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Peek Inside Italy’s Newest Luxury Hotel, Run By A World-Famous Chef

Originally published in USA Today 10 Best

Food-loving travelers can now add a new, exclusive oasis to their dream destination list.

Situated just outside of Modena, in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, is the luxurious Casa Maria Luigia, a stunning country inn surrounded by picturesque gardens, lovely fountains and art sculptures. But what makes this bed and breakfast so special isn’t just the gorgeous countryside and the artsy, posh ambiance.

It’s exceptional because it’s owned by the world-famous chef Massimo Bottura and his wife, Lara Gilmore. Known across the globe for his three-Michelin-star restaurant, Osteria Francescana, which is nearby and considered number one in the world, Bottura wanted to create a new, intimate destination in an area of Italy that is currently lacking in luxury accommodations.

After purchasing the sprawling 12-acre property two years ago, the couple renovated the 250-year-old estate and officially opened doors to guests in May 2019. As their first hotel venture, Maria Luigia is named after the chef’s mother, and exudes understated luxury with a whimsical vibe throughout.

Although it appears to be a traditional estate from the exterior, a second glance reveals ceramic sculptures of brightly-hued gelato perched atop the balcony directly above the main entrance, created by artist Giorgio Di Palma. It’s a sure sign of the fun and joyful ambiance that awaits inside, with unexpected art pieces and delightful décor.

Much like the chef’s iconic dishes that feature brilliant colors, vibrant flavors and astonishing textures (such as his dessert, Oops, I Dropped the Lemon Tart), the inn is inviting and filled with surprises at every turn. Each of the twelve rooms and suites (including a penthouse) is stylish, vibrant and unique, with high-end amenities, comfortable beds and modern walk-in showers (or deep, claw-foot bathtubs). A free minibar with local beverages is also included.

The home is accented with many personal items from the couple’s modern art collection. A few of the many artists include Andy Warhol, Ai Weiwei and Jack Pearson. They created the ambiance with the help of locally-based designer Catia Baccolini, who has worked on the couple’s restaurants, as well as their own home.

Outside, guests can stroll through the gardens, relax on the patio, and lounge by the swimming pool while enjoying the lovely country views and listening to the sounds of abundant songbirds.

Peek into their world

Chef Massimo BotturaChef Massimo Bottura — Photo courtesy of Callo Albanese e Sueo

The couple wants to ensure that guests enjoy every moment of their stay. If you’re lucky, you will have the chance to meet and chat with Lara, who is involved in every aspect of the inn. She may be outside, as she recently created an expansive vegetable and herb garden and an adjacent orchard with fruit trees behind the home.

“And guests are always invited to help out in the garden,” she joked. She’s also happy to point out some of her favorite art pieces throughout the common areas or discuss the design of the rooms. High-energy chef Massimo often stops by the inn as well, and he’s been known to greet guests, or make a special pizza baked in the inn’s outdoor wood-burning oven.

Gilmore says, “Massimo and I really want to share our love for this particular part of Italy, including the landscape and the food culture. We also want to share with guests our personal passions for contemporary art because in all the rooms you will find unique, one-of-a-kind pieces from artists from all over the world.”

She added, “We have a music room where Massimo has an extensive collection of over 7,000 jazz albums and a turntable that guests are welcome to play. We also have a fun cocktail room, with a 1950s-era sofa, where two of my favorite female artists are featured, Barbara Kruger and Annette Lemieux. We also have a lot of interesting books around the house, too, so guests can enjoy a little peek into our world.”

Snack while you stay

Lara Gilmore in the gardenLara Gilmore in the garden — Photo courtesy of Callo Albanese e Sueo

As you may expect, guests at the inn are well fed, as they are initially greeted with a variety of fresh-baked Italian cookies, Lambrusco (the region’s iconic wine), several pieces of local Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and almonds and pistachios from Southern Italy.

The inn’s gourmet kitchen is open to all guests at any time of the day or night, and includes a few wine choices (as well as fresh juices and other non-alcoholic beverages) and plenty of inviting gourmet snacks beautifully presented in glass jars that include labels and descriptions.

Gilmore says, “Whenever anyone is hungry, guests just open the refrigerator and there will always be some healthy, vegetarian snacks. We offer Italian-inspired flavors, but very unexpected combinations. You may be out eating heavy food while sightseeing, but when you return here you will find some lighter options, such as artichokes with mint; ricotta with herbs; sliced, toasted bread; and a variety of delicious salads with roasted vegetables and grains. Of course, we also offer comfort foods like chocolate cake and other desserts.”

Even more unbelievable eats

Gather around the breakfast tableGather around the breakfast table — Photo courtesy of Casa Maria Luigia

Casa Maria Luigia features an adjacent structure that houses the light and airy restaurant that offers an abundance of sweet and savory homemade delights for guests each morning. (Yes, some of the items are variations of chef Massimo’s own recipes.)

Gilmore explains, “Our kitchen team is inventing the snacks and food offerings as they go along, and we put an emphasis on grains and vegetables.” A few of the offerings guests might find in the morning include regional classics, such as homemade frittatas with sweet onions made in the wood oven; gnocco fritto, mortadella, pastries, local cheeses and robust Italian coffee.

But the evening is when the true culinary magic happens. This space transforms into the chef’s new countryside restaurant, Francescana at Maria Luigia as it features an open kitchen and communal tables with seating for 24 guests. Gilmore reveals that some of Bottura’s classic specialties will be included on the 9-course tasting menu (with wine pairings), as well as some new, inventive specialties.

Chef Bottura says, “We are so excited to open this inn and our new restaurant, as it’s a luxurious but casual trattoria and I can still improvise with the dishes we offer.”

Oops, I Dropped the Lemon TartOops, I Dropped the Lemon Tart — Photo courtesy of Terzi

The menu at the new restaurant is a shorter version of the tasting menu at Osteria Francescana, and it includes some of the chef’s top classics such as the Crunchy Part of the Lasagna, Caesar Salad in Bloom, Spin-painted Veal and, of course, Oops, I Dropped the Lemon Tart. Guests who reserve a room at the inn will have priority access to the restaurant at the time of booking, and advance reservations are required. (The cost of the dinner is $450 per person).

As the couple embarks on their first month as bed and breakfast proprietors, they are most looking forward to the summer and incorporating some family time into the business. In addition to the inn’s full-time staff, the couple’s son, Charlie (18) will be greeting guests and helping in the garden (Their daughter, Alexa, 22, is studying in Milan this year).

Gilmore added, “From the moment Massimo and I saw the property, we thought, ‘This house is waiting for a party.’ Now that we have opened Casa Maria Luigia, that party has begun. We are both looking forward to seeing the inn filled with guests who enjoy the music room, the house kitchen filled with snacks, the swimming pool, vegetable garden and the new dining experience Francescana at Maria Luigia.”

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