Let’s face it; getting married can be stressful. It’s up there with the big ones; buying a house, changing jobs; starting a family… Getting married abroad therefore, can first appear an additional and avoidable worry. My job as a wedding planner in Italy, however, is to get stressed on behalf of brides, grooms, and sometimes even the whole family, so the wedding and the planning can be enjoyed for what it is, the celebration of a lifetime!
We have become a generation obsessed with location, location, location; the perfect setting, the latest hotspot, the new ultimate destination or the celebrity hideout. Low cost travel and the Internet have made a flight to continental Europe as familiar as booking a train journey, and Italy has it all. What better location to get married than a private island, a fashion designer’s villa or a remote winery with luxury spa, on a hilltop surrounded by sun-drenched vineyards? This beautifully varied peninsular is still a hugely popular and attractive destination for couples wishing to celebrate their “matrimonio” overseas, where the wine is amongst the most well-known in the world, the food is incredible and the flight time from most of Europe allows you to set off in the morning and land in time for a lunchtime plate of fresh pomodoro, basil and garlic tagliatelle and a glass of Chianti.
I still find Italy one of the most beautiful and romantic places in the world so organizing weddings here is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. My job today is as exciting as ever, but it has certainly been a ‘unique’ career move. Behind the glamour, which many people associate with wedding planning, is a role hard to define, where you need to be prepared for, quite literally, anything…and in Italy, you are never short of a challenge.
And so my role becomes balancing the visions of a couple in search of the “Italian dream” with the logistical and practical obstacle course of organizing an event in Italy; turning the road block of donkeys in a rural pass between the church and the venue into a “charming photographic occasion”.
The adventure begins with a trip to a chosen destination to view potential wedding venues, and once on Italian soil, the Mediterranean charm takes over. During the late summer grape harvesting season, or “la vendemmia”, for example, visits to wineries can be noisy and busy, stepping around workers with ladders and trucks, but walking between the chain of crates overflowing with dusty purple bunches of sangiovese grapes, and detecting the distinctive smell of wine-in-the-making is a true insight into the reality of a Tuscan winery, and quite a rare treat for some to witness!
Not dissimilar is walking through a village square, on the way to visit a town hall, and stumbling upon an impromptu “sagra” (local produce fête) where you are absorbed into the rhythm of the musical spirit, quite literally, with an enthusiastic local presenting the groom with a glass of grappa and leading the bride off for a dance!
The second visit back to Italy, once the venue is decided, focuses on tasting the food and wine, a particularly cherished experience! We all know that Italians are markedly talented in the kitchen and are very proud hosts. A menu tasting in the hands of an Italian chef is hence always guaranteed to make you smile….and wish you didn’t have that extra “cornetto” for breakfast. The portions are generous and beautifully presented, and the wine flows…as does the Prosecco…and limoncello. I try to get some decisions from the couples as early on in the tasting as possible, but it isn’t always that easy.
At least the amount of potential surprises as to what will be served is limited here, as the tasting menus are decided well in advance. On several occasions during other trips, however, I find myself having to translate into English a restaurant menu…that has been translated into English. Notably in Siena, reassuring couples that they are not ordering “pigs in belts on walls in Siena” but actually a dish made with pork from a delicious local pig, characterized by its white band around the upper torso!
Eventually dawn breaks on the wedding day, or in most cases, the wedding weekend. The guests are settled into their various accommodations and there is a buzz of excitement in the air. For me, however, there is a buzz of a mosquito in my hair, at 6.30am, as I am trying to rig up fairy lights in a cypress tree. One thing you learn pretty quickly in Italy is never to take a plug at face value. I am used to the UK system of a three-pin plug fitting into a three-pin socket. Just to keep me on my toes, Italy offers not only a three-pin plug, but a two-pin plug….and to make sure I really have had my coffee, they throw in a wide and a narrow type of both plugs…so essentially four different plugs and four different sockets. What are the chances of the matching plug and socket joining in harmony…when you most need them to? Furthermore, what are the chances of finding the right adapter to suit your combination of pins and holes..? Pretty slim I tell you.
Once down from the trees, my day starts with a trip to the local launderette to collect the wedding dress, which has been expertly steamed to perfection. Only on this particular morning I find myself driving down all the one-way streets to avoid a new market, which has sprung up overnight taking over the main square and the entrance to the shop.
Almost 24 hours later I can often find myself back in the very same square, avoiding glances from confused locals, as I proceed to empty the cigarette vending machine of Malboro Lights, in a cocktail dress. Not my favourite part of the job, but preventing the best man getting in his hired Fiat at 3am to go in search of the nearest packet of cigarettes in deepest rural Tuscany, is always advisable, as is making sure I save myself a return trip by buying enough for the other guests when they see me return. True to form however, the trusty DJ is delivering some classic hits to keep them distracted until I reappear with the goods!
Thankfully however, the lasting image of the night is the surprise burst of glittering fireworks from the olive grove, in front of the full moon, lighting up the ink deep cypress peaks against a velvet sky, and of course…those teary eyes of delight!
Useful tips for getting married in Italy:
- When choosing your venue make sure you view both good weather and bad weather options, and if a marquee is involved, is this an extra cost?
- Some venues are very remote so make sure you understand distances from airports and transport options for your guests.
- What are the nearby or onsite restaurant options? Are they within walking distance?
- Always check minimum stay requirements and weekend wedding restrictions; sometimes a mid-week wedding can save you money. Check if they will offer you a discount if you book an extra night.
- Check any local festival calendars to see what’s happening in the nearby villages and town squares that could affect your plans.
- Never order a cappuccino after midday in the morning, and especially after a meal, if you don’t want to be the talk of the town!
- Stock up on enough cigarettes if you are a smoker.
- Hire a good wedding planner who knows the area and the local suppliers, has a good supply of plug adaptors and speaks the language!
- Enjoy yourselves!
Joëlle Edwards is an English event and wedding planner, working in exclusive venues across Italy (www.joellemarie.co.uk). She recently moved to Florence from London after having lived and worked in Switzerland, Palermo and Barcelona. You can reach her at email@example.com