How does one put into words the best weekend of her life? My destination wedding in Puglia, Italy, was nothing short of a fairytale—even more amazing than in my dreams. I invited my closest friends and family to join Matt and me in the most beautiful, romantic and exclusive setting Italy has to offer—the Borgo Egnazia with a magnificent view of the Adriatic Sea. Imagine waking up to delicious, traditional gourmet food prepared with love by Puglian Massaie ... and kicking off your Big Day with a personal yoga class near the pool of your very own 3-floor luxury villa. Did I mention perfect weather? I was joined by an international team of caring and friendly, award-winning vendors who dedicated themselves to making my Borgo Egnazia wedding even more special. If I could relive it all over again, I would not change a thing. My heart is so full of love ... so read on and let me hear your thoughts in the comment section below the post.
How they met ...
In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that Nicole & Matt's love story started in a bar: Nicole had spent a good portion of her life working in bars whereas Matt made a living running them ...
You'd frequently find Matt visiting a local bar in Hoboken, NJ, where he'd stand right across from (a typically busy) Nicole ... making several (unsuccessful) attempts to go out with her. And while she played hard-to-get, it never discouraged Matt from coming back. In fact, he'd actually go to the bar just to see Nicole.
Over the course of a year, Nicole & Matt grew friendly with one another: they shared childhood and family stories, life experiences, goals, dreams ... and pretty much anything you might chat about on your first 50 dates =).
One afternoon, Matt handed Nicole a heartfelt note, expressing his feelings for her. He concluded the note by asking Nicole to be his date for an upcoming wedding ... and asked her to circle "Yes" or "Yes." Hey, Matt wouldn't take "No" for an answer—not this time! Nicole laughed and agreed to join ... to which he replied "Good because I already put you down as my "Plus one."
Why a destination wedding in Italy?
Nicole and Matt wanted their wedding to be a reflection of who they are—they love to travel, appreciate amazing food, enjoy exploring new cultures ... and definitely won't miss a good party!
When it came to defining the "feel" of their wedding, it had to be breathtakingly beautiful and luxurious ... nothing overly flashy, yet decidedly elegant.
... Nicole and Matt had been traveling through Italy. Everywhere they looked, they found beauty, romance, warmth and friendly people. They'd sit down for a meal ... and walk out feeling like they just dined with the family.
All to say, Italy embodied those feelings that were most important to the couple and that they wanted to share with friends and family.
A Destination Wedding in Italy ... the Pros & Cons
A destination wedding in Italy resulted in a more intimate guest count—only those guests who truly want to be part of your celebrations will make the effort to join. Destination weddings also change things up a little from your typical local wedding.
Importantly, destination weddings make for greater cohesion amongst your friends and family. The celebrations tend to add up to more of a "wedding week" as opposed to a wedding day ... and, as a result, you get closer to people ... while you vacation together. By the time the actual wedding day rolls around, everyone already knows each other and the energy, comfort, and engagement are palpable.
With that said, a destination wedding in Italy comes at a financial cost to your guests ... asking friends and family to travel across the globe (while managing time-off from work, pets, kids, and other commitments) means that not everyone you care about will attend your Big Day. You need to also be aware of physical constraints, such as whether the elderly or pregnant folks can fly.
Fortunately, Matt's 87-year old Babcia was able to travel all the way from Poland—and she had a blast!
Nicole and Matt were a bit "jammed-up" on this one, but ultimately followed the advice of their married friends and did what was best for them. After all, it's "their" day, right?
Why the Borgo Egnazia as the wedding venue?
Believe it or not, Nicole and Matt booked the Borgo Egnazia sight unseen. Crazy right? They had visited several potential wedding venues around Italy, some of which were lovely ... but didn't quite check all the boxes. In fact, there came a point when they became a little discouraged and wondered whether a destination wedding is indeed meant to be. Location is so important after all.
On their way back to the United States, they decided to make a pit-stop in the City of Love, Paris, where Matt had proposed to Nicole a year earlier. They met up for lunch with Cengiz from Adagion Studio, who had photographed their Paris proposal. Hey, if there was one thing they were sure of ... it was to have Cengiz photograph their wedding.
