A Wonderwood Life
WHEN MASSIMILIANO FREDDI SPENT HIS CHILDHOOD HOLIDAYS at his great-grandmother’s home at Lake Maggiore, Italy, there was only one thing missing: an amusement park. As fate would have it, he ended up being the one to open the park he had dreamed of.
In 2018, Freddi and his husband Sebastian Nicolai made plans to convert a house in the area into a bed-and-breakfast. After talking to the mayor, they learned that the municipality was searching for a tenant for a restaurant above Lake Maggiore that had been destroyed by fire.
“Jokingly, we said, ‘We could be the tenant if you allow us to build a park,’” says Freddi. The mayor and the municipality agreed, and the Wonderwood adventure park was born.
Wonderwood sits on 5,000 square meters in the mountains overlooking Lake Maggiore. Alongside the Grotto Carza restaurant, the rustic-themed park offers four ropes courses for adults and three for children. There’s a 70-meter zip line, a playground, wooden games, and a mini Land Rover Defenders trail. Parents can chill out on deck chairs and order refreshments at the WunderBar. Freddi and Nicolai hope to add a glamping area with a small spa and a Wiegand Alpine Coaster.
What makes Wonderwood special is the sense of belonging it fosters among guests and employees (and even Freddi’s resident pooch, nicknamed “Wonderdog”). Creating an inclusive destination where everyone feels welcome is central to Wonderwood. As the couple sees it, happy kids become positive adults who can change the world.
With Wonderwood, Freddi and Nicolai have created a socially conscious business. The park’s ethos revolves around collaboration, community, responsibility, quality, passion, and sustainability.
The park is free to enter, making it accessible to all. “We want every family in the area to think of Wonderwood as an extension of their own garden, so kids should be able to play for free in the playground. Of course, we have annual passes for the ropes courses,” says Freddi.
When creating an inclusive environment, he believes “people are the solution—and you need to have the right people.” For example, one of Wonderwood’s operators is trained to help children with visual impairments. They have developed a way to give guests with visual impairments the opportunity to try the ropes courses with a dedicated instructor.
The park has turned constraints into opportunities too. Faced with a shortage of restrooms in the original design, the park created gender-neutral toilets. “We write it big and bold on the sign that every toilet is for male self-identifying people, female self-identifying people, transgender people, and people who don’t identify themselves. Everybody appreciates us underlining that,” says Freddi.
He is mindful of the fact that “because we are a place for everybody, we might not be for everybody.” Yet, visitors return again and again, which shows that Wonderwood resonates.
Freddi, whose career has taken him from Disneyland Paris to Leolandia and consultancy, believes in Seth Godin’s altMBA theory (designed for individuals looking to become leaders). He posted the U.S. marketing expert’s mantra, “People like us do things like this,” in the break room for everyone to see. “If we want to be included, we will be inclusive. If we want to be served right, we will serve right. If we want people to smile at us, we will smile more. So far, it has really worked,” he says.
Camaraderie has helped the park retain 98% of its staff in an area that often loses its workforce to Switzerland, where wages are higher. Wonderwood’s “secret weapon” is a rented house where staff can live for the season, providing a campus dorm-like experience.
Last year, Wonderwood switched to a five-day-a-week operation. Employees get Mondays and Tuesdays off, even in peak season. “If our people are fresh and happy, they will welcome guests enthusiastically. I love that they call themselves the Wonderteam,” says Freddi.
He and Nicolai arrange staff excursions and share their business plan with them.
The park supports the surrounding region by acting as a visitor center and backing community initiatives, including The Big Bench Community Project started by designer Chris Bangle (giant benches that make adults feel like children).
Wonderwood’s philosophy revolves around respect. “We respect nature, the guests, the team, and the things we are serving,” says Freddi. At Wonderwood, you’ll find Italian cola, homemade pasta and popsicles, craft beers, and patisserie crafted by rehabilitated ex-prisoners. By supporting local suppliers, “we are also supporting the people that ultimately are our guests,” he says.
A day out at Wonderwood is not about the park, according to Freddi. He says, “It’s about spending time with your family where you feel like the right person in the right place.”