A growing number of couples are holding their wedding service in the UK and congregating at a local guest house before jetting off to party with guests abroad. Bill Lumley looks at the extraordinary quirks of this trend and takes a look at an enchanting venue in Northern Italy
The traditional wedding is evolving rapidly, influenced by factors that include fashion, a higher disposable income, and of course social media, enabling wedding couples and their guests to share beautiful images of the special day.
The lure of the international stage has permeated the imagination of many a soon-to-be betrothed couple, and one of the emerging trends is for destination weddings.
In a growing number of cases the bride and groom are choosing to hold the official ceremony in the UK, enabling them and many of their guests to congregate at a guest house venue, before the wedding party and often additional guests regroup at a venue in another part of the world for the glamour of a Hollywood-style reception.
Many couples based in the UK as well as Canada and the US are opting to have destination weddings in the Caribbean and Mexico, according to May Abu Jaber, founder and lead planner at The Wedding Haven. Jamaica , Turks & Caicos, Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic also rank amongst the top destinations for weddings, he says.
Renée Strauss of Wedaways says Italy, Morocco, Mexico, Ireland and Napa Valley are the top wedding destinations for 2019. He says Portugal is a hot spot for couples wanting to see their money go further without having to compromise on food and wine and who still want the European experience. Meanwhile he cites Italy as an increasingly popular destination for wedding parties, with scenic mountains and lakes, and year-round activities and spas.
Indeed, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West celebrated their wedding in Florence, while John Legend and Chrissy Teigen partied away by Lake Como in the northern Italian region of Lombardy.
According to the 2019 Wedding Trend Report, the trend to modernisation is illustrated by the finding that this year will see much less in the way of traditional seated dinners at wedding receptions. Instead, the report reveals, more informal dining options such as buffet and made-to-order food stations will dominate the catering side of weddings in 2019.
Sam Johnson, owner of Carmela Weddings, elaborates: “Think bowl food and sharing platters. It’s sociable, flexible and practical, and now it has the Royal Seal of Approval, there is no sign its popularity will fade in 2019.”
An Emphasis on Going Green
Unsurprisingly the report confirms that this year the rise in the number of eco-friendly weddings is expected to continue, with couples also opting to include vegan menu options for their reception.
Holly Poulter, creative director of Revelry Events, says: “Couples are also becoming more and more conscious of the impact their food choices have in a wider context. With a huge number of couples going vegan or just being more aware of waste, plant based, sustainable and local is very much on the menu for 2019.”
Whilst only 3% of weddings take place abroad, according to the 2019 UK Wedding Report, the number of newly-wed couples that opt to celebrate the event abroad is growing fast.
One reason why the formal part of many international weddings takes place in the UK is down to the complexity of paperwork that a marriage abroad entails, coupled with the subsequent bureaucratic process of having that foreign ceremony recognised in UK law.
There is meanwhile growing availability of the most exclusive venues for wedding parties in Venice, Istanbul, Sicily and Nice, and further afield in Marrakech, Los Angeles and the Caribbean. This in turn is giving rise to rapid growth in international destination wedding planning operations, ranging from the likes of Sarah Haywood, Scarlet and Destination Weddings & Honeymoons Abroad to the eponymous Awesome Caribbean Weddings.
But just as recommendations for excellent B&Bs, guest houses and boutique hotels generate a proportion of their overnight guests, word of mouth can also generate powerful commitment in a betrothed couple for a recommended location.
This approach may also bring the fairy-tale glamour wedding for many couples closer to an affordable reality. And if lowering cost is indeed an issue then there are still plenty of out-of-the-way venues that are noticeably less pricey than their equivalents in London, Paris or New York.
Remote Italian oasis
One such venue is family-owned Castello Quistini in Lombardy, Northern Italy – the region where singer John Legend and model and actress Chrissy Teigen celebrated their wedding this year. Nestled in stunning countryside characterised by lakes, mountains, hills, vineyards, villas, castles and monasteries, this 16th century castle has several acres of garden wilderness and is now an exclusive wedding venue for couples looking for a matchless setting as a stunning memento of the celebration of their wedding.
