A Magical Destination Wedding In Santa Maria, Italy

This summer I photographed my second destination wedding in Santa Maria for the wonderful Ceri & Ralph, alongside the amazing team at My Secret Italy! Santa Maria is quite a special place, which I have fallen in love with since my first trip there this time last year for The Secret Retreat workshop. Everything about Santa Maria makes you feel at ‘home.’ The locals are friendly, the food is delicious, and if you ever visit you have to venture up to Castellabate – the views are out of this world (and so is the fillet steak at The Belvedere restaurant!) It really is the most beautiful, quaint seaside town that has a really relaxing, laid back atmosphere… you really come home feeling like you’ve had a holiday!

destination wedding in santa maria

When the lovely Julie from My Secret Italy recommended me to Ceri & Ralph for their wedding I was filled with so much excitement! Their wedding sounded an aboslute dream to photograph and be a part of, with family and friends travelling to Santa Maria from all over the world to be with them on their day. Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love to travel and meet new people, so combine the two for a wedding day and I am on Cloud 9!

Ralph and Ceri from the word ‘go’ were such a breeze to work with! So laid back, trusted me as their photographer and on the day gave me the time I needed to be creative during their couples portraits… As a photographer I couldn’t of asked for anything more, or better clients for that matter! Actually I say clients, but they aren’t just clients anymore they are friends, and I’m looking forward to the day we meet up in Manchester for a wine or three!

Scroll down for Ralph and Ceri’s Italian wedding in their own words, along with their favourite memories from their day and invaluable advice for any couples currently planning their wedding! I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did (it took me right back to their wedding day and made me feel all fuzzy inside!)

If you’re looking for a wedding photographer for your Italian or destination wedding, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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How their journey started…

We met at a charity where we both used to work, called SolarAid, who bring solar power to households and businesses across Sub-Saharan Africa. Technically, we met on 18 May, 2010, when Ceri came to the office for an interview. Ralph was working there already and let’s just say he may have put in a favourable word when it came to choosing a final candidate! We were good friends at work for about a year, before a magical, candlelit party on the banks of the Hackney canal brought us together! We were engaged on 28th September 2016, the day after Ceri’s birthday – as she was fresh off a 10 hour redeye flight from Austin, Texas, where she’d been a bridesmaid in a close friend’s wedding. In all, we were engaged for about ten months before we were married in the stunning seaside town of Santa Maria di Castellabate, Italy, just south of the Amalfi Coast.

Planning the wedding…

We were fairly relaxed about the wedding planning process and tried to make it fun – at the end of the day the most important thing to us (besides the obvious tying of the proverbial knot!) was making sure that our closest friends and family had an amazing time and that everyone enjoyed a laid-back day, in a beautiful part of the world. Good people, good food, good weather and good wine pretty much sums up the vibe we were going for!

We also had the help of Julie McKenzie at My Secret Italy, who was a huge part of pulling our big day together. Ceri’s immediate family are all in the US, and neither of us really speak Italian, so we knew we’d need a little help pulling the details of an international wedding in a foreign country together! In the end, we are so, so glad that we worked with Julie as it meant that our family and friends could just relax the week of the wedding and didn’t have to lift a finger, except of course to put some more sun cream on :) Julie knows Santa Maria like the back of her hand and has amazing relationships with people and wedding vendors all over town – her dedication to showing us and our guests the best of the area meant that by the time the wedding came around, we felt right at home! From her restaurant recommendations, to the surprise magician she arranged for our welcome pizza party (our nephews especially loved this!) and all of the little details that she pulled together, we had the most perfect wedding week and it was all capped off by a fairytale day.

Their wedding location…

We had to decide whether we’d get married in the UK (where we live), the US (where Ceri grew up and her family lives) or somewhere else. Ultimately, we live in London and most places that we looked at didn’t seem like great value for money, and it also would have been really expensive for our guests to stay here! We thought that it was pretty unlikely all of our UK-based friends and family would be able to fly all the way to the US West Coast, and knew that our US-based guests would be up for a bit of a holiday in a sunny European country! Ceri lived in Rome for a few years when she was younger, so Italy seemed like an obvious alternative. When we started looking around online, we kept coming across amazing testimonials and photos from Santa Maria di Castellabate, so we reached out to My Secret Italy and the rest, as they say, is history!

