Lux Lucis is Latin and means the light of the light. With floor-to-ceiling windows that enable breathtaking views over the Apuan Alps and the Tyrrhenian Sea, light is always present in abundance in this amazing restaurant which is situated on the top floor of luxury Hotel Principe in the mundane Fortei Dei Marmi in Italy. The best local products are combined with influences from all over the world and translated in a free expression of Italian cuisine. A delectable expression in which the territory is reflected and enhanced by endless elements of creativity. Forte Dei Marmi is on the bucket list of the rich and the famous. Lux Lucis should be on the bucket list of those searching for culinary indulgence in a unique environment.
Concept & Location
Lux Lucis restaurant is located on the top floor of Hotel Principe in Forte Dei Marmi. Forte Dei Marmi is a well-known summer destination for luxury tourism in Tuscany, near the Tyrrhenian Sea and south of the gorgeous Cinque Terra region. The famous marble caves of Carrara are not far away from the village and this marble used to be transported all over the world from in the harbor of Forte Dei Marmi. A fortress built around 1700, that was made of that kind of marble, gave the small village its name. The entire town has a charming, calm and relaxed atmosphere and there are almost no cars to be seen. If you walk around, very fast you will be astonished by the many beautiful, exclusive villa’s, and it is hard to omit that Forte Dei Marmi is a playground for the rich and famous. All the famous, luxury designer brands have their stores in the center of the town, but who is looking for bargains can head to Piazza Marconi on Wednesdays, where designer clothes are sold at attractive prices during the weekly market. The beaches are splendid and a long pier enables fantastic walks which are a dream come true for who wants to admire and smell the blue sea. Not far from the pier you can also find the oldest club of Italy, La Capannina. Just next door of La Capannina, Hotel Principe has its high-end beach club and incredible beach restaurant Dalmazia, also headed by Chef Cassanelli.
Just a few blocks away from the beach, you will find Hotel Principe. The five-star hotel has twenty-eight rooms and stands out in the neighborhood by its modern luxury look. The lobby of the hotel is bathing in light thanks to huge windows that are all around. The white furnishings and the luxury sofa’s and coffee tables exhale elegance and class. Throughout the property, the art of Korean artist Park Eun Sun contributes to the unique look of this resort. We take an elevator in the lobby and press button number four. Once the door opens, we walk straight into 67 Sky Lounge, the bar of the hotel. With its unique location on the top floor of the hotel, and situated on the side where the sea is, this is the perfect place to enjoy incredible sunsets before diner. The team of 67 Sky Lounge is creating the most delectable cocktails and spending some time here before you head to the restaurant on the other side of this same floor, is pure indulgence.
On the way from the bar to the restaurant, you walk across the open kitchen which is the territory of chef Valentino Cassanelli and his team. Trough the floor-to-ceiling windows of the restaurant, you can enjoy panoramic views over the town’s impressive stone pines and over the Apuan Alps. The restaurant has twenty-four seats and with their bright yellow color, together with the amazing sculptures of Park Eun Sun, they characterize the look of the dining room. The Galileo Galilei Airport of Pisa is thirty minutes away by car. From the Amerigo Vespucci Airport of Florence, the hotel can be reached in sixty minutes. The Querceta train station is about six kilometers from the hotel.
The Chef & the team
Behind the stove of Lux Lucis, we find humble chef Valentino Cassanelli. As often with grand chefs, also Cassanelli was inspired to step into this profession by his grandmother. He was born in Modena and grew up in Spilamberto, a small village which is the birth place of balsamic vinegar. Food was very important for the family and the young Valentino loved watching his grandmother when she came to the house on Sunday to cook. She prepared the most wonderful lasagnas, ragouts and broths for the tortellini and that made a huge impression on him. On weekdays his parents were always very busy with work and there was not much time to enjoy life. Weekends were very different. On Sundays the whole family came together around great food and that made all of them very happy. During his youth, food meant happiness and that feeling connected Valentino to food for the rest of his life. It would also inspire him to become a professional chef.
