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Independent Minds: Marie & Annica Eklund, Villa La Madonna

Bringing the best of Scandinavian style to old-school Italian glamour, the concept of ‘slow living’ comes naturally to these impossibly chic Swedish sisters, Marie and Annica Eklund, along with trendy Stockholm-based daughter Linn, a flourishing fashion content creator. A passion for design and an impeccable eye for detail clearly runs in the family, whose combined creative efforts have made Villa La Madonna a true labour of love.

Image credit (right): @linneklund

Originally from Sweden, Marie’s story begins in South Africa where she met her late husband, Björn, whose family estate would later become their wedding venue and eventually her Italian home. Villa La Madonna, a timeless country house overlooking the Bormida Valley, is a place of great personal importance to its owners, where many memories have been made over the years. After establishing a successful textiles and flooring company, the call of the Piedmont countryside was too strong for Marie to resist, who returned with photographer and Creative Director Annica to restore the villa to its former glory, and look after the family legacy.

Cultivating the 16th-century vineyards has brought a sense of peace to Marie following her loss, while allowing both sisters to instil their own personalites, creativity, and what they like to call “casual luxury” within the already storied property. By projecting their sisterly serenity, time stands still at Villa La Madonna, where guests can experience the simple life of rural north-western Italy.

What was the inspiration behind the hotel, and where do you continue to find sources of inspiration?

The story began on a South African train in 1995. I was sat in one of the cabins. In another, sat a man who would, four years later, become my husband. We were married at Björn’s estate – Villa La Madonna – with the Bormida Valley as the breath-taking backdrop. Over the next ten years, the vineyard flourished, and Villa La Madonna in its guise as a simple, basic hotel was always full of enthusiastic guests.

In 2008 we decided to separate, the property was sold, and I moved back to Sweden to focus my love and energy on our family company BOLON. Tough economic times followed in Italy, visitors to Villa La Madonna became ever fewer, and the former glory days seemed to be extending further away as the new owners failed to keep up with the necessary renovations. When Björn passed away in 2014, I found out that Villa La Madonna was once again searching for new ownership.

I then felt a yearning to go back there. If for nothing else, for the sake of my children and to safeguard what their father had created in his 25 years at the vineyard. I booked the tickets and I was soon breezing along the gravel roads that wind through the many small local villages, this time with my sister Annica by my side. Returning to Piedmont was, in many ways, a return home. The people who had been in my life back in that other time were still there, as were the winding grapevines, the wonderful Piedmontese food and the gentle peaks on the horizon. The comfort and peace sowed a seed of an idea in us. To restore and refine the vineyard and help it find its way back to what it once was, fulfilling the potential of what it could become.

So Villa La Madonna for us is something special and close to our hearts, and we want our Italian home to be the home to all our guests and visitors.

What does being ‘Independently Minded’ as an hotel owner mean to you?

For us, as creative minds we believe it’s important with the freedom to be able to create the best possible hotel experience. We have the possibility to make changes quickly, we do not have to adapt to certain concepts and regalements. For a customer that is looking for a personal experience, a hotel with a story to tell, then Villa La Madonna is the right choice. We have put our heart and soul into our family run hotel, and our passion for design and details reflects the whole feeling of our hotel.

How would you describe your own perfect luxury experience?

When we arrive at a place that is genuine, we feel at ease and get inspired. What creates a real experience is the small details that are unexpected or just on a level that makes us say “wow”. Luxury is not about having the most expensive interior and details, it’s all about giving the guest an experience by making them feel something. It’s often the ones with real passion and love for what they do.

If you only had 24 hours to get a taste for your hotel experience, what would you recommend a guest must do?

Start a perfect day at Villa La Madonna by waking up to see the sunrise – make sure to view it from your own terrace to see the sun make its way over the vines. There is a special light here in the morning you can’t see anywhere else. It’s truly mesmerising when the sun and fog meet.

Before breakfast, either start the morning with a yoga class in our own yoga studio with beautiful views over the vineyard, or head for a refreshing powerwalk around the grounds. After the activities, then it’s time to head down to the piazza and have a cappuccino and enjoy a long breakfast.

Post breakfast, spend a couple of hours by the pool in the shade or sunshine, enjoying a book or a nice swim. The pool is in a truly special location, surrounded by rows upon rows of vines.

Head back to the piazza for a Piedmontese lunch, enjoying a glass of our own rosé wine or Spumante to complement the Vitello Tonnato dish.

During the afternoon, treat yourself with a relaxing massage before it’s time for aperitivo o’clock at the piazza. We suggest you drink a classic Aperol Spritz and enjoy our local wine farmer turned opera singer, Mario performing his favourite serenade, O’ Sole Mio.

An absolute must during a stay is of course to have a wine tasting in our impressive wine cellar with our talented sommelier and wine director Josh, before you have dinner in the restaurant. For dinner, you must try any of La Mama’s pasta dishes, especially the ones with truffle. We serve black truffle all year and white during the season. Our Agnolotti Al Sugo D’arrosto is the perfect choice when choosing the Primi courses on our menu, and of course you should drink a glass of Barolo when you are in Piedmont.

We recommend everyone to explore the surrounding area – Piedmont is beautiful from all parts and the views are spectacular. If you have time, visit the famous Barolo district to discover more about one of the world’s most famous wines.

How do you think your hotel stands apart from other boutique hotels?

We have a one-of-a-kind atmosphere and a very relaxing ambiance. We love to describe it as a casual luxury. Our guests enjoy outstanding, friendly family service, and genuinely feel at home while being away. At Villa La Madonna, it’s almost as though time doesn’t exist.