This is very long, but I love a good testimonial…
After reading a few of the previous testimonials, it’s hard to write something up that doesn’t sound similar to what’s been said before. But the truth is, it’s hard to give My Secret Italy anything but a 5-star review! Each wedding is obviously tailored to the individual couple, and the subtle differences are what make it special to you, but the bottom line is each testimonial you read speaks volumes of the genuine warmth the couples have for Julie and Emillie.
I suppose all’s we can do is share our story and you can judge for yourself…
We wanted a wedding abroad but not somewhere too far that would put off a lot of family members attending. As we got engaged in Venice, we thought we would keep the Italian theme and started searching for suitable locations. It was here we encountered the first of our worries – the language barrier of some of the potential wedding planners. A lot of replies we received were from genuine Italian locals and written in (sometimes) broken English. We weren’t too confident in organising something so meaningful with someone we were struggling to understand (and vice versa.) With that in mind we decided we 100% wanted someone who lived (mainly) in the UK.
Worry number 2 was the sheer cost for some of the results. Italy is a beautiful country and full of romantic locations, yet the most common results you hear of for Italian weddings are in Lake Garda, Lake Como, Sorrento, etc. Again, we weren’t 100% on our search results – the quotes received were well out of our budget. Surely there was more to this country than this handful of popular venues we kept encountering? Not to be deterred we tried a few other avenues, and it was actually a Twitter search (of all places) that led us to Julie. Granted…the likes of Lake Garda and Sorrento are gorgeous locations, but a quick browse through Julie’s site revealed that Santa Maria was just as picturesque, and could be done at a fraction of the cost.
It also had the added bonus of being somewhere you don’t hear people speak of (hence the name – My Secret Italy ha ha) when people ask where we got married and we tell them Santa Maria we always have to follow that up with an explanation of where it is, and we love that, as we don’t like going somewhere that has already been done by people you know (for example when we holidayed in Mexico we deliberately avoided the big hotel that everyone we knew seemed to stay in, just to avoid people saying “Oh yeah we stayed there” or “Yep, we done that” or things to that effect.) It sounds strange, but we just feel like you are simply reliving their holiday/experience when that’s the case; swapping stories that are basically identical. That’s the last thing we wanted for our wedding. Once we researched Santa Maria we knew we’d found somewhere that would feel like ‘our own.’
So in finding Julie on Twitter, we avoided the other worry we had which was finding a UK-based wedding planner but one who was too far away, meaning we wouldn’t get to meet face-to-face, and the whole arrangement would feel a bit impersonal. It was to our delight when we discovered Julie only lived a few miles up the road, so we could get to meet her in person which would put to bed any doubts we might have. To be honest though, that obviously won’t be the case for most bride and grooms who use Julie, but the great thing is that she is prepared to travel to meet up before starting the ball rolling. Its things like this that make all the difference.
We met up with Julie at a local coffee shop and from that moment all our worries just melted away, we knew we could put our trust in her. You know when you meet someone and you just know that they are genuine and sincere and you just get a good feeling that everything’s going turn out ok? Well that’s what you should expect when you meet Julie and Emillie. We were lucky that we lived quite close, and over the months of planning when we’d need to meet for updates we visited Julie’s house and also had her over at ours for a cuppa. You wouldn’t get that with one of these ‘faceless’ companies that offer wedding packages, would you?!
Which brings me to the something else we were apprehensive about, and probably the most important, was that the whole thing would have a ‘package’ feel to it, and we’d feel like just another number. During the holiday in Mexico mentioned above, we witnessed a couple of weddings in and around our hotel that had a ‘conveyor-belt’ of brides. Not just Mexico though, even friends/relatives we’ve spoke to who got married abroad have said that they felt like they were quickly rushed through their wedding so the altar could be swept clean and have the next couple ready at their timeslot. This is supposed to be the most special day in your life and you’re just leaving it in the hands of a travel agent who’s got quotas to fill? No thanks!
The great thing about using Julie and My Secret Italy is that for your wedding planner you won’t just be getting an ‘organiser’…you’ll be getting a friend. You won’t just be getting someone who’s employed by a big company to oversee the 1 day…you’ll be getting someone who will ensure you get the best out of your whole holiday from start to finish. We loved that.
