I see them sleepily staggering out of their cozy beds, I see them in the garden before breakfast, I see them at table sneakily catching a glance, and then again at the pool, in the car park, checking, always checking, it has become a daily feature of life here at Bellaugello.  Possibly one of the most irritating aspects of smartphone life is the extent to which the entire population has become obsessed with the weather.

Gone are the days when you would wake up and look out the window and see what the weather was doing and plan your day accordingly.  Long gone is the capacity to look around and judge where the better weather was, is and is heading, that skill has been dissipated.  Now we are mere robots, our days programmed by the mince we suck up from our smart phones.  No longer have we the choice to head off where we had dreamt of going, we are manipulated to go where the weather is ‘better’ to governed by the weather apps and more frighteningly by those who control the apps.

As a child in rural Scotland the family house looked out across a bay to distant hills, it was a soft and gentle view, the bay with lazy water, tides low, and lingering mist.  Any guest at the house asking the family ‘what is the weather going to do today?’ would be met with the reply ‘can you see the hills?  If you cannot see the hills then it is raining, if you can see the hills then it is going to rain!’

Can you see the hills?

So our days and theirs were planned, we headed off to the beach, trekked into forests and climbed hills, the huge fluffy cumulus clouds scudding across azure skies dictating our destination.  Naturally a map was a pre-requisite we never went anywhere without first consulting the atlas and maps.  Today we talk to our phones, tell them to take us to a certain address, safe in the knowledge that they will not necessarily take the best, most scenic, or sensible route, and at some point we will end up arguing when the nasal synthesised voice tells to ‘make a U turn’.  We have no idea where we are.  Any GPS navigator that I have seen has only lines and the space immediately around the vehicle I have been travelling in.  We have lost our sense of  belonging and our environment  and soon to loose also our capacity to relate to the outside world.  I read that a company is now offering to insert microchips into its staff, to enable them to pass the security barriers and pay for goods without the requirement for passing a card.  This is the beginning of what I forecast twenty odd years ago, a chip to communicate from and more scarily too, our freedom to live is rapidly dissolving.

But enough of the rant.  I am sitting at the table on the main terrace, sun beating down, the air clean and fresh.  It rained yesterday, just enough to be refreshing and give desperately needed hope to the plants, and which I love most, to clean the air.  Everything is crisp and clear, sharply in focus.  This morning guests were up early this time smartphones as cameras photographing the low mist in the valley below Bellaugello.  There was a good dew and crisp air so we served breakfasts inside round my beautiful antique table, now the day is warming up and guys are heading poolwards.

It has been an amazing couple of weeks.  Last week I had a visit by two of my nephews, for the eldest it was the first time he had been to Bellaugello, his stop here part of a grand camping tour taking in the south of France, Corsica and much of northern and central Italy.  For my youngest nephew a return trip, but as he had last been here some eight years ago when the house was still very much a building site he was probably the more stunned.  We had a great couple of days together, the old uncle even persuaded to do the tourist thing and go to Assisi.

Alec's nephews

I cannot remember when I was last there in high season, it has changed, now so many more tourists and hoardes of pilgrims each safely labelled lest they get lost or forget their name or denomination, all of them following guides with umbrellas and canes, or in one case a guide brandishing high above her head a tacky selfie-stick.  Shops filled with tat from foreign countries, cute young guys beckoning us into ‘genuine pizza’ restaurants, and finally to the basilica.  Now I still remain awestruck by the basilica, the Giotto frescoes and the atmosphere in the lower church where S Francesco’s tomb is found, it is quite stunning a great oeuvre d’art.  I do wonder exactly what this Francesco would make of it, perhaps he would be not over-enthusiastic in the materialism, but delighted in the longevity of his fame and continuing flow of income and interest to the business.

We headed to Bevagna, lunch at the divine ‘Bottega di Assù‘ twice in two months, the most time I have been there in two years, so spoilt.  This time Panzanella di Assù, cubes of the freshest tomatoes, celery, cucumber, pepperoni aromatic herbs and a hint of orange zest, so fresh so very local and honest. Then to Spello, that quaint Umbrian town that straddles a small hill, the main street winding casually uphill past chapels, enotecas, cashmere stores and gelaterias, soon time for an aperitivo.

