As August slides into September I am discovered to be in a reflective mood.  I wake to magical misty mornings.  Early morning, golden sun filters through the trees, birds call to lovers, the dog busily runs under the bushes looking for lizards.   Reluctant to get out of cozy beds, guys  are late down to breakfast on the terrace where they witness the Umbrian countryside slowly and generously reveal itself.

Occasionally, just occasionally, as the sun shimmers on the water, I catch a guy swimming early laps the pool.

It has been an amazing Bellaugello summer.  So many laughs, so much fun, so many new friends, so many new experiences, and simply good times.  Bellaugello allows guys the chance to escape from the hectic whirlwind that is daily life at work and instead enjoy peace and harmony.  Late at night we lie on the lawn and (glass of wine in hand) stare up at the stars in the ‘big sky’.  The night of San Lorenzo was one of an almost full moon so few shooting stars were seen.  The week before, the sky was ablaze with these fiery visitors, hurtling through the inky black sky, some of my guests seeing them for the first time.

This is an unusual week for me as all the guys in the house are first time visitors.  I am delighted to be discovered by new guys, and love sharing my life and home with them.   I have other weeks where the house is filled with guys that have been here many times before.  The variety is exquisite.  Through the summer we have enjoyed many dinners, one or two I have photographed.  GDPR is not only a huge consumer of paper and time but complicates my blogging and social media.  I am always anxious about asking those that put an ‘X’ in the no consent box to get up from their seat, move out of a photo or to ensure that I blur their image.  Is it really worthwhile I ask myself?  Cellphones know exactly where everyone is and exactly what they are up to.

We don’t talk about my vegetable garden, it is, this year, a source of shame.  Carelessness has meant that we fed the wildlife not ourselves, but yesterday I harvested large Zucca flowers which I stuffed with ricotta and anchovies and baked in the oven for an aperitivo at dinner.  I must admit they were really rather delicious.

Oh and I succumbed, and reluctantly allowed flamingoes to visit.  One, made of felt gifted to “Hear” my dog, was summarily ignored by her and now flits from perch to perch around the dining room.  Another adorns one of Mauro’s shirts and a third was spotted in the pool…

Talking of Mauro I managed to snap a pic of him in his massage outfit as he prepared his table on the shady terrace deep in the garden ready for his next client.

One of the visitors I so look forward to welcoming back returned this year.  No visit last year, and I was a bit worried.  But a telephone call and a day was fixed.  Maria was brought up in the house at Bellaugello.  For avid readers of my blog you will have seen her photo and read a bit about her in posts from some years back.  She is now XX years old (dear readers,one must never reveal a lady’s age) and is still as active as ever.  We spent a delightful couple of hours chatting about the farm and our lives.  I learnt about the deep deep snow that used to blanket the valley all winter.  Now thanks to global warming just a distant memory.  This visit she was accompanied by her daughter who was born in the house.  Indeed it was because of the snow and not being able to get out of the house that the family moved to San Casciano in Tuscany where they are still based with a large vineyard producing superb red wine.  I learnt that at the time of her daughter’s birth Maria’s parents lived across the valley in a farm near the village of Colpalombo.  Of course there were no telephones and certainly no cars or free time.  The family agreed that to announce the birth a sheet was to be hung out of the upper floor window at Bellaugello to enable her parents across the valley to know all was well.  On the south elevation of Bellaugello in what is now the Diva Suite there are two windows.  A sheet hung in the left window meant a boy and a sheet in the right window, a girl.  Geniale!

Maria’s visit with her family filled me with delight, she is such a charming fun person.  I sign off this post in a delightfully happy spirit, with my own bit of bottled summer sunshine, my homemade Limoncello:

Whilst many parts of Northern Europe have been experiencing extreme heat, here at Bellaugello although hot, and above previous seasonal averages, our position on a hillside means a gentle breeze blows and we have not experienced the intense heat of France and Germany.  We water the garden madly and spend any spare time climbing trees picking fruit which this year is abundant, whilst guests make the strenuous journey of forty paces from breakfast table to our infinity pool where they laze, relax and soak up the sun.

All too often our breakfast chats are of global warming, and how we can all help in small ways to do our bit to make changes for the better.  I now look at every apparatus and every purchase to evaluate any impact on global warming.  I do not have air conditioning.  For several reasons; I do not like the hum of an a/c unit, it keeps me awake all night.  The dry air produced only makes breathing more difficult.  They are huge unsightly pieces of kit, and who knows how many times the parts have circulated the world before arriving at the shopping mall.  More importantly to me it seems totally illogical to produce more energy – electricity (heat) to operate a machine to lower temperature.  I read recently that 40% of a southern European city’s electricity consumption was accounted for by air conditioning units.  This, if true, is a really sad indication of just how absurd our lifestyle has become.

