San Damaso, Italy

Photo: Casa Maria Luigia

Osteria Francescana is one of the hardest dinner reservations in the world to secure. The little Italian restaurant has only 12 tables. Its chef, Massimo Bottura, is considered a magician for turning local produce and traditional dishes into exciting, 12-course tasting menus. Every award imaginable, including three Michelin stars and the top spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, followed. Global foodies now book trips to Modena after they receive a dinner confirmation.

All hope is not lost. As of last spring, there’s a new way to eat one of Chef Bottura’s meals. Francescana at Maria Luigia is in San Damaso, a small Emilian town that lies 20 minutes outside of Modena. It’s set in a converted Carriage House that features an open kitchen, a Damien Hirst collection, and three communal tables. Nine courses, instead of the usual 12, are served during the single seating each night. The meal includes the same signature dishes, the same thoughtfully selected beverage pairings, and the same access to either the chef or his head chef.

The elaborate meal is only part of the experience, though. To make a reservation for this dinner in the countryside, you have to be a guest at Casa Maria Luigia. Chef Bottura and Lara Gilmore, his American-born wife, bought the 12-acre property as a space for friends and guests of Osteria Francescana. They restored the 18th-century manor house’s cream facade, green shutters, and wooden doors. They decorated the interior with contemporary art and vintage furniture. Then they filled it with delicious food.

Photo: Casa Maria Luigia

Lambrusco and a chunk of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano are welcome amenities in the 12 rooms. Complimentary minibars are stocked with mineral water and Italian soft drinks. Lavazza coffee is brewed in in-room espresso machines. The cozy cocktail lounge features an honesty bar. The family-style kitchen is set up for grazing on salads and freshly made ricotta throughout the day. Chilled beverages, including plenty of wine, are in there, too. Plus a wood-burning oven and extensive vegetable gardens are outside near the pool and the tennis court.

A hearty breakfast is also served each morning. This time of day, the Carriage House is flooded with sunlight. Freshly baked bread and cake, wood-fired focaccia, pork sausage, and roasted vegetables are set out on the wooden tables. There’s ML Mille Fiori Honey and lots of cheese, too. Plus you have a view of the surrounding Po Valley, a food mecca famous for its balsamic vinegar, Lambrusco wine, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Casa Maria Luigia smells heavenly. All of its food is indeed delectable. You have the opportunity to spend more time with the famous chef. Plus reservations are, at least for now, easier to obtain than they are for the original restaurant. Could this be your first trip of the new year?


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