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!

As well as being geographically central in Italy, Umbria is central to tradition and on the Friday of the Easter weekend towns all over the region witness the “Processione di Cristo Morto” – the procession of the dead Christ.  At Bellaugello Gay Guest House we are a few km from the medieval city of Gubbio where the preparations already began some weeks ago and it is an event that we love to share with our guests and hate to miss.

In the weeks preceding Easter go to dinner in Gubbio and you might just hear and catch a glimpse of a group of men racing down medieval streets, stopping outside a church and begin chanting, the Miserere, it is a haunting, deep, dramatic melody and part of the tradition that makes Italy so very special.  On different evenings they sing outside some of the many churches in the historic centre.

Friday evening before Easter Sunday the effigy is taken from the church of San Domenico and processed around the medieval city centre.  The procession is heard before seen, the sound of the sinister ‘battistrangole’ arrives long before we catch sight of the Carabiniere who walk in front of the men in cloaks, all but hidden except for their eyes.

Last night the crowds of spectators were large, it seems all the town and many tourists came out to witness the procession.  Many are believers and were seen crossing themselves, many others not, no judgement made, everyone mingling happily together.  Soon I heard the Miserere the choir walking slowly behind the effigy of Christ carried on the shoulders of four strong men.

The procession wends its way round the historic centre, up and down narrow candle-lit streets, crowds follow and we pass one of the huge bonfires lit in the streets:

If you look carefully you just see me on the right of the photo, it gives you an idea of the scale of the fire.  I remarked to a friend that this could only happen here in Italy.  Back in the UK there would be fire brigade, cordons, barriers, police, ambulance and first aid, that is even if the risk assessment would let the fire be lit in the first place, to me it just would not happen, and what a shame, here there is none of that, the fire burns brightly and people walk by. A friend tells me that one year the fire was lit in the same place and melted the telephone box…  he went on to say ‘now everybody has cell phones’.

Part of the joy of evenings like these is seeing familiar faces, meeting people one has not seen for some time and sharing company, so it was we met up with friends and late on were a huge table eating delicious pizzas.  The conclusion to a marvellous evening.

The next date is May 15th when we celebrate the “Festa dei Ceri” the race of the candles, the town fills with men in white trousers carrying three ‘Ceri’ or candles and in the evening racing them up the hill, a truly spectacular day, come join us!

“Hey Alec there is a launch of a new tourist magazine for Umbria being held at the airport in Perugia you going to come with me?” went the WhatsApp message.  Me thinks, hmm.. launch of a magazine at the airport  not really my scene but the airport, maybe I can learn something new, so off I trotted.

Our local airport of S Francesco of Assisi, Perugia is small and perfectly formed, a bright new terminal building, lots of glass and polished stone, ample sufficiency of car rental desks, and easy to get to and out of.   It is a mere forty minute drive from Bellaugello Gay Guest House.  The one problem is that unless you wish to travel from Eastern Europe or Italy the choice of flights are limited.

So the magazine launch was intensely uninteresting and it being a hot sunny day we went in search of a gelato.  Coming out of the café we got chatting to a guy who just turned out to be the Managing Director of the airport, yes, it was well worth my time coming.

Piervittorio was charming, helpful and prepared to listen to our gripes whilst explaining the airport strategy, his vision for the future, and also giving us some good news.  He and the region are in active discussions with Eurowings and Easyjet and Ryanair for new routes.  It seems that to save the company from going under Eurowings have bought some of Air Berlin’s planes, and are looking for new destinations.  Easyjet are in expansion mode and Ryanair are already thinking about the consequences of Brexit and the possibility of them having to relocate sixty of their fleet into Europe and Perugia is fighting hard to win that business.

We learnt of the possible new routes to Perugia:

Berlin Germany, Cologne Germany, Eindhoven Netherlands, Krakow Poland, Manchester UK Paris France.  Now of course nothing is yet 100% confirmed, but negotiations are “progressing well”.  For some destinations daily flight frequency is proposed, and others three or more times per week.  This is excellent news, getting to Bellaugello for your holiday break is hopefully getting much easier.