So I return to Bellaugello.  We are picking apricots, the trees are full and branches coloured rich orange, gold and red by the plump fruit.  Last year we had one apricot, and it fell off the branch and rotted.  This year the first tree produced delicious sharp if slightly unsightly fruit.  The two venerable trees are now maturing and are so full of fruit.  I ask everyone here to help themselves.  We pick, I make jam, and am having to buy a new freezer.  Yes, that damn heating to chill global warming question again…

I reach up and pluck, the fig tree is huge.  There are so many I cannot get them all, but the birds and insects are happy.  I cook with figs.

A couple of dinners ago I served figs stuffed with sharp tangy blue cheese and wrapped in local pancetta baked in the oven (global warming).  The sweetness of the figs, sharpness of the cheese and saltiness of the pancetta a perfect combination.  Our Bellaugello dinners are such a nice convivial way of eating they now replicated elsewhere.  I am glad to be the catalyst.  We sit together on our terrace under the stars, candlelight, flowers from the garden or hedgerow and local food, cooked in a local manner.  The scent of lavender wafts gently on the breeze and guys from all over the world swap stories and friendships.

Daniela brought in a crate full of small golden plums from her garden.  Boiled, softened, and de-stoned they have made another scrumptious marmalade put on the table for our daily breakfasts.  I have a wild red plum tree that keeps looking at me and says ‘when are you going to pick my fruit?’   …domani!

I wander down the garden to look at the vegetables.  The hare has been in once again and this time eaten the tips of the zucchini.  There is a slight gap under the gate and like Peter Rabbit the hare finds its way in to feast on our produce.  Our orto is suffering this summer, but the potatoes are good.   I planted real dop Colfiorito Umbrian red potatoes and they are now regularly on the menu.

I now look with sadness at my young red plum tree on the lower terrace.  Branches are like a weeping willow, bent to the floor.  The sheer number of fruit has also broken some of the boughs.  I am leaving them attached in the hope the fruit matures, but it is so sad to see the damage to such a young tree.  I weep inside.

Meanwhile lavender is in full bloom, the bees are busy and last night I saw the first bumble bee.  A good sign.  The housekeeping team cut some lavender and make bunches that they place in our suites, a gentle fragrance brings the outdoors in to the rooms.

A rare chance for me to be away for Bellaugello mid-season arose the other weekend with a trip to neighbouring Tuscany.   Tenor, Michael Kristensen was singing Steven Sondheim in the delightful theatre Poliziano in the Montepulciano Summer Festival.  Always happy to hear Michael sing, and Montepulicano being just over one and a half hours’ drive from Bellaugelo, I was Tuscany bound.  A delightful evening, decent aperitivo, indifferent dinner, and a superb production.  At midnight we were at a bar in the otherwise deserted main piazza drinking beers and listening to live jazz.

Click the link to read more about Michael Kristensen’s programme.  He is currently recording a CD of Danish folk music to be issued in the autumn: Michael Kristensen Tenor

My away days are few and precious, but I have no regrets.  I love my job and being here at Bellaugello with such great guests and living in such a beautiful area.  It is all too often too hard for me to tear myself away.  Of course, there is always work to do somewhere, and last week we made our second cut of hay.  This year the weather has been against us on the farm.  The rain in May delayed the flowering of the olive trees, the harvest will be small,  but it did bring on a good first cut of hay.  The hot sun since has meant little subsequent growth.  By good fortune we did mange a second cut on half of the big field, hooray!   My neighbour, Alvaro is seen here through the heat haze collecting the hay bales which will be fodder for some of the sheep here in the valley.  It is so pleasing to produce small bales not these huge industrial jumbo ‘rotobale’

Occasionally even I manage a few stolen hours relaxing at the infinity pool…  And you could do the same.  We have a few nights still available in August;  The Azzurro Suite which overlooks the pool is available for three nights 9th-11th and four nights from 23rd to 27th, and the new look Giardino Suite for seven nights from 24th to 31st August.  Both of these suites have outdoor showers.

For an autumn break we have some availability from 7th September onwards.  You can book by clicking on this link: BOOK AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER NOW

 

What a month!  I have been so thrilled to welcome back so many guests returning to Bellaugello for their holidays and also to have the immense pleasure of welcoming guys here for the first time.

