Explore Modena, Italy with Chef Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore: Insider Interview

Covering the fertile hills that lie between the wetlands of the Veneto and Tuscany’s golden pastures, the region of Emilia-Romagna is one of Italy's most fascinating—especially for foodies and fans of Formula 1. As the birthplace of tortellini, Prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano—as well as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Ducati—Emilia-Romagna is known as both the "Food Valley" and the "Motor Valley" of Italy. This October, our Insider Journeys group trips program will be heading to Modena, one of the region's largest cities (alongside Bologna and Parma), in the company of Modena native and world-famous master chef Massimo Bottura and his wife and business partner, Lara Gilmore. While based at their luxe guest house Casa Maria Luigia (offering an Ett Hem-like experience in an idyllic Italian countryside setting), guests of our upcoming trip will dive into Bottura’s philosophy of "Slow Food, Fast Cars," with private access to the Lamborghini museums, a look at one of the best Maserati race car collections in the world and behind-the-scenes tours of three of Massimo’s restaurants. Plus: You’ll get a first look at Casa Maria Luigia’s new annex—and the latest restaurant from Massimo.

Learn more about the highlights of the trip, Modena’s unique role in Italian cuisine—and why it should be on your travel wish list—and other tips and news from Massimo and Lara in an exclusive interview below.

Click here to join our Insider Journey to Modena with Massimo Bottura, taking place October 24 – 28, 2023. To learn more, listen to this interview with Massimo and Melissa Biggs Bradley for the Indagare Passport to Everywhere Podcast on SiriusXM.

Last year, you led inaugural Insider Journeys to Modena (two back-to-back trips, that both sold out!). What was the experience like?

Lara Gilmore:

"A few years ago, we found a country home for weekends, a place where we could go to get away from it all—but not too far away. It became a place to welcome guests to the breadbasket of Italy, a 15-minute drive from downtown Modena. At Casa Maria Luigia, we invite guests to discover the incredible treasures of the area, from the gastronomy to the landscape—the local wines, cheeses and cultural attractions. There is so much natural beauty in this corner of the world, and it is a pleasure to share all that we love about Modena through Casa Maria Luigia. Emilia-Romagna has such diverse landscapes, from the Adriatic Sea to the Apennine Mountains heading over to Tuscany. In the middle, large, flat agricultural plains are divided by the Po River. The region offers an astounding quantity and quality of culinary and enological ingredients. Modena is a friendly place with earnest and hard-working people. Modena is also the center of car culture, and in fact it is called 'Motor Valley,' for the production of luxury cars and race cars such as Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Pagani, and Dalara (from Parma). The unusual combination of Slow Food and Fast Cars is the heart and soul of Modena."

“Being in the market with Massimo, and just being on his ride in general, was surreal. Also being able to eat at Osteria Francescana with a private group was a “pinch me” moment… Oh, and breakfast…” — A Traveler on our 2022 Insider Journey to Modena

The theme of our trip is "Slow Food, Fast Cars." Can you tell us a bit more about what this idea means to you?

Massimo Bottura: "I was born in Modena, located in the center of Emilia-Romagna. It’s the area where Balsamic vinegar and Parmigiano-Reggiano have been produced for the past 500 years. It defines who I am and where I come from, as a person and as a chef. For me, cuisine is the expression of the territory. In Modena, this translates into the incredibly rich variety of ingredients, artisanal techniques, culinary traditions and family rites, as well as the centrality of time. Modena is not simply my hometown, not only the city where I was born and where I grew up. Modena is the city where I chose to live and work. Modena is my imagination, my past and my future, and one of the most important sources of inspiration for my dishes.""I always define Modena as the stage on which the contradiction of Slow Food and Fast Cars comes to life every day, translating into very long aging and fermentation processes, in the Balsamic vinegar resting for decades in barrels alongside which faster-than-light cars whiz by. The Romans would say festina lente: to hurry slowly. I have always embraced this contradiction as a part of who I am, my personal and culinary identity. Slow Food is about the aging process of some of our most iconic artisanal products such as Balsamic vinegar. Fast Cars is not only about the iconic brands that have historically been made here in Modena, but also really a story about the drive to innovate. A fast ride that came out of this little area of Northern Italy, where the obsession for speed, dynamism, and breaking records became part of the collective DNA. As a chef, the two elements slow and fast come together in my kitchen, where we respect ingredients and their culinary history but move them forward to see them from a contemporary viewpoint. Moving forward Italian cuisine has not been easy, because no one wants it to change (ever!), and yet that is what I do best, pushing the recipes into the future to give them more future. Tradition meets innovation. Speed meets slowness. Constantly. It’s a harmonious contrast that has always existed. It’s what makes Modena and Emilia-Romagna such a unique place."
“It was life-changing. I loved the intimacy and quality time with Massimo and Lara.” — A Traveler on our 2022 Insider Journey to Modena

Your boutique hotel, Casa Maria Luigia, will be turning four this summer. How has your vision for the property evolved throughout these early years?

