Our Wedding in Rome, 24th June 2014.
After almost five years together and a breathtaking proposal in an empty, glowing chapel on a dark night at Christmas time, we were ready to start planning a wedding.
An intimate and meaningful event was more important to us than anything else. Paul had spent some weeks working in the Irish College in Rome as a student and we decided immediately that this was where we wanted to get married in eighteen months’ time. We had some mixed reactions from our families; was it a lot to ask of people to travel abroad, would extended family members be offended by the limited guest list, would we be able to plan a wedding from so far away? Let the games begin!
Like most people, we were on a budget. Christmas and New Year were spent trawling the internet. We had chosen the beautiful chapel in the Irish College, but still needed to arrange a hotel to stay in, a reception venue, a hair and make-up artist, a photographer, musicians and flowers. I spent the month of January emailing various reception venues presented by Google about menus and prices. We were interested in finding somewhere with a view. Many were incredibly expensive. We narrowed it down to the three most reasonable and went from there.
In February, we travelled to Rome. We first met with Alison at the Irish College and booked our wedding for the 24th of June, 2014. She was very helpful, pointing us in the direction of various suppliers. Leaving the Irish College, we embarked on our reception venue mission. The first hotel we looked at was very underwhelming. Frankly, they didn’t seem to want our business at all.
The same was true of the second venue. Although it was a beautiful rooftop terrace, they weren’t prepared to give us exclusive use of it. This defeated our small, intimate setting principle. We then approached venue number three, the Marriott Grand Hotel Flora on Via Veneto. From the moment we met Lavinia, she was warm and enthusiastic. She brought us up to the beautiful rooftop reception room and we fell in love immediately with the setting and the tremendous view of the city. Alas, however, it was not to be our reception venue.
With less than fifty people attending our wedding, the hotel would need to charge almost double the price per person to justify opening the upstairs kitchen. Instead, Lavinia showed us the Cabiria bar and restaurant, lavishly decorated in rich red tones with quirky photos of Italian Hollywood stars. She then proceeded to insist we try some of the starters and desserts from the proposed wedding menu. The food was indescribable and the staff could not have been more pleasant.
When we had finished eating, we felt sure that our guests would be blown away. We finalised the price with Lavinia and were very impressed by the way the waiting staff rushed to her when we had finished talking to hear our final word. We walked out feeling confident and excited about our choice.
Returning to Ireland, we got down to some of the smaller details. My sister found a beautiful royal blue, floor-length bridesmaid dress on dressingpod.com and we took a chance and ordered three of them at a very good price. The risk paid off. My own dress was deeply important to me, as it is to most brides. I wanted something simple and meaningful with no frills, no fuss and no train or netting. I was in the privileged position of being able to ask my grandmother to make my wedding dress. We dreamt up a design, got the patterns to match and bought ivory lace, satin and chiffon. She emerged with a dress that was literally made for me, with a sentimental value you just can’t buy.
Having sorted out the dresses, we returned again to looking at Rome suppliers. Through simple internet searches, we found Siobhán Hegarty, an Irish photographer working in Rome. Scrolling through the galleries on her website told us that this was exactly what we wanted. A few promptly answered emails later, we made the booking. Hair and makeup was a little more difficult to sort out. These services are notoriously expensive in Rome, almost three times their equivalent in Ireland. I toyed with the idea of doing my own make-up, but the threat of extreme heat put that idea out of my head. Eventually, I came across Janita Helova, a Swedish hair and make-up artist. Though still expensive by Irish standards, she had excellent reviews and was also very prompt with the emails (an absolute necessity in planning a wedding abroad!). She too was booked for myself, my three bridesmaids, my mother, my mother-in-law and my grandmother.
Flowers were not a priority for us as we felt they would only last for one day and were also very expensive. Having seen brooch bouquets in a bridal boutique, my mother-in-law suggested asking Paul’s very artistic aunt if she might feel up to making one. Not only did the rise to the challenge of my brooch bouquet, she also committed to making bridesmaid’s bouquets and buttonholes! I gave her some brooches belonging to my mother and my grandmothers, my grandfather’s old cufflinks and a bracelet I had as a baby. I was then told to leave it to her. Lastly, we needed to sort out a hotel for everyone to stay in. The best reviews online were for the Hotel Napoleon on Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele II. I emailed them to see about prices and they promptly returned with a discounted rate for all of our guests. Based on the on-line reviews and the kind discount, we booked.
By the time February came around again, we felt another trip to Rome was in order. It wasn’t necessary, just extremely helpful! We stayed at the Hotel Napoleon and received star treatment from Roberto and his staff. We called into Alison in the Irish College to sort out a few technicalities as my mother’s cousin was flying from Australia to perform the marriage ceremony. She also booked Tony’s Taxis to transport us and our guests from Hotel Napoleon to the Irish College and from the Irish College to the Marriott. Siobhán, our photographer, kindly met us for coffee so we could talk through the shots we would like and the locations we could use. She put us entirely at ease. We dropped into the Marriott to see Lavinia and Franco, the manager, who insisted that we return that evening to sample our entire wedding menu. On the way back, we checked out a little bakery on Via Veneto and ordered our wedding cake to be collected the day before the wedding. That final trip to Rome in advance of the wedding helped to put our mind at ease about the whole thing so that all we had to do was feel was excited.