I so love my ‘job’ is it really a job?  It is a lifestyle and a great one at that.  Living in this beautiful corner of rural Italy and sharing my home with fabulous guys.  Bellaugello Gay Guest House is a place of relax, a place to recharge, unwind and of course make friends and share experiences.

After the mixed weather in May the clouds vanished and the garden burst forth.  I netted the cherry tree in good time and one evening as the fireflies danced I plucked the cherries off the tree.  The next morning Mauro checked them over and stoned five and a half kilos of dark red fruit.  Some went to make a ricotta tart for dinner, the rest now repose in the freezer for when I find a cooler hour or two to make cherry jam.   The tree is small, and I am so proud of it for giving so bounteously.  The Apricot trees are laden, the fruit still to ripen. I see with a sad eye that the little plum tree is so full of fruit that two boughs have all but snapped off.  Sad that such a generous act is met with such damage.

We have been dining on the terrace.  Our menus this year feature much more home-grown and local produce.  Homegrown that is until a rabbit got into the Orto and ate the tops off the lettuces.  Grrr…  More lettuces have been planted but still to grow.  Despite a healthy crop of weeds the vegetable garden is coming along nicely and having feasted off broad beans we are now cutting our first zucchine and watching the tomatoes turn red, black, orange and yellow.  I went to town on a rainbow of tomato colours this year.   Cooking using local produce is a rewarding experience.  It has challenged my menu planning and also forced me to seek out local suppliers who actually have local foodstuffs.  In the journey I sadly have discovered just how many companies mark their produce as local, but deviously how  they masquerade  the provenance, and are in fact in many cases products from afar, packaged or re-packaged locally.

The warmth also brought guys to the pool and a chance of a photo-op for three lovely guys from Puglia.

yes, one of them is Mauro!  The mere fact he is in the pool demonstrates just how warm the weather has been from early this month.

My Dutch contingent returned again this June, they are just some of my many regular guests who have become firm friends.  I was spoilt as ever with gifts of my favourite  super yummy “Stroopwafels” and Dutch biscuits in the traditional blue and white Delft design tin.  This year they introduced new friends of theirs to Bellaugello Gay Guest House and together with a great couple of British guys posed for the annual pool photo.   We had such fun trying to have everyone in the right place as the shutter clicked.

We almost managed it!

I guess a vacation in Italy is about sunshine, pool and food, and this week I ‘allowed’ a guest to enter my kitchen and for the second time this year we had a guest baker and bread from his home country, in this case Israel.  Declining the offer of the mixer, he said he preferred to feel the dough in his hands.  A have to agree, and that is also how my Danish guest chef baked his bread.

As the dough proved and the insects flitted on the lavender now heady with scent we spent a hot afternoon in the shade of the terrace chatting endlessly about history, culture and bread making.

After an alarmingly long absence since the flowering in April of the Rosemary the bees have begun to return and now in the company of a myriad of butterflies feasting on the perfumed lavender.

Several hours later the Challah bread was baked and out of the oven.  We both agreed one knows when bread is cooked by the smell that seems to magically fill the air.

and of course the bread was on the table for dinner and had to be cut and served by the chef!

This got me thinking.  Whilst most Gay Guest Houses and B&Bs offer weeks of naked yoga, at Bellaugello we are different; and a thought is germinating that we dedicate an autumn or spring week to international bread making.  Each couple of guys baking bread from their country combined with tours of the culinary delights of Umbria.  A feast for the senses and spiritually healing.

Traditions are an integral part of life in Italy.  Here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House we live in beautiful countryside close to the medieval town of Gubbio which is full of tradition.  Every year on 15th of May the city celebrates a festa of new life, the “Festa dei Ceri”.  Tradition is strong and the draw to this spectacular event is huge.

Dating back centuries, with origins in pagan culture the Festa dei Ceri  is held as the oak trees burst forth in new leaf and crops begin to sprout.  The roots of the festa are as a fertility celebration, a festa of new life, the hope for a bountiful summer, and one to which we at Bellaugello always go.

The three ‘Capodieci’ or captains are woken early by trumpeters and men on horseback and as the crowds appear everyone gravitates to the Piazza Grande, the hanging terrace high in the medieval city.  Drummers and trumpeters in bright costume herald the start of the ‘Alzata’ the raising of the three ‘candles’, before they are progressed round the ancient piazzas, streets and alleyways.

