I am in the business here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House of offering hospitality to guests, and judging by the amount of guys that return (some have been here six years in succession) I must be doing something right. Over the years happily many have become firm friends.   Often I am asked just what I get up to in the winter.  Well apart from marketing, maintenance, repairs, sleeping, olive harvesting, and catching up with friends and neighbours also in the hospitality business I do find time to tear myself away from this little paradise and travel.  So having received invitations from guests who now have become friends I booked air tickets and headed to the Netherlands and Denmark to spend time in their homes.

A drive through early morning mist down to Orte to catch the train and a morning flight out of Rome got me to Amsterdam lunchtime to be met by one of the guys who has over the years become a really close friend and mentor.  He drove through crisp grey weather to their house where his partner Paul famous at Bellaugello for his painting series “Piscina” painted at our infinity pool, had prepared a delicious lunch of local meats and cheeses.  We gossiped before setting off to the Concertgebuow in Amsterdam, the guys had tickets for the Concertgebuow Orchestra, Debussy and Stravinsky conducted by Gatti, (what energy and vitality) a huge treat, an amazing start to what was an amazing week.  The Umbrian contadino came to the city and was blown away!

The next morning via a walking tour of the city of Almere, one of my hosts being responsible over many years for designing houses and architectural works in this new town as shown in this Lego display in the town theatre foyer, a most interesting insight, and then

we headed into Amsterdam for a wander of places known and less familiar.  Throughout the week I was to discover many sights the tourists just do not get to see, and discover the passion with which my guests love their countries and are both knowledgeable and proud of their heritage.  So now you get to see some of my holiday snaps:

and places that many do get to see…

I was thrilled to stumble across the Moco Museum with an exhibition of Banksy originals, and discovered the delights of the Rijksmuseum.

I was taken on tours, we went shopping – gay guys hey! walked on the beach, ate mussels and frites in elegant beachside restaurant, were blown away by the beauty of Den Haag, did Dutch things and had many laughs, the guys enthusiasm knowing no bounds and becoming quite infectious.

One snowy morning we headed deep inland across wet fields, dykes, polders, rain sleet, snow, rain, grey, big big skies, so reminiscent of the best Dutch landscape painters, our destination being Kampen, I was planning to surprise some other Bellaugello Guests…

a couple of guys who have the most amazing pancake and more restaurant in this delightful Hanseatic port town.  A slight but happy double take on his part, huge smile, warm hugs, lots to catch up on and also to meet three delightful labradors, all before a delicious pancake lunch prior to a tour of this enchanting town.

and then as the musical clock tower bells played round to meet yet another couple of Bellaugello Guests, this time owners of a hearty steak restaurant.

but my day was not finished I was heading further inland to dinner with some of my ‘adoptive parents’. “What??” I hear you say, yes, I have several sets of prospective adoptive parents, keen to see that post-Brexit I continue to live in europe! A dinner invite, preceded with by request, one of the hosts playing his harpsichord, and then a delicious Italian meal cooked by his husband and featuring wines from Puglia they first tasted at Bellaugello and have now sourced in the Netherlands. yeah Bravi!

Train back to Almere for my final night before a tour visiting the ancient fishing island of Marken – wow! it was very very cold there, brrrr….

and then to the airport for the next leg of my holiday.  I was sad to leave the Netherlands, my hosts were so very kind and attentive to every detail, but I too love Copenhagen and was on a mission.  Met at the airport by Michael and whisked off to their downtown apartment as I was about to discover my Bacchanalian and epicurean holiday was far from over.

Copenhagen is a city I adore.  I was there only two years ago staying with the son and girlfriend of Italian friends, and it was good to be back, this time I was with Bellaugello guys and to be treated like a prince.  As in Almere my stay was carefully planned by my hosts and fine dining and excursions to new places on my itinerary.

We rummaged through Queen Margrethe’s attics in the Amalienborg Palace, skipped through the gardens in the Rosenborg Castle, hit Illums, Royal Copenhagen, Gant, and der Glace – a dangerous place but ideal for souvenirs for the kind folk back home looking after my dogs, cried over my hopeless attempts at husband hunting and dashed from wifi hotspot to wifi hotspot (well not quite!). From these photos it seems that all we did was eat… not true 😉

but almost!  My hosts are also exceedingly good cooks and one night held a dinner party at their home, this time a chance to meet non-Bellaugello guys, a warm convivial evening with conversation in English, so kind, so many laughs, bizarre tales of a very eccentric mother, and a chance to savour real Danish roast pork and an exquisite home-made semi-freddo.

So to the highlight of my galavanting gastronomic week; A seat at the Copenhagen Opera House to see the performance of Kurt Weil & Burtold Brecht’s Mahoganny with one of my hosts in the starring role.  We entered through the stage door, and Michael gave me a tour back-stage, including actually walking onto the stage, what a huge space, then with his husband out front to appreciate the new opera house.

Given a seat in the centre close to the stage, I was blown over, and a catwalk a mere pace or two from my seat, the star’s husband keeping me company I was entranced, an amazing production, and although written in 1930 totally contemporary and relevant to the events of this past week.  There are five more performances and if you get the chance go see it.  Buy tickets now and take all your friends you will be so glad you did.  After the show we went backstage again, and met the star.  Included in the production is a theatre group made up of refugees, they have little or no experience of theatre or opera, come from many different countries and cultures, have little language in common but have become a cohesive professional team that add much to the production.

One of the group had given my host containers with food from her country, Afghanistan, and it was that, that by candlelight so evocative of nordic winter evenings, we ate back at the apartment washed down with another glass of Pugliese wine from the cantina of Schola Sarmenti – interesting how Bellaugello wines travel!  The gesture of the delicious food from the member of the theatre group was somehow very emblematic of the warm, generous, thoughtful, delicious hospitality that I experienced on my holiday.

So with that happy experience still in my mind the next morning I flew over Sweden and back to Rome.  The car still in the car park 14.5˚c, blue skies, a different kind of warmth.  I must admit Rome airport was very swift and efficient, the problems of last year seemingly a thing of memory.  It was good to be driving up through familiar Umbria to Bellaugello.  My dogs gave me a huge welcome, the snow all but melted except on the high peaks of the Apeninnes, Umbria was looking fresh.  My huge thanks in Alphabetical order to:  Henning, Jan Poul, Marco, Michael 1, Michael 2, Michael 3, Otto, Pablo, Paul, Peter and Rohalt, you made my week so very special, I look forward to seeing you in Umbria next time xox