Interestingly, it was thanks to Cengiz that Nicole and Matt chose the Borgo Egnazia as their wedding venue. Over a few drinks and a yummy pizza, they discussed what a dream destination wedding might look and feel like ... and almost instantly Cengiz recommended the Borgo Egnazia.
Nicole and Matt wasted no time—on the fight back to New York, they explored the Borgo Egnazia in all earnest ... and quickly became very excited just from the website! The venue was simply majestic and so they sent an inquiry.
A few days later, the Borgo Egnazia responded that they only do twelve weddings per year and were already fully booked out for 2019. Nicole and Matt were crushed! Not willing to wait another year, they decided to move on and put their venue search on hold for a while.
Almost fortuitously, about two months later, they received an email from Claudia Farina, the events manager at Borgo Egnazia. As luck would have it, one couple backed out. It was Monday and Nicole and Matt were in Mexico; since there Borgo Egnazia needed a quick decision, there was no way the couple would have the time to fly out to Puglia to inspect the venue.
It was admittedly nerve-wracking. Booking a wedding venue—the setting for one of the most special celebrations of a couple's life—without ever having visited the venue in-person seemed crazy. Nonetheless, Nicole and Matt did what we do best, trusting their gut instinct ... and somehow they knew that things would work out.
Cengiz's expertise was a big factor since he does fabulous weddings around the world. So when he said the Borgo Egnazia was the best, then it just had to be amazing. And boy was he right!
The Borgo Egnazia makes planning your destination wedding easier
Planning a destination wedding in Italy from afar is not easy. In Nicole and Matt's case, there was a 6-hour time difference and, importantly, a language barrier.
Luckily, they had an excellent event planner, Claudia Farina, who is native to Puglia and speaks English fluently. Claudia essentially coordinated all the local vendors.
Claudia and the couple exchanged countless emails and folders ... as well as one massive wedding binder that Nicole affectionately referred to as "the bible."
Planning a destination wedding—or any wedding for that matter—can feel like a second full-time job; it's extremely time-consuming even with a seasoned wedding planner ... and even more so when you factor in language and time barriers.
A rehearsal dinner typical to Apulia
Nicole and Matt wanted their welcome party (rehearsal dinner) to embody the rich local cultural elements of Puglia.
They hired a local band, Terraross, including fabulous dancers who just knew how to animate the guests! And while most guests did not speak Italian, it didn't matter. The dancers energized everyone and kept them on their feet ... and some, including the bride, even on the tables ...
The delicious food was lovingly prepared in plain sight of the guests. The freshest vegetables, spices, local wine and olives, and burrata imaginable ... everything home-grown in the luscious fields of the Borgo Egnazia.
In addition, local artisans handmade bracelets from olive pits, ivy crowns, little dolls out of flowers ... it was truly an incredible experience. The bride's crown was custom-made with little peppers, flowers, and berries.
One sweet artisan lady approached Nicole and Matt and asked their wedding coordinator to translate. Said lady had prepared two rosaries from olive seeds—one for the bride and one for the groom—and then blessed the couple and their union. It was an emotional moment for the couple who were extremely moved by the generosity of the lady. This act was the essence of love.
Big Shoutout to my friend, Fran (a.k.a. The Paris Photographer), for his extraordinary passion, talent, and professionalism. He truly makes me a better photographer.
A bridal story of how Nicole said Yes to her dream Dress
I actually had a hard time choosing my dream wedding dress. My mind was initially set on popular designers, such as Galia Lahav and Berta, but I quickly realized that neither label quite worked for me; in fact, the more time I spent trying on a bunch of gowns, the more apparent it became that I had no clue what I really wanted.
Some days I wanted something decidedly form-fitting and chic, but I wasn't getting married in Manhattan. Other days I wanted something flowy, but I didn't want to lose my shape in my dress. I kind of desired both.