For fifty weeks of the year the three ceri live in the basilica at the top of the hill that dominates this central Italian town.  The first Sunday of May sees them progressed down the hill to the ‘Palazzo dei Consoli’, the old town hall where they repose horizontally until the 15th of the month.  There are three, S Ubaldo the patron saint of the city, whose team wear golden shirts; S Giorgio, the saint of the merchants, whose supporters wear blue shirts; and S Antonio, the saint of the peasant farmers and country-dwellers, his team in black shirts.  All three teams have white pants with red sashes and neckerchiefs.  Neckerchiefs are knotted with a small posy of wild flowers gathered from the hedgerows.

As the great bell in the tower tolls, turned by hand and foot by a courageous team the ceri exit the palazzo horizontally and are fixed into the huge supports that are later raised shoulder high to carry the ceri round the town.

The three saints are carried out of the palazzo and fixed to the tops of their cero.  Next are carried out large ceramic jugs made specially for the occasion and filled with wine.  Gubbio has a great tradition of ceramics.  After a salute to the town the ceri are then liberally doused with wine by the ‘capodieci‘ who as the photo shows stand on the frames..   Throwing the now empty jugs high over the crowd, the ceri are raised vertically by sheet determination and strength.

The teams run with their cero three times round the flagpole before heading off round the town.  As my short video clips shows it is a pageant of colour, movement, men, strength, and passion.

Being Italy, there is then a huge and very liquid lunch.  In the late afternoon and into the evening is  the race proper.  This is when the teams in relay run their cero back up the hill to the basilica.  The race is serious and strenuous but a symbolic one.   S Ubaldo, as the patron saint of Gubbio always gets to the basilica first.  What is important is the distance between the cero and not to let your cero fall.  Once at the basilica the great doors are slammed shut the chanting begins.  The teams run round in a frenzy in the cloister, almost trance-like.  It is a real squeeze and not for the faint hearted!

After the race, the three teams come back to the town as brothers in arms.  The race is serious, planned all year.  It is testosterone filled and machismo is to the fore, but, above all it is a celebration of being ‘Eugubine’, being from Gubbio and smiles are abundant.  Tavernas are opened everywhere, wine flows liberally and food is abundant.  Dancing in the streets and partying goes on to the early morning.  The generosity of this little town is enormous.  All are welcomed warmly.

Back at Bellaugello we too celebrate new life.  Yesterday our first owl chick of 2019 flew the nest and landed plop in the flowerbed.  We spotted him/her crouching in the irises, and managed to keep the dog well away…  Today in soft rain the owlet has vanished, hopefully wings strong enough to carry it to an oak tree branch and to a new life in the woodlands around our home.

The beauty of nature and tradition in this special place that is Bellaugello is sheer magic.

Another great Eugubine tradition of which I have become part is the singing in the month of May.  Known as ‘Canta Maggio’ it is held on 30th April each year.  Traditionally, a band of musicians and singers wended their way between the various farmhouses in the countryside, now alas there are very few who uphold the tradition.

My good friends here keep the tradition alive in their lovely farmhouse.  The song is historic, and as ever in spring, the many verses are all about sex.  New growth and fertility is evident everywhere.  The song is ancient, and sung in dialect.  The verses of which there are some 120 also relate to the area of Valdichiascio around Bellaugello Gay Guest House.  Each year as somebody remembers new lines and verses, they are added, a never ending history story…

I am conscious that when booking their holiday at Bellaugello Gay Guest House guys are not thinking in their wildest dreams of such an event.  From experience I know that they much appreciate the opportunity to witness first hand local traditions in which, thanks to Etain, Martin and Dave and their warm generous hospitality, my guests are able to experience first hand.  We participate enthusiastically.

Everyone brings food and wine to share, and as ever the food was bountiful and exquisite.  With replete stomachs and glasses well charged, Italo takes up his baton we fidget nervously and the musicians on flute, guitar and harmonica strike up the melody.  It’s a catchy tune.  With many laughs, smiles and tongue twisting we attempt to pronounce and sing the dialect words.  We also endeavour to interpret the meaning of some of the phrases.  Some are obvious, others obtuse…

At the end all are all about awakening, and ‘liasons dangereuse‘, it’s that time of year.  The Oak trees, that are so abundant in Umbria are just breaking into first leaf, insects are darting from flower to flower pollinating..  Verse 40ish and a pause.  Deserts are brought over from the kitchen.  A vast array of delicious home baking and this year, a first at Canta Maggio, a Bellaugello speciality, our ‘Bell-augello’ cake.  This is the first outing for our famous cock cake, it was so appropriate for the theme of the evening….

I learn from guests from Sweden that they too sing in dialect at this time and their songs are similarly themed.  One of my guests, Jonas, gets fully into the spirit of the evening and cuts and devours the first slice of the Bellaugello cake with much aplomb 🙂

A future guest from Brazil writes me that they too sing in dialect at this time.  He promises to sing with us during his stay here.

