Planning Your Destination Wedding in Italy
If you have chosen Bella Italia for your destination wedding, you’ve chosen one of the most beautiful places in the world to “tie the knot.” Whether it’s a Roman terrace with a Coliseum view, a peaceful setting on Lake Como, Florence’s Boboli Gardens, the rolling hills of Tuscany, or the breathtaking views of the Mediterranean from the Amalfi Coast, your Italian wedding destination in Bella Italia is an experience beyond imagination.
If an Italian wedding is your choice, selecting an appropriate venue for your ceremony is the first step. From northern Italy to the southern coast, Italy offers a variety of breathtaking venues, each one with its own special charm.
As a wedding officiant who has conducted hundreds of personalized ceremonies from the “thigh” to the “toe” of the Italian boot, there are several considerations to keep in mind when making your wedding plans.
Where should we get married?
In my fourteen years living and working in Bella Italia, I have had the unique pleasure to officiate for Italian wedding ceremonies throughout this beautiful country. If you are planning a destination Italian wedding, the following areas are some of my favorites:
The Amalfi Coast
The landscape is gorgeous, especially when the flowers are in bloom. The climate is temperate, especially in spring, early summer
and fall, but even in the heat of summer, sea breezes abound. Villas and hotels that offer wedding services often have gorgeous gardens overlooking a magnificent view of the Mediterranean Sea. Beautiful villages dot the coast line and I have had the pleasure to conduct weddings in many of these charming venues, including Vietri sul Mare, Positano, the village of Amalfi, Atrani and Ravello and Sorrento.
If you choose the Amalfi Coast as your Italian wedding venue, you and your guests should arrive at the Naples airport or at the Salerno train station. From there you will travel more comfortably if your hotel hires a car and driver to transport you to your hotel or villa. The road is narrow and winding so those who rent a car should be aware. For those with tummy issues, be sure that they bring appropriate supplies (here in Italy we suck on lemons when traveling on curvy mountain roads). The Amalfi Coast is a popular vacation spot for Europeans, so book your venue early, especially if you are planning an August ceremony.
Tuscany (“Toscana” in Italiano) is the cradle of the Renaissance and is world famous for its wine and its variety of delicious food. Venue choices include beautiful walled gardens located in the center of Florence to charming villas and working farms (“agri-tourismo”), to the ancient walled villages that dot the countryside. Vineyards abound and the delicate leaves of the olive trees shimmer in the golden light that characterizes the Tuscany region.
Out of town guests can arrive by air into the Florence (“Firenze”) airport or by train at the station, Santa Maria Novello. The train station is located in the heart of Florence while the airport is located a short distance from the city. Most couples are enchanted by the rolling Tuscan hills and often choose a villa that offers not only fabulous food but a spectacular view as well. If a villa out of town is your choice, be aware that in rural Italy GPS directions are not always accurate – especially when maneuvering ancient highways and bi-ways – so be sure that your wedding planner personalizes the directions for you, for your guests who will be renting a car, and also for the car and driver you hire.
The Italian Riveria
The Italian Riviera is a long stretch of beautiful Mediterranean coastline, part of which touches the Tuscany border. Weddings abound in Liguria, the region most identified with the Italian Riviera, and where the internationally famous towns and villages of Bordighera, Lerici and the Cinque Terre (the “five towns) are located. But the crown jewel, say many wedding couples, is the picturesque fishing village of Portofino that boasts (say “Walks of Italy”) “an enchanting mix of history, pristine beaches, panoramic views, vibrantly colored homes and mouthwatering regional cuisine,” including the world famous “Pesto Genovese.”
Located only 19 km from the Genoa international airport, Portofino boasts an easy journey from airport to the hotels and castles that dot this beautiful slice of the Mediterranean coast. The ancient castles offer breathtaking views but their ancient charm requires a careful scrutiny for modern amenities such as updated bathrooms and kitchens. If you are catering your reception dinner ask your wedding planner to suggest a catering company whose staff have prior experience with your venue. Ask about the availability of changing rooms and space for a rain alternative.
