Always a delight to receive an invitation to visit friends across the valley and have dinner with them, especially if cheekily I did invite myself and Michael!

Martin and Etain are known to some of my guests here at Bellaugello Gay Country House, they are the couple who have the most tranquil halcyon organic farm that for over thirty years has welcomed and inspired many from all over the world.  As well as nurturing their pastures organically and tending with much love their animals, they are both published authors.  Etain was recently in Rome having been asked to present and read from her latest volume of diaries, where she so elloquently recounts traditions and stories of her life in beautiful Valdichiascio.  This latest book “The Life of the White Mare” published in 2015

Etain Addey, la vita della giumenta bianca

includes a chapter on an event at Bellaugello Gay Guest House.  It is such an honour for me to read of an event hosted here that is so delightfully and thoughtfully recounted.  You can buy a copy of the book here: La Vita della Giumenta Bianca

Anyway back to last night.  Michael and I drove across the valley, it had been a wonderfully hot and balmy day, we had spent time with the dogs down at the river Chiascio, which after recent rains in the Apennines was still muddy, but that did not stop the dogs from swimming freely.  Arriving at the farm, Etain was just off to milk the sheep so Michael asked if he could follow they encountered the donkeys and Michael stopped to say hello as they nuzzled to Etain looking for food, then to the hen house where six orphan chickens were roosting on an empty wine butt, looking shyly at the intrusion into their tranquillity, and for the first time in his life Michael cuddled in with sheep and tasted the fresh milk, he was thrilled.

I headed with Martin over to the vinyard which he had just recently sprayed and is looking spectacular, the vines heavy with newly forming bunches of grapes, it is clearly going to be a great vendemmia.

Vines in the evening light in ValdichiascioSerried rows of vines in ValdichiascioPendulous grapes in the vineyard at Valdichiascio

We headed back to the farmhouse to be met by the soft aroma of pasta cooked with the last of the artichokes, and we dined in company under the uva fragole – the strawberry grapes, chatting and swapping stories as Jupiter and Venus rose in the western sky, a truly magical evening in a truly magical spot.

 

For some reason today was somewhat emotional.   Maybe it was the call from my ex, maybe it was so many other things going on in my head, or maybe it was just that this morning I was woken up at six o’clock and seeing the sky was red, a glorious resplendent sunrise, I had to go down with the dogs to the infinity pool and take photographs.  Now in the quiet of the night as I sit out on my terrace the owls are calling to each other, the crickets humming and the only other sound is that of the river Chiascio down deep in the valley below Bellaugello Gay Guest House, it is peace, a contented peace.

Bobby surveying the sunrise over the infinity pool at Bellaugello Gay Guest House in Umbria, Italy

It has been a long day, I worked hard, and am pleased.  Tonight we hosted dinner on the terrace for a large group of people from our local town of Gubbio.  They had heard about Bellaugello, and were keen to come over for dinner.   Monica and I decided to offer them a menu of typical Bellaugello dishes, our produce, and our recipes, they went down very well.  The guests chose to eat outdoors and were granted a glorious warm evening, the stars twinkling above.  Conversation flowed, until the dishes were brought out, then silence, only contented eating.  Afterwards many thanks to Monica for the great dinner.

I am delighted to have hosted this evening, to have some of the local people experience just what delights Bellaugello has to offer, also to be able to sit and chat with them and host them here.  It may well be the first of many such events over the coming months.

Glorious morning here in Umbria so we are serving lunch outdoors for the guys
Today they have been trekking in Valdichiascio and return to Bellaugello Gay Guest House for lunch and then a well deserved rest and sunbathe at our infinity pool

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life is good!

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Italy may well be in a poor state but this week I discovered just how community spirit is alive and well.

Significant and long-term lack of maintenance, recent large movements of timber, and poor weather have left  the road here in Valdichiascio in a terrible condition.  Last week one of my neighbours went to the roads department in the Comune of our local town Gubbio – them that are supposedly responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the roads to ask that repairs are carried out forthwith.  He was met with the usual, ‘we have no money, we can’t do anything, the Commissario has blocked all spending”  I hear you ask who is the Commissario?

Last year, the council or comune failed to agree a budget and so the mayor was sacked and the town was put into administration.  The person appointed by Rome to oversee the running of the city – but only until the next elections in April is a Commissario Prefettizio.

So the story is that the roads department cannot repair the roads.  Readers who follow my blog might remember me posting about my meeting with the roads director some years ago (‘you made a mistake buying a house where you did’) and subsequent meetings with the then Mayor.  The story was the same then…..  How come?…  Change the record please!

So, time to take the ‘bull by the horns’ and see if something can be done.  A few of us residents here in the beautiful part of Valdichiascio drew up a petition, had it translated and checked, and over the past week I, along with a couple of other neighbours have been circulating all the houses in the valley.  I calculate we are a population of some hundred and twenty adults plus a growing number of children.  Out with Apetto, Jenny hopping in expecting a walk down by the now flooded river Chiascio, but no we are off round the houses.

Nobody has refused to sign, indeed everybody is so positive about the petition, and grateful for the initiative.  It takes time to go round the houses, people are friendly and all want to talk.  A coffee here, a glass of home-made wine there, a slice of home-made cake. my diet is suffering!  Everybody is moaning about the current political situation, the seeming lack of future, hopelessness for youth, strangulation of businesses, never-ending form filling, lack of positive change and endless corruption, pocket-lining and self interest in all layers of bureaucracy and politics here in Italy, we all ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’.  A couple of hours pass and only a few signatures collected, it is time consuming, but very rewarding.

