Say ‘I do’ somewhere special, writes Katie McGonagle
There’s a certain predictability about sending wedding invitations.
A thick envelope drops through the letterbox with a thud, guests have a giggle at the bride and groom’s embarrassing middle names, then there’s a familiar sigh as they see yet another country house hotel, village church or city-centre registry office as the venue of choice.
So imagine their surprise to find the next set of nuptials will be in Central Park (left), on safari in South Africa, or overlooking the magnificent Grand Canal in Venice.
For every couple seeking a classic beach ceremony, another wants a wedding venue as unique as they are – and it’s not as impossible as they might think.
1 CENTRAL PARK
This is the ultimate trump card in wedding one-upmanship; think Breakfast at Tiffany’s, When Harry Met Sally or modern fairytale Enchanted and there’s no doubting the romance in this urban retreat.
Ease of access makes New York a winner with guests – who wouldn’t want an excuse to visit the city that never sleeps? – which explains why New York and Las Vegas are leading the way in a strong trend towards US weddings, according to Hayes & Jarvis.
The operator can arrange Central Park ceremonies at Bow Bridge, Cop Cot, the Ladies Pavilion (remember Carrie and Miranda’s heart-to-heart in the first Sex and the City film?), Bethesda Fountain or Shakespeare Gardens, from £739.
Alternatively, make a winter wedding more magical with a ceremony by the sparkling Rockefeller Center Christmas tree (from £839 with Hayes & Jarvis); or with the city’s spectacular skyline in sight at the Top of the Rock, 70 storeys above New York’s Fifth Avenue. Virgin Holidays’ luxury wedding package starts from £2,059.
2 GREEK CHAPEL
Anyone with romantic notions of running away to a chapel in the middle of nowhere need imagine no longer – Greece is dotted with intimate venues such as the tiny Georgioupolis Chapel.
With only a narrow rocky path connecting it to the Cretan coast, this picture-perfect chapel is bursting with character. Ionian Weddings’package includes fees, outdoor ceremony, photographer, flowers and reception for 20 guests, from €3,390 (legal ceremony at town hall beforehand).
Thomson Weddings also offers the hilltop St George’s Chapel in Cyprus, while Malta specialist Belleair Holidays features Catholic churches including 16th-century Santa Barbara, Valletta, where the operator has added renewal of vows packages from £319, and Sanctuary of our Lady in Mellieha. Standard church weddings are from £819, deluxe from £1,655.
3 AFRICAN SAFARI
Safari-beach combos are a honeymoon staple, so why not hold the ceremony there too?
Beach options abound – Thomson Weddings features Kenyan coastal hotels while &Beyond prefers a deserted Zanzibar beach – but those who want zebras and giraffes as witnesses should steer towards a luxury safari camp.
Ulusaba Private Game Reserve in South Africa, owned by Richard Branson, has a choice of breathtaking venues for the ceremony – Xikwenga Dam, a secluded grassland clearing or wine cellar deck among them – with weddings from £559 with Virgin Holidays.
Nearby Sabi Sabi’s four luxury lodges can also host weddings: choose from a deck overlooking the river, beside the waterhole, a bush clearing or the lodge foyer.
4 GRAND CANAL
Italians have a reputation for romance, and with inspiration from the beautiful Baroque architecture of Venice’s Grand Canal, it’s easy to see why.
Kuoni holds its ceremonies at the 16th-century Palazzo Cavalli, overlooking the Grand Canal near Rialto Bridge, and featuring original artworks including early 20th-century painting The Golden Wedding to set the mood.
A civil package includes wedding coordinator, fees, interpreter, bouquet and buttonhole, with boat transfers, gondola rides and photography on top. Tag on 10 nights at Palazzo Sant’Angelo with breakfast, British Airways flights from Heathrow and private transfers, and the total price including wedding is from £2,754.
5 LAS VEGAS
There’s a smaller version of the Grand Canal in wedding hotspot Las Vegas, but that’s hardly surprising since this non-stop city offers almost any style of ceremony imaginable.