If Julie was only interested in taking our money then she would have been there to check us in on day 1, and then we wouldn’t have seen her again until the Church! But in reality nothing could be further from the truth, Julie and her daughter were an integral part of our whole trip, and much more than wedding planners. They were relied on not by just us but also by every single person in our 20-strong party and helped make it the best family holiday any of us had ever been on.
Don’t get me wrong, Santa Maria is a fabulous place and the holiday would have been amazing regardless. But with Julie’s input we made sure we did everything we wanted to do; and more!
Things like airport transfers for guests arriving at different times/days or from different airports, making bookings/reservations for us, advice and tips on places to go/see, arranging trips for days/nights out, being a translator for most of our stay, etc. – we just can’t thank her enough.
Sorry, this has become a bit of an essay here…so we’ll just skim over the highlights of our week (best not to go into too much detail anyway as not to spoil the experience for yourselves.)
As soon as the plane landed at the airport, Julie’s input was taking effect.
The transfer she’d arranged for us was bang on time, and a pleasant journey taking in the views of Italy. Naples can appear a bit run-down at first, but once you get out the city you’ll see the stunning coast. Upon checking in at the Hotel Garden Riviera we were met by the hotel’s beautiful staff, who were so polite throughout our whole stay and always went out their way for us.
They had cocktails waiting for all our guests and upgraded us as the bride and groom to a brilliant suite with Prosecco and strawberries and chocolates waiting for us.
The hotel itself is lovely, it’s a little hilly but they offer a free shuttle bus service to get into the town square or the beach and back. Anyway, it’s because of these hills it means the views you get from your rooms are gorgeous! We had out Nana Winnie with us, who is well into her 80’s and struggled with the hills, so the shuttle bus is a godsend. And if it ever wasn’t available then the lovely Emy at the hotel took us in her own personal car. They really did make a fuss over Winnie at that hotel!
Throughout the holiday what we liked about Santa Maria was that you actually felt you was in Italy. It’s hard to explain but it had a rustic vibe to it. We’ve been to Venice and found it had a really tourist kind of feel to it, and I’ve heard Rome and Milan can be the same.
And I’m not knocking them because I love it there but if you’ve ever been to places like Benidorm or Magaluf you will know what I mean – bars serving Full English breakfasts and PR’s outside advertising Eastenders is showing on the big screen, what’s the point in flying thousands of miles if you just want to feel like you’re at home? Here though, you know you’re in rural Italy everywhere you go. It’s great! Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of locals who speak perfect English (and you’ve always got Julie’s number for the times you need a translator) but simple things like ordering an item that’s not on the menu in a restaurant can result in a lot of arm gesturing to get your point across. It’s like a game of Pictionary. We loved it! One night we were all ordering pizzas, and due to the language barrier one of our guests was struggling asking for chips with his. 15 minutes later the food was brought out and he was served a pizza that had chips baked into the topping!
Julie has been visiting and staying in Santa Maria for years and has built up great relationships with locals and local businesses. At the start of your holiday she will give you all My Secret Italy cards that can be redeemed at a lot of restaurants and bars that give you 10% off. We tended to stick with these, as it made sense to take advantage of the great deals that Julie had sourced through her contacts, but there was no shortage of options on the nights we done our own thing. Santa Maria appears small at first but we felt that a week just wasn’t long enough and are already talking about going back.
The evening before the wedding Julie organised a trip up to the village at the top of the hills of Castellabate. At night, in Santa Maria’s town square or by the beach, if you looked up you could always see this little village all lit up beautifully in the sky – it looked quite enchanting!
The trip itself didn’t disappoint! Once again thanks to Julie’s good connections she sorted a brilliant deal where we paid a set price all-in for the transport there and back, a plentiful 3 course meal, and all your drinks included – wine and beer (and maybe some spirits if you’re polite!)
We started the trip just before sundown which was ideal to take in all the views from the top of the hill, before exploring the fascinating village and then on to the restaurant to finish.
This was an absolute bargain, as it worked out less per-person than we had paid at some restaurants on previous nights. It was a perfect ‘Wedding-eve’ as we had all the guests together which brought a lovely atmosphere as we counted down to the ‘big day’!
As bride and groom we traditionally chose to be separated the night before. The groom staying in the suite at the Hotel Garden Riviera, whilst the bride stayed at a stunning boutique hotel on the beachfront overlooking the sea (we also kept this on for our Wedding Night the following day.)
