Listening recently to Yuval Noah Harari talking about developments in “AI” I was struck how increasingly we are left with fewer opportunities in making our own choices.   He cited his own coming out and how already AI is targeting his own sexuality in target marketing products and services.  By monitoring simple things as eye movement while browsing, algorithms adapt marketing strategies to present products specifically for him.  Algorithms pick up minute details.  Looking at an image of a group of people, a gay man’s eyes will focus, not on the girls, but on the guys in the group.   He goes on to say this is used to market product to him with images of sexy guys.  Hot sweaty men appear in Coca Cola adverts and he feels constrained to buy the drink.  To my heterosexual friends different images are used.  All of this on an individual basis and increasingly this invasive AI will creep up and control us ever more.

Now turn this argument on its head.  Ok, technology is replacing ancient inherent life skills, but is it a new concept?  For a long time it has been widely accepted that a place chooses you.  Be it a home or a holiday location, I strongly believe that if you are in touch with the real world, you are drawn to the right place.  Places also have different auras in my opinion souls.  These auras and souls attract the right person to their place.  For you sceptics, please do not click off, please read on, just humour me a bit.

Guests arriving at Bellaugello Gay Guest House are struck by the beauty and tranquillity and positive vibe of the place.  They often ask how I found the location.  The answer is simple; it chose me.  With my ex partner I had been searching for a spot to open a guest house for guys.  The search had taken over five years.  We had specific ‘must have’ attributes for the place we wanted to live and run the business.  In those five years we had seen so many ‘wrong’ places.   Either the location was not right or more importantly the place just did not feel ‘right’.

From the moment I turned into the road at Valdichiascio without even having seen Bellaugello I instinctively knew the place was meant to be.  Four kilometres down an astonishingly beautiful country lane and I arrived at the place I am thrilled to now call ‘home’.   You pass many houses, this was and still is a farming community.  People were born and raised in the houses and many still live where they were born.  I remember that first drive down the road, my heart fluttered, raced, it felt good and so positive.

It took over three years to transform the long abandoned farm to the guest house it is today.  Initially, logically, I am sure there were some raised eyebrows.  A gay guest house in rural Umbria, possibly the first such place in Italy was a new and different concept for this traditional community to have to cope with.  However the community did accept me and as well as good neighbours, they have become good friends.

In our little valley some 14km from the medieval town of Gubbio we are a community of some hundred and twenty.  As I wrote, some were born here and have never moved from the valley.  Some, like me, have chosen to move here.  I am not the last ‘incomer’.  In my years here I have seen the older generation sadly pass on, but happily replaced by a new generation.  Kids have been born here.  Although farming does continue, even though on a smaller scale, many are now forced to work outside the valley, returning home in the evening.

A large tract of Valdichiascio was an estate, which, in the major part is still is owned by one family.  The families living in the various houses dotted along the road all worked for the estate.   The ‘Mezzadria’ ended here in the late 1970’s and the estate gave a small parcel of land to the various families that they could continue to live in the valley.  This, with us incomers, is our valley today.

By tradition residents congregated each year on 8th September for a lunch in a field.  Every family brought food and wine to share, that is the way we do things here.  Living in detached houses, often separated by a few km, and previously without cars, it was a rare occasion to be together.  Sadly before I arrived this tradition had lapsed.   It occurred to me that this lunch should be revived,community is important to me.  Discretely, I made tentative enquiries and was met with a delightfully positive response.  Yes! a neighbourhood lunch would be a great idea.  We formed a tiny steering committee, and set the date of 30th September.  Invitations were hand delivered to every house.  WhatsApp messages buzzed to and fro, and neighbours asked what they could do to help.

Sunday dawned, a blisteringly beautiful day.  Bright sunlight, warm, later hot.  The men arrived with tables kept from previous lunches that had been stored at the church and began setting them up on the lawns at Bellaugello.  The women were all still busy cooking at home.  Bright cheery coverings were laid on the tables.  We opened the box of biodegradable plates, cutlery and glasses bought specially for the occasion.  Bellaugello soon began to look very festive.  BBQs were set up a short distance away so as not to smoke out the party and we lit the old wood oven.  At 11am I began to have doubts, would people turn up?  Was I mad?  Had I, as an incomer have any right to suggest this party?

By midday people laden with exquisite home cooked dishes wended their way down the path to the main terrace.  Soon the table we use for breakfasts and dinners was groaning with quiches, pastas, torta al testo, prosciutto, salads, breads, bbq sausages, bracciole and savouries.  Oh! how well we all ate.  I had set the dining room table for the deserts and it too was totally covered with a vast array of delicious home cooked crostatas, cakes, biscuits and tiramisu.  Everyone brought wines and Prosecco, the youngsters provided the music and the party continued.

I did a rough count; we were over ninety neighbours.  We all chatted and ate and drank, so, so well.  From the very old to the very young, (both requiring help but in different ways) delightfully, so many neighbours turned up.  Those that did not were few and had previous engagements.

As somebody later remarked, nobody was on their cell phones.  It was astonishing, six hours and the only cell phone usage was to take photographs.  People actually talked to each other.  It was a real party.  People mixed.  People who I have never seen talking to each other were deep in conversation.  The priest came, dressed casual, he too is an integral part of Valdichiascio life.

Let some photos do the talking:

So strong is our community that people are vying to hold the next year’s party lunch at their homes.  I feel so very privileged to live and work in this great community.   I realise just how precious and rare it is to be able to live in such an environment.  To be able to share this gem with guys from all round the world is particularly special.

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.