The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Wedding in Italy
Every year, more and more couples are choosing a destination wedding versus marrying in their home country.
Italy remains one of the most requested destinations for weddings and it is easy to see why. The variety of venues is incredible, the people are hospitable, and the level of cuisine and services competes with the best in the world!
From a snow wedding in the Dolomites to the jaw-dropping cliffs of the Amalfi Coast, the variety of backdrops is truly amazing.
But where do you start? And how can you avoid pitfalls and disappointments?
Some practical advice gleaned from 20 years of planning weddings in Italy.
ITALY WEDDING VENUES
The success of a wedding will depend largely on your choice of venue.
The first decision will be to narrow down your region and geographical area. Otherwise the selection process to choose a wedding venue in Italy will be overwhelming.
Italy is so varied that you will need to decide whether your preference is for sea or lake views, in a historical city such as Rome or Florence or the rolling hills and vineyards of Tuscany and Umbria.
Or perhaps you are looking for some of the lesser known gems such as Piemonte’s Langhe region with its gorgeous castles, or Apulia’s marvelous estates called “masseria’s”.
Whatever region, town or venue you choose for your wedding in Italy it should also take into account the logistics of getting there......
- How far is my venue from an international airport?
- How will my guests get from airport to venue?
- Does my venue require transfers on the wedding day?
What might look easy on google maps can be very challenging for a guest who has never set foot in Italy. For example, an Amalfi Coast wedding is second only fo Tuscany in popularity. The only airport is Naples which is 1 1/2 hours by car from the coastal towns of Positano, Amalfi, Ravello. Once you reach the coast expect narrow, hairpin roads and traffic jams. As such you may want to offer your quests some transfer support so they avoid having to navigate very challenging routes.
In order to help you narrow the region and setting you should determine the STYLE of wedding you envision. Is it formal and sophisticated? Then a country estate may be too rustic for your vision and you may want to consider an elegant villa in Lake Como or one of the castles of Tuscany or Palladian villas of the Veneto. Some regions are able to offer the complete range of options from rustic and laid back to over the top “wow”.
Here are some important questions to ask a potential venue:
- Do you provide discounts for mid-week or low season events?
- What music restrictions are imposed, if any?
- Is catering handled in-house or by outside caterers?
- Do you have exclusive vendors we must hire?
- What is the check in/check out timing?.
- Are there any restrictions or important rules to be aware of?
- Is there a back up plan in case of rain?
An experienced Italy wedding planning agency will be able to greatly simplify the choice of wedding venues which can be overwhelming.
In addition, they will have insider knowledge on how the venues are managed, how they treat clients and any thorny situations that someone who is simply looking at a pretty web site will not have access to.
Italy is a beautiful country and reviews are helpful but not always sufficient to ensure your choice of wedding venue is the right one.
For example, Distinctive Italy provides a Venue Sourcing service that assists couples in making the right selection. We set up a complimentary consultation which helps us understand our couple’s requirements and then selects a number of venues for evaluation and sets up a day of viewings for the final, top choices. This takes the guesswork out of your Italy wedding venue choice. Any respected agency will be able to provide such a service.
RAINY DAY BACK UP - A MUST!
Yes Italy is a sunny country but we have experienced torrential rain in August and July. Always veryfy what back up plan is available at your preferred venue in case of bad weather. Some do not have one and a marquee must be hired. Marquees are an expensive ticket item and in some cases can easily be well over Euro 20,000 depending on size and type. If this amount is not feasible you should only consider venues that have a built in back up in case of rain.
It is imperative that you establish your maximum budget for the wedding day before confirming ANY venue and discuss this openly with your prospective planner (if you plan on hiring one).
The challenge the couple going solo will have is that they do not have knowledge of how much services cost for a wedding in Italy. A reputable agency will provide you with a clear idea of what your starting budget will need to be and if an Italy wedding is feasible. Don’t be shy about discussing numbers and figures and stay away from anyone who is very vague.
There are many hidden costs involved in planning a wedding and particularly so in a foreign country so your best defense is gathering as much information as possible regarding costs.
Your wedding budget should consider:
- Venue hire – which in some cases is a significant portion of the budget.
- Lighting – highly variable by venue. Some venues require a lot of lighting, others less and the budget will swing accordingly. You should verify the amount of lighting that your Italy wedding venue might already have. Fairy lighting, bulb lighting and other atmospheric lights create a magical atmosphere but can also raise your budget considerably if your venue is a 15th century castle with very little lighting.
