I sit at my desk and catch sight of petals cascade from a yellow rose.  This post was not conceived as a lyrical blog about nature, but, as is often the case, nature intervened and walked my thoughts on a different path.  So here we go, come join me for the adventure.    As I scoop the fallen petals up into my hand I wonder at the beauty and diversity of nature.  Just how are these yellow roses yellow?  The rose that, together with red, white and pink ones, the last of the summer blooms in the garden, I had put in a vase to decorate the table for a recent dinner with friends, has opened fully and is now past its best, so the petals fall.  They fall without warning.  One moment the only movement on my desk is the rythmic tapping of my fingers on the keyboard, then, quietly, and instanteneously, another movement, yellow rose petals fall.  Their movement is a destraction, I take them into my hand, and put them into an orderly pile.  Each one tinted from intense deep yellow to tips of delicate creamy sunlight. My thoughts become fixed on the wonder of nature.

Outside my window, whilst the jasmine is evergreen, the wisteria is a painters palette of yellows.  The trees in the garden, festooned green through gold to ochres and browns, let the wind scatter their leaves randomly.  The dramatic colour change has only happened in the past week, ten days ago it was still very green.

This is the time that I am busy in the garden at Bellaugello Gay Guest House.  Raking, sweeping, netting, cutting back, there are leaves everywhere, they need to be moved, and overgrown plants need to be trimmed.  All these are tasks that I enjoy.  To be outside, the air fresh, the sun still with some warmth, the occasional chance to revel in gardening naked and get lost in dreams.  The silence, punctuated by birdsong, and the water of the river Chiascio swelled by recent rains from the Apennines, tumbling over rocks in the valley below, is such a precious gift.  Songbirds make a stopover as they wend their way southwards for the winter. They hover over the cotto roof tiles and peck at the stone walls, intently looking for bugs and insects to devour on their long journey.

The first robins have arrived and are busy looking for worms.  They sit close by, expectantly, hopefully as I pick catepilars off the cabbages and cauliflowers in the winter vegetable garden.  The ‘Orto’ has been a success this year.  Guests ate throughout the summer from our own organic produce.  So rewarding, so good, genuine food as it should be.  Just the other day I picked the last of the tomatoes, aubergines and the first winter spinach.  The butternut squash have grown generously, and it was those in a risotto that we ate the other evening.

The other morning I caught the deer on their stroll through the garden below the infininty pool.  Cute but destructive, they eat indescriminately.   As at one stage I seemed to be growing vegetables solely for the benefit of the deer and hares.   We had to raise the height of the fence around the Orto, and be extra vigilant to keep the gate firmly closed.  No wonder I cannot grow Irises and bulbs on the extremity of the garden, I guess that is no wonder of nature.

I wake to magical sunrises and misty mornings, and capture the wonder of nature on camera.  Follow me on Instagram (@bellaugello) you too can enjoy morning glory at Bellaugello.

At dusk, when I walk the dog along the road we hear the call of the tawny owls and see the bobbing white bums of the roe deer as they scamper in to the woods.  They say there are wolves in the area, I think we spotted one the the other evening, distant, in one of our fields, but in sight, greyish.  It was motionless, then rose and slinked off into the woods presumably in search of its dinner of deer and wild boar piglets.  Certainly the dog did not want to leave my side, and I am glad she did not.  We were both a bit cowardly.

Oh! I cannot leave you on that note, it probably was no wolf but a large white dog, so, please join me in walking through the woods at Bellaugello…

they are wonderful walks, also in spring and summer.  These woods are home to wild asparagus, funghi and fragrant truffles, wild cyclamen and maybe even the odd bear or two 😉

Thank you for being with me on my autumn journey through the wonder of nature at Bellaugello Gay Guest House.  I feel I have just scratched the surface of this special haven.  I have overlooked to mention the pockets full of juniper berries that I pick on my walks, and have drying in antique champagne glasses in my kitchen at home.  So you can garnish your speciality gin, delightful jars of organic Juniper berries will be for sale at Bellaugello next year.   I digress, but did you know that juniper is common and native to Umbria and Tuscany and that for over two centuries the berries have been harvested and sold to the famous London Gin houses, who, in many zones have a commercial monopoly of production.    Also I failed to mention the sloes that stain my hands and jacket pockets red and are now steeping in gin, which will be ready in time for a post dinner digestivo next summer.   There are others, several, some experimental too.  Maybe a blog post about fruit and alcohol is formulating..

So to return to my initial question; just why are yellow roses yellow? Is this another unanswerable question?  Whatever the reason I am gladdened by the fact that they are yellow and that I live in such an enchanting, safe place immersed in the wonder of nature.  I love to share my home with guys from around the world.

Maybe, hopefully,  you will come and stay next year and tell me why yellow roses are yellow…..

