Planning

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 having a wedding in Italy, namely 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 like "wedding in Italy" 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 it 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 are 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 has met before, so we wanted everyone together in one place. It would also make logistics so much easier and reduce the number 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 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 planning a wedding in Italy

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 they're 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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