Chef Massimo Bottura's Osteria Francescana is one of the most sought-after reservations in the world, but his new countryside bed and breakfast feels just like a home away from home.

By Megan Murphy
October 21, 2019
Credit: Megan Murphy

“Don’t hesitate, come to Modena. In the middle of the food valley, we created a beautiful place… in which you’re going to experience the real Italy,” chef Massimo Bottura says, welcoming visitors to his latest venture, Casa Maria Luigia. “We want to feed your emotions.”

Known across the globe for his three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana (famously named the No. 1 restaurant in the world by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants), Bottura opened up an elegant country estate with his lovely wife, Lara Gilmore, just outside Modena — in Italy’s food capital, Emilia-Romagna. The 12-room country house functions as a proper bed and breakfast, but is so much more.

Credit: Megan Murphy

Upon arrival, a lengthy, tree-lined driveway reveals the stately 18th-century mansion with a cream-colored facade, sage shutters, and large wooden doors. But then you see it: two oversized bowls of gelato — complete with plastic spoons — flanking the structure’s central balcony and dripping onto the veranda.

Bottura commissioned Italian artist Giorgio di Palma to create the whimsical gelato sculptures, portraying heaping scoops of chocolate-pistachio and strawberry-vanilla. “We wanted to give people a heads up: Things might not be as you expect them to be. This isn’t exactly the Tuscan, old-fashioned villa. Things can get a little funky in here,” Gilmore said. At first impression, guests will know they are in for a treat.

The inn has multiple dynamic rooms, each decked out in a striking mix of vintage and contemporary art, furnishings, photographs, and sculptures from renowned international artists. In the main living room, an ornate, vaulted ceiling covered in pastel-hued frescos contrasts with a large, black-and-white Lego triptych from Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. On another wall, Jack Pearson’s "Truth" is spelled out in bold, oversized letters.

The handsome cocktail lounge — complete with a 1950s-era sofa and self-serve spirits bar — displays Barbara Kruger’s graphic “Stay/Go” screen-print. And in the music parlor, lively jazz plays through a state-of-the-art sound system that’s surrounded by thousands of vinyl albums from Bottura’s personal collection.

Credit: Megan Murphy

Everywhere you look reveals another artistic element accumulated by the couple throughout the years. “We like art to be playful and provocative, and not tell you things but ask you questions, get people curious,” Gilmore said.

Equally as unique and stylish, each of the 12 guest rooms and suites boast high-end amenities, comfortable beds, modern bathrooms, and original artwork (one even has a Warhol). Savory snacks, hunks of aged Parmigiano Reggiano, and a complimentary minibar filled with local beverages welcome tenants into their new dwellings.

Credit: Megan Murphy

Once outside, visitors can explore 12 acres of impeccably-manicured grounds, including a swimming pool, tennis court, and grotto pond, with relaxation nooks and sculptures scattered throughout. Occupying the top of the property is a vibrant garden, where much of the inn's produce hails from. Here, you’ll find everything from sun-ripened tomatoes and plump eggplants to incredibly fragrant basil.

The couple wanted to create a "home away from home" experience. Guests will gravitate to the airy, eat-in kitchen, where they can open the fridge to find delicious goodies from the garden, light snacks, freshly made ricotta and breads, herb-infused waters, and bottles of Lambrusco wine — ready to enjoy at any time of day. “Make yourself at home, pour yourself some wine, make yourself a coffee,” said Gilmore, who can often be found mingling with visitors and pitching in around the property.

Credit: Megan Murphy

While the spotlight on art, design, and hospitality is evident, the heart of Casa Maria Luigia is the unparalleled culinary experience — as might be expected from one of the world’s most distinguished chefs. After his Netflix Chef’s Table episode helped catapult Bottura into global super-stardom, snagging one of the few tables at his Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana is one of the hardest, and most sought-after, reservations in the world.

Luckily, guests at the inn have a guaranteed seat at Francescana at Maria Luigia. The new restaurant serves a classic Osteria Francescana menu in an entirely different way — trading the white-table cloth, formal affair of the original for communal tables in a gorgeous carriage house-turned-dining room, with an open kitchen and a conceptual Damien Hirst collection on the walls.

There’s just one seating per night, but the biggest difference is how this setup invites interaction with fellow diners and the chefs. During the multi-hour service, Bottura and Gilmore (when they are in town) and their head chef, Jessica Rosval, will captivate the room, sharing personal and funny anecdotes while explaining the dishes. Essentially, diners will be consuming some of Bottura’s most vivid memories and emotions — all precisely translated to the plate through food as an artistic medium. And everyone is encouraged to get up and watch the kitchen action, take photos, and chat with the team.

Credit: Megan Murphy
Credit: Megan Murphy

A succession of nine exquisite courses — including some of the best-known dishes like "The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna," "Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano, in Different Textures and Temperatures" and "Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart" — gets complemented by noteworthy Emilia-Romagna wines, further reinforcing the sense of place.

And the eating doesn’t stop there. Every morning, rich aromas of wood-fired focaccia, cotechino (pork sausage), and roasted vegetables waft through the property. Breakfast, also served in the carriage house, is a decadent spread showcasing Emilia-Romagna flavors. Here, sweet and savory items — such as mortadella-blanketed gnocco fritto, caramelized onion quiche, and juicy peaches over yogurt — can get showered with even more Parmigiano Reggiano, topped with foamy zabaione, or drizzled with Bottura’s own aged balsamic vinegar.

Every thoughtfully curated detail at Casa Maria Luigia is executed with an exceptional level of quality, yet it has a refreshingly welcoming atmosphere. “We want to create the idea that you’re staying in Francescana’s home,” Gilmore said. And once you enter this casa, it’s easy to become that houseguest who never, ever wants to leave.