So I started flirting with the idea of throwing a detachable skirt over a more form-fitting dress. This seemed like a brilliant idea until I found out that skirts could sometimes be more expensive than the actual dress. It all made little sense to me.
I even started telling sales associates I didn't have a budget just to see if I could at least fall in love with a wedding dress. I wanted "the feels" everyone talked about ... though I seriously questioned whether I'd actually experience them myself.
I started to, STRESS THE DRESS, as they say ...
I was a "June bride," nearing the end of October when I decided to take matters in my own hands ... and just go on a wedding dress marathon—all by myself ... no family, no friends, no work distractions ... just me with a can-do attitude and an open mind focused on a singular goal: find my perfect wedding dress!
I started at Bergdorf on 58th & 5th and eventually worked my way downtown with 3 appointments and countless dresses.
I had one scheduled appointment left ... a small boutique loft in the Garment District that came highly recommended by a friend. There were no fancy chandeliers, the lighting was less than flattering ... but the sales associate was quirky and genuinely fun. She could instantly read despair written all over me and asked: "are we dressing you for a wedding or for a funeral, girl?"
I laughed, sharing my frustrations ... her advice: "box up your worries and let's have some fun!"
We tried on two dresses and then ... cue the trumpets!!!
My eyes instantly fixated on the mirror. I scanned myself from head to toe thinking to myself ... the dress is form-fitting and its delicate lace embroidery was simply gorgeous; plus it just felt different with a hint of pink hue. It was at once charming, romantic, and elegant.
(Since the dress was originally conceived with the skirt attached, I asked the associate to see if it was possible to make the skirt portion detachable. They called the designer and exceptionally detached the skirt! They further customized the gown by beading the back of the dress.)
I felt beautiful.
The sales associate told me the designer was from Milan, Italy. "Who's the designer," I asked? She replied, "NICOLE SPOSE." Translation: BRIDE NICOLE .. and that's when I started to cry ... and finally experienced feels on feels.
Getting Ready at Villa 204 ...
The day of the wedding, I woke up soooo early! Too early perhaps, but I couldn't help it; I was nervous, excited and actually a bit hung over from the welcome party the night before.
My sisters, mom, mother-in-law, and I kicked off the day with a soothing yoga session in our villa! One of my good friends happens to be a certified yoga trainer ... and I'm simply grateful to have her for her generous gift. She was an essential part of my day.
After yoga, I treated myself to a long, relaxing bubble bath. The villa was quiet ... birds were chirping ... and I noticed a light breeze blowing the curtains. I vividly remember taking it all in.
This was the day I had been dreaming of ... so I didn't want to take any part of it for granted! Not even an itsy-bitsy spider making her way across the shutter. This was the slowest, quietest, and most relaxing part of my wedding day.
Meet Ava Belle ... your beauty artist extraordinaire
When I finished my bath, I called "hello" through the villa, because I couldn't believe I was the only person there. A voice replied "hello." It was Ava, my fabulous hair and makeup artist.
I did a beauty trial with Ava during a trip to Paris; she was phenomenal: Ava effortlessly achieved the look I was after ... a look that had eluded me in two previous trials (with other stylists).
On the day of the wedding, Ava had to work her magic with one hour less than she had during our beauty trial in Paris; plus, Ava overcame ferocious winds that tossed my hair around during my bridal boudoir.
Above all, Ava kept the mood light and chill throughout the day, which is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Happening now at Villa 302 ...
If ever you're going to give your loved one a special gift and love note written straight from the heart ... it may as well be on your wedding day ...
MY FAVORITE MOMENT FROM THE WEDDING DAY WAS OUR "FIRST LOOK:" IT WAS SO SPECIAL, SO EMOTIONAL ... AND THE ONLY TIME WHEN IT WAS "JUST US."
My second favorite memory from my wedding day was walking down the aisle and seeing Matt's face ... so much love!
My third favorite part of the wedding day was when I arrived at the beach club and saw all the lights and décor. Everything was even more beautiful than I had imagined.
Matt is not a dancer ...
