Marrying out (of the UK)! – Simchas Live 2017

Marrying out (of the UK)! – Simchas Live 2017

Louisa Walters considers options for making a plush wedding abroad

Louisa Walters is a features writer

A chuppah overlooking the Kotel is just one of the magical things available in Israel
A chuppah overlooking the Kotel is just one of the magical things available in Israel

With more than 30 years’ experience of making weddings and other events in locations all over the world, party planner Michael Crooke of MC Productions says that Israel has it all: wonderful venues in magical locations (“How can you beat a chuppah overlooking the Kotel?”), guaranteed good weather in the summer months, phenomenal kosher caterers, fantastic bands, chazanim and rabbis and, above all, the magic of the Jewish homeland.

“There are heritage/historical venues, vineyards, gardens overlooking the sea, ancient Caesarea, the dramatic backdrop of Masada and, of course, incredible hotels – but it doesn’t matter which you choose, it all has the magic of being in Israel,”  says Michael.

In Israel, people get married on any day of the week except Saturday, and the partying can go on for days. “Your guests will probably be staying for a few days, so you get so much out of the wedding experience. Kick it off with a Friday night dinner or a beach party before the main event a couple of days later,” says Michael.

Despite being cheaper, you do need to factor in a few visits to Israel, but Michael says that you can pretty much leave the whole thing to him once the key decisions have been made.

Michelle Jacobs, founder of Ritzy Events, has arranged functions in the UK, but when her friends were planning a wedding in Italy and  struggling to work with the party planner out there, Michelle stepped in. Everything went without a hitch, word got around and, before she knew it, she was being asked to do  more weddings in Italy. “Making a wedding abroad not only gives you the attraction of an outdoor wedding (although there are no guarantees on weather in Italy!), it makes the event last longer and, if you time your guests’ arrival right, creates a ruach build-up that spills over into the wedding itself,” she says. “It’s a big ask to expect people to travel abroad to a function, so you do need to entertain them beforehand with a welcome event. “

Is it cheaper? In Israel, yes. “It’s less formal and less expensive than the UK, while being more emotional and, in my experience, more special,” says Michael. “I got married in Israel and it was a dream.”

Natalie and Richard at the Algarve’s Vila Vita Park in Portugal

In Italy, however: “Overall it is not cheaper,” says Michelle. “The venues are cheaper to hire than a central London hotel, catering is more affordable (and usually better!) and there is a kosher caterer in Rome if that’s what you’re looking for, but then there are the hotel bills, the two or three planning trips beforehand, and most people fly over a show band from the UK as Italy just doesn’t have the kind of bands that make a Jewish wedding into what we want it to be.”

So what you get, for the same money, is a weekend-long celebration in a dreamy location. There are castellos and renaissance villas, vineyards with olive groves, borgos (medieval villages that can be taken over in their entirety) and magnificent hotels.

Michael  points to the advantage of using a British party planner to make your wedding abroad. “I’m British, but I live in Israel, which means I totally understand both markets. Technology has made it all so much easier as meetings can be held on FaceTime or on Skype.”

Nicole and Brad are making their daughter’s wedding in Florence next year. “We were very taken with the idea of a destination wedding where we get to spend time with our guests over the course of a weekend,” says Nicole.

“Until we visited with Michelle to look at potential venues, a wedding in London was still an option but, once we found our venue, we never even considered  home. One of the best things has been the trips out to Italy – each one has been an amazing experience and has brought the two families together in a way that might not have happened if the wedding was in London.

Italy Castello garden with table plan
Nifty nuptials at a castello in Florence

“Michelle has been with us every step of the way and we have regular meetings with her. This level of service would not be available with an Italian planner and having to deal constantly via email would not have worked, particularly managing the guest list, invitations and liaison with the London Beth Din.”

Hilary and Mike made their son’s wedding at a magnificent castello overlooking Florence earlier this year. “We looked at venues in Malaga and on the French Riviera first,” says Hilary. “We were hosting a whole weekend, so we wanted there to be something additional for guests to enjoy. In Malaga, there were beach areas, but a lack of cities and culture. France was prohibitively expensive and the traffic along the coast road is always a nightmare.

“We only looked at venues in Italy that were within easy reach of Florence or Pisa to make travelling easy for our guests. Florence stood out as being an attractive place to visit, with varied attractions to cater for different tastes.

“For those who did not want to sightsee, we chose a hotel that had a garden with a swimming pool. The weather is less predictable than Spain, so it was necessary to have a good wet weather plan, but in Spain it is really too hot.

“Generally speaking, Italy is cheaper than the south of France and, in my opinion, is much prettier than Spain. Because it does rain, it is much greener and the food, on average, is better.”

Natalie and Richard got married in Portugal 12 years ago. “We chose to get married abroad because we wanted warm sunshine and a smaller wedding – although there were 190 people in the end! Everyone we wanted to be there made it to share our special day,” says Natalie.”

The wedding was at Vila Vita Park, a beautiful five-star hotel in the Algarve. “We used a local wedding planner, who was extremely helpful and enabled organisation to be much smoother and less stressful,” says Natalie.

“I believe it was less stressful than arranging a wedding in London. The whole thing was more relaxed and informal than it would have been at home, plus it was much better value.”

Holy Land Love – by Hayley (née Simons)HayleyGideon-1689

My husband, Gideon Levy, and I met on JLGB tour in 2009. Following university, Gideon spent a year in Aish HaTorah Yeshiva in the Old City and, after my studies finished, I followed suit and went to seminary at Midrashet Rachel V’Chaya, which was also in Jerusalem.

This was the first time in our relationship that we had ever lived in the same city. We got engaged in June last year and both agreed we wanted to get married in Israel, specifically Jerusalem.

Coming from Glasgow, people thought that we would opt for a wedding of bagpipes and haggis! But for us to get married in Jerusalem meant so much more. We got married at Beit Shmuel in December, during Chanukah, an extra special time. Our chuppah was outside overlooking the old city.

We felt so spiritually uplifted to join as husband and wife in a place that meant so much to us personally, but also to the Jewish people. Our ancestors could only have dreamt of marrying  in Jerusalem.                        HayleyGideon-0976          

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