Lara Gilmore: "When Casa Maria Luigia opened, we discovered another side of hospitality: not just taking care of guests for a meal, but for 24 hours or more. Here, we share our time, our passions and our love of food and nature, books and ideas, and community with our guests. I work from Casa Maria Luigia every day. Most of all, I love sharing and talking to our guests about the region, my favorite shops, activities, my cycle routes, the garden and my favorite vinyl records.  This exchange is spontaneous and serendipitous. Actually, Casa Maria Luigia is a place for magical encounters between us and our guests, as well as for our guests to make unexpected acquaintances."
“This was a special trip and exceeded expectations. The capsule of those few days was filled with spectacular food, fun people, exciting locations and a contagious energy. It was a gift to be with Massimo and Lara so much.” — A Traveler on our 2022 Insider Journey to Modena

How has travel inspired and informed your work as culinary and hospitality entrepreneurs?

Massimo Bottura: "It is very important for me, as a chef, to have the possibility to discover new places and cultures. I always suggest to the young chefs who come to work in our restaurants to travel, physically but also mentally. It is so important to fill one’s suitcase with culture, books, music, literature and art, travels and then, kitchen experience. Travel the world, eat everything, know everything, then forget everything. Go back to where you came from, and dig as deep as they can into your culture to understand who you are and where you come from. At that point you can start creating."Lara Gilmore: "Since purchasing Casa Maria Luigia, I see the world with fresh eyes and am always observing the different forms of hospitality. What I love most is a welcoming place with many options for relaxing, socializing, dining and napping, with wonderful smells, sounds and natural light. Travel informs everything we do, but when we are home, we are here sharing time with our guests and listening to them. We learn so much by asking questions, being curious, and experimenting with new formats."
“The highlight was the time with Massimo and Lara—visiting the market with Massimo and visiting Tortellante with Lara. I could never have experienced this without Indagare.” — A Traveler on our 2022 Insider Journey to Modena
Click here to join our Insider Journey to Modena with Massimo Bottura, taking place October 24 – 28, 2023.

Can you tell us more about your partnership with Gucci?

Massimo Bottura: "There are four Gucci Osterias around the world: Firenze, Beverly Hills, Tokyo and Seoul. They are all part of the Francescana Family in that they share our culinary philosophy. The way Gucci approaches fashion is the same in which we approach cuisine. We look at the past in a critical way, not a nostalgic one, to bring the best of the past into the future. We share a vision and a passion for quality, creativity and beauty, which drives us to pursue the highest form of expression—and that makes us want to do more together.""Still, each Gucci Osteria has its own narrative and identity, which is very much linked to the cultural heritage of the city where it is located. All of them are Osterias because they are casual dining spaces, offering all-day dining, and an array of dishes. Gucci Osteria in Florence is located inside Gucci Garden which sits in the Piazza della Signoria, one of the most famous cities in the world. There, co-executive chefs Karime Lopez and Takahiko Kondo create menus that reflect Florence’s long history of hosting travelers from around the world. It is a kitchen that pays culinary homage to Asian, North and South American and European influences. At Gucci Osteria in Beverly Hills, head chef Mattia Agazzi, from Bergamo in the north of Italy, celebrates the Los Angeles culinary scene while reimagining local flavors with an Italian twist. In a similar fashion, at Gucci Osteria Tokyo, chef Antonio Iacoviello, from Benevento in the south of Italy, embraces Japanese food culture, with its produce and its traditions to give guests a unique dining experience that will incorporate the identity of its location. There is an invisible thread that runs through each of the Gucci Osterias globally: one that entwines Italian food with the food and produce of other great global cuisines, in a playful and elegant way. Korea—like Italy—embraces its food as part of its culture, and I’m so excited for Gucci Osteria Seoul to be finally open!"

Do you have any other new projects that you are excited about?