Nicole always imagined doing a "real" first dance for her Big Day. This meant thinking beyond the more typical sway-in-a-circle kind of thing. So Nicole floated the idea of getting a first-dance routine professionally choreographed. Interestingly, Matt was open to the idea and so they signed up for 20 dance lessons ...
The dance lessons started with a quick "intro to dancing" so the instructor can gauge the couple's level of expertise ... or as Nicole puts it "their lack thereof."
They decided to dance to the Italian portion of Ed Sheeran's "Perfect Symphony" feat. Andrea Bocelli. The next question was how to conclude the routine with a bang?
Nicole is from Italian and Spanish heritage and loves salsa music ... and knew her guests would, too. So one day during a dance lesson, she decided that their routine would transition from ballroom to salsa ... it is still unclear who looked more petrified—Matt or the instructor.
Adding more complexity to a dance routine necessitates more practice ... and so the couple added 20 additional lessons. Nicole went with one of her all-time favs, Marc Anthony's "Tu Amor Me Hace Bien."
Matt was such a trooper and Nicole could have not been more proud of him. He really worked hard. In fact, Matt took many of the additional lessons on his own ... and sometimes even twice per week ... just to keep up. It meant so much to Nicole. Importantly, doing dance lessons together was real fun!
Nicole planned a special surprise for Matt to show him how much he meant to her. Something he'd never forget—a gift that money wouldn't buy.
Years ago, Nicole was a performer and always enjoyed singing ... so she decided to sing him a song ... the purest form of dedication to Matt, her loving husband.
Here's the deal: people who know Nicole and Matt, know they are emotional. So getting choked up while singing on stage was the expectation ... and could have been a recipe for disaster ...
After watching "A Star is Born" for like the 10th time, Nicole knew her song would have to be Lady Gaga's "Always remember us this way." Lyrics can be interpreted in many ways—that's the beauty of music, right? ... and these particular lyrics spoke powerfully to Nicole. They were at once meaningful and supported her message to Matt.
Next, Nicole asked her band to learn the song as a contingency in case she couldn't get through the song on her own. She flew the band in from London, England, ... so there was simply no opportunity to rehearse together.
After weeks of celebrations—notably the days leading up to her wedding day—Nicole barely had a voice left ... or what she and Matt call their "party voice."
Well, it sounds cliché, but wedding days do have a way of going by so quickly ... dining, dancing, drinking, mingling ... and before she knew it, the band announced Nicole on stage.
She didn't even have time to panic ... there was no chance to back out. So on stage, she went.
And truly, all she remembers was getting lost looking at Matt and telling him what needed to be said.
Big Shoutout to Tuan from Ping Pang Films for so masterfully capturing Nicole's live performance.
Destination Wedding in Italy—Tips from the Bride for the Bride
Invest your time and resources into those elements of your wedding that are important to you and your fiancé. The way I look at things, the nitty gritty like engraved napkins are not really necessary. Ha, I decided on my escort cards on the plane. If your idea of a dream wedding is to have a Pinterest party, then go for it of course.
But keep in mind that your Big Day does indeed go by quickly ... and weeks, months, and years later, you are likely to remember experience-related vendor decisions, such as your event planner, photographer, videographer, beauty artist, the wedding dress, your band ...
- Ceremony & Reception Venue Borgo Egnazia
- Photography Adagion Studio
- Photography The Paris Photographer
- Cinematography Ping Pang Films
- Hair & Makeup Ava Belle Luxury
- Music & Entertainmnent Fortune (Events Band)
- Music & Entertainment (II) SALUT
- Gown Designer Nicole Spose
- Shoes (bride) Dolce & Gabbana
- Wedding Ring (bride) Charles Jewelry
- Wedding Ring (groom) Cartier
- Tuxedo Zegna
- Shoes (groom) Tom Ford
- Watch (groom) Audemars Piguet
- Rehearsal Dinner Music Terraross
- Catering Borgo Egnazia
- Lighting Paulicelli Light Design
- Photography Kiss Me in Paris