Italy: Beach cave transformed into nightclub in Sicily

Rome: Sophie Monet, a jewelry designer who uses wood to create one-of-a-kind, modern accessories for her eponymous collection, and John Paul “JP” MacDonell, a marketing consultant and the founder of the surf brand Urban Barrels, met one Sunday afternoon in May. 
They were both at Surfrider Beach in Malibu, and Sophie and her friends happened to pick a sandy spot right in front of JP and his brother, who were surfing. “In the direct view of the waves, we immediately locked eyes,” Sophie remembers. “He was with his little dog Chloe, and my friend went right up to spark a conversation and introduced us.”

JP showed them a new beach product he was developing at the time, the “bag towel.” “He did a little dance with it and offered to exchange business cards,” Sophie says. “His was waterproof! Anyway, he called me later that week to stop by my studio in Venice so I could show him my jewelry collection. It was the beginning of summer, and we happened to be going to the same small town in northern Italy.” As soon as they returned from their respective trips, their relationship kicked off, along with countless beach dates.

Fast-forward four and a half years, and they were planning a summer trip to Europe around a work event for Sophie in Paris. The evening before they left, JP asked her to go with him to buy a new pair of board shorts while taking their dog out for a walk. “I refused to go, saying I had to pack and finish off my pre-departure list,” Sophie explains. “After a few more attempts, I eventually relented—it was a short walk anyway. As we made our way down the Venice surf break, we let Chloe off her leash and stood under the giant Mark di Suvero sculpture to watch the sunset. I turned away as Chloe ran off, and when I looked back, JP had gotten down on one knee and asked me the burning question. I was in shock!” They left for Italy the next morning.

Sophie and JP have always had a strong connection to Italy. “I have very early memories of spending summers in Italy,” Sophie says. “Growing up, my family would take road trips to Umbria and Tuscany while my dad spent time painting ceramics in Deruta. Later, I studied abroad in Rome and learned about my Italian roots in the town of Abruzzo.”

JP moved to Bogliasco, a small coastal town in northern Italy, after graduating from college in the United States. He spent two years there, playing professional water polo and training on the U.S. National Team. “He loved it there—making friends, learning to speak Italian, and becoming part of the small surf community that welcomed him into their homes and kitchens,” Sophie says. “Given his closest friends are all surfers and swimmers, we knew immediately that we wanted to have a destination wedding in Italy, and it had to be by the sea.”

After that post-engagement trip to northern Italy, Sophie met her family in Sicily. “A year before that, I had dog-eared a full-page photograph I had seen of the view from an antique window frame overlooking a craggy rock formation in Italy, jetting out of the turquoise-blue sea,” Sophie recalls. “The caption read ‘Room with a view,’ and it was La Tonnara Di Scopello. I had wanted to visit ever since, and so on this trip, we checked in for two nights, and I fell in love with the dramatic, rustic location and Old World romanticism of the property.”

The 14-room structure was an old fisherman’s apartment and manor house, and the space was simple, but beautiful. “It was important to preserve all of the natural characteristics of this place that felt magically stuck in time,” Sophie says. “We wanted our guests to feel the same thing we did the very first time we visited, and we wanted to embrace every aspect of the Sicilian culture for a real authentic experience that matched the incredible backdrop.”

It was a weekend spent living la dolce vita with 60 of the couple’s closest friends and family, jumping off rocks and swimming their hearts out, eating fresh fish and pasta, drinking local wine, and watching the sun rise off the coast. “It truly felt like a dream!” Sophie says. She planned everything alongside Laura Bargione, who is a relative of the Tonnara owners, and has an event company based in Palermo that specializes in farm-to-table catering.

The flowers were an especially important element. Sophie’s childhood best friend, Sophia Moreno-Bunge, of Isa Isa did all of them. “We used a lot of local produce, foraged foliage, berries, grasses, and local stephanotis vines as my bouquet, with the local landscape as our inspiration,” Sophie says. “She found beans that were pink and speckled with white flecks that she scattered along the table, gorgeous greens, and late-summer fruits like plums that laid along the main dining table. We wanted the table to feel romantic and connected as one long dramatic setting with the beautiful rocks lit up in the background.”

The ceremony took place on a hill overlooking Tonnara Di Scopello. Friends and family found their seats under olive trees facing the sea. Sophie and JP stood in front of everyone with their best friend, author Erin Falconer, serving as officiant. “She shared some stories about the journey that brought us together, and led all of us to that magical spot in Sicily,” Sophie remembers.
The bride looked ethereal in a Morgane Le Fay dress with Mansur Gavriel heels. “I wanted something formal and classic that fit with the Italian atmosphere,” she says. She found the dress on a whim one day when her mother suggested they visit Le Fay’s atelier in Santa Monica, which just so happens to be down the street from the house where Sophie grew up (it was fate!). “As soon as I saw it on the rack, I knew I’d found it,” she says. “It was classic, but also a little modern. It had a fitted bodice with a full skirt giving me the bare shoulder that I think the setting called for but a hint of the formality I was craving.”

She paired the dress with custom baroque pearl earrings that she designed for the wedding. (As a gift, she made custom pairs for the women in her family too—with shapes of pearls unique to each wearer.) Guests were in formal cocktail attire—a lot of vintage, florals, and jewel tones. “The weather was perfect, warm with a breeze, my veil was blowing in the wind—it just all felt so surreal,” Sophie adds. “JP and I exchanged vows about our mutual sense of adventure, and what we love and appreciate about on another. It was a special moment that we could share in the intimate setting we’d created. We took our time reading them to one another. We said ‘I do,’ kissed, and danced all the way down the hill with a classic Italian folk band playing in the background.”

The reception began at the water’s edge. There was a plentiful spread of procured meats, cheeses and melon, arancini, meatballs, Sicilian capricciosa salad, and even a fried seafood bar. Guests sipped Aperol Spritzes and Negronis. “I found an amazing Sicilian band to play for us,” Sophie says. “They even broke out into the ‘Hava Nagila!’ ” Dinner incorporated the surrounding area’s specialties like pistachios, local seafood, and busiate pasta. Dessert was a collection of Italian mignon pastries, baby tiramisu cakes, cannoli, and a classic berry à creme Italian wedding cake.

After the meal, Sophie changed into a draped asymmetrical linen dress by Jacquemus, and guests moved into a beachside cave under the watchtower for dancing. “We transformed it into a nightclub with lights, a smoke machine, and a DJ spinning,” Sophie says. “It was the perfect way to cap off the night!”