Welcome to the first in a series of new blogs for Oliver’s Journal! As anyone who’s a fan of the site knows, we’ve got some of Europe’s best luxury destination wedding venues on our portfolio and a big part of what we’re all about is pairing happy couples with their dream wedding venue.
We get loads of wedding enquiries (so much so that we’ve even got our own dedicated wedding consultant!) and a lot of our newlyweds-to-be are a little daunted by how and what needs to be done to make the big day itself everything they want it to be. So in that spirit, we decided to start a series of Real Weddings blogs, with the stories and experiences of real brides and grooms who have arranged their wedding through Oliver’s Travels.
Naomi and her fiancée Dan got married in the Loire Valley’s beautiful Chateau Gombardy in August 2014, and we caught up with her to talk about her experiences – with a few added nuggets of wisdom from her mum Diana, who helped arrange everything.
Why did you choose a destination wedding?
Naomi: Having spent a week in Marbella as a bridesmaid for my best friend’s wedding, we were unimpressed with the idea of having just a ‘wedding day’… All that planning, preparation, stress and organisation to then be over in the blink of an eye! Following the success of her wedding we decided to have a wedding week; involving lots of food, drink, laughter and fun with those we loved most!
Diana: We had spent most of our family holidays in gites in France when the children were growing up, we were familiar with the pros and cons of different regions, and I had a moderate command of the language. We quickly settled on the Loire Valley as somewhere that was far enough south to hopefully increase our chances of good weather, yet within easy driving distance of the Portsmouth channel crossings.
How long did it take to plan the wedding?
Naomi: We got engaged over the Christmas period (2013) and had planned most of the wedding by the February half term. We visited the chateau in February and during this time we also managed to organise the catering for the day, the florist, the priest and also met with the ‘keeper’ of the house, as well as the owner.
Diana: In terms of preparation we organised virtually everything during February half term week. We, my daughter and fiancé and his parents made a 48h visit to the area. We met the owner of the château, and he arranged for us to meet a recommended local cook, who made some canapés for us to sample. He spoke no English, and I was anxious that my French might not have been adequate, but happily the canapés, a hog roast (very spectacular), salmon, salads, bread, cheese and a magnificent French wedding cake all appeared exactly as planned.
Likewise our conversations with the local florist produced the anticipated results on the day. (Incidentally we also ordered the wedding dress during that week, and the three bridesmaids’ dresses. This was quite challenging as one of the bridesmaids had delivered her first baby the previous week, and the second bridesmaid was seven months pregnant at the time of choosing the dresses).
What was the approximate cost of the wedding, and how many guests were there?
Naomi: 60 guests. Approximate cost – mum says about £20K but that included food, wine and beer for all those staying at the chateau (26) for the week.
Who helped you in organising the event (family, friends, or you hired a wedding planner)? Any tips?
Naomi: My mum was my biggest support and help, she was fantastic! Not only did she speak fluent French (and take on French lessons in the lead up to the wedding), she was my second voice, my decision maker (my husband wasn’t very good at this!) and she was always there to listen to me moan, cry, stress and question every aspect of our wedding. Janet, our wedding planner was also a shining star! She entered the equation later down the line but was fantastic. She was the voice of reason, reality and experience. I owe the organisation and beauty of the day to Janet, Thierry (the house keeper) and his wife.
Were there any stressful moments organising the wedding? How did you overcome them?
Naomi: I was extremely keen to have large parasols for our wedding reception to shade the sunshine whilst guests were eating. However, after many emails and phone calls, and many reasons it became apparent that a marquee would be better suited to our wedding. I was apprehensive about having a marquee as I didn’t feel it would look as beautiful and delicate as parasols. How wrong was I? The marquee was beautifully decorated, and in all honesty it was the last thing on my mind on the wedding day!
Diana: As I started to look for possible venues it didn’t take long to discover that prefacing anything with the word ‘wedding’, be it food, wine or accommodation, instantly doubled the price – and when I say doubled I don’t use the word lightly! Some of the chateaux sleeping about 25 that I looked at were literally twice as much if they were marketed as wedding venues.
What were you looking for in a venue, and what was it about our property that made you choose it?
Naomi: As stated previously we were keen to have our wedding abroad, and also to make a week of it! Coming from a large family, with a group of close friends we wanted to find somewhere that would accommodate 20+ people, with also the opportunity for other guests to stay nearby. Chateau Gombardy provided this, and included the bonus of being close to Chinon as well as walking distance from many vineyards.
Diana: The chateau was brilliantly equipped with huge gardens, a tennis court, a swimming pool and more than adequate cooking facilities for the 26 of us that were staying, and was perfect for the wedding as there was a consecrated chapel in the grounds. My daughter and her fiance had completed the legalities at the local registry office a few days before leaving the UK and had their ‘proper’ wedding celebration in France, with a charming retired Anglican priest who lived locally available to conduct the blessing ceremony. They could have elected to have the legalities in France, but as France is a secular country all couples have to go to the town hall prior to their church ceremony, so it seemed easier to have the civil proceedings in the UK.
What were the drawbacks or challenges posed by getting married abroad? How did you overcome them?
Naomi: Our biggest concern was affordability; would our guests be able to come to France for our wedding? Luckily for us all our friends and family were able to make the wedding day, and many spent a long weekend in the local area.
What was the best part of the day/what made it memorable? Any good stories?
Naomi: The wedding was a dream come true, a fairy-tale and immensely romantic. For the both of us, we felt lucky to be surrounded by those we loved, not only for our wedding, but also for the week.
Diana: We were surrounded by vineyards and there were numerous ‘degustations’ within a few kilometres, so we had great fun during the days before the actual wedding choosing the wines for the wedding feast. The pleasure of knowing that we were drinking local wines produced in too limited numbers to export was enhanced by the knowledge that we were drinking quality wines for around 5 euros a bottle, and sparkling wines for a euro more – without exorbitant hotel markups. (The disadvantage was that we all drunk more that we might otherwise have done!)
We all had a wonderful holiday, and my daughter said that the wedding had been magical, even better than she had imagined. The week was relaxed and stress free, and because of the limitation on numbers my daughter and son-in-law invited the people that really meant a lot to them, rather than, as often happens at weddings, feeling that ‘because so and so is invited I must invite such and such.’ In practice it was much like the extended family holidays that we have always had, but in luxurious surroundings, and with the excitement of a wedding included.
What would you recommend to those arranging their own destination wedding?
Naomi: Visit prior to booking, ensure a member of your wedding party speaks the language and enlist in a wedding planner or coordinator!
Well, there you have it! We’ll hopefully be running more of our Real Wedding stories over the coming months, so if you’re arranging a wedding keep your eye out! You can also look into our full portfolio of Destination Wedding Venues and how to get in touch with Stephanie, our wedding consultant. And if you’d like to read more of Diana’s experiences helping to arrange Naomi’s wedding, head to her blog.