Helen & Mikael

The custodians of Villa La Madonna on running a boutique hotel

Visiting a good hotel is a dream-like experience. However, visiting an excellent hotel can be completely life-changing and present you with a new way of living. Just look at Juniper’s story, where founder Mathilda went on her honeymoon and came back with a brand new dream and company idea. If that is not life-changing, what is?

Villa La Madonna, a Swedish owned boutique hotel up in northern Italy, is the product of two families following their dreams. Annica and Marie Eklund bought Villa La Madonna 6 years ago with a vision to turn the old villa into a quiet, luxurious boutique hotel. They wanted their Swedish heritage to permeate the Italian way of living and create the best of both worlds.

Tell us about Villa La Madonna?

Helen & Mikael:

Villa La Madonna is the most beautiful little place, a hotel with 18 unique rooms in the heart of Piedmont, northern Italy. When we give directions, we always say it's close to the ancient Roman city Acqui Terme. The easiest way to get here is to fly to one of the Milano airports or Torino and then take a little drive up the mountains.

Why do people want to come to Villa La Madonna?

Helen & Mikael:

As we are in the countryside, most of our guests like to relax, enjoy the calming effect of the surrounding vineyards, the fantastic Piedmontese food, and, of course, drink Italian wine. However, there is plenty more to do. You can go hiking, biking, or do excursions to Barolo and Alba. Barolo and Alba are two incredibly beautiful places, also famous for their wines and food. In the summertime, many people just come here to relax by the pool and charge their batteries.

What makes Villa La Madonna unique?

Helen & Mikael:

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 service, and genuinely feel at home while being away.

At Villa La Madonna, it’s almost as time doesn’t exist

How did you find your way to Piedmont and the hotel business?

Helen & Mikael:

We are close friends for many years with the owners of the hotel. They convinced us in 2016 to let go of our everyday life in Sweden and move to Italy and run their hotel.

Did you ever dream that this was what you were going to do with your lives?

Helen & Mikael:

No, not really. If someone had told us five years ago that we would live and work in Italy, running a hotel, restaurant, and vineyard with 30 employees, we would have said to them that they were crazy.

Have you experienced any cultural clashes so far?

Helen & Mikael:

Yes, many! The biggest challenge has been to find a balance between managing and coaching the staff in a more Swedish way. We want to take a more Swedish approach but still, do it in a way that will works with the Italian culture, traditions, and, last but not least, temperament and way of thinking. We have had a lot of misunderstandings on the way, including the incredible Italian bureaucracy... Let's just say it's different and old style.

How has 2020 changed your business and mindset?

Helen & Mikael:

It has put things upside down. You realize that even if you have a healthy business, you are incredibly vulnerable if something like a pandemic occurs. We have had to adapt in many ways, for example, more flexibility with cancellations, to work harder with attractive offers, and then, of course, at a personal level, we have become even more humble. The guests have different perspectives on what procedures should be taken depending on where they come from. Guests from countries that have been heavily struck by the pandemic are cautious, while guests from, for example, Sweden act much like before.

Soft sheets and extra fluffy pillows are essential for a good night’s sleep

How do you feel about the future of travel?

Helen & Mikael:

Difficult to say. People will undoubtedly be warier for a while, but we also know how fast people forget about unpleasant things. Most people want to get back to normal life; however, we think a lot will depend on how travel restrictions change and whether the airlines can get back to regular business again.

Describe a perfect day at Villa La Madonna.

Helen & Mikael:

Well, a perfect day at Villa La Madonna to us would be to wake up at sunrise, slip our feet into the fussy Villa La Madonna slippers and get in our robes to watch 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 mesmerizing.

Then we go down to the piazza and have a cappuccino over a good book before taking breakfast in the beautiful dining room. We always go for yogurt with our homemade granola and some pancakes, because, why not?

Post breakfast, it's time to head down to the pool for a couple of hours in the shade, continuing on that book. The heat always makes us forget the lunch hour. But an hour or so past noon, we have scheduled lunch among the vines, so we go to the room, take a shower, and change into something flowy and light. We head over to the lunch table and order Villa La Madonna's famous truffle pasta and a 2018 vintage Barolo from our collaboration with Mauro Molino. Dessert is a perfect affogato with the house's homemade vanilla ice cream; the local wine farmer, gone opera singer, Mario swings by to sing us his favorite serenade Sole Mio.

After a meal like that, we change into our swimsuits again and continue the afternoon by the pool. Hours go by both fast and slow at Villa La Madonna; it's almost like time doesn't exist. It does, however, and after a couple of more hours, it's time to change the pool for the piazza again. It's aperitivo o'clock!

Even though Villa La Madonna is a very laidback establishment, the guests that come to stay with us tend to dress up even if they only go downstairs for dinner. When we get down to the rattan sofas in the piazza, our brilliant head waiter Gregorio comes at us with our favorite aperitivo, his dangerous Negroni, and a platter with some of the best Piedmont has to offer, charcuteries, cheese, and focaccia. As the sun sets over the vines, we move along into the dining room to enjoy a traditional three-course Italian dinner, Primi Piatti, Secondi Piatti e dolce.

Full of pasta, a little burned by the sun, and with Mario's voice still very present in the back of our minds, we crawl in between the incredibly soft sheets and extra fluffy pillows for a good night's sleep before waking up and hit it all on repeat (well almost).

Villa La Madonna's aesthetics are so beautiful. Where does the inspiration come from?

Helen & Mikael:

Not a question for us really, it's more for the owners that set the style and started everything 6 years ago. But it's like a luxury bohemian dream with a lot of Scandinavian and Italian influences. The owners Marie & Annica Eklund, have created their dream place right out of their heads.

What feeling would you like the guests to leave with when departing from the hotel?

Helen & Mikael:

They should be in total harmony, relaxed and happy, and already have started to make up plans for when they can come back. Which a lot of people actually do.

What is good sleep for you?

Helen & Mikael:

Good sleep to us is sleeping in a nice, soft bed with white, freshly fragrant bed linens and the summer breeze coming in from the window. And of course, it is also a bonus if we have a cute dog snoring in between us.