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MARRIAGE

Everything you need to know about planning a wedding in Italy

It's no surprise that Italy, one of the most romantic countries in the world, is a popular choice for destination weddings. But true love never did run smooth - and neither did Italian bureaucracy - so here's everything you should know before you start planning the big day in Italy, according to two experienced wedding planners.

Everything you need to know about planning a wedding in Italy
Imagine getting married in stunning Positano. Photo: Francesco De Tito

“There are plenty of reasons to host your wedding in Italy: a personal connection to the country, the romantic connotations, warm weather, or just the geographical location,” says Bonnie Marie, who has been working as a wedding planner in Italy for over 20 years.

“Italy can be a convenient half-way point – or an excuse to cut down on the guest list! The idea of an all-Italian wedding dinner complete with local wines alone might be enough to inspire you to elope.”

Positano. Photo: Francesco De Tito

Bonnie fell in love with Italy as a child when her father was stationed here, and made a promise to herself to return one day. “As soon as I left college, that's what I did,” she says, and after 20 years working as an English teacher, she opted for a career switch and now uses her local expertise to help non-Italians plan destination weddings in Italy.

“The ‘I do’ moment brings a tear to my eye every single time. I'm a firm believer in marriage and love helping to make the day perfect for the bride, groom and guests,” she says. 

For Alice Fognani, who runs wedding planning company SposiamoVi, the biggest problem with hosting an Italian wedding is that you and your guests might never want to leave. “The main risk is that you fall madly in love with Italy and Italians,” she jokes.

But there are also practical matters to take into account. Here are five key things to think over if you're planning a wedding in Italy, from people who've done it dozens of times.

Understand local customs

Weddings in Italy are usually fairly traditional, often Catholic affairs, without the added extras which are common in other countries. For example, Italian couples will usually have only one best man and one maid of honour, who also act as the legal witnesses, rather than a troupe of bridesmaids. 

“Ceremonies are held in the morning at around 11 and receptions are a long lunch, lasting five or six hours,” explains Bonnie. “And there usually isn't any music played at weddings unless the bride and groom have a party with their own friends later in the evening.”

While there's no reason foreign couples shouldn't bring their own traditions with them, it's useful to understand how weddings tend to work in Italy. This way, you'll avoid crossed wires with suppliers and venues and make sure your expectations for the day match up.

Location

Tuscany is the most popular region for foreign lovebirds, which Bonnie recommends due to the “unbeatable quality-price ratio”.

“The Amalfi Coast is the second most popular and there's no doubt why – it's absolutely gorgeous,” she says. “But it's my least favourite place to work because of the difficult logistics.”


In Tuscany. Photo: Morlotti Studio

Indeed, transfers between the region's towns might look doable on Google Maps, but in the summer the area becomes crowded with tourists. Combined with the rugged landscape and narrow roads, this can make for a lengthy trip between the ceremony and reception location if you forget to take these factors into account.

“We recommend that couples explore areas off the usual tourist track,” says Alice. “The Amalfi Coast, Italian Lakes and Venice are certainly beautiful, but so are Portofino, Apulia, and Sicily.”

Timing is everything

“Italians have a well-deserved reputation for being laid back,” notes Alice. “This is often a positive – but not when you're in stressed-out bride mode and need to know exactly what's going on with your flower arrangements.”


In Tuscany. Photo: Morlotti Studio

“We've had many clients get stressed because of suppliers taking a long time to reply or not understanding English, so having a local support system with fluent English and Italian is essential,” she says.

Both women also recommend booking your wedding well in advance if you hope to use one of the most popular locations, as these tend to get booked up faster than you may expect.

Bureaucratic stumbling blocks

Red tape might not go with the lace and pastel colour schemes of your dream wedding, but in Italy it's a necessary evil. Paperwork needs to be tackled efficiently, and couples may have to accept that some aspects of a fairytale wedding won't translate into real life.


Positano. Photo: Francesco De Tito

“You may have to give up some things if they are either not available in the country or not common practice,” explains Bonnie. “For example, you might have your heart set on a fairylight ceiling stretched over your reception dinner, but the 11th century castle you've hired for your wedding won't allow that kind of electrical installation.

“Or maybe you want to have a legally binding ceremony in that same castle, but the premises are not authorized by the city.”

The little details

For Alice, the highlight of the day is if the bride or groom has included a unique personal touch – especially if its a surprise. “One couple had a ballerina flew up in the sky of Portofino suspended by 250 balloons to deliver a very special gift – my heart skipped a beat!” she says.

In Tuscany. Photo: Morlotti Studio

Other details are more mundane but no less important.