At the age of fourteen, Cassanelli went to culinary school Serra Mazzoni. Staying overnight in the school, forced him to manage his own life already from a very young age. It was not always easy, but it helped him to become independent and professional, something which would be very valuable in his further career. At the age of sixteen, he had the opportunity to go to London for an internship in restaurant Floriana, just behind Harrods in Knightsbridge. Floriana was an Italian restaurant with an inspiring chef and the time that he spent there clearly left a strong impression on the young, aspiring chef. When he left catering school at the age of seventeen, he started working in a small restaurant near Modena but he only stayed for one year. He missed his life in the big city and decided to move back to London at the age of eighteen. First stop was restaurant Mosaic in Bond Street, where he would stay for one year. After Mosaic, he got the opportunity to join the kitchen brigade of Locanda Locatelli as demi chef in the pasta section. There he discovered the love for products but also how life in a large brigade is. Before joining Locatelli, he was used to work in kitchens with three or four people, but suddenly he became part of a team of fourteen.
Something which made a strong impression on the young chef. After one year in Locanda Locatelli, he joined Nobu of famous chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa. Even though he only stayed there for one year, this period had a significant influence on the chef he is today. Fusion might not be the exact term to describe how he is cooking in Lux Lucis, but the main ingredient is always from around the restaurant, while the aroma and spices or the method of cooking is coming from around the world. That is an approach that he learned in Nobu. Apart from what he learned from a culinary perspective, he also had to get used to living alone in a big city far away from his family and friends. Something which impacted the human being behind the chef, and which also still has influence on how he is cooking and working today.
After one year in Nobu, Valentino decided it was time to go back to Italy. He sent one CV and that was to Ristorante Cracco in Milan. In his belief, Carlo Cracco was the most creative chef in Italy at that time and he was convinced it would be the perfect next step in his career to work with him. Fifteen minutes after he had sent his resume, the sous-chef of Ristorante Cracco called him and they made an appointment. Cassanelli first traveled for two months in Mexico and when he returned to Italy he did the interview in Milan and one week later he joined the eponymous restaurant, where he would stay for three years. Ristorante Cracco had two Michelin stars and the chef had strong impact on Valentino. He started as a chef de partie, did all the sections and eventually came out as a junior sous-chef. He also got the opportunity to travel around the world with Cracco to congresses and events. This created a special connection between the two chefs. A connection that would change Valentino’s life later.
More and more, Cassanelli started to believe it was time to open his own restaurant. He left Cracco and together with a friend, he started a small restaurant in Venice. But Carlo Cracco did not forget his disciple. After one and a half years, Valentino got a call from Cracco. Chef Carlo was involved in the startup of the restaurant of the brand new Hotel Principe but this was temporary, and he knew the hotel wanted to engage a full time executive chef. He was convinced that Valentino was the right person. In February 2012 Cassanelli joined the team of Hotel Principe and on May 12th of that same year, Lux Lucis was opened. At that time, the restaurant was at the main floor near the pool. After three years, in the summer of 2015, Valentino decided to move the restaurant to the rooftop. There was no professional kitchen, only a little grill which was used for BBQ. He added one fridge and one induction system and they started cooking. From that moment the restaurant changed completely. Immediately it started attracting many guests and the restaurant was full for every service. And not only the guests recognized the magic of what was happening on the roof of Hotel Principe. End of 2016, the restaurant was awarded a first Michelin Star. This was the trigger for the owner of the building and for the CEO of the company to approve the project to install a professional kitchen. This was the real start of Lux Lucis as it is today. The chef is surrounded in his kitchen by a team of seven people. One member has his roots in Bangladesh, and another member is from Portugal. The rest of the team are all Italians.
The cooking style of Cassanelli can best be described as a free expression of Italian cuisine. Even though he is curious and keeps exploring how other important chefs around the world work, he prefers to remain free of mind and he avoids to be influenced too much by what others are doing. He considers his cooking style to be an expression of himself and that does not leave much room for external influences. Like every musician composes different music with music notes at their disposal, the same is valid for every chef in his view. Valentino is clearly proud to be Italian and aims at representing his country in the dishes he creates. The base is always traditional Italian, with the well-known typical flavors, but he tries to permeate his own personality into every dish. One could call it a contemporary expression of traditional Italian cuisine, where local products are infused with many ingredients and cooking techniques from around the globe. The goal of every dish is the same : creating happiness for the guests. Valentino aims at recreating that wonderful and happy family feeling that inspired him to become a chef.
