Melissa, 28, Ottawa, Canada. Federal Government employee. Loves travelling but also a homebody who enjoys a good Netflix series. Crazy dog and cat lady.
Our Love Story
My now husband and I met almost 9 years ago. We met during the Summer of 2009. I was just back from a year abroad and he was on a college co-op in my small Ontario, Canada hometown. From here we started a long distance relationship, as I soon left for my first year of university and he completed his final year of college elsewhere. Following his graduation he joined me in Ottawa, Ontario where I was completing my University degree. We had one more year of long distance as I went abroad for a year as part of my degree (these travel years abroad were a major part of the inspiration behind the future wedding decisions we would make).
The proposal was a complete surprise (although he’d taken the traditional route asking for my father’s blessing so my family knew it was coming)! During our 4th year of dating, on Christmas Eve, he got down on one knee in the apartment we were renting together at the time and asked me to marry him. It was very private, being jut the two of us, and sweet and absolutely perfect. Honestly to this day I’m not even quite sure what he said during this proposal as I was seriously so surprised and hadn’t seen it coming haha! He proposed with a diamond and we actually designed the ring together. I really enjoyed this experience as I found it helped with the element of surprise (I hadn’t been sending hints or photos of rings previous to this) and gave us an opportunity to create a beautiful piece together that we both loved. We weren’t necessarily in a rush to plan a wedding so enjoyed a 4 year engagement before being married.
Let’s Talk Wedding Planning
Wedding Date, Geographical Location, Venue
Date: September 8th, 2017
Location: Tuscany, Italy
Venue: Borghetto Poggio Bianco
As mentioned in our dating story, my previous experience travelling abroad was a huge inspiration for our final wedding destination selection. Originally we had started planning a wedding back in my hometown. We even had booked some of the vendors and were getting quite far into the planning process. I had started initially joking with my now husband about a year before our planned wedding date, saying wouldn’t it be nice to just go away and have a small wedding somewhere abroad and travel around- almost like a wedding/ honeymoon all in one. On one of these occasions, he finally suggested we look into it (I must have mentioned it just a few times too many) and we started to research destination locations. Having been to Europe on several years abroad and the fact that we had already been looking to go there as a honeymoon destination we chose several countries to initially research before deciding on our final choice of TUSCANY, ITALY!
Spain and Greece had also been on the list and were equally beautiful but there were several factors that influenced our selection in the end:
- Scenery: We both fell in love with the Tuscan landscape and stunning hilltop views
- Accommodations: Tuscany ultimately had the most options that could accommodate our guests. We wanted to have family and friends join us for a “wedding week” rather than just a day since they would be travelling (mostly) from Canada.
- Food: No explanation really needed for this but I just imagined pasta, pizza, gelato, wine and prosecco all day/ every day.
In choosing our final venue in Tuscany, it truly came down to amenities, cost and the number of guests the villa could accommodate. We researched on Trip advisor, AirBnB and any online site we came across for several weeks. We emailed probably close to 50 locations before narrowing it down to Borghetto Poggio Bianco. We booked our venue sight unseen and truly relied on social media and online photos/ reviews throughout this entire wedding process!
Our original guest count when planning in Canada would have been close to 200 people attending, as we both come from larger families. Part of the idea of planning a destination wedding was to allow for a more intimate wedding. This did mean we unfortunately wouldn’t be able to have some of those most important to us join; however, it truly allowed us to organize a more relaxed event. We had about 40 guests (including ourselves) with us throughout the week and during the wedding day.
What was your wedding budget?
For budget honestly I’m too scared to add it all up because there was definitely a lot of splurging that happened and it also acted as a wedding/ honeymoon in one. If I had to guess it would probably be in around 40k. There are some additionally events we payed for outside the wedding that we include as part of that budget I.e the pizza party and brunch as well as the accommodations for family and friends. We really wanted our friends and families to be comfortable since they would already be purchasing plane tickets/ rental cars/ other trip expenses so the accommodations being included for them was a must have on our list for budget planning. For brides looking to save I would recommend looking at perhaps a 3 day rental rather than a week, as most of our friends and families turned it into their own vacations as well so went to new places either before or after. Some of the splurges were done with decor and additional desserts etc. All these items I found worth it in the end though so it really comes down to those items brides feel are a must have.
How did you prioritize your budget, what factors were most important to you?
In my opinion, the elements we found the most important for our wedding day included:
- Photography: This was number 1 on our list. First of all these are the memories we will have for years to come. Secondly, seeing as not all our family and friends were able to join we wanted to have the day documented to share with others back home.