Their outfits…

We both absolutely loved our outfits on the day of our wedding and were so pleased with them in the end. As we were going for a relaxed but romantic and timeless feeling, I wanted a dress that I could dance the night away in and still be comfortable in the warm Italian summer weather! My mum flew over from Seattle in December 2015 and after traipsing around to quite a few bridal shops in London, I finally settled on a beautiful Raimón Bundo gown from Angelica Bridal, in Camden Passage. My dress was handmade in Spain and had a fitted, wide-neck bodice made out of delicate eyelash lace, and soft tulle skirt, which was so easy to dance and move around in! Although it was 32c  and about 80% humidity on the day of our wedding (!!), it was honestly so comfortable and special to wear. I had it altered by the amazing Nanna Sandom of Splendid Stitches in Bloomsbury – she specialises in vintage alterations and repairs and had done a beautiful job on a silk 1950s cocktail dress that my gran left to me a few years ago, so I knew I could trust her completely with my wedding dress. On the inside of my dress, Nanna also sewed a small, heart-shaped patch made from an old blue checked shirt of my dad’s, which I think I “borrowed” when I was about 12! This was my “something borrowed” and my “something blue” on the day and was one of the most special parts of the whole wedding experience – my dad had a serious heart attack a few years ago and thankfully made a full recovery, but we are very close and this little detail is one of my most cherished parts of the wedding.

My veil was hand made by the extremely talented Kylie of All About Romance (link here!
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/allaboutromance). I loved the eyelash lace on my dress and wanted a romantic but wearable veil which picked up on the beauty of the dress. Kylie also hand-sewed the tiniest, most delicate clear sequins along the trim of the veil, which caught the early evening sun in the most beautiful way – I loved my veil so much I ended up keeping it on for most of the reception!

My nude, strappy Doha heels were from Grace Loves Lace and absolutely have to be the most comfortable pair of heels to ever exist! Come to think of it, my whole outfit was so comfortable that I kept both the shoes and dress on until about 6AM the morning after the wedding, when we were still down by the beach with all our friends, having the most fabulous time!

Ralph’s stunning three-piece summer-weight wool suit was bespoke from Sachchi at Suit Supply on Saville Row in London. Sachchi was seriously helpful and patient throughout the design and alteration process – from picking the perfect shade of blue to compliment Ralph’s blue eyes, to insisting on additional fittings when Ralph’s “shedding before the wedding” gym routine meant that he kept dropping a size – all the way up to the week before we left for Italy! Sachchi also arranged for some special initials to be embroidered into Ralph’s suit, which were really personal and meaningful to have with him as he walked down the aisle.

The decoration…

We have Julie at My Secret Italy to thank for introducing us to Veronica at La Maison Marie. We loved that our florist was local to Santa Maria – although this did mean that we didn’t actually get to meet and discuss our flowers (very helpfully translated by Julie) until about three days before our wedding! We didn’t want anything overly-formal or traditional and gave Julie and Veronica a fair amount of flexibility as I knew it would be difficult to get some of my favourite flowers in July in Southern Italy! We also wanted to include olive leaves and branches in our flowers as they are local to the area and are such a beautiful fresh shade of green. We knew it would be hot so decided against flowers for the buttonholes as we didn’t want them to die a slow death throughout the day. In the end, I was absolutely blown away when Julie delivered our hand-tied bouquets to the hotel on the big day – not only had Veronica managed to find peonies and English roses in the Salerno flower market, but she found them in the happiest pale yellow and cheerful deep raspberry colour, which I didn’t think would be at all possible! The boys all had buttonholes made from freshly picked olive leaves and hand-tied with a thin cream ribbon, which held up all day (and night, and next day!). We were so pleasantly surprised by all of the flowers at the wedding – they were absolutely perfect, it pays to take a leap of faith and just trust the experts sometimes!