If the Eternal City is your choice, your Italian wedding ceremony will be held in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The cradle of Roman civilization, Rome is romantic and magical. From the beautiful villas dotting the Seven Hills to the charming in- town gardens there are myriad choices to hold your ceremony. From a visit to the Vatican to a tour through Trastevere, the old Jewish quarter, your wedding guests can celebrate your marriage and combine it with a visit to Rome, with all the cultural opportunities that the city has to offer.
If Rome is your choice for your wedding ceremony, you, your family and your friends will find that their journey is a relatively easy one. Rome’s international airport, Fumicino, is located outside of Rome but a very efficient subway system transports visitors to the heart of the city. The train station, Roma Termini, is centrally located in the center of Rome and allows for easy access throughout the city. Because Rome is located approximately in the middle of the Italian peninsula, summer temperatures can make an outdoor wedding quite a challenge. If Rome is your destination, consider an evening ceremony, when the temperatures are cooler and, if your venue is situated on one of the Seven Hills, breezes abound.
Couples I’ve married in Venice say that it is the most romantic city in the world. Brides who choose the “floating city” can arrive to their ceremony by gondola while the 117 canals, and 400 bridges create opportunities for fabulous photos and videos. Because automobile traffic is prohibited in Venice, the city is calm, quiet and intensely personal. Distinctive piazzas, ancient structures adorned in gold that offer ancient mosaics and frescos inside contribute to an atmosphere that is both intimate and culturally stimulating. Venice’s botanical garden is a venue of choice as are the beautiful gardens of the hotels that dot the island landscape.
Venice (“Venezia”) is a series of islands and although its isolation creates a unique glimpse into Italian history, this same isolation creates travel challenges as well. The Venice airport is recently renovated but after luggage is collected, travelers either walk or take a taxi/van to the docks where they board public (“vaporetti”) or private water taxis (“aliscafi”) to arrive at their destination. Couples who marry in Venice often select a hotel or venue that includes hotel rooms for guests along with ceremony space. Since there is no auto traffic in Venice, this is an important consideration for any disabled and/or elderly family members and friends with mobility issues.
Beautiful Lake Como is located in Northern Italy about a two hour drive from the center of Milan and about a 1.5 hour drive from Malpensa, Milan’s international airport. Lake Como has been a venue of choice not only for George Clooney and Gianni Versace but has been beloved by celebrities since Roman times. Charming villages dot the beaches surrounding the lake, while the island of Bellagio offers an exclusive wedding venue where the bride can arrive by water craft. Gorgeous hotels offer complete wedding packages. From castles to visit and hiking and biking paths to delight your wedding guests, Lake Como offers a charming and distinctive wedding experience.
Lake Como offers easy access for your international guests since Milan is an international city with all the amenities that one would expect from the city that is often termed “the New York of Italy.” Because Lake Como is located in the northern portion of the Italian peninsula, weather is an important consideration when selecting your wedding date. Summer offers comfortable temperatures for outdoor weddings, a real plus for a country that can become quite warm in July and August. Early spring and late autumn can be chilly and rainy – in fact since Lake Como’s weather emanates from the area to its north, rain or cold is always a consideration. If Lake Como is your choice for an outdoor ceremony, be sure that your venue offers a rain alternative.
The islands: Sicily, Ischia, Capri and Sardinia
For couples with an adventurous spirit who enjoy more remote or undiscovered venues, the islands off Italy’s Mediterranean coast offer a unique opportunity for a Italian wedding ceremony. The beaches or the hills of Taormina (Sicily), the castles on Ischia, the nuraghi (ancient cone-like fortifications) that dot the shoreline of Sardinia, or the terraces that jut out above the sea on the island of Capri offer romantic settings like none other.
For island ceremonies, transportation is an important consideration. None of these islands is accessible by car. There are no bridges between the islands and the Italian mainland. Travelers can fly into the Sicilian airports at Catania and Palermo and there are several airports on the island of Sardinia. For Ischia and Capri, ferry boat travel is available from the port of Naples, which is near to the Naples airport. There are ferry services where private cars are transported on the ferry boat itself so that visitors can drive their own private or rented cars on these islands but often these services need to be booked well in advance.