There are iconic options – the Chapel of the Flowers followed by a helicopter flight over the Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon where the couple lands for lunch (from £1,329 with Virgin Holidays).
But for something even wackier, why not get Elvis to give you away (and provide the musical accompaniment) on the World Famous Las Vegas Drive-Up wedding from Hayes & Jarvis, before chauffeuring guests by private limo for a professional photo session on The Strip.
6 MOUNTAIN HIGHS
If he popped the question on holiday in Saint Lucia, suggest they return for a wedding at stylish resorts Jade Mountain or Anse Chastanet.
With an on-site coordinator to handle practicalities and paperwork, the toughest decision couples face is where to hold their ceremony: overlooking crystal-clear waters, or staring up at the towering Pitons? The Ultimate Escape wedding costs £2,452, and includes photographer, private champagne sunset cruise, spa treatments and live music. Nightly rates start at £817 for Jade Mountain’s sky sanctuaries, or £211 for a standard room at Anse Chastanet.
Couples can also embrace nature in Goa, where they can say ‘I do’ overlooking the ocean from Sunset Point as part of Vivanta by Taj property Fort Aguada’s wedding packages; or at Swiss ski resort Gstaad, where Berghaus Rellerli – 1,837 metres above sea level with staggering views of the Alps – hosts civil ceremonies on selected dates.
7 HOTELS WITH HISTORY
High-end hotels are the base for most weddings abroad, but pick a property with personality and the couple will feel extra special.
Planet Weddings has added 15th-century convent and royal court Convento do Espinheiro in Portugal’s Alentejo region, where civil or religious ceremonies are held in the shaded late-Gothic cloisters. The 17th-century Palazzo Palina in Maltese island Gozo, in the grounds of five-star hotel Ta Cenc, makes a worthy alternative for Belleair Holidays, from £789.
But for something even more exotic, consider India’s heritage hotels. Having spent two centuries as a royal residence for the rulers of Delwara in Udaipur, Devi Garh by lebua – sold through operators including Western & Oriental – is now a 39-suite hotel that transforms into a fiesta of flowers and fireworks for a wedding.
Most brides want a white wedding, so snowy Lapland fits the bill.
Arrive by reindeer sleigh to a choice of venues including a Sami village church, SnowCastle with its own chapel, or a tent-like Lappish kota if it’s just the bride and groom. Weddings start at £7,500 with Transun, including flights and accommodation for the couple and six guests staying four nights – and to boost commission, why not suggest couples with kids stick around to meet Santa for their honeymoon?
Similarly scenic, Lake Louise in the midst of Canada’s Rocky Mountains makes an ideal spot for weddings both snowy and sunny. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has an on-site wedding coordinator to arrange flowers, photography, and a horse-drawn carriage or a sleigh.
9 FAIRYTALE CASTLES
This is one for the little girl inside every bride – the chance to marry her very own Prince Charming in a real-life castle, with a fairy godmother (aka the wedding planner) to make it all happen.
A local coordinator is a must at Lake Bled Castle (pictured) in Slovenia, to organise everything from the translator to hotel-to-castle transfers to this towering medieval estate. Balkan Holidays’ wedding package starts at £3,459 (April-November) including venue transfers, registrar, fees and more; flights and accommodation extra.
The rest of Europe is dotted with impressive estates too, from the Norman-style castle near Mgarr, Malta, offered by Belleair Holidays from £955, and Planet Weddings’ new addition, Larnaka Castle in Cyprus, where weddings can be held in the courtyard, the grounds or the beach.
10 DISNEY DREAMS
Those who prefer fantasy to reality can bring their imagination to life with a magical ceremony at one of four locations at Walt Disney Resort Florida.
Sold through Virgin Holidays, the Disney Deluxe Escape includes a ceremony at the Wedding Gazebo in Disney’s Yacht Club, Sea Breeze Point in BoardWalk Resort, or the Sunrise Terrace at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. Starting at £3,659, it includes cake and champagne reception, photography, limousine, violinist and a seven-day Ultimate Ticket.
Upgrade for the full fairytale experience at a dedicated wedding pavilion overlooking Cinderella’s Castle, from £4,339.
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