurts and jams was filled with local specialities, prosciutto and affettati, the rich Crescia di Pasqua, a delicious risen cheese loaf, speciality of the region and of course there was also sweet cake and hard boiled eggs to decorate and eat, plenty of caffè and mysteriously arrived easter bunnies and chocolate.

Then, late morning, as tradition dictates we headed off across our beautiful sun drenched valley to lunch with friends on their organic farm.  My friends host a fun lunch with egg rolling, the object apparently depending on whether or not you wish to get married or pregnant, being to smash or not smash your egg.  I never quite remember whether to find love the egg must remain whole or not, so one year I pitch it low and it stays intact, another I toss high and it breaks, but for me every year ‘rien ça change’!

Lunch was as ever magnificent.  The family cook and guests bring food from their homes to share with fellow guests.  One of Bellaugello’s guests brought the most delicious ‘arancini’ from Rome.   On Saturday when he arrived at Bellaugello they were still warm and so so fragrant.  Quickly re-heated on Sunday they were much appreciated by all.  For me you can keep your smart hotels, mega-yachts and pretensions.  Being able to share with my guests occasions such as this lunch in the dappled shade of the Mulberry tree with warm welcoming, generous, caring hosts, who cook and host with love, always welcoming strangers into their home with open arms is really special, something no amount of money can buy.   It is a really relaxing and convivial occasion, together with a delightful group of people from many countries, my guests from Bellaugello are made to feel welcome, and an integral part of the occasion.  In today’s hectic and suspicious life that is, I suggest rare, and for me, one of the greatest benefits and joys of living in this quiet untroubled corner of Europe.

On Tuesday the weather turned and long awaited rain was delivered.  The rain was hard and driving, the wind turned north easterly and for a while the temperature dropped dramatically. I awoke on Wednesday to snow on the Apennines, quite a shock not only to me but to the tender shoots springing up madly in gardens and fields here.

By the afternoon the sun had returned, bringing with it real warmth and I spent a delicious time cutting the lawns and tidying around the garden.  Tonight is forecast to be cold, I know there will be many a farmer walking well before dawn and heading down to their vineyard to light small fires to keep the chill away from the setting fruit, it’s the way they have always protected their vines.  I myself, viziato, will still be tucked up warm and cozy in bed!

This weekend there is a wine festival in Città di Castello, a historic town a bit further up the Tiber valley.  We plan to head there and sample the array of wines from young and innovative producers from all over Umbria.  Please someone call me a taxi!