Claire & Chris
“Now I’ve had a wedding abroad I truly can’t imagine why you’d do it any other way.”
If you’ve been married abroad, I know you’ll absolutely agree with Claire’s words… and after reading about Claire and Chris’ incredible wedding (week), you’ll understand why they wish they could have their day all over again!
Claire and Chris had 102 family and friends travel to Italy to celebrate their wedding with them. Set amongst an olive farm just outside of Lucca, the couple chose the beautiful Fattoria Mansi Bernardini as the setting for their wedding week. With a number of self-catering hamlets and small villas, Claire and Chris and the majority of their guests stayed on site and had a fabulous week of holiday which concluded with their stunning wedding!
From: United Kingdom
Nearest Airport: Pisa
Number of Guests: 102 (inc 14 Children)
As a lovely and active member of our Weddings Abroad Guide Community Facebook Group, we felt very much a part of Claire’s preparations and are so excited to share her and Chris’ wedding with you. Their real wedding story is full of the most thoughtful and helpful information and advice. We cannot thank you both enough for sharing your experience and Claire, for being so generous with your time, it is clear that you wish for every other couple to experience the same magic you did.
Why a Wedding Abroad…
The idea for our Tuscan wedding started in an Italian restaurant in Beijing with our German friends Frank and Astrid. A joint love of Italian red wine, prosecco and food made it an obvious choice. We both loved the idea that we could have a holiday with family and friends where one day we just happened to get married.
My only reservation about getting married abroad was whether both my Granny’s would make it. In the end all six of our relatives who were in their 80’s including the two Granny’s made it over to Italy.
How we Met…
We met in October 2012 on the dating website plenty of fish (POF) and by March 2013 we were living together in Beijing! We got engaged in September 2014 on Chris’s birthday on the Great Wall of China.
We had a fairly long engagement of just over two and a half years. We started thinking about our wedding around eighteen months before the date we had earmarked. Our starting point was the guest list.
Not long after that Chris bumped into an old colleague who had just been best man at a wedding in Italy. He put us in touch with his friends and that was how we found our wedding planner Helga. It was obviously meant to be!
Helga at Wedding Italy was fantastic from the start. We wouldn’t have had the wedding we did without her. For starters she found us the venue which was a key factor in the magic of the day.
I did try to do a lot of things myself though. I found the band and photographer myself rather than use the ones recommended by our planner. I definitely think it’s worth doing some of your own research too even if you are using a planner.
I had a lot of help from the Wedding Abroad Facebook Group. I can’t stress enough how useful I found this group. I don’t even know how I came across it now but it helped me find our band and our wedding insurance. It also answered so many questions I had from the timing of the ceremony to whether or not Chris and I would spend the night together the night before the wedding to how we were going to set our tables up. It was like having a huge group of friends on tap to ask anything and everything to.
I also decided to contact brides that had previously got married at our venue. I read reviews on our venue on both Facebook and Trip Advisor and contacted some of the brides. They were so helpful and more than willing to talk about their weddings (I now feel exactly the same and will talk to anyone that will listen)! Other than reassure me that the venue was perfect they gave me recommendation of suppliers they’d used. That is how we found our photographer Marco Vegni. I contacted Marco after he was recommended by a previous bride of Fattoria Mansi Bernardini. We looked at some of his pictures online and loved how he’d captured the beauty of the venue. His style was very relaxed which was exactly what Chris and I wanted. It was always going to be a gamble having a photographer that you didn’t meet until the day of your wedding but we are both over the moon with the photos we got back.
Pinterest was also a key planning tool!
Quite early on we decided we would drive to Italy. We spent three days driving there, a week at the wedding venue then a week driving home. It was fantastic and added to the whole experience. Each night we would meet up with other people that were driving to the wedding also – both sets of parents and aunties and uncles. Having the car gave us so much flexibility in terms of how much stuff we could take with us. We really weren’t restricted at all. We took my dress, bridesmaid dresses, suits, flowers, table decorations, favours, table plan, etc. A lot of which helped cut down costs.
Advantages of a Wedding Abroad…
For me the best thing about getting married abroad was spending an entire week surrounded by friends and family. Imagine the best holiday you’ve ever had but then topped off at the end with your wedding day! I lost count of the number of times my sister, my cousin and I exclaimed ‘this is the best holiday ever’!! So much so that I almost didn’t want the wedding to happen as it marked the end of the holiday!