Dating from a time when the land in question was owned variously by the French and the Venetian kingdoms, the castle is also known as Palazzo Porcellaga, which comes from the name of the noble Octaviano Porcellaga, who originally built it in 1560 as a fortified residence in order to substitute nearby Rovato Castle.
Given the political instability of the region, Castello Quistini was often used as military garrison. From the second half of the 14th century it became common practice in the region for noble families to erect fortified homes surrounded by defensive walls in the countryside, in order to protect them from the numerous battles of the time.
Castello Quistini represents one of the few surviving examples of this kind of architecture, with a defensive wall built in a pentagonal shape with thin walls, five towers on the angles, and a four-floor tower located on the inside.
The building itself is constructed from the Serena stone from Lago d’Iseo, typical for the region at the time, and from which many other palaces and farmhouses are built in Franciacorta. Part of the castle remains private, but invited guests may visit some of the rooms, among them the Sala Grottesca and the wedding hall, which has three aisles and a vaulted ceiling, and is the oldest single-span room in Franciacorta – a stunning place in which to stage a wedding reception.
For weddings the venue owners work in conjunction with six catering companies from the region. Event manager Andrea Mazza tell Luxury Bed & Breakfast: “We can put wedding parties in touch with florists, music bands, photographers and other such service providers.”
The cost is determined according to the needs of the client, the number of guests, and the time and season of the event, he says, although he stresses the prices compare very favourably with the English equivalent.
The castle is located a few minutes driver from Lake Iseo and 35 km from the airport Bergamo, which itself is 50 km from Milan. Andrea says: “As regards wedding law, in Italy there is no choice other than to get married in an official Municipality House.” The same still goes for much of southern and eastern Europe, and helps to justify country-hopping at a wedding if Lombardy is a couple’s dream destination.
Andrea suggests three local catering companies, which he describes as the best in Lombardy. These include:
Scotti Ricevimenti (www.scottiricevimenti.it – www.instagram.com/scottiricevimenti): “Attention to details, design and materials (pottery). An important family culinary tradition represented by chef Claudio Scotti,” he says.
Love Banqueting (www.instagram.com/lovebanqueting): “Attention to detail, fittings and trends. They have a lot of vintage design for special weddings.”
La Dispensa Franciacorta (www.instagram.com/dispensafranciacorta): “The best catering in Franciacorta, they have a famous restaurant in Torbiato di Adro, guided by the young chef from the international experience Marco Acquaroli.” says Andrea.
Rather than flying flowers in from the UK he recommends ordering flowers from local sources and suggests four such florists that specialise in weddings:
Il Profumo dei fiori (www.instagram.com/ilprofumodeifiori)
Boheme La Stazione (www.instagram.com/bohemlastazione)
La Fiorellaia (www.instagram.com/la_fiorellaia)
Just as the Greeks have a tradition of smashing plates at a wedding reception, there are a number of local traditions that may be adhered to during the course of an Italian wedding party. “These include throwing the bouquet for the single women of the wedding and cutting the groom’s tie,” he says. “In Franciacorta and Brescia, there is often the tradition at the end of the reception where all the guests go to the bride or groom’s house to eat boiled,” he says.
Italy has a famous culture of food, and wedding receptions feature many dihes. In keeping with the trend towards buffet food identified in the Wedding Trend Report, at Castello Quistini this includes a finger food buffet in the garden with guests seated at the table: appetizers, two first courses including often a types of risotto – for example risotto with strawberries and nettles, or risotto with shrimp – and one or two main courses (meat or fish), concluding with a buffet of desserts and the inevitable bridal return and a toast with Franciacorta wine.
“Once the reception is over it’s time to dance and have a drink with the open bar with Italian and international cocktails,” Andrea says.
