The first time I started questioning our decision to get married in the south of Italy was when the manager of a prospective wedding venue told me: "Twelve courses for lunch is standard. No, we can’t do any less. But we can do more if you like."
We'd chosen Puglia – the heel of the Italian ‘boot’, famous for its abundant food and over-the-top wedding celebrations – because that’s where my fiancé is from. And because I hadn’t fully realised yet just how over the top weddings there could be.
Like anywhere in Italy, the region has great weather and fairytale wedding venues, often available at a fraction of the price of anything comparable back home in the UK. So it was an easy decision to make.
But, as I soon learnt, planning a wedding in Italy as a non-Italian comes with plenty of surprises and some unique challenges; from old-school traditions to a confusing bureaucratic process.
With my wedding day just weeks away now and most of the planning done, here’s a practical guide to organising your own wedding in Italy.
There are all kinds of stunning wedding venues up and down the country, from castles to vineyards or beachfront hotels. The most popular destination wedding spots in Italy are Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast, where plenty of venues have experience of catering for non-Italian couples.
Italy has some incredible wedding venues. File photo.
Wherever you choose to get married in Italy, the logistics can be tricky. You may need to help your guests book flights, hotels, car hire and all sorts of other things, which can be time-consuming.
And sadly, if you’re getting married abroad, a lot of friends and family just aren’t going to be able to make it. Although for couples who are looking to cut down the guest list, a destination wedding is ideal.
The language barrier
What about the language? If you don’t speak Italian, you’ll need a wedding planner (or bilingual local friend) to help.There are lots of local English-speaking planners who’ll be able to translate not only the language but the cultural differences.
Even if you speak Italian and live in Italy, a planner is always helpful. But if the budget doesn’t allow for it, you can get by without - as we have - as long as at least one of you speaks the language fluently.
No one wants to think about wedding paperwork when there are cakes to be tasted and dresses to try on. But it doesn’t need to be that stressful.
If you both live outside Italy, you’ll need to go and give notice at your local town hall and then get a couple of documents officially translated. Your local town hall should have all the information you need.
If you live in Italy and one or both of you has Italian residency, you’ll need to make an appointment with your country’s embassy in Rome to give notice and get a certificate of no impediment, called a nulla osta, which costs about 100 euros. Requirements vary for different nationalities. You’ll then give notice at the commune of the town where you have residency (not the town where you’re getting married, if it’s different.)
You can’t give notice in Italy until six months before the wedding - meaning if you’re having a civil ceremony you can’t book the officiant until then either.
A wedding in Florence, Italy. File photo.
I was surprised to learn that a lot of reception venues in Italy include your cake, flowers, and various other ‘extras’ in the price of your meal. It’s rare to find venues where you’ll need to decorate or set up anything yourself.
However if your tastes are anything but ultra-traditional you may struggle with finding some suppliers locally.
Wedding dress shopping was tricky, as I found bridal boutiques here more traditional and expensive than those in the UK. But in the end, I discovered that you can get something completely custom made here for the same price as an off-the-rack style.
And of course, you can always source some things at home. For example, I wanted modern, creative photography (as opposed to the formal, soft-focus style ubiquitous in Italy) and I found that surprisingly it worked out cheaper to fly a photographer over from the UK.
Italians have a well-deserved reputation for being laid back, and nothing about that changes when you’re planning a wedding. The most stressful thing for me has been dealing with suppliers who like to take their time. Just be prepared to chase them up instead of having them contact you about fittings or tastings.
To avoid stress on the day, my advice is to leave lots of time in your schedule for things to overrun - and don’t expect the ceremony to actually start at the time you’ve put on your invitation!
Understanding local customs
Weddings in Italy are usually traditional, often Catholic affairs, without the added extras common in other countries. For example, Italian couples will usually just have two witnesses, instead of a wedding party of best man, maid of honour, bridesmaids and groomsmen.
While there's no reason foreign couples shouldn't bring their own traditions with them, it's still useful to understand how weddings tend to work in Italy. This way, you'll avoid crossed wires with suppliers and venues.
If either of you is Italian, be prepared to compromise often when trying to navigate the wedding traditions of two different cultures.
In our case, instead of choosing between a three-course dinner and that blowout 12-course Puglian banquet, we found a different venue that was happy to create a six-course tasting menu.
Planning a wedding abroad can be a little trickier than at home. But there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have the day you really want, wherever you decide to get married.