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I delight in living in and sharing life in an Italian garden filled with lavender.  It is just such a generous plant.  Delicate tufts of slender silvery leaves form a compact bush that in summer are crowned with the most aromatic of flower heads.  Long flower stems float in gentle waves on the summer breeze, tossing their scent to all.  The purple is intense, and attracts honeybees, butterflies and hover-moths.  The lavender never seems to be still.  In the summer we cut some flower stems to dry and hang in the Suites at Bellaugello and take to the kitchen.  I cook with lavender.  All too often our ‘signature’ Bellaugello cake is flavoured with lavender from the garden. I roast local meats on a bed of lavender.  One long winter we experimented and finally found the best recipe for lavender ice cream.  So silky smooth, delicate, gentle, and intense, the ice cream is a popular request.

October is the time of year when we wake to magical misty mornings.  Sunrises are a multitude of reds, oranges, pinks, and golden yellows that give way to often cloudless days.

I spend endless pleasurable hours in the still warm sun pruning the many lavender bushes in the garden.  Dodging between breakfasts and chatting to guests soaking up the sun, I take up my secateurs and begin to prune back the flower stems that have given so many guys such heady pleasure throughout the summer.

Ok, I am making lavender seem like the perfect all giving requiring nothing plant.  That is not quite true.  It does like to be looked after.  The first three years after planting it received copious water.  I installed a drip system.  Lavender, although perennial, does not last forever and slowly I am replacing and replanting the original plants that are now very woody.  The wood is so fragrant burnt in the fireplace which I am now lighting, not because it is cold, but to give cheer to the breakfast table.

Lastly lavender needs to be pruned back each autumn.  So to return to my starting point that is what I have been doing.  I love my garden, and as I work amongst the bushes I talk with them.  My garden gifts me and my guests such enormous pleasure, so as I prune, I also thank it.  I prune using secateurs.  No! I hear you all shout! you should be using a hedge trimmer…  No way, far too harsh.  Instead I dart in and out, balance precariously on the ‘greppo’, slip a bit here and there, and  snip, snip away.  As I snip the dog decides on the pretence of wanting a drink to surreptitiously check out the guys in the pool 😉  Dear dog it’s too early the sun is just coming up and the mist is still in the valley.

October is a great month here in Umbria.  The sun is still warm enough to lay out in.  Indeed it was a toasty 27˚c earlier this week and guys were poolside and I was gardening in just a pair of shorts.   During one of the rare cloudy moments the Aperol Spritzes came out, a pause from work.   It does not need to be summer to drink Aperol!

I am also proud of my garden and this year especially my lawn.  It is green, and has been all summer.  A huge feat and satisfaction for me.  It may not be up to Wimbledon Centre Court perfection, but it is green!  If you look carefully you can see the now pruned lavender lining the path.

Following on the green theme a couple of pics of the Specchio Suite.  This suite has green gres flooring, a green painted bathroom with double shower, and a bedroom painted green overlooking the pool and with a bed large enough to sleep a ‘thruple’.

As well as the bedroom and bathroom, there is a living room with sofa, a fully equipped kitchen corner and dining table and chairs, and outside a private covered terrace.  This winter the living room of the Spechio Suite is to have a ‘make over’.  I am thinking shades of grey, more contemporary.  I am resistingthe urge to make it ‘loft’ or ‘hipster’ style but the new theme will be more ‘today’.   Along with a new kitchen planned in the Giardino Suite, the rejuvenation of the Specchio Suite is one of my many exciting winter projects.  More about them as they progress..  Keep reading guys!

Occasionally, I do urge myself to take the odd day off and out, there is just so much to see and do in Umbria and le Marche.  We really are spoilt for choice and variety.  Last week I headed south in Umbria towards Foligno to the village of Rasiglia.  This is a magical village.  It is so, so pretty.  An Instagram paradise.

Nestled in a narrow valley on the edge of the Apennines, like the water that cascades through it, the village seems to tumble down the hill.  A helter-skelter of houses and buildings, each one different and unique, all abut each other as they line the sides of the many streams that flow through the village.  They are there because of the bounteous water.

Cleverly restored, thankfully not over-restored, Rasiglia is a village where happily, people still live.  In amongst the many streams you will see the mill buildings.  By ingenious means each mill receives a supply of the crisp water that tumbles from the Apennines.  They used to weave fabrics on huge looms, grind corn, work wood, dye cloth, and make paper.  A large selection of the many old mills are now open for you to glance through the door.  Some mills were very small, others employed a few tens of people.    The flour mill with its two grindwheels is still in use and you can purchase stone ground flour made from local organic grains.

An ingenious number of sluices and spillways throughout the village divert the water to each and every mill.  Today one of them has been converted to a small Hydro-electric station.  Genius!

It was a quiet day, actually raining which made my visit all the more fun.  I discovered a tiny Osteria, the kitchen no larger than a shower cabinet, filled with a portly chef who cooked the most exquisite strangozzi with ricotta and fresh truffles.  Depending on the route chosen, Rasiglia is a one hour drive from Bellaugello.  You can do as I did and take the back roads passing through villages such as Capodacqua, again water everywhere and on to Norcera Umbra, the majestic sleepy hill town famed for its mineral waters…

which, if you believe all that is written on the plaque, the waters of Norcera Umbra are all you need for a fit, productive and healthy long life!

