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Once Upon A Destination Wedding: The Venue

This month’s blog is a particularly exciting one for me as I finally get to reveal our venue!

I distinctly remember the first time I saw it online. It was a few weeks after our engagement and long before we started thinking about budgets and discussing guest lists. I was at work talking to my colleague about Umbria, explaining how is was like Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs and American tourists, when I suddenly realised it would be the perfect region to get married in.

Cheaper than its famous neighbour Tuscany but as equally beautiful, Umbria is a region that’s unspoilt, unpretentious and completely unexpected. Its luscious landscape is dotted with enchanting medieval hilltop towns, all within easy reach of one another, and it has the most breath-taking vistas that seem to go on and on forever. It’s also only a few hours drive from Oliver’s family home, 90 minutes from Rome, it has an international airport near Perugia, and for those who want to explore Tuscany, it’s just next door.

So I promptly began one of the first of many non-work related research sessions, typed something generic into Google and ended up with nothing but links to wedding planners. So I got more specific.

“Stunning venue for a wedding in Umbria – review”.

That ought to do it, I thought, and it did. With these exact words, I came across a review on TripAdvisor about a venue that completely blew me away.

Abbazia San Pietro in Valle was like a picture from a children’s fairy-tale book, a beautiful monastery perched on the top of a hill surrounded by a jungle of vegetation (and wild boar apparently). I beckoned over my colleague without even looking at her, and together we looked through the pictures in awe. First there was silence, then a few expletives and then came the damning question…‘How much does is cost?’ ‘It doesn’t say, but it looks expensive.’ ‘Ooh there’s a church on-site, and accommodation, and look at that roof garden – just look at that mist!’ ‘This is definitely too expensive, there’s no way we can afford this’…

Within less than an hour, I’d ordered my Moleskine wedding planner and prepared a draft email for Oliver to translate and send to the venue, which he sensibly did that evening (he’s seen the wrath of Bridezilla and knows what’s good for him). A few days later, we received a quote from the venue and while I’d convinced myself we could afford it, I actually had no idea if we could or not – we hadn’t worked out our budget so we had no idea how much we could allocate. So we did the sensible thing, put the Abbazia to the back of our minds and scheduled the first of many ‘wedmin’ sessions.

Sourcing a venue abroad – how we did it

When it comes to looking for a wedding venue abroad, the rules don’t really change. There’s a few areas that need a little more consideration (largely down to guests and logistics), but you still need to ask the same questions and look out for the same details as you would in the UK.

Real Bride Sundari, (whose real life job is to plan and style weddings) has put together a fantastic venue checklist, so if you want to download it pop back on 22 October. To keep you going until then, the crucial things you need to decide before you start your search include:

– a shortlist of potential dates
– a rough number of guests attending
– location
– agreement on what kind of ceremony you want, and
– a maximum budget for venue/ceremony/catering costs

The summer months were not an option for us due to Oliver’s job, so we were left with either May or September. If you’re on a tight budget, May is a fantastic month to get married in Italy. The temperature is perfect and as it’s off-peak you’ll benefit from lower prices on venue hire and accommodation. September is a popular month for Italians as the heat is less intense, but for this reason it’s no cheaper than July and August. In the end we settled on September as more of our guests were free and it gave us more time to save. Location also played an important part in our decision. I was particularly aware of the trouble and expense our guests would incur, so we based our search in areas around Rome, Umbria and Tuscany – all of which have international airports with cheap flights. We’re both Catholic so the choice of ceremony was an easy tick and we’d estimated around 100 guests.

Our venue priorities

With that discussion over and done with, it was time for the fun to begin! Armed with an arsenal of magazines, guidebooks and wedding planning resources, we made our way to the nearest coffee shop (Italian, obviously), and made a list of everything we required from our venue – which went something like this:

1. Must have church on-site that can fit 100 people.
2. Must have accommodation for at least half the guests with accommodation for the remaining nearby. Can’t be expensive. Strictly no sofa beds.
3. Must have an indoor area in case of bad weather.
4. Must have exclusive use for 2 or 3 days.
5. Must be within 90 minutes of an airport.
6. Must have a music licence beyond 12am.
7. Must have cypress trees and spectacular views.
8. Must have good reviews and experience hosting weddings.
9. A courtyard and pool would also be nice.

Finding a venue that matched these requirements was not an easy task, but after a few weeks of research and hundreds of emails, we arranged viewings at four venues: Villa Catignano and Montelucci in Tuscany, and Fattoria di Tatignano and Abbazia San Pietro in Valle in Umbria.

