It was mid April. We were cruising along an uninspiring stretch of the I-5, on our way home from an impromptu trip to Santa Barbara and Palm Springs where we escaped for sun, wine, and as it turns out, a surprise marriage proposal. As official new “fiances,” we were doing what most couples do: talking about our life together (which included a move to Spain four weeks later), and, naturally, a wedding. As firm believers in the importance of experiences over things, there was never a question that we wanted to gather our family and friends together for a kickass party. It was just a matter of where, when, and how it would all come together. Below are the details of how we pulled off our wedding (and the most amazing week of our lives) in a 17th century Italian villa.
Well shit. Having just spent the majority of our combined savings traveling around the world, an upcoming move abroad (without jobs on the other side), and our business in the beginning stages, we instantly realized that some financial creativity would be necessary. Even with a generous gift from each of our parents, when we pulled together all our funds, the budget didn’t hold a candle to the pretty shocking site fees and overall cost of a wedding, let alone one in pricey Northern California or Colorado. So, without wanting to cut anyone off the invite list, we quickly started to look elsewhere.
It was a crazy idea, but we’ve made a lot of bold moves together and they’ve always paid off big. Neither of us had a clue how to plan a wedding in Italy, but we couldn’t dismiss the idea of getting married in a country where Megan’s family had roots and we’d shared some seriously incredible memories. After a good week of Internet research, we found that villas in Tuscany are shockingly inexpensive (especially compared to just about every location in Boulder or the Bay Area), and don’t require an additional site fee for weddings. There were further discounts for “off season” reservations - any time after October first - which was perfect considering we and had zero interest in a two year engagement and were not opposed to getting married in the next six months (people do that, right?).
The trick was to find a villa big enough to accommodate our entire group (requiring a very early guest commitment), but not too big that we would pay to rent out the entire place with empty rooms. We were looking for a place that could sleep all of our 45-65 guests comfortably (en suite bathrooms, kitchens, etc), with proximity to a city or town, some sort of guest reviews and space outdoors for the ceremony. Harder than you’d think. After many, many emails and some help from Google Translate, we landed on Villa Catignano, which happened to have availability the week of October 10th due to a recent cancellation. Transferring a large sum of money as a deposit was a tiny bit terrifying, sight unseen and trusting that our guests would actually come to Italy and pay a nightly rate to help pay for the villa.
Once we decided on a destination wedding, we had to face the stone cold reality that not everyone we would love to attend our wedding could hop on a plane and travel halfway around the world to see us get married. Our initial fear was that hardly anyone would make it and we’d be flat broke, rattling around a beautiful villa with no one but our parents for a week (no offense, Mike, Tim, and Daphne!). But, while many of our favorite people couldn’t realistically pull off a trip to Europe with less than six months notice, we were completely shocked that in the end, 53 people (including 8 from Hawaii!) RSVP’d ‘YES.’ Amazing.
The Other Wedding Details
A few weeks after our move to Spain, we planned a trip to Italy to check out the villa, meet with some caterers and, well, hang out in Italy. In true Italian nature, we were welcomed warmly. The villa was even more beautiful than in the photos and we were stuffed silly at tastings with caterers and wineries. The prices for a 5-course plated dinner were again shockingly inexpensive compared to the U.S. (around 65 euros per person, including wine and cake!), giving us the flexibility to plan an incredible menu which included Ryan’s burrata and Megan’s pumpkin ravioli courses. Taking advantage of Spain’s inexpensive designer clothing, we purchased Megan’s wedding dress (a Rosa Clara dress from the 2015 line) and Ryan’s Massimo Dutti custom-made tailored suit for at least half (maybe even ⅔?) the cost of a comparable dress and suit purchased in the states. The financial savings turned out to be well worth the cultural differences and language barriers. Then we got creative, ordering invites from a British artist on Etsy, hiring a very talented photography student who was studying abroad, and DIY’ing our place cards, welcome letters, dinner menus, and wedding programs. Maybe it was our relaxed Spanish lifestyle, but the planning was never stressful and we both strangely enjoyed figuring out how to create an incredible week without spending a fortune.
Our Wedding Week
Moving to Spain, growing our business, finding part-time jobs, learning Spanish and adapting to a new culture has been one of the biggest challenges either of us have ever faced. By the time we left for Italy, we were finally feeling settled and couldn’t wait to spend time with family and friends. One of the many benefits of a wedding, besides the obvious, is the once-in-a-lifetime moment of having a bunch of people who mean the world to you all in one place. And we got just that; with 53 of our favorite people for a whole week. It was overwhelmingly emotional (Megan cried daily) and we relished every single minute. From our closest friends popping by our room each morning for coffee, to wine tasting excursions, games of beer pong and late night dance parties, we were overtaken with gratitude.
Siena had a cold front blow in the weekend before, so the week was dreary, with chilly temps, sideways rain, and some seriously intense thunderstorms. But it didn’t touch how happy everyone seemed to be, especially once we figured out how to turn the heat on. In a week filled with clouds, one day was forecasted to have clear, sunny skies, so we did the unimaginable and changed the day of our wedding. Deciding to move the wedding up a day was a luxury only afforded by having all our guests under one roof for the week, as well as some very flexible local suppliers.
Our Wedding Day
Everyone probably says their wedding day was perfect, but our’s really was. The sun was shining, our family and friends gathered in the garden looking out over the Tuscan hills. We exchanged personal vows and our parents spoke, providing blessings and words of advice. We took photos in a setting so beautiful that we felt like fashion models while our guests ate bruschetta under string lights. We ate a delicious meal, shed more tears as our friends and family toasted our marriage, and cut our traditional Italian wedding cake (which is delicious, turns out). We danced till 2am, and stayed up laughing with our friends until who-knows-when. It was, as it turns out, the perfect wedding.
Post Wedding Reflections
The truth is, the two of us didn’t need any of it. We’ve been committed to one another for a long time; sure of our future together since date #2. And while it’s definitely fun to get glammed up and reach Italian fashion model status, it isn’t at all representative of our lifestyle and what’s important to us. Our wedding was perfect because of the people in our lives, their inconsequential support and unwavering love. It may sound like a greeting card, but it’s true. Because as we get older, move further away, and realize what’s important, we’ve concluded that our family, and friends who are like family, have a colossal impact on our lives. The memories that we’ll have from one week in Tuscany, celebrating our marriage with the people we love, were well-worth every penny.