Is this the world’s most complete hospitality experience? A taste of Massimo Bottura’s Casa Maria Luigia

Giulia Sgarbi - 16/09/2022

Opened by globally renowned chef Massimo Bottura and restaurateur Lara Gilmore in 2019, Casa Maria Luigia is more than a beautifully restored farmhouse – it’s where the couple’s world-leading hospitality extends to care for the guest 24 hours a day. Join 50 Best on a trip to the charming Emilia Romagna region of Italy to discover more of this hidden gem

Massimo Bottura does not simply sit on his laurels. One of the most admired and celebrated chefs in the world, he is the creator of an international culinary empire that takes in his flagship Osteria Francescana and the casual Franceschetta58 in Modena; outlets of Gucci Osteria by Massimo Bottura in Florence, Beverly Hills, Seoul and Tokyo; the Cavallino restaurant in partnership with Ferrari in Maranello; Torno Subito in Dubai; as well as the global non-profit Food for Soul, which already includes 13 soup kitchens across nine countries.

So, when Osteria Francescana won the title of The World’s Best Restaurant for a second time in 2018 and the venue was elevated into the Best of the Best group a year later, marking its induction into the hall of fame of the greatest restaurants of the 21st century, what did Bottura and his wife Lara Gilmore do?

Of course, they looked for a new challenge – and this time, it came in the shape of a nearly-250-year-old farmhouse in the countryside near Modena.
Casa Maria Luigia is located outside the city of Modena, Italy

"Casa Maria Luigia is a place that Massimo and I had been dreaming of for many years,” begins Gilmore, who these days spends a lot of time at the property, managing the teams and the hospitality experience there. “I like to think that we didn’t find it, rather it found us, because we were passively looking for something, for a chance to keep our guests who were coming to Osteria Francescana for a little bit longer.”

“Casa Maria Luigia is the idea of closing the circle of hospitality around Osteria Francescana,” adds Bottura. “It’s this amazing place where we can go back to the true meaning of the word ‘restaurant’, which comes from [the Latin] reficere, to restore – restoring people’s souls. This place feels like home and that’s what hospitality means to me, it’s the joy of giving.

Tucked away in an unspoiled corner of the Po Valley, Italy’s largest plain, Casa Maria Luigia is a 12-room inn surrounded by corn fields, fruit trees and the producers of some of the world’s most prized ingredients, such as Modena’s balsamic vinegar and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Located a 20-minute drive from the city where Bottura was born and raised, it has also become the adoptive home of his American wife, who has been living in Italy for 28 years.

Take a look inside Casa Maria Luigia: 
“Both Massimo and I are huge fans of this area,” says Gilmore. “We see the incredible treasures it offers: gastronomy, landscape, wine, cultural adventures, sporting trips... We just wanted to show all the lovely people who come here from all over the world how much beauty there is and what this particular corner of the world looks like, smells like and tastes like. That is, for us, Casa Maria Luigia. I always say: ‘Come and experience the Emilian countryside.’”

The lovingly restored guesthouse offers many attractions: a swimming pool to offer respite from Italy’s scorching summers, tennis courts to keep fit in all seasons, a large vegetable garden and, most poignantly, an exclusive gastronomic experience where – five nights a week – the team serves a unique menu of Bottura’s most iconic dishes no longer served at Osteria Francescana, where the chef focuses instead on his latest culinary creations.

“We think of Casa Maria Luigia as an extension of Osteria Francescana, like a restaurant that has gotten bigger,” highlights Gilmore. “That is hospitality: it’s not just about checking someone into their room, serving them a dish in the evening or explaining about the breakfast. It’s about being with the guests, sharing yourself, telling your stories and hopefully transmitting something personal and authentic to them.”
Guests are encouraged to explore the rooms and the surrounding Italian countryside 

Ever since the guesthouse opened its doors, Bottura and Gilmore knew that they wanted to create a ‘home away from home’ experience – and so they disregarded many of the traditional rules of hotels. With minimal signage to find things like the parking and the reception, guests are encouraged to wander around the property, discovering its nooks and crannies, admiring the art pieces and engaging with the staff, who have been given the task of ensuring guests feel as if they have total freedom.

“Guests can come here and forget about their shoes, get lost in the landscape, wander into the kitchen, open the refrigerator, find a snack – a mini tiramisu, a cracker, some cheese, a glass of Lambrusco – or make themselves a cup of tea, and hopefully meet someone they’ve never met before. A serendipitous opportunity for a new friend, for a shared conversation, to learn something you didn't know before, to create a new memory, maybe a lasting one that fixes this place in your mind,” shares Gilmore.

