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.

The 15th of May every year is held sacred to the heart of every citizen of our town, Gubbio.  This is the day that diaries are cleared to allow everyone to be in town to celebrate the “Festa dei Ceri” or “race of the candles”.   It marks the culmination of several weeks of partying as the Ceri are erected and paraded around the town before being raced up the hill to the basilica of S Ubaldo the patron saint of Gubbio. It is indeed the very finest of pageantry and hospitality at the Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio, Italy.

Throughout early May the town awakens, and the excitement rises tangibly.  People gather and parties are held.  A lot of food and wine is consumed.  On the evening of 14th May the ‘Taverne‘ are in full swing.  Townsfolk open their doors and invite friends and neighbours to share copious quantities of food and wine.  I and all the Bellaugello guests received an invitation from my dear friends Laura and Roberto to join them at their friend Roberto Rossi’s Taverna.  We walked through busy streets and arrived at the house, but no host!  After about half an hour Roberto appeared, more than merry, he had been at a good and clearly bucolic lunch.  As the sky lit red we were warmly greeted, lots of kisses on both cheeks, and rapidly supplied with wine and delicious food laid out on tables in the street.

There are three Ceri, S Ubaldo, (yellow) the patron saint, S Giorgio, (blue) the saint of the townsfolk and merchants, and S Antonio (black) the saint of the farmers and countryfolk.  As a peasant farmer my saint is Antonio, and dressed appropriately I headed into town for the day.

I met up with my Ben, my best friend and together after the obligatory coffee we headed into the historic centre of Gubbio.  Guys in white pants and coloured shirts filling the streets of the city of stone.

Why am I always the shortest in every photo?

We climbed to the Piazza Grande where as the huge bell high in the bell tower is tolled by hand the pageantry and splendour of the Alzata or ‘raising’ started at 11am.

A bit about the history of the event as told by the city itself:

The tourist arriving in Gubbio for the ancient folk tradition known as the “Ceri festival”, is left in awe by the morning ceremonies; The Holy Mass, the procession with the saints’ statues, the parade of the “Ceraioli”. They cannot help but breathe the extraordinarily festive, excited, and passionate atmosphere that engulfs the town. After the medieval ceremony of investiture, they find themselves buzzing with excitement in the Piazza Grande. Then, like a colourful cascade the “ceraioli” rush down the staircase of the Palazzo dei Consoli into the square. As the Ceri are raised skywards accompanied by the tolling of the big bell, emotions in the piazza also rise higher.

Here is a video clip of the actual moment the Ceri are washed with wine by the ‘Capodieci’, the jugs then thrown high into the crowd as the Ceri are erected and then run around the flagpole three times before exiting the piazza to go and salute the townsfolk.

During the afternoon race the thrill of the event continues to enrapture the tourist. This is when the three Ceri, topped by the statues of St Ubaldo, St George and St Anthony, run along Corso Garibaldi, the main street of the town. The spectator is caught by sudden excitement as shouts of joy and applause merge into a deafening roar that rises up to the sky. It is as if everyone has become an actor on a huge open air stage.

But before the run up the hill I had an appointment to keep.

I had received an invitation from the Comune to the VIP lunch held for the ‘great and the good’ in the Palazzo dei Consoli, the building that dominates the piazza in the cente of town.  This “Tavola Bona” is a lengthy banquet of fish dishes (the day is the eve of Saint Ubaldo, so only fish is consumed).

Five hundred guests are seated and the party got underway…  I ran unsteadily up the stairs and got a bird’s eye view 😉

Wow! do the Eugubini know how to party.  Wine flowed and flowed and the band played more and more frequently, second and third helpings were offered.  Napkins were twirling, people dancing, everyone, laughing, chatting, merrily having an amazing time.  For me as a foreigner it was very special to be invited to the lunch, the ‘inner sanctum’ of the event.  Now I totally understand the soul of Gubbio and what makes the townsfolk tick.  Their passion and enthusiasm is infectious and real.

Several hours later as I headed out I stopped to chat and say ‘thank you’ with a couple of the people working in the kitchen.  They told me they were a team of only twenty, and as well as feeding the VIP lunch they also fed 1000 ‘ceraioili’ – the team members who ate in the huge arcone below the piazza grande.  What a feat! Bravi!  This passion to me sums up the spirit of the town which has welcomed me and my guests and which I have come to love and call home.