Oh there is just so much to explore…

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Right Alec, be ready in fifteen minutes we are off to see Castello di Solfagnano” so it was Monday morning when I was almost awoken by a neighbour.  The offer had been made many months ago and Monday was the day when the visit was to become a reality.  A thirty minute drive in the warmth of an October day in Umbria took us there.

The Castle is owned by a local family from Gubbio who bought it in a perilous state and have spent the past six years restoring it.  I am told that they do not plan to live there – I know they have several other houses and castles both home and abroad, but rather they are creating a piece of decadent heritage as a fabulous venue for vip events, and presumably to host their own celebrity gatherings.  It is really weird as there is a castle recently restored situated in the comune of Gubbio our local town that the family had looked at restoring but decided not to purportedly because it lies in the comune of Gubbio and planning permisions are reputedly easier in Perugia.  The castle was bought by a Canadian, who with his husband have commissioned a huge restoration programme and I am told done a fabulous job.  I say weird as everyone asks me if I know the castle and the guys who owns it… why is it that just because I am gay I must automatically be bosom buddy with every other gay in the world, the mind truly boggles…

Back to Sofagnano, it is situated in rolling countryside on the lower ground above the banks of the upper river Tiber.  Immediately one turns off the main road and drives a gently winding road under massive umbrella pines, it is apparent that the castle had connections with Mussolini.  I believe there is a room used by Il Duce that remains as it was in his time, alas we did not get to see that.  A small unprepossessing gateway leads past some administration buildings and up to the castle proper.  The original driveway being deemed unsuitable for modern traffic is now the most fabulous emerald green lawn, which sits under the stand of huge umbrella pines the luxuriant growth being maintained by a watering system that just for this short section consumes a mere 400 litres of water a minute.

400 litres a minute to water this lawn #Bellaugello

To call it a castle is perhaps not strictly accurate the existing house is built on the site of a medieval castle but there is little evidence of that today, what you see in the photograph is a later C19 wing now housing a hairdressing and fashion school and meeting centre.

Castello di Solgagnano #Bellaugello#Solfagnano #Bellaugello

We walked past the chapel, still consecrated, up the main stairs, over the bridge and and up into the cortile

#SolfagnanoCastello di Sofagnano #Bellaugello

large, mindbolwing, beautiful pavement, designed in small squares of pebbles set in soft rinzaffo bordered by cotto tiles placed on edge, all new, but an exact copy of the original and done by local craftsmen, the original having collapsed into the cellars below which are now a huge swish banqueting suite.

Under the clock which sits atop the main facade solid imposing oak doors lead to a cool corridor running the depth of the castle, decorated in two shades of soft grey and lit by Murano glass sconces it is elegant and inviting.  The ground floor itself is surprisingly intimate there are a couple of elegant small sitting rooms, the cut moquette covering the sofas is so thick you could get lost in its pile, the painted ceilings a joy.  There is also a family dining room, delightful state of the art kitchen and a billiard room the deco Murano light above the table apparently used to hang in an old palazzo, the castle owners saw it and wanted it, it was not for sale but they eventually named the price and got it, so lavish is the restoration.

On the first floor there is an elegant large drawing room and bedrooms, the roof housing a swimming pool, which sadly we did not get to see.

There are still squads of workmen, they are busy finishing off work in the former servants wing, creating more bedrooms and suites, meanwhile outside in the perfectly groomed leaf and rubbish free grounds a vineyard has been tended and many new lines of vines planted, within the decade they will be large payers in Umbrian wine.

The gardens are simple, immaculately maintained by only two gardeners and lots of water, and lit by hundreds of uplighters some I’m told by the chief electrician costing six hundred euros a pop and when the bulbs blow which they apparently do you just chuck the whole lot away and buy a new one…..

The topiary garden at Castello di Solfagnano, Perugia #Bellaugello

For those of you celebrities and uber gents wanting a prestige venue for an unforgettable event Solfagnano is the place…  Contact me and I will put you in touch.  Meanwhile I am back to reality we are pruning lavender and I am making what will probably be the final cut of the lawns at Bellaugello Gay Guest House, they are not evenly green, some parts definitely  suffered in the summer drought but they are substantially green and without the huge quantities of irrigation water, they give me pride 🙂

Finland says “YES” to same sex marriage!!

An excellent reason to break open the Finlandia…
Celebrate with us!!
Looking forward to welcoming the first couple of newlywed husbands from Finland for their honeymoon at Bellaugello.

Are you to be that couple of guys? Celebrate here at Bellaugello stay seven nights or more and let us give you 20% discount on our accommodation rates. Book by email to: book@bellaugello.com.

For the discount: Use the promotional code “kip-piss” at the time of booking and be sure to bring along your marriage certificate to verify your claim. It needs to be a same sex Finnish wedding, and you must send us a photo of yourselves at your wedding which we may use on Alec’s blog. Book by 31/12/2014. Holiday dates valid throughout our 2015 season excluding new year.

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