Back at Bellaugello this has been another fabulous week.  Saying goodbye to guests this morning I remarked that all the rooms last night were occupied by guys who had been before, and the rooms coming in today are also returning guests.  It is remarkable to have 100% repeat business occupancy, I love it, time to catch up, so many gorgeous friends from all over the world, I genuinely look forward to their return, but I also love when new first timers arrive and are captivated by the charm of Bellaugello.  One particular guest comes to mind, a first timer who passed aperitivo time lazing on a sunbed in the garden of the Azzurro Suite near the lavender captivated by the insect life on the headily fragrant blooms.  He spotted huge amounts and varieties of insect life, I now have a greater list of insect visitors including a rare sighting of ‘Hemaris Fuciformis‘ the broad bordered bee hawk moth, a stunning green with red tips to the transparent wings.

Oh! and yes it is not only insects that are airborne at Bellaugello.  We went flying, up in a microlite, buzzing over the pool at Bellaugello, a holiday here can also be an adrenaline rush.

Even I, have got to the pool, sunbathing and swimming, my tan now looking good.  A few days ago we had a full pool and a crafty photographer, so my next post must be in the ‘Bellaugello Backs’ series, lots of gorgeous fun guys.

Peeking out on the world I see the newspapers here have been reporting on the bed and breakfast owner near Vibo Valentia who refused accommodation to two guys because “we don’t accept gays and animals”.   I can assure you here at Bellaugello both are welcomed with open arms and the sun is shining and the welcome warm.

Temperatures this month here in Umbria are soaring to the high thirties, the infinity pool water has reached a delicious 30˚C and is greatly  appreciated, the pool refreshingly well used.  Fortunately sitting at 500m we benefit and enjoy a cooling breeze, at the moment coming up from the south, and making it joyous to be here at Bellaugello.  The guys have been reluctant to send me their pool photos, so I post one of a guest from last year who is returning this summer and whose photo I had promised to post but did not.  I am sure you will agree it is well worth the wait.

looking at the woods alll around the infinity pool at Bellaugello

The heat has brought out the lavender, its perfume strong and heady, the purple blooms heavy with bees dance languidly in the soft breeze.  It has also made our gardens very productive, fresh fruit and vegetables feature on our breakfast and dinner tables.  Now is fig and apricot time, and I have lost count of the tens of kilos of apricots the two trees have generously given to us for which I thank them.  We have spent much time in a hot kitchen making marmalades and jams, the fragrance of simmering fruit percolating through the house.  Apricot and Lemon, Wild Plum, and Fig with Ginger were amongst the recipes that we made.

Together with home-made bread, yogurts and cakes, these fruits feature on our breakfast table, to me an essential part of guest house life.  Our table is large.  On sunfilled mornings guys sit together drinking coffee and chatting, breakfast is a very sociable time, a time to get to know your fellow guest and to be refuelled for the day ahead.  Be it a lazy sybaritic day poolside or one of exploration, maybe a visit to a museum to admire renaissance paintings, a slow walk round the quiet narrow streets of a medieval town, or a trip to Perugia our regional capital which is currently in the throes of their annual music festival “Umbria Jazz“, choices here are great, adventures are recounted and shared, new friends are made, and even as happened this week acquaintances revisited, guys who had met elsewhere by chance also happened to booked here at the same time and just picked up the conversation wshere they had left off.

I am so fortunate to have so many returning guests to Bellaugello.  It is lovely to welcome them back as friends, to welcome friends of theirs for the first time, and to be reminded that they return here because we do it ‘right’.  I hear horror tales of other guest houses, unfriendly, unwelcoming, unclean and sad, I can even begin to raise my stumbling self esteem somewhat, which after all must be real good.

The vegetable garden are producing but I see the first signs of too much heat.  We water daily, but plants are thirsty and like me beginning to wilt.  My assistant asked me “Alec are you coming to the pool?” –  “No, not now, I have work to get on with indoors” and even if some of the work is really unpleasant, I am happily here indoors sheltering from the heat.  Early this morning I was again down in the vegetable garden, the best time to pick the zucchini flowers that burst into life early morning, to be cut, cleaned and kept for dinners.  We delight in our dish of deep fried zucchini flowers, Isabella my cook has perfected an airily light crisp batter, it is far from calorie free but the flowers are swiftly devoured.

A full box of our organic vegetables produced in our vegetable garden

I am back into my gazpacho phase, soft ruby red tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers from the garden, a hint of pepperoncino and  chilled for a few hours before serving, the vegetables fresh and flavoursome the real slow food and la bella vita, part of what an Italian holiday is all about.

Late last night, after we had cleared away the dinner and I had done my rounds tidying up and checking everything was ok, exhausted I went to the pool to turn on Cyril and lie on a sunbed and try my breathing excercises.  The moon was full, the sky inky black, the moon reflected on the pool, there was not a sound, the warm sirocco stilled, even the cicadas had turned down the volume.  Ten minutes of peace, my time…

Full moon above the infinity pool at Bellaugello in Umbria

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.