The rose labyrinth comprises three large concentric circles consisting exclusively of roses, with a central gazebo bedecked with a splendid claiming perennial rose, Banksiae Alba and Banksiae Alba Plena.
The three circles are divided into four circular sectors that tell the story of the roses, Andrea says. “At the entrance the first plants facing the Gazebo are rosa rugosa (spontaneous hybrids), and these lead through four buhes of rose tapezzanti moderne. To the right you will find modern roses, and on the opposite side we have old roses. In the south sector you will find the English Roses David Austin, before you reach the arch, covered by a beautiful old rose called Alfred Carriere.”
The Hortus’s Garden
In Hortus’s garden, a small and hidden gem, are some of the most uncommon types of aromatic plants. Planted and catalogued in the small hortus are about 50 types of herbs such as achillea (yarrow), absinthe and echinacea – plants that today are used as ingredients in homeopathic remedies, or that provide active medical healing qualities.
Outside of the hortus and in the immediate field that surrounds it grow other plants with bodily healing qualities, among them chicory and wild portulacha, a salad plant rich in omega-3.
The Ancient Orchard
In the brolo grow many ancient and forgotten types of fruit, a number of which wedding guests may taste when the fruit in question is in season. They include three types of biricoccolo, including nostrano (local), gigante and Visuviano. Much of the fruit is used to produce a selection of mouth-watering marmalades. Andrea says: “Many varieties of fruit anciently produced have stepped aside to fruit varieties always more resistant and attractive, but this is not always a synonym of taste and goodness.”
The landscape where the castle and gardens are located, to the south of Iseo Lake, is characterised by a mild, fresh climate. Lakes and mountains, vineyards and hills, villas and castles, churches and monasteries are among the attractions that make Franciacorta a holiday destination that should appeal to wedding guests, with mouth-watering mountain and lake cuisine that can be wahed down with local but globally acclaimed wines.
“Priceless beauty and artistic patrimony define the Abbazia di Rodengo Saiano, the Convento dell’Annunciata di Rovato, and the Monastero di S.Pietro in Samosa; it would be a pity though not to visit some of the many other small churches that decorate the paths along the hills,” says Andrea.
The Franciacorta region, as well as Sebino itself, offers a wide choice of destinations. These include Monticelli Brusati, where the sound of cascading fresh water accompanies tourists along the bicycle track that starts in Paratico and leads all the way to Brescia. Continuing through wild and protective nature, cyclists arrive at the Torbiere del Sebino nature reserve. He says proudly: “This is a well-preserved jewel in our territory, a spectacle of its own with every coming season.” Erbusco also offers visitors the chance to admire Villa Lechi, while Bornato has its own reference in its fascinating castle, he adds.
“For those who instead view vacations as a time for attending to your body’s well-being, Franciacorta offers prestigious thermal centres, as well as modern healthy therapies based on the use of grapes,” he says.
For wedding party guests preferring to discover local tastes, Franciacorta reveals itself as an inexhaustible source of delights, he says, offering a varied and diverse menu, starting from the beef-cut in oil from Rovato, which is considered to represent the peak of excellence in the region’s cooking, according to Andrea, who adds: “It must be said that there is no place in Franciacorta where you can’t taste delicious plates, accompanied by sumptuous, world-famous wines from Franciacorta such as Berlucchi, Cà del Bosco, Castelveder, as well as other smaller, quality wine producers,” he says.
Couples choosing to stage their reception at the castle have the option of staging it outdoors during the balmy Italian summer months. The setting is tempting, with a highly impressive botanical garden, with more than 1500 varieties of roses, hidden green angles, horten’s secret garden, a bioenergetic garden, an orchard with ancient and uncommon varieties of fruit plants, and a simple vegetable garden.
In the vivarium of Castello Quistini there are over 1500 varieties of modern, English and botanical roses. Palace owner and the designer of the magnificent gardens Marco Mazza is also available for projecting other green areas.