And keep in mind…
Those things that give Italy its special appeal – Italian hospitality where everyone is made to feel “a casa,” at home, meals prepared with care and savored at table, and a pace of life that allows relationships to blossom – all these set Italy apart as a vacation and wedding destination. But do keep the pace of Italian life in mind when you compare US or GB conveniences with their Italian counterparts:
Dry cleaning – If you bring your wedding clothes to Italy hoping to have them dry cleaned when you arrive, often turn around time for dry cleaning can be a long as one week.
Printing – if you are printing a “libretto,” (special wedding program) either bring the printed programs with you from home or have your wedding coordinator make the printed copies well in advance of the ceremony. It Italy there is no such thing as quick print at 2 am!
Bathrooms – As you select your wedding venue keep in mind that some of the most beautiful castles and gardens are hundreds of years old. Renovations have been made so that an antique castle, for example, includes lovely terrace seating and a modern kitchen. There are venues however, where bathroom facilities are not up to American standards. Ask your coordinator about the number of bathrooms and their locations. You want to avoid having your guests wait in long lines, missing out on festivities while they wait to use one or two facilities.
Stilettos – are all the rage, and for some women, the higher the better. Be aware that in Italy you’ll be navigating ancient walkways, cobblestone streets and uneven pavements. And if your ceremony is held outdoors, bridesmaids in stilettos may have difficulty maintaining their balance on grass. It is helpful to inform your guests that ballet flats may prevent a turned ankle or worse, but if stilettos are a must, having a low heeled shoe in tow is always a practical alternative.
Changing Rooms – Most clergy bring their wedding robes and change into them prior to the ceremony. Check that your wedding venue has a room set aside for your officiant to dress and store their “civilian” clothes. A changing room might be appropriate for guests who have traveled a long distance and need to freshen up prior to the ceremony.
Rain Alternative – In Italy we say, “Sposa bagnata sposa fortunata,” which means that rain on the wedding day brings good luck. If your ceremony will be held outdoors, be sure to coordinate an indoor space in case of rain.
Wedding Officiant – If you are planning to have a local priest, pastor or rabbi officiate for your service, be sure to secure her/his services BEFORE you book your wedding venue. If your ceremony is a specialized one, such as an interfaith wedding officiated by a priest and a rabbi, be aware that there are few clergy in Italy who are available or even permitted to do so. In fact, for a co-officiated Jewish interfaith wedding very few priests will officiate and only one rabbi (Rabbi Barbara Aiello) will perform this service. If you are working with a wedding coordinator, she/he can recommend an officiant. Before you engage her/his services, speak to the officiant directly to determine level of English proficiency and length of the ceremony.
Legal Weddings in Italy – Unless you or your spouse are Italian citizens, the documentation necessary to have a legal wedding in Italy can be quite complicated. An Italian legal ceremony takes place in the “Commune” (City Hall) and for this reason many couples who marry legally in Italy have two ceremonies, often on the same day. For this reason I recommend that couples marry legally in their home country before traveling to Italy for their destination ceremony. That way you are each other’s legal “next of kin.”
Wedding Planners and Coordinators – After having officiated at nearly 200 destination weddings I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a “boots on the ground” Italian wedding planner. For small weddings with guests numbering less than 50 and for large celebrations where 200 guests or more are in attendance, a wedding coordinator will make your special day a hassle-free experience. Can you do it alone? Of course, but prepare yourself to communicate with vendors who speak marginal English or who might not be familiar with the details you prefer. Over the years I’ve noticed that without an English/Italian-speaking coordinator to help with guests who have special requests, who are confused by Italian road signage and need directions, or who are arriving late with lost luggage, it often falls to the bride and groom to handle these emergencies.
Rabbi Barbara Aiello is a wedding officiant who will conduct Italian wedding ceremonies for Jewish couples, Jewish Interfaith couples, gay couples and couples who require a non-denominational spiritual ceremony. She welcomes the opportunity to officiate and co-officiate for Jewish interfaith and non-traditional couples. It is her joy to create a ceremony that includes everyone in the celebration. Family members of all faiths are welcomed and encouraged to participate.
Rabbi Barbara’s wedding service is a unique and personal experience as Rabbi Barbara is fluent in English, Italian and Hebrew. In addition she will offer a concluding blessing in Spanish, Hungarian, Polish, German or a specific language that honors your family tradition.