I am so happy to learn that other countries maintain these traditions and would love to hear from you, my readers of other examples.  Feel free to post comments and links to your dialect songs in the box below.

Now Gubbio prepares for the 15th of May, the ‘Festa dei Ceri‘ probably the most famous and best attended local festival.  Today as I write the ‘Ceri’ are being processed down from the basilica to the town hall where they will repose until the fifteenth.  So another two weeks of partying commences 😉  Below is a photo of the Cero of S Ubaldo (there are three in total) being carried out of the town hall on 15th May at the commencement of the  ‘Alzata‘ or erection

We opened our doors for the 2019 season in late April, and started with welcoming the most exquisite of guests.  For me it is always a pleasure to greet returning guests, and this year was no exception, a truly fantastic start to the 2019 season at Bellaugello Gay Guest House.

Spring is a time of the year I love.  The new buds on the plants, flowers bursting forth and insects busy feeding on the nectar.  I find it somewhat amusing to write that I was happy to see the rain, but indeed I was.  The winter had been unusually dry and rain was much needed.  What fell was good.  That slow constant rain that infiltrates the ground which was so parched, it soaked up the water greedily.  The newly formed fruit thankfully was left intact.  It is going to be another amazing year for the Apricots.  The branches already beginning to bend low with the weight of the young fruit.

So kind was the weather that it was beautifully dry, sunny and warm over the long Easter holiday.  This for me is when the season really comes alive.  On the Friday evening before Easter we all headed into our local town of Gubbio to witness the ‘Processione di Cristo Morto’.  A ritual that has been enacted for centuries.  Getting a good position as the piazza filled, we soon hear the sound of the ‘Battistrangole’ the clackers that announce the arrival of the procession.  It is strangely haunting

Candles, uniforms, hoods, and then the choir chanting the sombre ‘Miserere’, as the dead Christ is carried high on a litter.  It is a magical moving event.

Next passes Mary…

and as the procession wends its way down medieval streets we are drawn by one of the fires that are lit in the centre of the beautiful town of Gubbio.

We head off to ‘Officina dei Sapori’ for a marvellous dinner before wending our way back home to Bellaugello.

I was lucky once again to have two beautiful artistic guests who helped me realise my concept of an Easter Breakfast table centre.  Perugina chocolate egg sitting in a nest of fragrant camomile hay brought in by Daniela, and foliage from the garden. The guys surrounded the egg with hens eggs dyed with red and white onion skins, together with mini chocolate eggs and bunnies and speckled quails eggs.  A veritable triumph!

Our local baker produced an exquisite cheese bread ‘Crecsia di Pasqua’ and a Colomba this year with peaches and champagne, all rather delicious and more-ish!

The food bonanza continued as we all headed off across the valley to join in the annual egg rolling and lunch at my good friends’ organic farm.  We feasted on goodies brought by guests from their home countries or towns, and tucked into new season lamb roasted in the wood oven.  A big hit was the pickled herring with rich eggy mayonnaise and the most delicious rye bread made by two guys from Copenhagen.  The Rye bread was a huge hit (so good I wasn’t in time to photograph it!) and the recipe is now circulating widely here amongst friends.  It could well be the next food trend in Gubbio!

After lunch we were entertained in the warm dappled sunlight in the courtyard by harmonica, flute and saxophone.  A wonderfully relaxed and happy way of spending a Sunday afternoon.

Now I’m back in the garden.  The rain and warmth brought on huge amounts of growth and I have much to do.  The Wisteria is looking its best.  Generous pendulous flowers hanging generously on the upper house.  I have nearly achieved my aim of having it circle the house 360˚.  The Owls have given birth, their owlets not yet fledged, but calling hungrily from their nest high in the wistera.  Songbirds fill the air, they flit and dart from branch to branch as they feed their young.  It is a huge joy to live in this magical place, to have such generous neighbours, and to be able to share it all with so many great guys.

Spring is truly a special time to be in Umbria.  Why not join us next year?

Guys have been enjoying the outdoor shower under the canopy of Wistera, whilst I, being a late bird snapped a photo of the blossoms at midnight, before turning in, tired but happy.

Our next big historic group event is on 15th of May when we head once again to Gubbio to watch the ‘Festa dei Ceri‘ the race of the candles about which I have blogged many times.  It is a marvellous occasion to get wrapped up in the most special Umbrian tradition.  We still have some suites available so get booking and come join the fun.

Book your holiday at Bellaugello Gay Guest House  click this link: Book Bellaugello