I found the most stressful part of the process was organising the accommodation for the 80 people that were staying on site. I had to organise payment from everyone and decide who would go in which villa. Also, choosing things without seeing, meeting or hearing them was tough like the photographer, band, cake, and flowers.
I hear a lot of people saying the main challenge is the paperwork but that wasn’t an issue for us. Having a planner took any potential stresses and problems away.
Don’t stress about the small details. The small details are lovely but they don’t make a wedding. If your flowers are wrong – it doesn’t matter. No one else will know they’re wrong. As long as your guests see you and the groom having fun they’ll have fun too. Once you’re there nothing seems to matter. Even finding out two of our ushers had forgotten their suits the night before the wedding did nothing to dampen the day. It just provided extra material for the grooms and best mans speech.
They’re not for everyone but my advice would be to spend that extra bit of money on a wedding planner. For me, it was invaluable. At no point in the day did I have to worry about anything. We had complete faith in both our wedding planner and the venue who worked brilliantly together to ensure the day ran effortlessly.
Fattoria Mansi Bernardini – Our Venue…
The key things we wanted from our venue were that we could get legally married there, have both the ceremony and reception at the same place and that the majority of our guests could stay with us at the venue. We also wanted to be no more than an hour from an airport. We went over to Italy in March 2016, just over fourteen months before the week we’d earmarked for the wedding where we met Helga for the first time and she took us to the two venues she had picked out for us.
The venue we chose was Fattoria Mansi Bernardini near Lucca. It was the first one we’d seen. The venue was perfect for what we wanted. Set amongst an olive farm there are a number of self-catering hamlets and smaller villas plus a bed and breakfast. It meant that the majority of us would stay on site but as we were in separate villas we could all have our own holidays too. With beautiful views over Lucca and the surrounding areas it really was stunning. The only downside is that you need a car to get anywhere. The venue also had four pools and a tennis court for us to use.
My advice would be to do your homework before you visit the venues so you know before you go whether they fit your vision for the day. Keep things simple and only visit a few. The more choice you have the more confusing it is.
We booked the venue from Saturday to Saturday and got married on the Thursday. It was perfect. Everyone enjoyed their holiday with the anticipation of the wedding until the Wednesday then we had a full day after the wedding to reminisce and continue the celebration.
The Wedding Itself…
On the suggestions of many people, namely Helga and the photographer, we got married at 4pm. For me the morning was spent round the pool followed by getting ready with the bridesmaids and a relaxed lunch with some of the family. For Chris it was spent cycling with one of the best men.
We’d always hoped the whole day could take place outside and we were so lucky that the weather allowed this for us. The alternative would have been a marquee which would have been a shame given the beautiful setting we were in. The weather was perfect with not a cloud in the sky which was a far cry from the year before where we’d spent the exact same day freezing cold in the rain whilst the UK was enjoying a heat wave!!
We had a civil ceremony in front of the bed and breakfast in the shade of the trees. This is the only place on site that you can legally get married.
Chris’s sister is a performer in the west end so she sang two songs with Mary and the band which was very special and emotional.
The ceremony was very short, we didn’t write vows and I think all we had to say was ‘yes’ twice! The ceremony was in both Italian and English and Helga did the English part for us which was lovely.
The ceremony was followed by a drinks reception and photographs. We chose not to have any food as we didn’t think it was necessary with the time of the ceremony and having a four course dinner shortly afterwards.
Dinner was on the lawn next to one of the villas. We went for three long tressle tables seating around 34 people each. It looked fantastic and completely fit our rustic theme with no table cloths and only candles and olive leaves from the venue’s own trees as decoration.
We did the speeches between the food courses which worked well. We’d set up games for the children on the lawn so they had the freedom to run around and play between courses rather than having to sit and listen to the speeches.
After dinner we moved back over to the terrace of the main house for the cutting of the cake, first dance and party. We had a cheese tower made locally instead of a traditional cake.
Our music was provided by Mary and the BIT Band who we found through the weddings abroad Facebook group. We chose an all day package which included live music during the ceremony and pre dinner drinks, a playlist during dinner then live music until 1am. I honestly can’t speak highly enough of these guys. We were blown away by them and we know our guests all felt the same.