- Florals: When we started the planning process, I of course was feeling inspired by Pinterest and wanted beautiful florals; however, I didn’t realize how high up on my list they would come to be. These in my opinion set the vision for the wedding décor (I still can’t get over how much I loved all the florals on my wedding day).
- Food: Although the dinner was high up on the list even more so than this was the extras we did throughout the day. We had an aperitivo hour, which everyone is still raving about and also had a gelato cart, which was basically a dream of mine as soon as we set our hearts on Italy. The gelato cart was an extra splurge but so worth it seeing how others enjoyed it (especially our nephew who was definitely the best “customer” that day).
- Décor: Some décor items we focused on throughout the wedding planning process were the lighting and dinner décor. Since we were hosting an intimate outdoor wedding, we wanted the natural elements to stand out. I’ll admit we splurged when it came to the actual dinner décor but I absolutely loved our long wooden tables and “tuscan” chairs with the silk runners, candles, gold cutlery, antique glassware, calligraphy names/menus etc. I had a specific vision for these elements and it was even better than I imagined.
How did you ask your besties to be your bridesmaids?
I had four amazing girls who travelled all the way to Italy to be by my side for my wedding day. In asking them, I purchased the cutest bags off Etsy and filled them with little gifts such as nail polish in one of my wedding colours of choice and personalized lip balm.
How was your dress shopping experience?
Dress shopping was not for me! I tried so many dresses on waiting for that “this is the one” moment that so many friends had referenced. This moment never happened! It didn’t help that most of my bridesmaids and family lived elsewhere so when trying dresses on, I was relying on feedback from photos/videos I would take. My sister was with me for most appointments and was ultimately there when I did finally choose a dress I really liked. Originally, the dress style I imagined had a low back with mostly bare shoulders and was fitted throughout; however, when we completely changed our wedding destination, I started picturing something flowy and loose, which just created more confusion. In the end I came back to the original dress style I had envisioned. The dress was by Watters and I found it at White Satin Bridal in Ottawa. White Satin also added a blush underlay I had requested, which was stunning. Additionally, I had said from the beginning that I would not wear a veil and decided to try it as my something flowy after choosing a fitted dress and it was the perfect balance! I definitely recommend trying items that you may not have originally pictured.
As for the girls dresses, since they were coming all the way to Italy for the wedding and were living in different cities, I wanted them to have an affordable and easy experience. We chose a beautiful dress style from Lulus and the girls were able to order them directly to their house with little to no alterations.
What was your overall vision or theme?
When planning our wedding, we wanted an intimate and relaxed atmosphere, outdoors with lots of greenery and natural elements. It truly was a beautiful day and we had such great vendors who helped create this dream.
If you had to describe your wedding style in one word what would it be?
Rustic Elegance (oops that’s two)
How did you find your vendors?
Seeing as our wedding was completely planned sight unseen, I heavily relied on social media in making these decisions.
Wedding Planner: First of all, neither I nor my husband speak any Italian, nor had we ever travelled to Tuscany before so a wedding planner was a must in our minds. In choosing the venue (I believe we found it through Trip Advisor), our wedding planner “Che Chic Weddings” was already linked to this wedding location so luckily we did not have to look far for a planner. I did have a Skype meeting with Alessandra, our wedding planner, and several others before ultimately deciding on this specific venue. I shared my visions with both Alessandra and Sara, her associate, and they provided back options for things such as some of the décor pieces, the caterer, gelato cart, calligrapher, officiant etc. Not having seen the location in person, I also heavily relied on the videos and pictures they sent in choosing which sections of the property to hold the ceremony, the aperitivo, dinner and reception.
Photographer: I found Katie (Katie Grant Photography) through Instagram. I started searching #Italyweddings and she popped up. Her social media pages were amazing and exactly the style we were looking for. My husband and I had a skype meeting with her, as she was based out of Australia and it was one of the best decisions we made! Katie is a travel photographer and had so many amazing recommendations for outstanding wedding items I had not yet decided on i.e. the florist and make-up and hair artists.
Florist: Janna Brown (Janna Brown Design) was recommended via Katie and as soon as I saw her Instagram page, I fell in love with her style as I really wanted natural florals, loose and untamed. Also I had been unable to track down the perfect runners for our dinner tables (I had a very specific feel in mind) and Janna came to the rescue and was able to provide so many additional décor elements and expertise (i.e the material for both the ceremony arch/ tables from silk and willow).
