The inspiration for Crystal Heirlooms began when friends Fran and Jean went wedding dress shopping for Jean’s marriage to Dave in May 2012. You can read more about this in our blog post Vintage Loving Neighbours, but this is the story of Jean’s wedding, as told by her, with some useful tips about planning your destination wedding.

The story:

Sicily’s climate and World Heritage architecture was the perfect setting for our wedding. We found a huge 14th Century villa property that was ideal for our reception, with a large open sided entertainment area next to an infinity pool and set in acres of beautiful, remote countryside. It also had enough rooms to accommodate most of our guests. Our family and friends travelled from 5 continents – South America, South Africa, Australia, Canada and Europe – and having such an amazing villa for the whole week was a wonderful opportunity to bring them together for a holiday either side of our wedding.

Everybody arrived a few days before the wedding and helped with the reception decorations. My film producer brother, Dennis, was brilliant in organising and bringing it all together whilst my very gifted Canadian Auntie Olga created the gorgeous DIY floral decorations and bouquets.

Everything else was thanks to our wedding planner, Louise Sherrington, who is now a friend for life! We spent several fun weekends with her leading up to the wedding engrossed in planning the menu, tasting local wines, auditioning musicians and going through all the formalities and critical paperwork.


My dress and styling:

I wanted a dress that would fit with the sun drenched, historical setting – it had to be light and floaty and with a vintage feel. It also had to travel easily! After weeks of searching I found my dream dress at Victoria Allinson Couture just down the road in Limpsfield, complete with a perfect ostrich feather and vintage jewel capelet.

My bridesmaid and flower girl wore nude silk vintage style dresses created by Dee Elliott of Hanya Anda from designs that Fran and I scribbled on a scrap of paper in a fabric shop in Berwick Street!

I made all the headpieces myself – of course! Vintage silk roses and crystals for Ruby and Jess and a dazzling symphony of vintage jewels for mine, including the pearls that my Mum wore on her wedding day and little iconic pieces that told the story of Dave and I. I also made a beautifully simple cathedral length silk tulle veil that really made me feel like a bride!

I wanted colourful and informal flowers that would look as though they’d been picked from my garden. Auntie Olga and I went to the flower market in Ragusa the day before the wedding. We had no idea what would be available, but gathered armfuls of colourful blooms that worked perfectly with my multi-coloured theme for the day.

The big day:

I spent the night before the wedding at an historic boutique hotel just 10 minutes from the ceremony venue. My Dad collected me from the hotel and walked me along the cobbled streets lined with local people waving and wishing me well. It was probably the most special few moments that Dad and I have ever shared and when I look back at the photos it fills me with incredibly special memories.

The ceremony was held in the Palazzo Spadaro in Scicli – one of the UNESCO-listed Baroque towns of south-east Sicily and somewhat off-the-beaten-track, which just added to it’s charm and character. We walked through the impressive door and up a long, winding staircase to the ceremony room with colourful painted ceilings and a gentle breeze blowing through the huge balconied windows.

I created my own surprise for Dave as I walked down the aisle in a sound recording studio not far from home. It started as a brief symphony of our three cats meowing and purring before blending seemlessly into Saint-Saens “The Swan”!

Walking down the aisle I felt beautiful, alive, blessed and completely happy. When I saw Dave, smiling and looking so handsome, I felt so loved – and I fell in love all over again!

The Ceremony was conducted by the Mayor of Scicli and in Italian! Without our interpreter, Sam, we would never have known at which moment we were actually married!

Confetti is a very traditional Sicilian custom and the streets were lined with local well-wishers as we skipped down the sweeping staircase as husband and wife and into the sun.

After a few family photos, everyone congregated at the local street café in the piazza for celebratory drinks. Louisa had organised a small coach to take our guests back to the villa for the reception.

Dave and I went off on our own for a while in a tiny but absolutely adorable open top vintage Fiat 500, owned and driven by a local garage mechanic who had polished it to within an inch of its life and was sporting his very best suit and tie for us! I love this photo of Dave and his best man peering into the sunshine roof before the ceremony and wondering how on earth we were both going to squeeze into it! But we did!!

The reception:

This was completely informal, fun and relaxed. We had no seating plan or top table and the dress code was casual and appropriate for a hot afternoon! The kids changed and played in the pool, guests were able to wander around the grounds or relax in the many covered courtyards surrounding the open sided room.

We chose The Ladies of Ragusa – a local cookery club – for the catering, which was a delicious spread of simple, traditional Sicilian fayre.

We had two cakes – one a tower of local cheeses purchased the day before at the local cheese shop and the other a traditional South African fruit cake made and carefully transported from South Africa as hand luggage by my Mum!

We dressed the reception with multi-coloured paper lanterns and the table flowers were in jam jars decorated with multi coloured ribbons created by our friends’ children during the days before the wedding.

The evening do:

First dance – ‘Lady in Red’ – as I wore a red dress on our first date!

Music – a DIY disco stored on Dave’s iPhone!

Entertainment – an impromptu performance of ‘Gangman Style’ by Best Man Alan John Scott!

When the sun finally set the venue was lit up with scores of white tea lights, lights in the paper lanterns, and a wall of fairy lights behind the cakes.

The honeymoon

Being able to bring family and friends together for a whole week either side of the wedding, and spending quality time with them in such a beautiful setting, was so special and much more important than a honeymoon. But we will be taking ourselves away somewhere romantic for our first anniversary!

Top tips for other brides:

A destination wedding planner is essential. They speak the language and they know about local customs, local suppliers, seasonal products and what could go wrong. Most importantly they know about the legalities and what paperwork you will need to submit both here and in the country you’re getting married – so find a planner early because you’ll need plenty of time for that!

Purchase a wedding dress box that is the right size to take on the plane as hand luggage so that you can keep an eye on your precious dress every step of the journey! Invest in mountains of acid-free tissue paper too.

Unless you’re willing to pay for your hairdresser to travel then consider doing hair and makeup yourself. Get your bridesmaids or friends to practice with you beforehand and get them up early to help on the day!

Don’t set your heart on a colour scheme only to find out that there are no flowers to match at the time of your wedding in the country you’ve chosen.

Although it cost more to hire our villa for a whole week it did mean that we could have friends and family around us (some of whom we hadn’t seen for a few years) for a very special holiday, with our wedding as the cherry on the cake! And because the villa also provided the setting for our reception, everybody was able to help out with the preparations. So many of them told us how nice it was to be involved and make a contribution, and needless to say the help was hugely appreciated by us!