All the venues we saw had accommodation for at least half the guests and a church on-site (or within walking distance). This was an important requirement for us as neither of our families and friends have met before, so we wanted everyone together in one place. It would also make logistics so much easier and reduce the amount of things we needed to organise. The other important aspect regarding accommodation was price. With guests staying for 2 or 3 nights and forking out for flights, we wanted to keep their expenses as low as possible, without compromising on comfort of course! One thing to look out for which kept cropping up in our search, are sofa beds. I can’t stand the things and many venues were relying on them to make up our numbers. This may not bother you but it’s not something we wanted – so bear this in mind when you make your enquiries.

The other priorities are pretty self-explanatory, apart from maybe the cypress trees. My obsession with these tall giants started when I first saw Gladiator (you know the scene where he’s walking through the barley fields and hallucinating about his beautiful farm?) I love them, and couldn’t see any sense in getting married in Italy without them present somewhere within our venue.

Our final choice

Our dream venue (the former monastery) was the first venue we visited. We’d done our research so we knew it was a good match but we needed to see it in the flesh. As soon as we drove up the cypress-lined entrance and stepped out the car to the sound of birdsong and cow-bells, we were sold. This place was a different kind of special. It felt sacred, peaceful and completely right. We had to make a few compromises (sadly no pool but it does have a hydrotherapy Jacuzzi and sauna!) and although we’ve had a few uncomfortable moments with the management, we absolutely cannot wait to get married there! Other plus points include a restaurant on-site, discounted accommodation (if fully occupied) and there’s no no minimum stay (most venues require three nights if you’re getting married on the weekend).
The other venues we saw were all spectacular for different reasons. Villa Catignano (featured here on RMW) is stunning and perfectly set up for large weddings. Montelucci and Tatignano (which has incredible views over Lake Corbara) were also incredible and neither charged a venue hire fee as their restaurant takes care of the catering. In the end, we went for the venue that struck a chord, and although it cost a little bit more, it was a price worth paying.

Top tips to consider when sourcing a venue abroad

Hire a wedding planner
I initially snuffed this off thinking my research-based degree and fiancé’s native tongue would be a good enough match to find and secure a venue abroad. While we ended up doing a pretty good job ourselves and saved a fair amount of money in the process, we eventually ran into trouble. Our venue was not forthcoming with contacts and when it came to sourcing caterers, musicians and handling local logistics, we hit a brick wall. The more detailed things became the more I also realised that without a wedding planner, I’d inevitably turn into that frantic bride who runs about with a clipboard the day before the wedding herding guests around like cattle – and I wanted to avoid this at all costs. So after some savvy advice from a former RMW Real Bride and a few skype chats later, we ended up booking Sarah Potier from Salve Umbria (whose beautiful work was featured on RMW). As we’d already booked most of our suppliers and only needed assistance on the day, Sarah offered us a ‘partial planning service’. This is a great option for brides on a budget who like to take full control. That said, I would only recommend this to people who are a) unemployed and have a lot of free time, b) getting married in a country where English is spoken well, or c) fluent in the language of the country their getting married in. Without one of these key elements, things can get very complicated. It’s not so much finding the venue that’s challenging, it’s everything else you need to plan at the same time and then the suppliers you need to source. So if time is not a luxury or you don’t have a fiancé who speaks Italian, I strongly recommend a full planning service, if only to stop you going nuts. Your wedding planner will find a perfect venue, a location for the ceremony and source all your suppliers according to your budget. Prices vary depending on location and number of guests, but for a full planning service expect to pay anything from €1800 up to €3000 – and beyond. It may seem like a lot of money but it’s a really worthwhile investment.

Resources & Research
Finding a venue without the help of a wedding planner is not difficult if you know where to look (and you’ve got plenty of time on your hands). If you’re taking this route – good luck – I hope you maintain your sanity! If you’ve not already started looking, here are some websites I found particularly useful:
Residenze d’Epoca
Slow Dreams
Wedding Venues in Italy

Prep before you visit
Before visiting each venue, get as much information as you can from all the suppliers and don’t be afraid to ask every question imaginable! If the venue provides catering onsite or works with external caterers, ask to see their menus and contract. The more knowledge you have before you visit, the easier it will be to weigh up the pros and cons and make a decision. Once you’ve done this, it’s worth making another list (yes, another one) to answer any gaps and iron out any concerns when you’re there. Also, if you’ve found the perfect venue but it’s a little over budget, don’t be afraid to negotiate the price – just discuss it in advance with your fiancé and have a set figure in mind when you visit.