The ceremony…

Again, we didn’t want to go the traditional route with our ceremony as it really wouldn’t have reflected us as a couple. We therefore opted for a civil ceremony overlooking the sea, on the terrace of Santa Maria’s Torre Perrotti, which was built in the 15th century and is draped in brilliant bougainvillea, with an “aisle” covered in Italian terracotta tile. We wrote our own vows, which we had so much fun doing – they were a series of promises and we didn’t know what each other would say! This part of the ceremony was so touching and so fun, it really felt like we had put our stamp on such a special moment and Ceri managed to get through 85% of her promises before finally succumbing to happy tears. Ceri’s beloved Auntie Carol was gracious enough to fly from the US and officiate our wedding, alongside the mayor of Santa Maria, which mean that we also got to craft our very own ceremony! We loved how creative we could be with this, and chose to recognise our amazing parents within the ceremony, as well as having Auntie Carol say a few very touching words. We also had our dear friends do two readings. Ceri’s university partner in crime, Kate, travelled all the way from Seattle and perfectly delivered a passage from one of our favourite books, John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley.The passage was about the various and unpredictable characteristics of travelling, and concluded by saying that in many ways, a journey is much like marriage in that some of the most important moments are the ones which you cannot control! Our second reading was done by our wonderful mutual friend and former SolarAid colleague, Kathy, who in the early days of us dating managed to keep our little secret from the rest of our tiny office for a whole year! Kathy read the beautiful poem “To Love is Not to Possess”, by James Kavanaugh. This reading meant so much to us as we are both very much our own independent, driven and ambitious people, but we absolutely see our marriage as perfectly complimentary to our own personal successes and adventures!

The photography…

We were blown away that Natasha flew out DAYS before our wedding to get to know us, and had such a lovely time with her in Santa Maria. Natasha’s laid-back approach meant that we both felt so relaxed on the day, and we also were so appreciative that your creativity pushed us to take a few photos that we otherwise might have said no to! Petal & Blush Artistry came highly recommended by My Secret Italy, and we have been absolutely overjoyed at the final result – your photos managed to perfectly capture the joy and warmth (literally and figuratively!) that we felt on the day. We especially love that Natasha’s timing was so dead on – she managed to capture a number of candid little glances between us and between our guests on the day, which are so natural and are some of our favourite images of the day. Natasha also worked so well with our brilliant videographer, Neil, and they both had us in stitches when they would randomly pop out from behind a tree or door, determined to capture some unnoticed shots!

Their first dance song…

Our first dance was JJ Cale’s “Ain’t Love Funny”, and is so special to us! JJ Cale is an American songwriter, who wrote many great hits for artists like Eric Clapton and Johnny Cash. His songs are some of our favourites and this one in particular completely captured our relationship – true love finds you at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected ways, it really can’t be forced! Through all the challenging times that we’ve been through together, keeping our sense of humour has been so very important, and this sweet song was a perfect way to celebrate us.

Their favourite memory of the day…

Ceri: Aside from walking down that aisle and committing to spend my life with my favourite person on the planet, the most special part of the day was taking a moment to stop during the reception and just watch everyone having such an incredible time. Our friends and family had travelled from so many different countries and a lot of people didn’t know each other. It was so cool to watch people form their own friendships and have so much fun together – we’ve got friends that didn’t know each other before the wedding and are now getting after work drinks and planning trips together, without us!! Our day played out better than we could have ever imagined, and watching our loved ones have so much fun in such a beautiful part of the world was something I’ll never forget.

Ralph: Turning around and seeing my very-soon-to-be bride for the first time in her gown was clearly the highlight as was seeing her surrounded by our close friends and family. When you get married abroad, you appreciate the special effort that guests make to be there for you – having everyone waving their fans to keep cool as Ceri walked down the aisle was awesome. Otherwise, our first dance was beautifully captured by Natasha – making for another moment I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Words of wisdom…

Ceri: My number one piece of advice is throughout the wedding planning process, keep the focus on what you are actually doing – it’s not about the wedding, it’s about the marriage! All of the little things that everyone says you HAVE TO HAVE are just totally not necessary – you just need each other, your nearest and dearest and some good food, music and booze and you will have the time of your life! Weddings these days have gotten so competitive and sometimes you just need to step away from Pinterest. Focus on making the day reflect you as a couple and stop worrying about impressing people – it will show and you will have much more fun along the way. The only thing I would have done differently is take even more time off to spend in beautiful Santa Maria, I could sit in the Lido beach cafe and eat caponata every day of my life, given the choice!

Ralph: Treat your wedding like a party, it means you get to enjoy time with your friends and family all the more. This is especially the case when having the wedding abroad. As Ceri says, don’t let the stress of micro-management take over the experience. Let the experts do their jobs, trust in them and instead focus on enjoying all those special moments, dinner and wine!

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