Rome: Getting married in Italy, one of the most romantic countries in the world, is a popular choice.
But the planning process is not always straightforward. Whether you’re living in Italy or have your heart set on a destination wedding, here’s everything I’ve learned from planning my own Italian wedding.
The first time I started questioning our decision to get married in the south of Italy was when the manager of a potential wedding venue told me: “Twelve courses for lunch is standard. No, we can’t do any less. But we can do more if you like.”
We’d chosen Puglia – the heel of the Italian ‘boot’, famous for its abundant food and over-the-top wedding celebrations – simply because that’s where my fiancé is from.
Like many parts of Italy the region has great weather, incredible food and fairytale wedding venues – and it was much cheaper than getting married in the UK. So for us, the location was an easy decision to make.
But, as I soon learnt, planning a wedding in Italy as a non-Italian comes with plenty of surprises and challenges; from old-school traditions to a confusing bureaucratic process.
I was months into the planning process before I fully understood just how different weddings in Italy – particularly the south – are from what we’re used to back home. And the paperwork involved was mind-boggling.
In fact, I was still learning these things the hard way right up until the days before the wedding.
So to help you avoid the same stressful situations I found myself in, here’s a practical guide to organising your own wedding in Italy.
There are all kinds of stunning wedding venues up and down the country, from castles to vineyards or beachfront hotels. The most popular destination wedding spots in Italy are Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast, where plenty of venues have experience of catering for non-Italian couples.
The simplest and cheapest option is to get married at the town hall. It’s not a bad option. A lot of Italian town halls are incredibly grand and beautiful buildings that resemble museums or palaces, even those in small towns.
The other options are the church or a civil ceremony at a licensed venue – where the town hall’s official, perhaps even the mayor, will come out to for a hefty fee (normally up to 500 Euros.)
Italy has some incredible wedding venues. File photo: Pixabay.
Wherever you choose to get married in Italy, the logistics can be tricky for non-Italians.
Don’t get married hundreds of miles away from an airport, and don’t underestimate the amount of time you’ll need to spend helping your guests book flights, hotels, car hire and answering random questions about all sorts of other things, especially if they’ve never been to Italy before.
And sadly, if you’re getting married abroad, a lot of people just aren’t going to be able to make it. My family made it into a week-long holiday. Some friends scrimped and saved for months to pay for the trip. Others just chose not to come, for various reasons, and that stung more than I expected it to.
But look on the bright side – for couples who are looking to cut down the guest list, this is not a bad way of doing it.
What about the language? If you don’t speak Italian, you’ll need a wedding planner (or bilingual local friend) to help.There are lots of local English-speaking planners who’ll be able to translate not only the language but the cultural differences. If you can’t afford to hire someone to plan the whole thing, some offer individual services like translations or help with paperwork.
Even if you speak Italian and live in Italy, a planner is always helpful. But if the budget doesn’t allow for it, you can get by without – as we have – as long as at least one of you speaks the language fluently.
No one wants to think about wedding paperwork when there are cakes to be tasted. But if you get the right help and information, it doesn’t need to be that stressful.
If you both live outside Italy, you’ll need to go and give notice at your local town hall and then get a couple of documents officially translated. Your local town hall should have all the information you need.
If you live in Italy and one or both of you has Italian residency, you’ll need to make an appointment with your country’s embassy in Rome to give notice and get a certificate of no impediment, called a nulla osta, which costs about 100 euros. Requirements vary for different nationalities.
You’ll then give notice at the comune of the town where you have residency – and for civil ceremonies, also at the town where you’re getting married, if it’s different.
We ended up having to give notice three times – once at the British embassy in Rome, once in the town we live in, and then again at the town we got married in.
Italian bureaucracy lived up to its reputation. The amount of things that were miscommunicated between these three points was incredible, so make sure you follow up on everything and make sure paperwork has been sent and received – and has your wedding date written on it. (Yes, they forgot to do that for ours, and our officiant was double-booked.)
In the UK you generally would book your civil ceremony official as soon as you book your venue, which could be up to two years before the big day.
But here in Italy, you can’t give notice until six months before the wedding – meaning you can’t book the officiant until then either.
Like elsewhere, you’ll need two witnesses. They can be friends, relatives, or pretty much anyone really, but you will need to give their details and copies of their passports to the town hall a few weeks before the wedding.
As a side note: if you ask an Italian friend to be a witness, they might turn white and start stammering about previous commitments. It’s not because they don’t love you, but Italian tradition says witnesses are expected to give large sums of money – at least a thousand Euros – as a wedding gift!
For church weddings in Italy, both of you will usually need to be Catholic, and if you’re not Italian residents you may need a letter from your church back home. The rules can vary though so it’s always worth checking with the church itself.
I wasn’t looking forward to shopping around for suppliers in Italian. But I was surprised and relieved to learn that a lot of reception venues in Italy include your cake, flowers, and various other ‘extras’ in the price of your meal. It’s rare to find venues where you’ll need to decorate or set up anything yourself.
However, if your tastes are anything but ultra-traditional you may struggle with finding some suppliers locally.
Wedding dress shopping was tricky, as I found bridal boutiques here both more conservative and more expensive than those in the UK. Dress shopping in Italy was not an enjoyable experience. In the end, I luckily met a fantastic designer who produced a custom-designed dress for less than the price of the off-the-rack styles.
And of course, you can always source some things at home. For example, I wanted modern, creative photography (as opposed to the very formal, soft-focus style that seems to be ubiquitous among Italian wedding photographers) and I found that surprisingly it worked out cheaper to fly a photographer over from the UK.
Italians have a well-deserved reputation for being laid back, and nothing about that changes when you’re planning a wedding.
The most stressful thing for me has been dealing with suppliers who like to take their time. Just make lots of notes and be prepared to chase them up instead of having them contact you about fittings or appointments. Because they won’t.
To avoid stress on the actual day, my advice is to leave a lot of time in your schedule for things to overrun. The organisers at our venue insisted they’d keep to a tight schedule, but I didn’t arrive in Italy yesterday, and I knew things would always take much longer than anyone said. So I put my own, more realistic timings on the programmes and they turned out to be spot on.
And don’t expect the ceremony to actually start at the time you’ve put on your invitation. Being half an hour late is expected. I was a mere ten minutes late for mine, and the Italian guests were still arriving.
Weddings in Italy are usually traditional, often Catholic affairs, without the added extras common in other countries. For example, Italian couples will usually just have two witnesses, instead of a wedding party of best man, maid of honour, bridesmaids and groomsmen.
While there’s no reason foreign couples shouldn’t bring their own traditions with them, it’s still useful to understand how weddings tend to work in Italy. This way, you’ll avoid crossed wires with suppliers and venues.
If either of you is Italian, be prepared to compromise often when trying to navigate the wedding traditions of two different cultures.
In our case, that meant me getting used to the idea that his family would be very involved in the planning, and them getting used to the idea that we wouldn’t be following all of the usual traditions.
And instead of choosing between a three-course dinner and that blowout 12-course Puglian banquet, we found a different venue that was happy to create a six-course tasting menu that kept everyone happy.
Planning a wedding abroad can be a little trickier than at home. But there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have the day you really want, wherever you decide to get married.