What wedding couples are saying:
Dear Rabbi Barbara,
“Matt and I just got back from our African adventure honeymoon! We had an incredible time – but it was all perfectly set up by the most incredible Wedding. I can only repeat my mum and David’s sentiments when I say that the service which was an important part of it all, was perfect and we are so thrilled to have had you marry us. Thank you so much and maybe our paths will cross again sometime soon!” Warmest wishes and lots of love, ~Claire and Matt G.
Dear Rabbi Barbara
“Now that we have come back down to earth and have had time to reflect on our wonderful celebration, I want to say a very big thank you to you for the fantastic ceremony you conducted.
Everyone was talking about it for days afterwards. The warmth, the atmosphere, and the emotion were overwhelming. The way you explained all the reasons for the customs was particularly interesting to our non-Jewish guests, and even for those of us who are Jewish and have been to numerous weddings and not really understood what was going on or the reasons for it, as most of the ceremony is usually in Hebrew. The little bit of Italian you included was also charming.
It was an amazing week and will remain in our memory for ever – thank you for helping to make it so special.” ~Sandy G
Dear Rabbi Barbara,
“We cannot thank you enough for you kind words and for officiating for our wedding. It was the best night of our lives and we feel so grateful and filled with love. Your personal touches during our ceremony made the experience feel so warm and truly unified.” ~Lynell and David (Rome)
Hi Rabbi Barbara,
“We both thought you did an outstanding job helping to combine and explain the different languages, cultures, and traditions Antonia and I share. Many people from the wedding told me how it was the first Jewish ceremony they’ve seen and how much they enjoyed it. It meant a lot to me and my family that we were able to share our traditions with our new Italian family.” Many thanks again and Best wishes ~Ryan and Antonia
Dear Rabbi Barbara,
“Thank you for a beautiful, personal and unforgettable ceremony on Saturday. We are so happy to have found you to co-officiate our wedding. You gave us a memory and a feeling that will stay with us forever. Thank you, again. We could not feel more blessed than we do today.” All our love and thanks ~Laura and Andrew
“Thank you for presiding at our ceremony. You were amazing and made the evening very special. Sabrina and I can’t thank you enough for your blessings.” All the best ~Sabrina and Sean
Dear Rabbi Barbara,
“Thank you for your lovely message. I know Simon has already replied, but I wanted to add my own thoughts to his!
Firstly, I would like to reiterate our heartfelt thanks for the magic you wove at our Italian wedding ceremony. Your truly inimitable approach charmed and bewitched everyone who was there. Everybody responded to your warmth, wit, sense of inclusiveness and sensitivity to all the strands of the traditions, and to the families and cultures you so empathically united.
I have found myself, when recounting the richness of our wedding to friends and family unable to be there, consistently returning to your role in it – to the way you engaged and involved everybody present, how you broke through the mystery for many with lively explanations and interpretations that made them feel both energised, enthralled and included. It seems to me that our guests were transfixed by the beauty and meaning of the ceremony like children being transposed into another world through storytelling; they were filled with wonder and delight.
So, thank you dearly and deeply for everything you brought to it. Your commitment, knowledge, attention to detail and open-mindedness, together with your gift for making people feel at ease while at the same time enlightening them, are truly wonderful things.”~ Lisa and Simon (Venice)
Dear Rabbi Aiello,
“This is a belated thank you for the wonderful Italian wedding ceremony that you officiated for our daughter Amy and son-in-law Michele . It was a touching and inspirational service for all who attended the wedding. People are still talking about how beautiful and warm the service was and how they were impacted by the traditions, the explanations that you provided about the components of the service and the way that you included the two religions, the family mementoes and the guests in the service.” ~Thank you, Nancy and Mark (parents of the bride)
Dear Rabbi Barbara,
“I wanted to take a moment to truly thank you for officiating our Italian wedding. Many guests (besides from my family) came over at the party to congratulate me for the ceremony saying that you were fantastic; strong, deeply spiritual, but also able to make all guests feel comfortable. For many of them it was the first Jewish wedding they have ever been to and they were surprised of how beautiful it was.
My grandmother specifically, to whom I’m incredibly attached, told me that the memories of this ritual so important to her will be playing on her head until she dies, and that my ceremony made her deeply happy.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making this day even more special for us.” ~Warm regards, Olivia