Planning your destination wedding isn't as difficult as you might think. Often it's as easy as making a few calls and sending a few emails. Many locations now include the services of an experienced and knowledgeable wedding coordinator, and there are many more available for hire in popular areas. If you want to go at it alone, without the help of a coordinator, be prepared for extensive research, preliminary trips (hey, there are worse things!), and perhaps some timing snafus.
Q. How do we know which country to choose?
A. Europe's a big place: Choosing a country can feel a bit like throwing a dart at a map. But that just means there's a perfect location for almost any kind of wedding. Try to think about it in terms of setting first, and then in terms of activities that you and your guests might enjoy. A coastal beach wedding in the South of France, or a cozy chalet and skiing in the Alps?
Q. Are we responsible for our guests' expenses?
A. Most couples that go the destination-wedding route do not have the means to pay all of their guests' ways but if you do, it's a wonderful gesture and of course they will appreciate it. Usually, though, guests expect to foot the bill for their own airfare and hotel accommodations. That said, guests are committing themselves more financially and time-wise than they would for a wedding closer to home -- they're probably treating this as a vacation. This is one type of wedding you will need to plan further in advance if you're inviting lots of guests, and save-the-date cards are crucial. Whatever you do, make sure that you provide lots of economical options for your guests.
Q. We want to incorporate a little European culture without having a theme wedding. Any ideas?
A. Be creative by adding accents local to that particular region -- anything from native music to a regional drink. Here are a few suggestions.
If you're marrying in...
- Ireland/Scotland, have a bagpiper dressed in kilt play at your ceremony and/or girls do the Irish Jig at the reception.
- England, make your getaway in a signature black taxi or even better, a double-decker bus
- Spain, hire a flamenco guitarist to woo your guests over cocktails.
- France, make a toast with one of the champagnes produced in the Champagne region of France.
- Portugal, serve a main course that highlights one of the country's leading industries -- olive oil.
- Germany, take advantage of the country's rich musical history and learn to waltz to Beethoven or Brahms.
- Italy, capitalize on the country's enormous arsenal of love poems and learn a few verses to recite during the ceremony or host a dinner in a winery/wine cellar complete with accordion and mandolin players.
- Belgium, send guests off with a sweet reminder of your nuptials -- Belgian chocolates.
- Switzerland, welcome guests with warm mittens and a comprehensive guide to the slopes of the Swiss Alps.
Q. If we want a more urban wedding, are there other options for us?
A. An invitation to a wedding in one of Europe's dazzling cities will be hard to turn down -- who could possibly resist the allure of shopping in Paris, boating the canals of Venice, or visiting the ruins of Rome? One advantage of this is you won't have to worry as much about creating an itinerary, as there will be so much to do, you'll simply have to figure out which things you don't have time for. When marrying in a big city, there are a few important things to be aware of, however. Research any parades or special events that may be occurring during your wedding weekend -- they will not only tie up traffic, but may also affect hotel availability. Also, the exchange rate is something worth considering. The US dollar is currently weak in many European countries so weddings will cost more. It is also important that you know the high crime areas of the city and do not book your hotels in these areas. Keep your guests safe by advising them to watch out for speeding motorbikes and avoid carrying long-handled bags. Lastly, marriage requirements differ from country to country, so familiarize yourself with the necessary steps to get married in the city of your dreams.
Q. Are there any must-dos that we should advise our guests of?
A. Since Europe offers so many choices, it's probably a good idea to provide each guest with an up-to-date travel guide for the area. Act as their hosts and see that they are kept entertained, which shouldn't be too difficult. Hotel concierges are great resources for itinerary ideas. Encourage your guests to participate, but don’t be demanding. Realize that they'll occasionally want to hang out at the hotel and relax.
Q. Are there any local drinks or culinary specialties that we should know about and incorporate?
A. Concierges and travel books are a great resource for these types of things. Check the Internet for a web site for your specific town or area -- they'll often clue you in to local specialties you won’t want to miss. Cocktail hour is a great time to showcase some local flavor. Try serving spirits like Sangria in Spain, Cognac in France, Guinness in Ireland, Scottish Punch in Scotland, Ouzo in Greece, or Prosecco Sparkling Wine in Italy. Sweet local favorites like English trifles in England, Dundee cake in Scotland, or cassata cake in Italy are also nice touches.
Q. I'm dying to go to Greece, but I'm not sure which island to go to! Any suggestions?
A. Though they all offer abundant sunshine, beautiful water, and a rich history, each Greek island has its own unique personality. To find the one that's right for you, check out our guide to Greece.
Photo: Javon Longliere Photography