This separate hotel was booked for us by Julie and it is perfect for bride and bridesmaids to get ready on the big day, making a fuss out of getting ready for the occasion, having hair and make-up done by professionals (also booked for us by Julie.)
The church was an event in itself. Guests arrived to be greeted to a guitar and mandolin duo outside who kept them entertained whilst waiting for the bride to arrive. Once in the church there was a string quartet to take over, followed by/combined with a singer who belted out Ave Maria for the bride’s entrance. Not a dry eye in the house! Italy is such a warm place, and we mean that both in terms of the climate and the people. The church doors remained open throughout the service to allow that lovely sea breeze to flow through. Then after the service we all filtered outside and the warmth of the people was now flowing as locals came up to congratulate us. It really was a stunning setting. Family and friends who were there remarked that it was something like an A-List celebrity wedding you’d see in Hello! magazine. One couple, who are engaged, said that they “Would never be able to top this” for their big day.
This was one of the main reasons we chose to get married here in Italy. We have been to weddings/christenings/etc in numerous gorgeous churches back home, but once you step outside you’re met with tatty pavements, grey skies, double decker buses whizzing past, etc. It doesn’t make for very good photo opportunities! On the subject of photos…we had the talented Jakub and Zoscia of Aparat photography to document our day. These are a brother and sister duo from Australia who are two of the nicest people you could meet. We were really lucky that we ended up with them, as the first handful of photographers all seemed to be busy on our chosen date.
Thanks again to Julie’s great connections we were put in touch with Aparat, who were fortunately out in Europe anyway and could accommodate us into their schedule. This turned out to be a huge slice of luck, as they were cheaper than all other quotes and we also got “2 for 1” in effect – many of our moments were captured perfectly as certain photos were shot from different angles.
After the church was another ‘A-List Celebrity’ moment as we walked through the town being ‘papped’ by our two photographers. Again…the warmth of the Italian locals shone through as we were constantly being told “Auguri” (best wishes) and replying “Grazie” (thank you.)
By this point our jaws were aching with the constant (genuine) smiling.
The A-List treatment continued when we rounded things off at the Lido. It was decorated impeccably. Rosanna, Dario, and all the other staff were very helpful and very generous.
The food was superb and there was certainly plenty of it! The band were awesome! We seriously couldn’t believe how good they were. They were like local rock stars, and so enthusiastic to ensure we had a brilliant time. The fireworks – wow! Again…we couldn’t believe how good they were. The display was better than any official council display I’ve ever been to back home. It was as good as anything you see on TV. Halfway through our first dance the display began. Whilst this was happening the band continued on ‘jamming’ to the same song before coming back in instantly/effortlessly for the last verse/chorus once the display ended. Couldn’t have timed it better!
All in all it was just the best wedding and the best holiday we could ever have hoped for.
Like we said earlier, you can’t beat a wedding abroad, and you’ll struggle to find a nicer place than Santa Maria. Since we’ve been back we’ve attended several Friends’ weddings (both small and lavish, in the UK and abroad) and they just can’t compare. We’re not snobby, so would never usually say this, and you’d expect us to be slightly biased like, but seriously they haven’t come close to ours.
I know it’s a cliché but it really was the best day of our lives, and it’s all thanks to Julie and Emillie.
From start to finish we were on cloud 9. From meeting Julie and Emillie after our transfers on day one, right through to saying farewell to Emy and all the generous staff at the Hotel Garden Riviera (they even put an ‘out of hours’ breakfast on for us due to our early flights.) Put it this way…there were tears when we said goodbye! I can’t imagine many couples have that feeling when they leave their wedding planner. I know it’s a cliché but it was the happiest day of our lives, to round off a 10 out of 10 holiday, with the best group of people who mean the most to us. Our closest family and friends who attended all agreed with this.
We recently threw a party back home for all the people who couldn’t make it out to Italy for the actual wedding, the only thing missing was Julie and Emillie, but we knew they were back out in Santa Maria with some other lucky bride ‘n groom.
Julie told us that we were My Secret Italy’s first ever Twitter wedding! I’ve got a feeling we won’t be the last. We guarantee you’ll have a wedding unlike any other.
With us living not too far then of course we will keep in touch with Julie, but that’d be the case anyway even if we lived hundreds of miles apart, we can’t wait to see her again for a catch up.