For those interested in the origins and history of this amazing event please do read on;

In the 1950s, journalist Franco Cremonese wrote: ” The people who cram the streets on May 15th are not a public of spectators, but a delirious crowd, floating, shouting, crying, sharing the Ceraiolis’ passion. When the Ceri run, nobody can be just a spectator: for a few moments, even perhaps for a few minutes, no-one can avoid feeling a collective anxiety, an excitement that leaves one wondering whether to either smile widely or cry”. These few words express the unique charm of the festival. Of course words alone cannot describe in full the atmosphere pervading the spectacle. That can only be experienced by running after the Ceri.

To have a close at the Ceri and even touch them, it is necessary to follow one “Cero”, the one that attracts you the most at first sight. During the so called “show” you have a chance to get close. At certain points as the Cero is carried along the streets it stops and the Cero circles three times to honour old “ceraioli”, who then reach out and touch the saint from their window.

At 6.00 p.m. the great race begins. After the three dizzy ”birate” (turns) in the Piazza Grande, the ceraioli rush towards Mount St Ubaldo, and in 8-9 minutes, the Ceri fly along the winding uphill road to reach the Basilica. This is where the incorrupt body of St Ubaldo lies. To renew the promise of everlasting devotion by the citizens of Gubbio made on May 16th 1160, the day when St Ubaldo ascended into the sky, the Ceri, the ancient symbols of medieval craft guilds, are placed at his feet.

What can we say about the origins of the Ceri? There have always been two theories: Some scholars, claim their origins go back to the ancient propitiatory rites that the “Ikuvini” celebrated to obtain the favour of the numerous gods mentioned in the seven Eugubine Tablets. Christianity did not eradicate such ancient rites, but preferred to “Christianise” them. As quoted in the 11th Canto of Dante’s Purgatory, this policy was also implemented in relation to the worship of the “Blessed Ubaldo”. The other theory suggests that the origins lie in the candles and lights that illuminated the whole town on the death of St Ubaldo. It was then that the citizens of Gubbio said prayers and held a wake for their bishop.

It is not appropriate at this point to delve more deeply into this discussion. However, we cannot but, agree with Don Angelo Fanucci: “Even if the Ceri had had pre-Christian origins, since Gubbio has St Ubaldo, and the Ceri belong to him, the history of their origin is of no importance”.  The Ceri, in their deepest significance, are sacred vessels which have always cemented the very strong sense of community of the people of Gubbio. It is this community who, on May 15th, share love, joy, pain and passion with almost a purifying fervour.

Eleven years ago I arrived in Italy expressly to create and run the first Gay Guest House in the country.   After extensive research I discovered a gem of an abandoned farm in the beautiful Umbrian countryside and developed Bellaugello Gay Guest House.   Today, it is a luxury resort which, for several years has been welcoming guys from all over the world.  Bellaugello is the leading gay resort in Italy, and is now for sale.

Today it is time for me to make some changes in my life, and today you have an unique opportunity to make an investment in the niche business and continue the realisation of my vision, or, to purchase Bellaugello and make it your own.  I have three possible scenarios:

  • An investor to grow the business and with me and to take the resort to the next level.
  • An outright sale of the property and business as an ongoing concern.  The opportunity for a guy or a couple of guys who want to change their lives, and take over a successful established business whilst living in a stunning place.
  • An outright sale to an investor who would receive rental income by renting out the business.

In the case of an outright sale I would, if required, be delighted to help with the transition period.

If any of these scenarios apply to you email me without delay; and we can make this a reality.

What is the property?  A fully licensed Agriturismo with permission for up to 24 guests. Bellaugello Gay Guest House   A 450sqm (4800sq ft) stone house dating back over 400 years. Five individual letting suites, a dining room, commercial kitchen and ancillary facilities.  There is a separate owners apartment, a laundry room & plant room.  All restored to current anti-seismic standards.

Outside there are extensive well planted south facing terraced gardens, a 15x5m salt treated infinity pool, and a Finnish sauna cabin.  Heating is by biomass and solar energy.  Water is from the city supply. Served by 15kw of electricity.

An agricultural building of 120sqm (1300sq ft) could be changed to provide a further two letting suites, and caretaker accommodation or yoga studio.  All is surrounded by the 53 hectare (130 acre) estate with olive trees, woodlands, and cultivatable fields.

Contact me now, come live the “Dolce Vita”.  Bellaugello Gay Guest House is for sale.