Yesterday I had planned to continue painting.  I am busy re-decorating the bedroom in the Specchio Suite.  Oh dear! I have long ago come to the conclusion that when it comes to choosing the wall colour for a newly completed space I am dysfunctional.  It first happened a few decades ago in a delightful William and Mary terraced house that I restored in my home town in the part of South West Scotland from whence my family hails.  Double entrance doors opened onto a small square hallway and a staircase with the finest bannister rail which danced balletically up four floors from cellars to attic.  The space faced south and I painstakingly, scraped, cleaned, filled, smoothed and painted all of this myself, yellow.  I used gallons and gallons of paint and when finished I hated it.  It was not long until I called professionals in and had them wallpaper the space, a huge black and white Timney Fowler imperial design.

In 2007 Bellaugello was still an abandoned Umbrian farmhouse, it had a roof but nobody had lived here for some decades.  You will detect a similarity with my William and Mary house, another large careful restoration project, this time resulting in a home for me and luxury suites that others might share, to enjoy my home and the peace, tranquillity and beauty of this magical part of central Italy.  I guess you know what is coming… not only did I paint all the Specchio Suite yellow, a deep difficult to mask yellow, but also the bedroom of the south facing Giardino Suite and to cap it all my private kitchen, the yellows were different but all yellow, very yellow.  This came after other houses and other yellows, I should have learnt, I am no good at choosing yellow paint for walls.  First to go was the hideous yellow in my kitchen, replaced by what I thought was Tuscan red, and turned out to be a ghastly shade of deep pink/terracotta now replaced by a pantone green that goes so well with the travertine floor and wall tiles.

The yellow in the Giardino Suite is a nice warm yellow.  I have thoughts to change it for a steel grey, so of the moment, maybe it will come to pass, but I don’t hate that yellow, like the sun it is warm and comforting.  Last year the dining/kitchen in the Specchio suite was painted a creamy taupy colour, it better went with the kitchen units and furniture, this year I am attacking the bedroom and the yellow has gone, hidden under a coat of white and two coats (well when finished it will be two coats) of soft sagey greens.  Ever one to give myself extra work I decided to frame with a white band each wall and the ceiling…. so lots of measuring, masking tape and touching up!  Yesterday was to have been the concluding day, job done, but…

In the morning sunshine I went to rake out a few leaves and put Cyril the robot into the pool to get on with cleaning.  It was one of those days when it was noticeably warmer outside then in, and on the way back to my painting job I stopped to pick some weeds out of one of the gravel paths.  I hate the use of chemical weedkillers so down on my knees, a position I am accustomed to,  and though rough on my hands it may be, pulling weeds out by hand is for so many reasons so much better than resorting to chemicals.  Thr ground was soft, lubricated by the early morning dew, so weeds relatively easy to pull.  The dogs lay out on the grass, the birds sang, the little breeze wafting up the sounds of burbling river Chiascio down below, in my little paradise I got into weed removal.

Soon weed removal turned to fruit tree pruning, lavender trimming and rosemary cutting back, and the usual panic over just how far to prune back the roses.  Basically I spent a delightful full day in the garden, the warm February sun caressing my back, and before I knew it it was gone five o’clock and time to feed dogs, get showered and cleaned up before heading out to meet friends for a pizza in Pierantonio.

This morning the sun streams through my kitchen window, I had suggested to somebody that I was going to post on my blog yesterday, but the garden got the better of me, today has the prospect of the same, caressingly warm weather, and I feel almost guilty to be sitting at my computer.  I have been up for hours, sleep is a stranger right now, the only benefit being I did catch the sunrise

and because tomorrow I am at another two meetings in our local town of Gubbio where I have been co-opted onto a tourism committee, I am now going to dress and go outside and decide between painting or gardening, both need doing, and unlike the meetings both will make a discernible difference.