No longer limited to only one meal, Bottura, Gilmore and their team crafted a new around-the-clock gastronomic concept for Casa Maria Luigia. To head up the culinary offer they chose Jessica Rosval, a Canadian chef who earned their trust while working in the team at Osteria Francescana for several years. Immediately, Rosval set out to bring to life the idea that guests should feel completely at home.

“We’ve broken down a lot of the barriers that often exist in luxury hospitality and fine dining,” says Rosval. It all starts at breakfast – or for Rosval, even earlier in the morning, when she and her team light the wood-burning oven set in the grounds of the guest house.

Breakfast is inspired by the idea of la merenda estiva, or the second breakfast that farmers in the region traditionally have mid-morning, after spending a few hours hard at work in the fields. A hearty, nutritious meal meant to restore energy, it still boasts the same spirit in Casa Maria Luigia’s interpretation, featuring recipes such as erbazzone, a savoury pie filled with herbs and greens, smoked cotechino sausage and zabaione, a preparation of egg yolks, sugar and sweet wine. “We want people to feel like they’re having a Sunday morning breakfast, only every day of the week, where they could just sit at the table and chat all day,” explains Rosval.
Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore opened Casa Maria Luigia with chef Jessica Rosval 

During the day, snacks are always available in Casa Maria Luigia’s kitchen; little savoury pies and desserts inspired by the seasons and cooked with the ingredients from the vegetable garden. The weekends bring an opportunity for another culinary appointment: the Tòla Dòlza brunch, which Rosval and her team cook invariably over the barbecue, serving delicious seasonal products to a cheerful soundtrack in the beautiful setting of the property’s landscaped gardens.

But of course, the biggest moment of the day is dinner. A nine-course tasting menu served exclusively at Casa Maria Luigia introduces diners to Bottura and Gilmore’s shared story of revolutionising Italian cuisine since they opened Osteria Francescana in 1995. The chef’s most recognisable dishes are given a new lease of life, including many which have become part of wider gastronomic culture thanks to their inclusion in Netflix’s hit series Chef’s Table: Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano, The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna and the ever-popular Oops! I’ve Dropped the Lemon Tart!

Dinner at Casa Maria Luigia is a family affair: guests sit at communal tables, the open kitchen invites everyone to stand and observe the dish preparation up close, and Rosval, Gilmore and Bottura take turns explaining the stories behind each dish, giving guests an authentic insight into their lives, ideas and philosophies.
A signature dish from Osteria Francescana: Oops! I've Dropped the Lemon Tart!

“An important element of Casa Maria Luigia is about Massimo and I sharing who we are with our guests,” continues Gilmore. “For instance, one room is filled with vinyl records. It’s part of Massimo’s passion and we wanted to share that with all our guests. There is art every single room: beautiful art, provocative art, outdoor sculptures… The artwork talks about the things we love, not only the artists themselves, but themes and ideas.

“Oftentimes, I’ll be walking around the property picking flowers, then I’ll go into the kitchen to put them in a vase, surprise a guest there and offer to make them a coffee. Other times, Massimo will arrive in his car, wearing a t-shirt and wanting to get some vegetables from the garden to run them to Osteria Francescana, or wanting to check on one of his motorcycles. He’s here to have fun, he’s here to be himself, and we want to share that with anyone who comes here.”

Much more than a place where people can spend the night, Casa Maria Luigia has become a destination of its own, a place where the team headed up by Bottura, Gilmore and Rosval can shine in their mission to make every guest feel special. “The secret is really about being authentic, enthusiastic, sharing as much as possible about the property, about the artwork, about the history of this place, about what Emilia is,” says Gilmore. “We want to give everyone as rich and as deep an experience of this landscape as we can.”

Buongiorno, benvenuti, venite, ci prendiamo noi cura di voi,” recites Bottura in Italian. Good morning, welcome, come on in, we will take good care of you. This simple mantra – the same, highlights the chef, that inspired him to create Food for Soul and its mission to reduce food waste while feeding the hungry – is at the heart of the chef’s countryside venture.

“So, what is Casa Maria Luigia?” he asks in conclusion. “In the end, it's a mixture of experiences of our life, a life dedicated to hospitality. Sitting around the table, we are all equal. The joy of having you in our home and sharing it with you – that is the most amazing feeling you can have.”

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