Lara Gilmore: "It has been a busy year and is an exciting time for Casa Maria Luigia. We recently renovated our neighbors Acetaia from 1969 and renamed it Acetaia Maria Luigia, where we have over 1,300 barrels of Extra Old Traditional Balsamic vinegar as well as Villa Manodori Balsamic vinegar. In September, we will be adding another restaurant to the property with country-style cooking over an open fire and in our wood burning oven to complete the experience. In November, we will be publishing Slow Food Fast Cars: Stories and Recipes from Casa Maria Luigia with Phaidon."

In your new book, what can readers can expect to discover? 

Lara Gilmore: "This will be the third book we publish with Phaidon. It is a collection of stories and recipes from the Maria Luigia kitchen. The stories are told through the objects in the house and on the property. Every object, art or design piece, even the colors that we chose, carry a story and meaning. That is what hospitality means to us: it’s not just about checking someone into a room or serving them dinner in the evening; it is about sharing a part of our story and our history with the guests and transmitting the personal and authentic to them. This is what the book will be about.""We talk about everything from the green shutters to the red door in the vegetable garden. The behind-the-scenes of hanging the lego Ai WeiWei and the storm last August that destroyed the large weeping willow tree. There are lots of stories—and all of our breakfast treats, in the form of recipes."

Any restaurants, boutiques, stores or markets that you always make time for in Modena?

Massimo Bottura: Some of my favorite places in downtown Modena are the Mercato Albinelli, a covered fruit and vegetable market built in the 1920s and set in the heart of the city, just behind Piazza Grande square which features the Town Hall, and the 11th-century Romanesque cathedral and the bell tower also known at La Ghirlandina. The market sells fruits and vegetables as well as meat, fish, pasta, dairy products and has several stalls with food vendors and tables for dining inside the market. One of the best sandwich shops in town is called Bar Schiavoni and has tables set up outside the market. It is a tiny place run by two sisters who make unique sandwiches like cotechino and salsa verde or sausage and broccoli rabe on freshly toasted bread. Accompanied with a glass of local Lambrusco wine, nothing could be better for an alfresco lunch in town. Otherwise another favorite in town is Ristretto, a casual wine bar and restaurant with a fabulous kitchen and very informed staff on the littlest side street with a view of the Duomo cathedral. It may sound ‘un-Italian,’ but the pastrami sandwich at Ristretto is fabulous, even perhaps better than the original New York version!"Lara Gilmore: "For restaurants, perhaps Trattoria Bianca? For shops: Vacchetta Grassa (leather store), Spoon (clothing), Mon Cafe (coffee shop and restaurant), Closer (clothing store) and the Emilio Mazzoli Gallery with contemporary exhibitions."

Must-have items in your carry-on?

Lara Gilmore: "I travel light with a Rimova trolly covered in stickers. I always have my laptop, a book, a basic dark blue and bright red sweater, a comfy pair of Gucci velvet loafers (my favorite are electric blue), a pair of jeans, and a light jacket. I try to depart with a half empty suitcase to buy unique things to bring back home."

Do you have a favorite recent travel memory or discovery?

Lara Gilmore: "We were in Merida, Mexico in November for the two-year anniversary of Refettorio Mérida. It wasn’t all relaxation and vacation—we actually worked pretty hard—but it was fantastic to see just how much good work they are doing everyday to reduce food waste and address social isolation. Our not-for-profit Food for Soul is expanding in so many places. Our next travel itineraries are based on visiting all of the Refettorios from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia. More fun, more traveling ahead. Lucky us!"

How would you describe your current "travel outlook" or philosophy?

Lara Gilmore: "Travel where you can have a positive impact on a local community. Find a place to volunteer, lend a hand, get to know the culture and community intimately. You can always rest and relax at home. When we are traveling, we are out and about, trying to understand the world and how we can act with agency and conscience.""The invitation is open to experience the Emilian countryside."Click here to join our Insider Journey to Modena with Massimo Bottura, taking place October 24 – 28, 2023. Hungry for more? Explore our other expert-hosted Journeys to Italy this fall, including: hiking and eating your way through the Dolomites with Elise Bronzo; exploring Florence through the eyes of Pucci with Melissa Biggs Bradley; a deep-dive into Sicily’s archaeology and unique spirit with Jamie Sewell; a tour of Milan’s fashion and art scenes with Vogue; and a taste of Puglia with Ryan Hardy.

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