Once the band had finished those that wanted to continue celebrating moved over to one of the pools where we laughed, danced and drank until 5am.
One of the things that was important to us was to provide a free bar. We love nothing more than turning up to a wedding and realising there’s a free bar!! We kept it simple and had soft drinks, beer, prosecco and wine. We had massively over ordered so ended up bringing around 100 bottles home with us. Again, another great reason to drive!
We sourced all the wine and prosecco with the help of Pasquale at Da Pasquale in Lucca who we struck up a close friendship with whilst dining in his restaurant. He even delivered it to us in his little Fiat Panda! We bought the beer and soft drinks ourselves from a couple of local supermarkets. We had to go to more than one due to buying the first one out of beer completely! I think we looked as if we lived up to our reputation of typical brits abroad with our numerous trollies full of beer!
I decided not to have fresh flowers as the grounds of the venue are beautiful enough. I thought any additional flowers would just get lost in the beautiful setting. I also didn’t want to spend money on bouquets for them to only last a day so I decided to take dried flowers. I found Folky Dokey on Facebook.
One of my favourite things from the day was the family tree idea I’d stolen from Pinterest. The first time I saw it was when I was walking down the aisle and it was exactly as I’d hoped. The best men and ushers had done a fantastic job of setting everything up.
We did DIY bottles of Limoncello as favours which seemed to go down really well.
My mum and sister made the table plan and we all helped to make the place settings.
All the children had an activity pack on the table with sticker books, colouring books, etc. They also had a disposable camera each with a list of photos to take.
We took an Instagram frame, Polaroid camera and lots of fancy dress bits instead of a traditional photo booth. Everyone from the children to the Granny’s had a lot of fun dressing up in the various fancy dress items.
Children at our Wedding Abroad…
Before we decided to get married abroad I always thought I would want a child free wedding but getting married abroad we felt that we should invite them. Out of the 102 guests we had 14 children. They ranged from ten weeks old to fourteen years old. Looking back, inviting children was one of the best decisions we made. They added another dimension to the day and the whole week. The look on the little girls faces when they saw me whilst whispering ‘wow there’s the princess’ will stick with me forever.
My Favourite Part…
Surprisingly for me, my favourite part of the day was actually the ceremony, it was magical. From the minute Mary started singing ‘Think I wanna marry you’ by Bruno Mars all the nervousness I’d been feeling somehow disappeared. Walking down the aisle was far better than I’d imagined. I’ve done it four times before as a bridesmaid and never enjoyed that part but seeing all my friends and family and taking in the scenery as we walked down the aisle was amazing.
Around seven weeks after the wedding we had our UK celebration at a local golf club. We wanted it to feel like a wedding reception rather than just a party. There were around 150 of us of which a large proportion had come over to Italy too. This time we did not extend the invitation to children.
I got to wear my dress again and the other members of the wedding party also wore their outfits. Chris gave a short speech as did the best men. We did another cutting of the cake and a first dance (to a different song) so that the people that hadn’t come to Italy still felt like they were at our wedding reception.
We wanted to have some references back to Italy so we displayed pictures taken at the wedding on a wooden frame that Chris made (another idea stolen from Pinterest) and had mini bottles of limoncello which once again went down very well.
My one regret was not getting a photographer or at least a family member or friend to take some pictures.
Now I’ve had a wedding abroad I truly can’t imagine why you’d do it any other way. Why wouldn’t you stretch out the best day of your lives to be the best week of your lives and also have an excuse to do it all over again back at home?! Also, sunbathing round the pool is a pretty relaxed way to start off your wedding day!
I still can’t believe that 102 of our friends and family came to Italy to celebrate with us from the youngest at 10 weeks old to the eldest at 89 years old.
Claire and Chris we wish you both a very happy marriage.
The Perfect Partners
Wedding planner: Helga at Wedding Italy // Wedding Photographer: Marco Vegni // Ceremony and reception venue: Fattoria Mansi Bernardini // Brides dress: Mori Lee from Maria Modes Bridal // Bridesmaids dresses: Very // Mens clothes: John Lewis // Hair & make up: By friends and family // Music: Mary and the BIT Band // Flowers: Folky Dokey Bespoke // Confetti: Adam Apple // Stationery: www.thecardgallery.com