Italian wedding with style and gusto!
Wednesday, 06 July 2011
Seeking something different for their nuptials, JULIE DIAMOND and her partner headed to the romantic city of Florence to tie the knot in the Italian sunshine...
MY FIRST defining pangs of envy for a bride on her special day came whilst sitting on the steps of the Piazzale Michelangelo – a hill-top, bustling square overlooking the Italian city of Florence.
It was the summer of 2002 and I was a pasty 21-year-old whiling away a pensive hot Saturday afternoon with my boyfriend, as he was then, soaking up the panoramic views over the city.
It was the last stop on our backpacking trip down Italy that summer, starting from Rome and ending up in this beautiful, unspoilt city. An exotic-looking bride hijacked the skyline for a while as she canoodled with her groom, posing for photos under the blazing sun, and I dreamt then that the romantic picture would someday unfold just like that in my future.
For many girls, it’s the dream of the white wedding: the Big Day, the princess gown, the sentimental tears and long-standing traditions all carried out publicly before family and friends.
We wanted something different for our nuptials: a fun and memorable celebration in a romantic setting with plenty of good food, booze and music with our nearest and dearest. For this Italy is perfect. It’s no secret that the Italians approach their food and entertainment with such voluptuous style and gusto.
Famed as one of the most beautiful cities in Italy and the world, Florence is the birthplace and epicentre of the Renaissance – where the likes of Michelangelo and Brunelleschi blazed a trail in artistic and architectural splendour back in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
You don’t have to be an art aficionado to enjoy the abundance of culture still evident on its dusty streets – from the statues dotted around the squares to the landmark architecture, Florence is a city so exquisitely stuck in an entrancing time warp.
Fast forward seven years from that summer tour of Italy and I’m back on those same Florentine steps with my man – but this time I’m the one in the floor-length wedding dress posing for pictures and he’s my perfect groom – and yes the sun is cutting a blaze. We’ve made our way up into the hills overlooking the city in our blue-hued open-top Volkswagon Maggiolone after getting married at midday in the ancient town hall: the Palazzo Vecchio.
The Palazzo Vecchio (literally the old palace) is where couples travelling to Italy from overseas celebrate their wedding ceremony. Situated in the political hub of the Piazzale della Signoria, the formidable building (which was completed at the end of the thirteenth century) is a palace with the handsome appearance of a fortress. Its slender, asymmetrical tower soars above the square and can be seen from all parts of the city, making it a dominant fixture in Florence’s dramatic skyline – standing proudly beside the city’s iconic and widely recognisable Duomo cathedral.
On the first floor, the wedding ceremony takes place in the sumptuous La Salla Rossa - literally the red room. And as the name suggests, everything is red: the rich carpet, the opulent drapes, the velvet chairs and the wooden doors. The luscious room is adorned with large tapestries, gilded mirrors and statues, and attracts just over a thousand couples a year – half of whom are foreigners.
Emerging from La Salla Rossa, via the palace’s elegant courtyard, into the vibrant main square is one of the many highlights of saying “I do” in Florence. The Piazza della Signoria is awash with tourists who have come to marvel at the sculptures that line the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio.
And as our twenty-strong wedding party pose for photos against a replica statue of Michelangelo’s David (which replaced the original in 1873), there’s a lively atmosphere and the gawking tourists that stop to take our photos create a giggle amongst the group.
Then as our wedding party made their way up to our lunch reception at the Piazzale Michelangelo, we newlyweds were ushered by our photographer for more photo opportunities in the showpiece square. We were then led out to the narrow side street that houses the Uffizi – a world-renowned gallery that holds a treasure-trove of Renaissance art such as Boticelli’s iconic Birth of Venus.
Crowds of tourists queuing to enter the famous gallery shouted congratulations in many different languages as we passed them by (many punters end up queuing for up to four hours to reach the ticket office of the gallery so it’s worth booking ahead if you’re eager to see the collections).
At the end of this street you come to the banks of the River Arno. Here you can see the dainty outline of the Ponte Vecchio – another quintessential image of Florence. Translating as the old bridge, the stone structure was built in 1345 and is lined with jewellery shops. It has a cute and quirky appearance when viewed from the river banks, like a magical low-level miniature city existing on an arched bridge.
It’s only about a five to ten minute drive from here to the Piazzale Michelangelo. Or you can walk up if you’re feeling like some exercise – it’s a hilly but scenic stroll and the views at the top make it well worth the effort. At the top, you’ll find a replica statue of David and a couple of huts selling souvenirs, snacks and refreshments.
