‘Indescribable’ is a word writers should not be allowed to use. Pardon me, but it’s almost impossible to capture the essence of staying in Casa Maria Luigia perched on the lush outskirts of Modena in Italy.
It’s not merely a 12-room, 18th-century Italian villa set amid 12 acres of Emilian parkland with vineyards, a sparking swimming pool, tennis court, music room stocked with vinyls, a brand new restaurant, on-site balsamico production and vegetable garden too. No, it’s neither a resort nor a hotel. It’s the globally acclaimed chef Massimo Bottura and his brilliant wife and business partner Lara Gilmore’s incomparable opera and most composite experience of art. An unparalleled artistic creation that fuses music and design, tradition and imagination, gastronomy, hospitality and the beauty of nature, creating a harmonious synthesis of various art forms.
How serendipitous that Modena birthed two world-renowned maestros, the operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti and culinary philosopher and author Massimo Bottura, who champions innovation in tradition and slow food. He also loves fast cars and, coincidentally, this enchanting historic city is the birthplace of Italian motor racing driver and entrepreneur Enzo Ferrari too.
Casa Maria Luigia takes within its sweep all this, pampering your senses while distilling the beauty and flavours of the Emilian countryside. It’s world-renowned for its prized Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and aged aceto balsamico vinegar, and you can savour the best of both at the Casa.
A personal oasis of luxury and elegance
My two-night stay in room no. 1, on the ground floor of this classic Italian villa with its teal shutters and terracotta roof tiles, has been nothing short of magical. Walk into the reception lit up by the brilliance of a Tracey Emin neon installation ‘Red, White & F**king Blue’. Within the elegant entrance hall, neoclassical and contemporary art harmoniously blend; chubby cherubs grace the frescoed ceiling while Ai Weiwei’s Lego triptych, ‘Dropping A Han Dynasty Urn,’ surprises and seduces the beholder.
Room number one has a standalone bathtub inside the bedroom, which I love. Dedar fabrics, Attica ceramic tiles for the bathrooms and Ortigia bath amenities delight. The meticulous attention to detail shines through in the carefully selected high-end vintage and contemporary art and furnishings.
I scarcely have time to sign in and chat with the friendly and super-helpful Penelope at the front desk when I find myself irresistibly drawn to the sun-drenched, lush green expanse of parkland, adorned with giant, ancient oak trees.
A refreshing dip in the azure blue, sparkling swimming pool provides some much-needed rejuvenation, just as a leisurely stroll through the vineyards does. Nature is pirouetting in its vibrant colours here.
Even within the Casa, one is irresistibly drawn to the quirky artworks, gently popping a vinyl record onto the turntable and teleporting into another magical world until well past the honeyed hours of the night. Only to return to pad in my pyjamas to the kitchen to open the fridge bursting with complimentary homemade snacks, a quinoa, broccoli and salami salad, and bottles of local Lambrusco wine. A workout in The Playground, with gym equipment scattered amid Bottura’s beloved art and car collections, is a must.
“This is how we separate ourselves from other hoteliers and bed & breakfasts,” Lara explains. “There is a transparency and invitational spirit that fosters a sense of togetherness between the staff members and guests. The opportunity to mingle and engage in communal conversations nurtures enduring bonds and lasting relationships between the casa and our guests.” Truly special!
Savouring life’s finest flavours
The gastronomic journey commences right here in my high-ceilinged, elegant room. Under a tiny, glass dome are jagged shards of 30-month-aged Parmigiano Reggiano that make me throw my doctor’s orders out of the window. I taste and sip Italy in Richard Ginori espresso cups with steaming heady espresso in my room. In the moody blue bar, complimentary whiskies and gins extend a heady invitation. Bursting with tradition, robust flavours and the goodness of centuries of Emilian gastronomic traditions, the exceptionally talented and graceful head chef Jessica Rosval and team ensure that the Casa breakfast is unsurpassed. Spinach and herb tarts, chocolate cakes, cotechino (slow-cooked pork sausage) drizzled with balsamic vinegar zabaglione, almond cakes, all laid out on a long table. The breakfast room, transformed from a carriage house, features Damien Hirst’s ‘The Last Supper’ prints adorning the walls, inviting guests to gather around communal tables.
As for dinner: here’s a gourmet insider’s tip. The best restaurant in the world, Osteria Francescana, in Modena, Italy, has only 12 tables— and it’s tough to get a booking as there’s a 30,000-person waiting list. However, if you stay at the Casa, you can book for a nine-course seasonal tasting menu and dining experience with signature dishes from the Osteria Francescana, a two-time winner of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
For another exceptional dining experience, consider a visit to Al Gatto Verde (The Green Cat), the new intriguingly-named establishment that’s already gaining global recognition. This addition from Casa Maria Luigia utilises wood-fired ovens to craft incredibly unique and tantalising dishes. The concept of Al Gatto Verde originated from the celebration of the past three years of Tòla Dòlza, a Sunday wood-fired feast (not barbecue!) centred around the flavours and aromas emanating from the wood-burning oven. “The challenge is to elevate the essence of fire and all its associated elements—heat, smoke, and grilling,” explains Rosval, a Canadian native.
You can also choose to dine at the Cavallino, a reimagining of the iconic Enzo Ferrari restaurant by Massimo, which is a short drive away. Embark on a culinary adventure by learning to craft tortellini at the Tortellante, a project run by the couple and a group of women from Modena who teach young individuals with autism the opportunity to work with fresh pasta. To savour local flavours, visit Massimo’s Franceschetta 58; unlike its high-end counterpart, this is an affordable and accessible lunch spot perfect for midday dining (it is also open for dinner). I’d been blown away when I dined at the triple Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana some years ago, so I decided to skip it on this trip. Having tasted all of maestro Massimo’s masterpieces, it’s a must to take a short drive to the home of my other hero, Pavarotti, and listen to the resounding O Sole Mio! My cup runneth over with joy!
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s December 2023 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!