After my partner Chris asked me to marry him, I knew Tuscany was where I wanted to get married. We spent our first year together exploring the world and I took Chris to Tuscany for his 30th birthday just 5 months after we started dating. When we were there we just fell in love with it and have gone back every year since. In fact, our wedding venue is actually the hotel I took him to that very first time, so it's somewhere that is very special to us.
Little did I know though, planning a wedding there would come with its own set of unique challenges. Here's what I've learned while going through the planning process:
Get legally married in the UK
I know, this seems a little contradictory and it widely depends on the country you're getting married in but for us, making it official in Italy wasn't as easy as we thought. As a rule you have to be catholic (we're not) or get married in a town hall (we aren't) so our options were limited. To save ourselves the stress and a lot of red tape we've opted for dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s on home soil. Civil, symbolic, humanist; the different types of ceremonies available can be over-whelming but it's important to get informed and make life easier where you can.
Book the ceremony first
The flowers, the dress, the food - it's easy to get swept away in the aesthetics rather than the practicalities of your big day. After all, who wants a Pinterest board for giving notice? Like most brides-to-be, the top of my to-dos included shoe shopping, ring designing and more dress appointments than an A-lister. Researching the actual getting married bit was merely a technicality I'd consider nearer the time. Little did I know that if you want to settle the legalities before you fly, book a registry office pronto, as they generally get booked up 4 to 6 months in advance, which resulted in us paying £200 for a ceremony package that we didn't need.
Get a wedding planner or translator
Before I got engaged I always deemed a wedding planner as an extravagance that only the wealthy had in their big day entourage. Someone who flapped around like Franck from Father Of The Bride, donning a stylish head set and a pointed digit. Little did I know that a wedding planner is a must when you get married abroad. No longer an unnecessary expense, these hyper-organised individuals will not only find you the best deals with local suppliers, they will act as your full-time translator when talking loudly and slowly doesn't quite cut it.
Think about the logistics
Twinkling fairy lights and enough storm lanterns to weather a hurricane may be what Insta-dreams are made of but my fiancée pointed out one tiny little detail when I clicked 'buy'. "How are we going to get them there?" No problem, I thought, I'll have them delivered there by the retailer. Which welcomed the second question of "how will we get them back?" Ah. As much as I hate it when he's right, it wasn't until my eyes watered at the shipping quote that I realised he may have a point. Unless you have a relative in the country or a wedding guest that's going to drive (thank you Uncle Richard!) it's worth asking the venue if they'd like to bulk out their wedding prop stock or consider hiring it from somewhere local.
Authentic and kinder to the bank balance, seeking out local caterers, florists and entertainment has been a saviour in our wedding preparations. Although difficult to research online, visiting the area and asking the locals secured us a world-class chef, award-winning florist and an amazing mixologist from the only cocktail bar in the town, all at a fraction of the price in the UK.
The bride-to-be Jessica Harris
Consider the weather
If you think that our British obsession with the forecast will end in warmer climes, think again. Suddenly our desire for balmy days became our dilemma and factored in to every decision we made, from picking a lightweight menu and deciphering which direction the sun sets for supper to sweat-free fabrics and blotting papers on tap. While it may have narrowed my choice of bridesmaid dresses, it eliminated an overwhelming amount of wedding dresses, making my decision to opt for a light, slimline, non-crease design a lot easier.
You'll become a travel agent...
I've developed a new-found respect for travel agents over the last 12 months. The questions are endless, the requests are futile, and you will come to know the British Airways concierge by first name. From where to eat to what to wear, no musing is too trivial for your guests and this will soon add to stress levels the closer you get to the day. What started as a fully-fledged travel guide with every text reply, I have now opted for an alternative two-worded response: Google it.
...And a bonafide makeup expert
Make-up artist or not, one aspect of your day that is to not be overlooked is mattifying make-up. Although a dewy glow is the bridal holy grail, a good primer and oil-free skincare is the difference between a highlighted cheekbone and a sweaty brow. While all bridal make-up needs to stand the test of all-day wear, destination brides need their products to work harder. Waterproof eye make-up will become your best friend and make sure you opt for setting spray and blotting papers rather than layers of powder to avoid that cakey complexion.
Although running away and getting married in an exotic land is up there as one of the most romantic things you can do, not everyone will see it that way. If a small wedding is your M.O, getting married abroad can be ideal as it gives you the perfect excuse to keep numbers low without leaving anyone off of the invitation list. From the beginning we've maintained a laid-back attitude to cash-strapped guests who can't make it. We understand that it's a big ask both financially and logistically and we've had some disappointing 'no's' along the way but we've maintained that it's about us and anyone else is a bonus.
Budget for the unseen
While there's no doubt that overseas nuptials can be cheaper than saying 'I do' on home turf, there are hidden costs that can't be overlooked. Taking into account visiting the venue two or three times to discuss details in-person (so much can be lost in translation over email) and get a feel for how the day will pan out has been essential. What we didn't account for was pricey celebrants, giving notice fees and helping out family members with flight expenses.