Like most places in Florence there’s a crowded buzz during the day, yet at night the hubbub turns to a more tranquil romantic atmosphere, and it is patrolled mainly by loved-up couples taking a night-time stroll and stopping to stare at the panoramic vista over the timeless city.
Thanks to our personal experience of Florence (whilst backpacking we stayed at a campsite next to the square) we knew it was one of the best areas in the city, and picked a restaurant here to show our guests some of the best views on offer. Apart from a small café and the food huts, there was only one choice for a suitable restaurant on the square – La Loggia. It’s a grand place held up by cloisters, with well-dressed staff serving up canapés and cold drinks under umbrellas that protected our Irish skin perfectly from the hot summer sun.
To take advantage of the posh venue and the Italian style, we booked a local jazz trio who belted out classic, emotive tunes such as Moon River and All of Me. The band went down a treat and provoked some intrepid guests to have a bit of an afternoon boogie in the open-air.
After lunch it was time to take real advantage of those Tuscan hills that envelope the valley of Florence. Our wedding dinner and night time reception was set in a Patrician villa in rural Florence, just ten to fifteen minutes drive outside of the city. The rustic villa is set amid 22 hectares of olive groves, vineyards, woods and Mediterranean countryside, and commands yet more impressive views over the city below.
It was now early evening, and as the sun was just beginning to go down, our party enjoyed another round of drinks and canapés, milling around the verdant garden and commenting on the spectacular panorama of the city we had just left behind. Everyone was captivated by a distant, ominous thunder storm that was clearly making its way over to our Tuscan idyll. Time then for dinner under the protective canopy of the gazebo.
Linked to the garden by a narrow leafy walkway that was lined with lanterns to light up the darkening sky, the gazebo housed four tables, a small dance floor and bar, and an area for the band. It was a rounded space, fringed with greenery, and with only a canvas roof to protect us from the thunder and rain that was bellowing around us. The storm could be seen and heard intimately from all the open sides of our little oasis, but never overbearing – just perfectly dramatic for an unforgettable open-air dinner.
After our seven-course banquet (I did say the Italians do everything with style and gusto!) the night was rounded off with a Chinese lantern spectacle over the low hills of Tuscany, while our Italian guitar duo belted out classics to the wee small hours. It was a perfect summer’s evening in Tuscan paradise.
You’d think that all this magic would come at a hefty price, but the growing exodus of Irish and British brides and grooms jet-setting across the globe to tie the knot are often – at least in part – fleeing the spiralling costs of the more traditional wedding. A recent survey reveals that one in four couples choose to forgo a classic wedding at home because it’s cheaper to host a wedding abroad. The other main factors were: more desirable weather, the desire for a romantic location and the convenience of combining the wedding with the honeymoon.
And as the trend for lovers to get hitched in far-flung destinations gains more momentum, the process of organising a wedding overseas is getting easier. Most couples hire a wedding planner to help them out but this unsurprisingly comes at a cost. We managed it – just about – on our own, so it is possible to successfully organise a magical event overseas from your home computer. Important elements such as a photographer, booking a reception venue and hiring local bands can easily be sourced online – there’s so much opportunity to look at portfolios and testimonials and download demos, as well as trawl through wedding forums for advice from other brides and grooms. One thing I would recommend for getting married in Italy is to hire a wedding planner for the legal side of things which, as we found out, can get a bit complicated and stressful at times. Also you’ll need to find a good translator for the ceremony, which the wedding planner could help you with. But for everything else, it’s pretty similar to organising a wedding at home – and the Italians really know how to throw a good wedding party!
Jet2 fly to nearby Pisa from Belfast International and Ryanair fly from Dublin to Pisa. From Pisa airport there are regular trains to Florence, and the journey should only take about an hour. For more information on train times go to the Pisa airport website (www.pisa-airport.com) or the Italian railways website (www.trenitalia.com)
For information on the legalities of getting married in Italy, the British Embassy website is a great place to start: http://ukinitaly.fco.gov.uk/en. And more specifically for Florence, the Comune di Firenze is a useful port of call www.comune.fi.it
We found our excellent translator on this website: www.proz.com
The hilltop eatery on Piazzale Michelangelo was La Loggia restaurant www.en.ristorantelaloggia.it
The rustic villa in the Tuscan hills was Villa Le Rondini www.villalerondini.it
For a lovely hotel in Florence city centre, I would recommend the four star hotel where our bridal party stayed - Plaza Lucchesi www.plazalucchesi.it
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