Location, location, location
If your guests are travelling a long way to be with you, location should be a top priority in your search. It’s important to pick a venue that’s not too far away from an airport, has good transport links/easy to reach, and located in an area that your guests can explore – it will make the journey and expense much more appealing.

The Ceremony
I still haven’t got my head around the legal procedures yet (our brilliant wedding planner will be taking care of this thank god), but once we start with the paperwork (6 months before the wedding) I’ll share everything I’ve learned. For those who want to get married in a Church, expect to pay €150 – €600. For civil ceremonies in a town hall, the price ranges from €150 – €1400 depending on the size of your wedding party and location. To avoid these fees, try and find a venue that’s licenced and get a celebrant to officiate.

Catering
Some venues don’t charge a fee if you’re using their restaurant or catering service. Packages in Italy are often all-inclusive and range from about €80 – €150 (and beyond) per person and excluding VAT. This price includes A LOT (drinks reception and large antipasto buffet, 4-course meal, wedding cake and champagne for the toast, and hire costs for tables, chairs, crockery, tablecloths etc). An open bar is usually quoted separately but starts at €15pp.

The Weather
If you’re getting married in Europe, don’t automatically assume there’ll be sunshine. The weather in Italy can be just as unreliable as in the UK, so make sure your venue has adequate indoor facilities. Equally, if you’re getting married in July and August, the heat can be suffocating, so check you’ve got full access to the indoors or outdoor shaded areas.

Local festivities
Check public holidays, religious festivals and local fetes. Europeans love them (particularly in the summer) and whilst they’ll add to the experience, you may find it difficult to book accommodation for your guests.

Mosquitos
This is a bit of an oddball tip, but on a recent venue visit to Italy in September, I was mauled by mosquitos (46 on last count). Back when we visited in May, I wasn’t touched. Obviously this is not something to base your dates upon, but I can’t think of anything worse than walking down the aisle covered in bites. So my advice is this: arm yourselves with mosquito nets, coils and plugs. After my recent episode, I’m taking a burqa.

(Chiara’s posts will be published on RMW on the first Thursday of every month and you can follow her wedding planning journey via her Instagram account).

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43 thoughts on “Once Upon A Destination Wedding: The Venue

  1. Well done Chiara, it is a great article as usuall. I want to thank you for putting a lot of effort in organizing the wedding. I am extremely proud of you. Xxx

  2. Chiara! It looks beautiful, what a dreamy location! It looks like something out of a film! Another lovely article; I have enjoyed reading them all so far. Looking forward to the next one already! xxx

  3. Another great post Chiara. It’s always interesting to hear about the planning stages – and problems you encounter. I’m sure many people will take tips from this post to help them plan their wedding.

    Ps The venue looks mesmerizing – it’s just perfect.

  4. This is a fantastic post. It’s beyond lovely, but aside from that, so informative! There’s so much that goes into a destination wedding that sometimes things can slip through the cracks. Seriously — this is a ridiculously helpful post. THANK YOU.

    1. Meg – what a lovely comment to wake up to this morning! I’m so pleased you liked it and have found it useful – it’s always lovely to hear positive feedback 🙂 Best of luck on your journey and I hope the posts continue to help! xx

  5. Another great read with useful advice. It’s a stunning location, the stuff dreams are made of, and I know it will be worth all the research & effort you have dedicated to the cause. Just love reading your blog.

    1. Thank you 🙂 without your support and advice it would’ve been so much more difficult! 11 months to go yipeeee!!!! xxx

  6. Another wonderful post from the beautiful Chiara I loved the first post and practically fell in Oliver myself (don’t tell Simon) and now I cannot wait for the wedding after reading this. They say a picture says more than words and that couldn’t be truer here. With a location like that you just need to turn up.

    I have been to a wedding in Tuscany, Italy, before and it was the best wedding I’ve ever been to. Let’s see if this one tops my list.

    Lots of love xxx

    P.S. Thanks for the mosquito’s tip!