MUAH: Lee Max Team (team of Maxi Stylist and Lee4You): Also recommended by Katie. Their amazing instagram pages speak for themselves. This was seriously a nerve wracking decision as I wasn’t having a trial prior to the wedding and had definitely had my makeup done as a bridesmaid in previous weddings where I actually looked orange! I met the two most wonderful ladies the day of my wedding and seriously could not have been happier with both my makeup and hair. I wish I could look like that everyday, it was that amazing!
How did you design your table layout & decor?
I sort of explained this above, but definitely highly relied on both pinterest and Instagram for wedding inspiration (sometimes dangerous because you get serious wedding expectations). In actually sourcing the décor used, I relied on my wedding planner to research the visions I sent and to provide options for these.
How involved was your fiancé in the planning process?
The wedding process elements my husband was heavily involved in were :
- he selected most of the music for the wedding
- gifts for our parents and his groomsmen
- venue research
- trip booking (flights and some accommodations)
And everytime I asked for his opinion (which was quite often).
Did you use a wedding planner?
Che Chic Weddings was our wedding planner for not only our wedding day but all of the other events/ activities we hosted throughout our wedding week! To provide a brief summary, we booked the venue for a week total, as we didn’t want our guests travelling hours and hours for only a day. We hosted a welcome pizza party the first evening, a guided wine tour and local farm dinner mid-week, as well as a brunch the morning after the wedding. This was all organized with Alessandra and Sara, our wedding planners. As for the wedding planning process, not speaking the language and not having been there previously made it crucial to have the right support in planning. They were also there with us throughout the week to ensure all activities flowed smoothly and that the wedding set-up was done well.
Did you have a Day-of Coordinator present on the day of your wedding? Any Hiccups your coordinator caught for you?
As mentioned above we had a planner for all the wedding festivities and of course present on the day of! The only hiccup that really comes to mind is that it downpoured for about 40 minutes during our bridal portaits. I had really not wanted our wedding to be set up under a tent, as I had pictured open skies with beautiful lighting but the wedding planner had been carefully following the weather and highly recommended this, which was obviously a smart decision in the end!
Did you guys do a “First Look”, or did your fiancé see you for the first time walking down to aisle?
We went back and forth for a while and ultimately decided against the first look with the support of our photographer, so my husband saw me for the first time that day walking up the aisle which was special in itself. Katie was there to capture all the important moments including getting ready, my father seeing me all dressed up, the ceremony, portraits following the ceremony, dinner, speeches and cutting of our untraditional cake. I definitely recommend having someone there to capture the entire wedding day, as it goes by way to quickly!
What would you recommend as “must have pictures” for future brides?
I recommend definitely having a list because it’s a very busy day and easy to miss moments that you may want captured. Some of the must have photos in my mind are definitely family photos, photos with the wedding party, couple portraits and for me the décor elements that we put so much thought and consideration into.
Did you have a videographer?
Yes! The videographer was a later addition but Katie was so great to not only do our photos for the day but also create the most beautiful wedding video. We decided to do a video so that we could share our day with those who were unable to travel there to be with us. It was one of the best decisions we made. It’s basically a recap of our day and when we received it from Katie it brought us right back! Her and her team captured so many of the important and natural moments and I’m glad to have these memories documented.
Escort Cards or Seating chart?
Being a smaller wedding we had a calligrapher (Apurva Bhatt – Indego Eleven) create name tags for everyone. These were placed on two long tables.
What song did you choose for your first dance?
My husband is a HUGE country fan so we chose a song from our first ever concert together, Then by Brad Paisley
Buffet or sit down meal?
Following the wedding ceremony we had an aperitivo hour with a selection of apps and cocktails. These were honestly so delicious!!! We also had a gelato cart set up for the day and evening (cassia_vetus) and it was the best gelato we had in Italy. Following this we had a sit down meal. We enjoyed this because it gave us the opportunity to sit and eat and chat with friends. We also did our speeches in between courses which spread out the meal and allowed for everyone to relax and enjoy.
Live music or DJ?
Music was actually further down our list for importance/ budget. We decided to play our own music over a speaker. We had some family members prepare playlists and my husband also prepared some playlists as well.
Cake or Desserts?
We loved our dessert!! Being in Italy we really wanted to experience some of their popular treats and decided on a pyramid of cannoli. It was absolutely delicious!
Did you provide transportation for your guest or valet parking?
Our guests stayed with us at our venue. The accommodations we rented consisted of a villa and borghetto just down the road from each other. We hosted our wedding right at the villa so no one would have to worry about getting home. The one downside of our venue was that it was in complete countryside, super stunning but about 1.5 hours from the nearest airport (Florence) and 10 minutes from the nearest town so our guests did have to drive to get to our destination or to leave and get groceries, explore etc.