For example, a wedding reception in a medieval old town might look great in the photos, but will mean requiring your guests to walk on ancient cobbles or uneven roads. “We have to make sure the guests are prepared for this kind of thing – ladies, bring your wedges!” says Alice.

 

 

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LOVE

Three stories of finding love in Italy that will restore your faith in romance

Valentine's Day has its roots in the Roman Empire, so what better way to celebrate than with some heartwarming real-life stories about Italian love.

Three stories of finding love in Italy that will restore your faith in romance
Holly and Gianluca on their wedding day in Capri. Photo: Private

“And that is … how they are. So terribly physically all over one another. They pour themselves one over the other like so much melted butter over parsnips. They catch each other under the chin, with a tender caress of the hand, and they smile with sunny melting tenderness into each other's face.”

This is what British author D.H Lawrence once wrote about Italy. We know the country has its problems, but you can't escape the romance, whether that be in Romeo and Juliet's Verona, on a street sign, like the one in Cinque Terre below, or the open displays of affection. It's no wonder that many of those who travel or move to Italy do so with a secret hope of starting their own Italian love story.

The Street of Love. Photo: bigskyred/Flickr

But as a foreigner, sometimes the idea of actually finding love in the most romantic of countries can seem as distant from reality as the many myths surrounding Italy's dating culture.

There are language and cultural barriers to contend with, plus additional fears based on the stereotype of Italians as cheating Lotharios.

However, it can be done, and here are three pairs of star-crossed lovers whose 'how we met' stories will make you want to book a flight to Italy right away.

Holly and Gianluca, who run a restaurant together in Capri

In 2013, I was travelling around Italy for a five week holiday. It was my first visit to Capri and on my second night, I found myself dining at Ristorante Michel’angelo. From the moment I walked in to Michel’angelo, I immediately felt comfortable, which as a solo Australian traveller I really appreciated.

Little did I know this meal would change my life forever.

The waiter, Gianluca (who I later learnt was the owner) had such a warm manner but could only speak a little English and I could only speak a little Italian. At the end of my meal, in my best Italian I asked for the bill several times and instead received dessert and limoncello. I thought to myself that he mustn't have understood me. All the other tables were paying their bills and leaving until I was the only person left in the restaurant.

Gianluca then placed his order pad on the table, explained that he had not yet eaten and cheekily asked me for a table for one. Finding it pretty amusing (and with a little limoncello courage), I got up and showed him to a table, lit the candle and took his order. After I placed the order with the chef, I joined his table and with the help of Google translate we laughed until the early hours of the morning.

Two weddings later (one in Capri and one in Sydney) and with two beautiful baby boys, we now run Michel’angelo together and share an appreciation for fantastic food, wine, family and a good laugh!

Laura Thayer, an American writer and art historian who lives with her husband, Lello, on the Amalfi coast

The way I met my husband is right out of a romance movie.

My mother had planned a holiday here in 2007 while I was at graduate school in the US, and I just knew I had to go along! I was studying art history at the time, so it made sense to come to Italy.

We came to the Amalfi coast on a week-long tour, which is when I fell in love with the architecture of the area … and our tour guide!

We did the long distance thing for quite a while, with a lot of back and forth, until we finally married in 2012. 

Besides the stereotypical meeting, we're a pretty atypical couple with our cultural and age differences. I didn't even know a word of Italian when we met. But fortunately, since he is a tour guide the language barrier wasn't an issue. It has been quite an unexpected adventure, but one I wouldn't change for anything. It's true … you never really know how a vacation might change your life! 

Alice Kiandra Adam, an Australian cook and food stylist, who lives with her husband, Leonardo and two children in Rome

I was a caterer and food stylist in Melbourne when I left in May 2005 for a year-long trip to Italy.

I had studied Italian at primary school, and again as an adult, and was enamoured with the Italian gastronomic landscape. I had sold the catering business I had with a friend, and with enough money in my back pocket I thought I'd go to Rome to really learn the language.

My first job was as a waitress in a restaurant in the Trastevere district. It was a totally memorable experience. At the pub next door, where we would go for a drink after our shift, I met Leonardo.

It feels like a cliché writing this, but when we met I was swept off my feet on the back of a white Vespa. So when I got to the end of my 12 months of course I wanted to stay.

Almost 11 years later and we have two children, Alberto, 7, and Emma, 6. It was after they were born that I decided to go back to working in the food sector. I missed the creativity, the markets and produce and just being in the kitchen. It has been a really slow road building up a business in Rome, but I now work with some great Italian and international photographers, teach and lead tours with Casa Mia, and have a lot of really great projects happening at Latteria Studio, which I share in Trastevere.

I love Australia, and wish it was (quite) a bit closer, but there is so much about Italy, and Europe, that stimulates, challeges and inspires me.

A version of this article was first published in February 2016.

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