    1. Well of course it will. You’ll have you control yourself when the food arrives so you don’t pass out. And no stealing other guests’ favours. xx

  7. I love your blogs Chiara! All sounds amazing.
    RMW – do you know where the second image on the collage at the top is from? The flower arrangement is exactly what I’m after for tables and it would be good to work out what’s included (well for my mum to work out, I’m clueless). x

    1. Sian – that’s the only one I couldn’t identify when putting the images together 🙁 it’s a Pinterest find – hopefully Chiara can help…otherwise I’ll have another look later and see if I can find out for you x

    2. Thank you Sian! I’ve just searched through my entire pinterest board and I can’t find that image anywhere, so I think it must’ve come from another source. If you show it to a florist they should still be able to work out some of the flowers or find similar blooms with the colours you like… alternatively, if you look on my Pinterest I have a board with lots of similar styles, and RMW is bound to have even more! Sorry I can’t be more help! xx

  8. Hooray for another amazing post Chiara, hopefully this will be a really useful reference for anyone planning a destination wedding. Such a logical and thoughtful approach (but also with a lot of heart involved too). Literally can’t wait to see this venue and your ideas come together x

    1. Thank you Fern! It’s difficult knowing where to start when there are so many things to think about, and planning it all from a distance makes it all the more complicated! Hopefully this post will make the process a little less daunting 🙂 xx

  9. Brilliant blog Chiara! The photos look absolutely stunning what a gorgeous place to get married in, in a beautiful area too.
    Looking forward to the next blog already :)x

  10. Loving your blog and another fabulous post Chiara! Having SERIOUS venue envy right now!!! ? I cannot wait for the next instalment (roll on November!) You are right mosquitos are THE DEVIL. I will probably be stinking of jungle formula on my wedding day …. Who needs Jo Malone!! X

    1. Hahaha!!! Well you can pass that jungle formula straight on to Sarah once you’ve finished with it!! (ps I have definitely fallen in love with Saffron from Jo Malone as my bridal scent <3 ) Also – you can hardly talk about venue envy when your venue is INCREDIBLE. I'm already planning on gate crashing.
      Thank you for your lovely comments, always so lovely to hear 🙂 <3 xx

  11. Great article, stunning photos and incredible venue! Love it. Looking forward to hearing about your choice of burqa in due course…

    1. Thank you Chips! Coming from such an esteemed writer like yourself (!) it’s lovely to hear 🙂 I’ll keep you updated on the burqa.

  12. An amazingly helpful and informative post!
    Chiara, I found this while googling San Pietro in Valle looking for reviews, our wedding intentions are so similar however my partner and I are 5 months away from our intended date and still no venue selected!! :0 (we like to wing it ;))

    My first choice months ago before starting to visit was San Pietro in Valle, for all the reasons you mentioned. However when we did in August, we were pretty disappointed with the indoor option (in case of bad weather)….I’m curious, what are you planning in case of rain??

    Cheers!

    1. Hi Mimi, so glad you found the post helpful – and do not worry about the time frame – five months is plenty of time to organise a wedding by Italian standards…!

      I completely agree with you about the indoor option and it was a big area of concern for us. The two rooms available are perfectly fine but we weren’t happy for our gusts to be seated separately. Although they’re adjoined, we wanted everyone seated in one room so they could see what was going on and have full view of the speeches – so this option was no good for us. The only alternative was to hire a marquee and after much deliberation, we decided to take the hit as we liked the venue so much. Our wedding planner told us we’d have to put down a small(ish) non-refundable deposit with a marquee company, then about a week before the wedding we’d have to decide if we needed it or not. Initially we thought this was ok but once we’d factored in the cost of flooring, the more expensive it became – which is when we started to worry. So to save a few thousand euros, we’ve decided that if it rains, we’re going to host the reception in the two indoor rooms, then when it comes to the speeches, we’ll go to another room (the one which is used for meetings and has the pool table), do the speeches there then come back up for dessert and dancing.

      It’s a tough decision to make, especially when there are other beautiful venues that have better indoor options, but San Pietro fulfilled a lot of other needs (such as affordable accommodation and a church on site) and in the end we decided this was more important. Whilst it would definitely be better to have everyone seated in one room, we weren’t prepared to spend another few thousands euros for the privilege – and we couldn’t bear to part with the venue either! Fingers crossed for sunshine!!

      How many people are you inviting?

      1. Chiara, thanks for your encouragement and reply!
        Yes we also felt a marquee would be too expensive- and also not exactly what we wished for….

        We should be about 70….I can’t remember how many people can fit in each room.

        The fact is we also loved the ladies from the adjacent restaurant (and their food, style, and professionalism) and felt in complete confidence with them. It would have been wonderful to have them cater the wedding.

        Did you find many reviews of the abbey? For all the gorgeous photos I saw, I only found one (in Italian).

        I definitely wish you glorious weather!!