In the weeks leading up to the wedding, we hired suits, bought shoes and picked up wedding rings. The bouquet turned out to be a work of art. Our final challenge was packing everything and making sure it all got on board the plane. I carried my dress in a cover onto the plane and my bouquet in my hand luggage. My only fear was that I would be made to check the bouquet into the hold because of the pins in it. We made it through security in a cold sweat – the bouquet raised an eyebrow on the x-ray machine but passed through unquestioned. We had a smooth and comfortable Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Da Vinci, sweetened by the fact that my dress was hung neatly in the cockpit and by complimentary champagne and orange juice as we were getting married. We arrived in Rome on time and with all our luggage.
Hotel Napoleon patiently checked all of our guests into comfortable rooms and opened the restaurant especially for us as it was now late in the evening. They gave us a beautiful birthday cake and a few bottles of champagne free of charge to celebrate my uncle’s 60th birthday. We sat around their extremely comfortable foyer in couches and armchairs until bedtime. Everyone was deeply impressed with the fantastic treatment we received.
The following day, the day before the wedding, we collected the cake from the bakery and dropped it at the Marriott. The Irish College were kind enough to allow us to have a practice at three o’clock, which proved incredibly helpful. As a lot of our guests were involved in the wedding in some way, it gave everyone a chance to run through the readings, music and offertory procession, and gave us a sense of where to sit and stand during the ceremony. Because so many of our guests were there, it felt like we were all involved in the preparation. For example, our priest Fr. John suggested that we sit at the side of the altar so that everyone could see us during the ceremony and our guests enthusiastically agreed. We even lit our candles once to make sure that they would light easily the next day. After a lovely dinner near the Colosseum, we returned to the comfy couches of Hotel Napoleon for a few drinks before taking an early night.
Janita was at the door at 7:30am on the morning of the wedding to start the process. She had already sent on a timetable so everyone knew when they needed to be there. It felt so relaxed that my father and I went down the street for coffee in the beautiful morning sun around nine o’clock to kill a bit of time! The serious getting ready then began. A lot of us were staying on the same floor and by ten o’clock, people were hopping from room to room with all the doors opened on the latch. My mother finished my hair by 11:30 and Janita, having finished everyone else, began on my makeup. Siobhán arrived, camera in hand at 12:00pm. She took some beautiful shots of my dress, shoes and bouquet, before going down the lobby to get Paul, his parents, groomsmen and bridesmaids. She then returned to me as I was getting dressed. Tony arrived with silver Mercedes for my father, Siobhán and myself, and a fifty-seat bus for everyone else. Despite it being a hot, sultry morning, the breeze rose just as we arrived at the college (having taken a spin around the block because everyone else had to walk three minutes from San Giovanni). Siobhán took some amazing photos of us outside the chapel as we waited for everyone to settle, before we entered to the sounds of Pachelbel’s Canon, played immaculately by my fifteen-year-old brother-in-law.
Our ceremony was breathtaking in every way. It felt so intimate, so personal and so special – in short, everything we had hoped for. Siobhán was so subtle that we didn’t even know she had been on the altar until we saw our photos! After the ceremony, she efficiently took photos of all the groupings we wanted despite our larger-than-normal crowd. As everyone else got back on the bus to make their way to the Marriott, we stole away with Tony and Siobhán for some lovely photos of just the two of us around San Giovanni and the back of the Colosseum before joining our guests at the Marriott where they were tucking into a finger food and prosecco in the Cabiria Bar. Siobhán got some final photos of us in the lobby and of our seating plan and table settings before taking her leave. Our wedding dinner was beautiful, although the beef was a little underdone for many of our guests. The staff and bar tenders were very attentive to every detail and desire. The best part of the evening came after dark when we decided to ask Franco if there was any chance we could get up to the rooftop, even for just five minutes so everyone could see the view. He gave us a knowing smile and told us to leave it to him. Fifteen minutes later, we were ushering everyone into the elevators for the most sensational view of Rome after dark. Everyone was amazed at the beauty of the city and the spectacular view of St. Peter’s Basilica. We stayed on the roof for over an hour before returning downstairs for some dancing. The DJ was not of the standard we’re used to in Ireland. Although he was very obliging, I don’t think he was quite sure what we wanted. Nonetheless, with only an hour left before the end, we made a few requests and had some dances to remember. When the time came to leave, we ordered taxis from the reception desk and made our way back to Hotel Napoleon, to be greeted by flowers and champagne in our room. The day was all we had dreamed and so much more.
Without a doubt, the success of our wedding was largely due to the competency of our suppliers in Rome. The Hotel Napoleon could not have done any more for us. The Irish College provided the most stunning chapel and immense help as we made the preparations. The Marriott put on a fantastic night of fine dining and surpassed all expectations by presenting our guests with Rome from the rooftop. Tony’s taxis were efficient and well-presented. Janita’s hair and make-up lasted the entire day, even in the wind and heat. Siobhán’s photos were exactly what we had hoped for and she was so attentive in getting them to us. In short, the wedding services we received in Rome met and surpassed our expectations.
For us, the beauty of a wedding in Rome was the simplicity, the intimate guest list, the fact that the wedding seemed to last for the entire holiday and that people from both sides of our family became such close friends. Most importantly, the style of our wedding and the trustworthiness of our suppliers meant that we could focus not on throwing a party, but on actually getting married. The wedding, it seemed, took care of itself!
– Rachel Fagan.
Special thanks to Rachel for sharing her wedding story with us, and allowing us to share it with you.