Top 3 most memorable moments of your wedding day
- Our first moments together as husband and wife for wedding portraits in the most beautiful location (picture walking down a trail towards an old castle- it was seriously amazing)
- Having our friends and family all together abroad with us. I’m not sure what other event would create such an amazing travel opportunity with everyone at once.
- The overall atmosphere with All the amazing food and drinks
One thing that made your wedding unique or something special and personal you added to your day that stands out from other weddings.
I think one of the elements that made our wedding unique was the fact that it lasted longer than a day. As perfect as it was, the wedding day itself went by so quickly so I’m so happy we had other amazing events to share with our family and friends such as the pizza party, wine tour and brunch. Also most of our family has not travelled a lot and as much of a crazy adventure as this was for some of them, they all had such an amazing holiday. I loved hearing about their own experiences and I also enjoyed seeing all their photos posted to social media throughout the trip.
Total months planning?
We were engaged four years almost to the date. We had started planning our wedding originally about 1.5 years in advance of our wedding date. We decided about 10 months before our original wedding date to completely throw out the plan and start from scratch, which was so exciting but also terrifying.
What was one thing that you had difficulties with during your planning and how did you overcome it? & What was one of the easier things for you to plan?
10 months does not sound like a lot of time since here in Canada most weddings are planned at a minimum of a year before the date, sometimes even sooner to get certain vendors. After deciding on Italy, we were ready to have everything booked immediately considering the timeline and we soon realized that planning in Italy was done at a much slower and relaxed pace. This was incredibly stressful. I felt at times like we would be missing out on vendors and opportunities but it all came together! Also having the wedding in a smaller town didn’t always allow for tons of options in the décor and at times it required a lot of back and forth to explain exactly the feel we were looking for. In planning a destination wedding you rely heavily on your vendors and at times it was difficult to relinquish control of the planning process. I think once seeing everything come together in person I was extremely relieved and happy with the end result!
Another aspect I found I worried about more in planning a destination wedding was whether our family and friends would enjoy themselves. It was not a typical all-inclusive trip and seeing as certain friends and family had not travelled before, we really wanted everyone to be as comfortable and happy as possible.
One thing you wish you knew when you were planning your wedding?
This is also mentionned in my advice for brides; however, I wish I had a better idea of how the wedding process would go in another country. There can be a lot of rules around marriages and also different styles/paces for planning. Having this knowledge before hand may have changed some areas of my planning approach.
Anything you would have done different?
I honestly can’t really think of anything!
One thing that helped you stay stress free throughout your planning and on your wedding day?
Having my maid of honour to keep me sane. She was so great even living at a distance to answer all my endless “which shoes do you like more questions” etc. The girls also surprised me with a spa day in Italy and it was such a great way to just relax and catch up before the wedding day.
Did you go on a honeymoon? If so, where to? Did you go right after the wedding or wait?
Yes! A major aspect of having our wedding in Italy was so that we could mix our wedding and honeymoon into one! We stayed in Italy the entire time to really experience the country. We started our trip in Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre just the two of us for three days and then we headed to Borghetto Poggio Bianco in Radicondoli (Tuscany) for the wedding week with family and friends. Following this, we kicked off the honeymoon by staying in Positano for about 5 days and ended it in Rome for the last 2 before flying home. It was such an amazing trip and we are so happy we did it all at the same time.
Last but not least if you could give ONE piece of advice to a bride-to-be planning her wedding what would it be??
This is for the brides planning a destination wedding! Keep in mind that wedding planning in different countries may not be the exact same as here in North America. The best advice I can give is to do your research (blogs, experiences from others) and keep these differences in mind throughout your planning experience. Also try to be patient and open to different styles. Sometimes this can bring the most unique wedding ideas!
Melissa & Jordan’s Happily Ever After
We are basically back to regular every day life. We had already been living together for about 4 years of our relationship prior to the wedding. We are hoping to plan some future trips, just starting to work on those ideas now and are constantly reminiscing about Italy and the amazing time we had there! No big future plans for the moment!
Venue & Catering: Borghetto Poggio Bianco // Wedding Dress: Watters from White Satin Bridal // Hair & Makeup: Lee Max Team // Photography & Videography: Katie Grant Photography // Florals: Janna Brown Design // Wedding Planner: Che Chic Weddings // Calligraphy: Apurva Bhatt – Indego Eleven // Gelato Cart: Claudio Cavaliere
Keep Scrolling to take a trip to Tuscany, and see more of Melissa’s dreamy destination wedding!
AUTHENTIC Italian gelato cart!? Yes please!
Congrats Melissa, and thank you so much for sharing how you pulled off your dream destination wedding.