        1. Well we’re expecting about 100 guests and all of them will be accommodated in those two rooms if the weather is bad, so with 70 guests you’ll be fine. We’ll decroate the ceilings with fairy lights and make turn them into romantic grottos 🙂 The ladies at the venue probably mentioned to you that even with light rain the guests can be seated under the cloisters, which would be really lovely as they’d still be in the courtyard so to speak. So there are a few options…

          The ladies in Hora Media are lovely aren’t they! I think we’re they’re doing our pre-rehersal dinner but we’ve gone for an external caterer for the wedding breakfast. I found quite a few reviews of the venue but most were in Italian. From what I can gather the majority of weddings that take place there are Italian. Are you english or do you speak Italian?

          What other venues are you considering, or have you booked something already? I did so much research on venues it’s likely I’ll have come across it!! xx

          1. Haha….no we haven’t booked yet! That’s why we’re starting to get a bit antsy! 😉 Luckily March is pretty low season in Italy for weddings, so far all the investigated options remain open.

            Two other places we visited that didn’t quite respond to all our criteria were:
            -Terre di Nano: beautiful property in Tuscany, wonderful views of the Val d’Orcia, wineyeards, relatively reasonable cost too. But no church on site.
            -Castello di Rosciano: very professional, very well-reviewed, also no church on site and we weren’t really into the medieval style.

            My fiancé is Roman and we’ve spent some of our holidays in Umbria so the truth is we feel a connection to those two places, not really to Tuscany.

            By any chance, did you come across any interesting locations with on-site church in Umbria that didn’t make your cut because they were a bit further away?

            We’re also looking into Rome….but it would imply transferring half (the non-Roman) guests around and also overall a greater cost for less.

            Any suggestions would be most welcome!! 🙂

            1. I came across so many beautiful places, but we were looking for somewhere with accommodation onsite for most guests as well as a church, so our search criteria was quite specific. We really liked ‘Fattoria di Titignano’ in Umbria. That has a church, accommodation and incredible views over the lake (also there was no charge for venue hire). Orvieto was another potential location. It’s a beautiful hilltop down with one of Italy’s most spectacular Cathedrals. There’s a wedding venue there called ‘La Domus’ which is really lovely and well equipped for weddings. There are several churches within walking distance and there’s loads of accommodation in the town. I loved this venue and town. Other venues you could look at are ‘Abbazia Sant’Elena’, ‘Castello di Montignano’ and ‘La Badia di Orvieto’. Hope you manage to find somewhere soon!

  13. I came across so many beautiful places, but we were looking for somewhere with accommodation onsite for most guests as well as a church, so our search criteria was quite specific. We really liked ‘Fattoria di Titignano’ in Umbria. That has a church, accommodation and incredible views over the lake (also there was no charge for venue hire). Orvieto was another potential location. It’s a beautiful hilltop down with one of Italy’s most spectacular Cathedrals. There’s a wedding venue there called ‘La Domus’ which is really lovely and well equipped for weddings. There are several churches within walking distance and there’s loads of accommodation in the town. I loved this venue and town. Other venues you could look at are ‘Abbazia Sant’Elena’, ‘Castello di Montignano’ and ‘La Badia di Orvieto’. Hope you manage to find somewhere soon!

  14. Your wedding is so stunningly beautiful. I’m just wondering if I can afford to throw an event like that. What was your budget?

  15. Hi Chiara. Love your post. So helpful. I would be keen to know how your day went and if you were happy with the venue. We are looking into a May wedding

  16. Hi Penny,
    I’m so sorry for the late reply but I’ve only just come across your message! Our wedding will be featured very soon, but feel free to send me an email in the meantime and I’ll pass on my best tips! cmv.raine@gmail.com x

  17. Hi Chiara, thank you for this wonderful article. We are planning a wedding in Abazzio San pietro mid September 2018. It is a dream destination, one thing I am just a little apprehensive about is the weather. If it rains there is no indoor area for the reception. Was this a concern of yours when planning your wedding in the monastery? Everything else about it is perfect

    1. Hi Mary, what exciting news! It’s such a beautiful place! I have to be honest and say yes – it was a concern right up until a few days before when the forecast was sunny. The indoor space wasn’t suitable for our needs so the only other option was a marquee. I’m based in Italy now and will be planning weddings at the abbazia next year so do get in touch if you need any help! My email is chiara@avenuecipresso.com

  18. Hi Chiara
    I just wanted to thank you for such wonderful article.
    Thanks to you we now have our venue,we are getting married in San Pietro in Valle in August 2018 and we also got “partial” wedding services with Salve Umbria

  19. SO useful!! we’re at the very beginning of starting our wed-min and your article hs been particularly informative!!

    If anyone has any tips for seaside venues that can accommodate around 150 ppl, please get in touch!

    Thanks!

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