- Music and Entertainment – a DJ will always be your best solution for the budget but here too, choose wisely as you will want a DJ who can provide excellent references and be English speaking. Bands come in all sizes and budgets from Euro 2.500 to over Euro 28.000+ and there are many bands willing to travel from outside of Italy. But if they do, they will also require that a “rider” be provided with instruments, lighting and other equipment, thus driving the pricing up.
- Floral décor – this is an item that can shift the budget upwards depending on how elaborate a design might be. We find that couples often underestimate the cost of décor. Pinterest and Instagram worthy weddings are not inexpensive, and flowers and labor do add up.
- Beauty services – these come at sticker shock prices compared to other countries. It is part of the Italian culture to pay considerably for this service which is very professional but definitely expensive. The service is at location and a trial run is highly recommended. So if your beauty contacts quote you high prices – they are not overcharging by Italian standards.
- Transfers – a venue that can sleep all your guests has the advantage of not requiring complex logistics or added transfer costs to your wedding day and budget. Always verify if your venue has special transfer requirements or restrictions. Some for example are hard to reach and can only be managed with minivans or smaller vehicles. The more vehicles, the higher the cost. Transferring guests out of cities will also have a ZTL tax which is a permit to circulate inside the no-traffic zones of the city.
In addition, make sure that all of the logistics will be handled by someone as mismanaged logistics can spell disaster for your wedding day upsetting an entire year's worth of planning.
- Catering – this is the highlight of a wedding in Italy. Unlike other countries almost always catering quotes in Italy will include:
- Complete set up with linens, china, place settings etc..
- Rich aperitif hour with finger foods and Prosecco wine
- Multi course seated menu
- Italian wedding cake
- Wines – both red and white
Menus are always seasonal and regional, reflecting the area you have chosen. Nothing is set in stone however and you are free to tweak menus and make special requests. There is much more flexibility in Italy compared to other countries.
Each region in Italy has a number of top caterers that have built a solid reputation over decades. They are on the list of every wedding planner because they deliver each time. After these come smaller companies that have a less reliable level of service. They may offer lower pricing but always for a reason - by cutting corners. Some venues, to avoid issues will have an exclusive caterer or provider to ensure couples are satisfied.
Couples who will get the most out of the process of planning a destination wedding in Italy are those who are able to let go of how things are done in their own country.
It is important to remember throughout the course of the planning that you are getting married in Italy and that certain business processes, customs and procedures will inevitably be different from your own.
Different does not mean wrong or bad. But if you are unable to adjust expectations to the local culture you will find the process at times frustrating instead of enjoyable. In addition, each region in Italy has a sub-culture, so planning a wedding in the Amalfi Coast will be very different from planning a wedding in Lake Como or Sicily. Culture is everything in Italy!
GOING SOLO or HIRING an AGENCY?
This is a very personal question and a lot depends on the size and complexity of your event. Let’s examine this point by point.
Obviously by choosing to plan your own wedding in Italy you will not have the added expense of a wedding planner’s fee. The money can go toward services or venue hire.
At some point however – at the very least your wedding day - someone will need to supervise and coordinate all services and vendors. And that someone should not be you or the result will be a very stressful wedding day!
For smaller weddings this may be less of an issue but for sure weddings over a certain number require a substantial amount of coordination and supervision to make sure everything runs according to plan. Our team easily puts hundreds of hours into each event.
Hiring a day of coordinator can be a solution to this issue, but we have found that often not having been privy to the entire planning process day of coordinators have limited knowledge, and most importantly very limited authority to sort vendors out because vendors will ultimately answer to whomever hires them. This is why the more reputable agencies do not accept day of coordination assignments.
RED TAPE - CIVIL or RELIGIOUS DOCUMENTATION
Civil paperwork for a legally binding marriage in Italy is not an easy process and is full of pitfalls. In our 20+ years as Italy wedding planners we have heard too many sad stories about couples not being able to marry when everything was in place because of paperwork mismanagement. If you are considering a legally binding, civil ceremony in Italy please make sure that you have all the paperwork requirements clearly explained to you. This is a process we do not recommend handling on your own and there are agencies that are willing to handle this service alone.
Italy’s bureaucracy is the country’s less romantic side and yes, a lot of things can go wrong. In addition, government offices are constantly changing hours and schedules and you risk missing essential appointments which in any case still require a professional translator/assistant.