The most important products he is cooking with, he sources locally. And in this case, locally is often very close to the hotel. He works with fisherman from Liguria to Livorno, sources meat just behind the hotel and pigeon from less than hundred kilometers away. He works with biodynamic vegetables from a supplier who has his farm only a few kilometers from the hotel. This is a unique collaboration that originated in the always ongoing search of Hotel Principe to work as sustainable as possible. The hotel is investing money in the business of this supplier, and as such is closely involved in the production process of the vegetables they serve. The organic trash of the restaurant goes back to this farm and is used to nourish the ground. In this way, they are completely closing the loop. Sustainability is always an important criterium in the selection of suppliers for Lux Lucis and Hotel Principe, also when these suppliers are located outside of Italy. Who cannot meet certain upfront specified conditions, is not retained. Cassanelli and the management of the hotel are convinced that such an approach is better for the guests and the hotel, and for nature obviously, but also for the suppliers themselves. It motivates them to go the extra mile for sustainability, something which will also have a positive effect on their own business in the future. Some of the dishes we tried :
- Raw local shrimp, memory of cacciucco soup ravioli
- Mezze maniche pasta with tamarind and sea snails alla marinara
- Mediterranean grilled black fish
- Pigeon matured with sea and reef herbs
- Bread and…tomato, chocolate and lard
During the creation of new dishes, Valentino always aims at telling a story, often referring back to his own youth. The starting point is the theme of the menu he wants to build. Then he considers which product from the region fits well in that theme. Once the main product is identified, a thought process is starting, determining which techniques and garnishes could fit best. In this manner, he creates eighty percent of the dish, before even walking into a kitchen. Before cooking, he also starts sharing the idea of the dish with the team, with the General Manager, with the sommelier and also with his wife. Based on their reactions, he refines the concept and only then he starts cooking. An important element of that creative process is also the plating style. Esthetical plating is important for the chef, who is convinced that people need beauty in their lives and that this is one of the important reasons why they go to fine dining restaurants. The unique cooking style of Valentino Cassanelli in Lux Lucis has also been awarded with one Michelin Star.
Service & Wine
The service team of Lux Lucis consists out of seven people. On top of that there is a team of six running the bar which is just in front of the restaurant. The team, which is mainly Italian, delivers a service which is professional and very attentive. During our visit, the service was simply flawless and pleasant at all times. One could call it slightly formal, but without getting stiff. Lux Lucis is part of a small, local five-star hotel and that is reflected in the kind of service they are delivering in the restaurant.
An absolute superstar of restaurant Lux Lucis is sommelier Sokol Ndreko. Ndreko does not get to taste the dishes of Cassanelli during the creation phase. Based on an explanation by the chef of which story he wants to transmit with a new creation and a summary of the products that will be used, Sokol makes a shortlist of a few wines that could perfectly pair with the dish. These wines are then tasted in combination with the food and the best one is selected. This leads to a unique pairing, which was absolutely spot on during our visit. One of the absolute highlights was the moment when Ndreko paired the pigeon dish with Rkatsiteli Tsarapi from Our Wine, an amber white wine with an unconventional aromatic profile which worked in a wonderful way with the meat. But also Sidre Brut of Eric Bordelet, Bourgogne Côte-D’or of Philippe Bouzereau and a Sancerre of Pascal Jolivet, among others, did exactly what they were supposed to. The cellar of Lux Lucis has 800 labels, of which the majority is Italian. They have a strong focus on sparkling wines and offer more than one hundred of them. Wine is served in the traditional way where the sommelier puts wine in every glass to infuse the smell in the glassware before pouring it. A beautiful ritual, which is not seen often anymore nowadays.
Forte Dei Marmi is a gorgeous small village near the beautiful Tyrrhenian Sea. If you like the atmosphere of luxury destinations such as Monaco or Saint-Tropez, we are convinced you will also immediately fall in love with this little town in Italy. Hotel Principe fits in a perfect manner in that upscale atmosphere. On the top floor of this unique property, you have breathtaking views over the mountains one on side and the sea on the other side. While you enjoy the beautiful surroundings, you can indulge in the delectable food of Valentino Cassanelli. Authentic Italian flavors created with the best local products and enhanced with influences and techniques from across the globe, in combination with the surprising wine pairing of sommelier Ndreko, will turn your visit to Lux Lucis into a memory for a lifetime.
Hotel Principe Forte Dei Marmi
Viale Ammiraglio Morin 67
55042 Forte dei Marmi (Lucca)