What has come across is the warmth and community spirit of my neighborhood.  Although it is nearly seven years ago, I am one of the most the most recent arrivals, and the latest foreigner to the valley, and with Bellaugello Gay Guest House as my home and business, I guess it was not without a bit of consternation and concern at the outset that the locals greeted my arrival.   If it was so they never let me know, they have been quietly supportive, I am real lucky.  What I discovered in my giro of the houses collecting signatures, of which we now have some 96 signatures (bravi!!) and  there are still a few houses to visit, is  just how warm the welcome is here, and how some of the older residents who I thought might be sceptical or reluctant to engage with me are instead those that want to join me in presenting our petition to the Commissario.  They too are tired of th constant manual hole-filling repairs and want something more substantial done.  It will be a good representation that presents our petition in comune this week, and even if we do not manage to achieve our aim of a comprehensive remaking of the road, and that we are trying very hard to do, we have all discovered that cutting across all social levels we are a cohesive united community.

Not cold, but wet, damp and grey, this Sunday morning in Umbria, the sort of day for not getting out of bed, or just slopping around the house in pyjamas, lighting the fire and snuggling up with a good book and gently dozing.  It was not to be…

A flurry of emails, bookings are coming in thick and fast for spring and summer stays here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House, and each needed to be replied to swiftly.  In the midst of all a WhatsApp message:  “Hey Alec do you fancy coming to the Terme at S Rapalano?”  A text: “Alec come over to dinner tonight we are going to open our own Champagne and want you to be with us”

Neither offer could I refuse.  I packed my rucksack with towels, trunks and havaianas and drove up the road to meet my friend.  We nattered constantly on the journey into southern Tuscany and the spa town of San Rapalano.  The windscreen wipers squeakily un-enthusiastic in wiping the rainfall off the windscreen.  The spa was busy, the first car-park full of camper vans (families – young kids – noise – commotion) the second littered with smart shiny high spec cars (young Tuscan’s Christmas presents??).  The spa was busy, but as ever the water was warm and inviting.

Since my last visit they have remodeled the outdoor pool.  No longer is it a stark rectangle, gone the small deep plunge pools that lead to the giant but cool swimming pool on the lowest terrace.  Now is all sensual curves.  The serpentine curves give privacy, even the entrance steps of which there are many are set into small intimate basins.  The water inside was real hot, that outside cooler but very comfortable, the terme was indeed full of families, the beau monde of Toscana nowhere to be seen, unless they were all in the deep recesses of the pools….

Three hours later we were back on the road towards Perugia and Gubbio and then to drink champagne.   Bubbles, sublime bubbles – No! there were none, the cork just feebly fell out of the bottle, what a disappointment.  My host apologized then noticed the white collar around the bottle… “No” he exclaimed!  “this is not my champagne it is a friend’s wine and I put the white collar on to remind me but I forgot wheat it meant” (I so know the feeling – why, what is that, why did I do that, does it mean anything or is it merely decorative??)  Down he went to the cellar and swiftly back brandishing another bottle.

A flourish, off with the wire capsule, thumbs under the cork and pop!  the cork flew across the room hit the ceiling, and bounced along the entire length of the dining table.  The wine was ruby red, softly sparkling, dry and refined and without chemicals or sulphates. Utterly drinkable, divinely so……

A spa day followed by champagne dinner, wet on the outside wet on the inside, the life of an adoptive Umbrian peasant is not half bad.

Since arriving in Italy nearly five years ago one of my greatest delights is the closeness and friendliness of my neighbours here in Valdichiascio, near the beautiful medieval town of Gubbio.  I am real lucky with my neighbours, they are great, supportive and very welcoming, here there is a real sense of community, something fundamental to me.

I am told that traditionally there was alway a summer valley gathering, a picnic with all familes bringing abundant dishes and in many cases their own valley grown wines.  In recent years this has faded, but for the first time last Sunday a large group of neighbours were rallied and met for lunch at a restaurant owned by the family of my nearest neighbours.

Roberto and his team fed us a veritable seafood banquet, it was a delightful lunch, a time to catch up on news – although relatively small the valley is big, or at least houses are well spread out, so often apart from passing in the car we have little opportunity to meet,  it is a working valley, populated with people with real jobs, so we are all always busy.  There was also time to discuss things that we need to do communally, talk of a new community library in the tower of a recently restored house, deep discussions on the serious lack of water,  and crucially the appalling state of public road surfaces that meander through the valley, including that to Bellaugello Gay Guest House need to be resolved.

In an attempt to have them repair the road, I recently had a meeting with the Commune of Gubbio.  The road is public all the way to and beyond Bellaugello.  The office informed me that the commune do not repair the road – I know – it is public – I know – I can pay to fill in the holes and repair it with a private contractor – why? it is a public road and in the winter, the most damaging time used at speed by hunters at speed in their 4x4s…….  Today Roberto and I go back to once again plead our case.

On a bright side, it was agreed that we revive the Valdichiascio Summer Picnic gathering, of course guests staying at Bellaugello at the time will be welcome (but not forced) to attend, and just maybe that will be a suitable time to report on the delightful state of the roads!