Expect to have to be in Italy some days prior to complete the last formalities, particularly if you are US or Australian nationals.
For symbolic weddings you will skip this problem of course and this is a choice more and more couples are selecting. Professional celebrants are available to perform a beautiful vow exchange.
Catholic ceremonies in Italy have their own strict procedures and negotiating with smaller parishes can be a very difficult process, sometimes even for an agency! Priests for the most part to not speak English, some don't have access to email. Particularly in smaller towns some of the dealings must be in person, not by phone or email. This is not something we would advise going at solo.
Planning a wedding in Italy is a very time-consuming process and requires considerable chasing of vendors. Is this something you are able to consider with your work/life schedule? For some couples the time zone difference will also be a huge challenge. When you are available to skype or email, Italy will not be and vice versa.
And speaking of timing, in high season Italy’s wedding vendors are on the job all day working almost 24/7 and emails can sometimes be answered with even 2 weeks delay. Understandably this can really cause a lot of anxiety and frustration for couples who start wondering: “has my vendor disappeared?”
In the majority of cases, it is simply the pace of Italy and an agency will be able to stay on the heels of the vendors and make sure that you have better follow through. So do not panic if your vendor takes over a week to respond to your message!
Language is another major issue. A LOT can and sometimes (often!) gets lost in translation. Add to that the extra element of cultural differences and you can see how easy it is for miscommunication to happen.
This is one of the greatest challenges we have observed over the years and having a bi-lingual wedding planner will make a tremendous difference in lowering your stress levels and also making sure you understand what is being presented to you. Clarification of any questions on contracts, services descriptions etc.. is so much less stressful when someone is liaising on your behalf, and the whole process will be more straightforward.
Should you choose to plan your own Italy wedding then we recommend making sure you select vendors that can communicate well in your own language.
The right vendor can make your wedding day simply amazing……….and the wrong one can totally ruin your dream day! Here too the choices are rather overwhelming and web sites can be misleading. Ironically, some of the best vendors in Italy have terrible and dated web sites, while sub-par vendors may have outstanding web sites……..one of the paradoxes you will inevitably run into.
So do not judge a vendor by their web site/Instagram etc… we know this goes completely against our current techie culture but it is much of a reality with Italy.
There is a reason for this…….
Many of the best vendors do not have much of a presence on the internet because they work exclusively with agencies and not with couples directly. So they don’t really care about having a strong web presence as they prefer to avoid direct contact with couples.
Reputation is everything in the wedding industry but much of it is insider knowledge. Forums are not the best tool for choosing a vendor either as they do not represent the top range of vendors.
We recommend if you are going at it solo to possibly check with the venue on their preferred vendor list, if they have one.
As for agencies they all have a preferred vendor list, and for good reason. They will work with vendors who have a proven work record and have repeatedly performed according to expectations.
In addition – because an agency provides repeated business, they can ask vendors to go the “extra mile” and at times provide certain discounts that will not be available to a one-time client. Vendors want to remain on an agency’s list and that will incentivize them to perform consistently well.
Independently sourcing vendors that have never worked together does not translate well on the wedding day. A cohesive team works seamlessly throughout the entire event.
And lastly, choosing the cheapest vendor is a recipe for disaster….there is a reason why a vendor charges so much less over another and the difference inevitably is quality. Caveat emptor!
WEDDING PLANNING FEES – if you choose to hire a planner
Here too the range is vast and it is hard to narrow down why the difference between agencies.
Due diligence is advised setting up a skype or phone or zoom call to review details and ask questions. In addition, any self-respecting agency will be able to provide ample references and have a good presence on the web/internet.
Most of all it’s important to compare apples with apples. Many agencies attract clients by sending a lower quote but reading the fine print, certain services are not included such as:
- On site presence of the team on the wedding day from start to finish
- Site Inspections
- Tastings/additional vendor visits
We highly recommend making sure that the proposal is COMPREHENSIVE and if anything is excluded that this be very clear from the beginning.
We hope this blog has provided you with some useful tips if you are considering getting married in Italy. If you have any questions, feel free to CONTACT US.
Rosanna Lyman is a 20 year veteran of destination weddings in Italy. She and her TEAM cover most of Italy’s regions and have had the pleasure of planning over 2000 weddings for OUR AMAZING COUPLES.