Real Weddings

A Poetic Elopement in the Abruzzo Mountains of Italy

Photography by Monica Leggio.

Inspired by a feeling of slow for their intimate elopement, Erika and Ghayath exchanged vows in the medieval village of Santo Stefano Di Sessanio, engulfed by the undulating Abruzzo mountains. 

Against a painterly backdrop, a private ceremony unfolded at Sextantio retreat – a hotel rich with story, blending the poetry of history with modern comforts. In contrast to the drama of the location, the bride chose an understated slip gown. Drawing from the earthen surrounds, a tactile stationery suite awash with water color illustrations set the tone, and an intimate tablescape spilled with wildflowers. 

Photographers Monica Leggio and Giuseppe Marano poetically captured the Italian elopement.

elope in italy

elope in italy

Our Story

Names / Erika Fong & Ghayath Al-Obaidi

Location / Campo Imperatore, Italy

Wedding Date / September 14th, 2021

elope in italy

How We Met

We were friends for a few years, sharing mutual friends along the way in Los Angeles. Ghayath had always held an interest, but he felt too shy to make the first move. I never knew he felt this way. Then, one Sunday afternoon, everything changed. Ghayath decided to reach out, and I agreed to meet with him, thinking we were simply catching up as friends. As the night unfolded, there was an undeniable connection, and we knew there was something special between us. We have been inseparable ever since.


Our Engagement Story

I’ve always been drawn to the allure of venturing into lesser-known destinations, the corners of the world where tourists are rare. During one such exploration, I stumbled upon the secluded island of Ponza in the Tyrrhenian Sea, halfway between Naples and Rome. Ponza, the best-kept secret of Italy, is a hideaway cherished by in-the-know Romans. It was on this island during the quiet month of September that our love story began. Our days were filled with boat rides and idyllic picnics amidst the open sea, where Ghayath and I had the crystal-blue waters all to ourselves.

We dropped anchor in hidden enclaves, where private coves and dramatic limestone formations painted a scene reminiscent of the French film I cherished from my youth, Luc Besson’s “Le Grand Bleu.” I remember the sea was calm that day, a quietness I’ve never experienced before on such grand waters. It was in the midst of the sea where he told me he loved me for the first time. Two years later, we rode out to sea once more, and at that very spot, he knelt down and asked me to spend the rest of my life with him.


What we love most about each other…


What I love most about Ghayath is his beautiful heart, his innate goodness, and his selflessness. He consistently prioritizes others before himself. He’s not just my husband; he’s my best friend, the one with whom I can authentically be myself, and the person who makes me laugh endlessly for days. I never knew a love as profound as this could exist—he’s my everything.


In my life’s journey, I found more than a wife. I discovered a best friend and my soulmate. She embodies patience and resilience. No matter what life throws at us, she views it through the lense of art and creativity, finding beauty and opportunity in even the toughest moments. She’s brought color to my life and a flow that enriches my soul.


elope in italy

The Setting


Elopement Location

Originally, we planned for a small wedding of 15 guests in the vast lowlands of Campo Imperatore, affectionately known as “Little Tibet,” surrounded by the majestic Gran Sasso mountains in Italy. However, the pandemic in 2020 led us to postpone our wedding to 2021. With travel just beginning to open up, we made the difficult but beautiful decision to elope, just the two of us. This was due to the challenges our family members faced with travel at that time. It turned out to be an intimate and serene experience, just us and the surrounding natural beauty.

Our stay was in the enchanting medieval village of Santo Stefano Di Sessanio, nestled in the heart of the Abruzzo mountains. This village, rich in history and once under the rule of the Medici family in the 1400s, immediately captured our hearts with its timeless charm. We chose Sextantio as our retreat, a hotel that masterfully combines ancient architecture with modern comforts. Our stay was more than just a visit to a location; it was like a journey back in time. Every stone and corner of the village held a piece of history, adding to the magic and unforgettable nature of our elopement.



My vision was to create a poetic ambiance, filled with ethereal and romantic moments, characterized by organic wild blooms, natural textures, and a sense of timeless elegance.



Our wedding day began in the charming Le Loggette suite. The suite, nestled on the first floor, features a cozy library with a fireplace, where Ghayath got ready. Meanwhile, I prepared myself in the main room upstairs. This arrangement allowed our photographers to seamlessly capture each of us separately as we readied ourselves for the day ahead. Amidst the anticipation, we took a moment to write heartfelt letters to each other, planning to exchange them after our first look.

elope in italy

elope in italy

“Every stone and corner of the village held a piece of history, adding to the magic and unforgettable nature of our elopement.”

elope in italy


In the realm of creativity, the way our wedding day was captured through photography held immense significance for us. We were incredibly fortunate to work with Monica Leggio and Giuseppe Marano, two photographers who have mastered their craft. Monica’s photography unveiled a delicate, dreamlike elegance, beautifully capturing the softer side of our day. Meanwhile, Giuseppe‘s expertise in 35mm film and large format photography adeptly seized the natural, candid, and organic moments. Their styles blended beautifully, creating a diverse yet cohesive visual narrative of our day. Our journey with them spanned over two days, beginning with an unforgettable sunset photo session in Rocca Calascio and concluding amidst the breathtaking landscapes of Campo Imperatore. Each frame they captured not only tells a story but also holds a piece of our hearts, forever encapsulating the emotion and beauty of those fleeting moments.

elope in italy

Style Notes


Ceremony Décor

We kept our ceremony beautifully simple, relying solely on nature’s backdrop. No additional decorations were needed, as we allowed the unrefined beauty of Campo Imperatore, surrounded by the Gran Sasso mountains, to set the perfect stage for our union.

elope in italy

elope in italy

Wedding Planner & Stylist

As a creative director and stylist, I embraced the responsibility of planning and styling our wedding. Coordinating with vendors overseas posed a unique challenge as I couldn’t personally scout the location, indulge in the environment and connect firsthand with the local elements. With the invaluable assistance of Donatella D’Aversa at Sextantio, the process became seamless. Her expertise and support were instrumental in bringing all the details together. We are tremendously grateful to Donatella and the entire Sextantio team for their contributions in making our day truly special.



We collaborated with the immensely talented Roberta Pelligrino from Nina E I fiori for our floral arrangements. Our vision was to create a tablescape adorned with wild blooms in lighter earth tones, evoking a sense of natural elegance. For my bouquet, we opted for a textured composition with an organic shape, aiming for florals that felt as if they were freshly gathered from the wild. For the tablescape, our goal was to make it appear as if the flowers had gracefully grown out of the table itself. Roberta’s skilled assistant, Elena Perica, executed this vision beautifully. The tablescape featured cascading textured white gauze fabric and elegant candle pillars, enveloping us in a romantic atmosphere that felt truly enchanting.


The stationery was one of my favorite elements. We had the pleasure of working with the visionary Nora Romero Bevilacqua from Acqua & Ink atelier to design our elopement suite. This suite included a beautifully crafted invitation made with handmade paper, a custom envelope adorned with vintage Italian postage, an intricate watercolor illustration, two bespoke menus, and a beautiful poem, all of which now serve as treasured keepsakes.

We chose a romantic script in terra tones, drawing inspiration from the sand and earthy hues of the medieval town’s walls, as well as the September colors of Campo Imperatore’s hills. Our aim was for the paper to evoke a sense of timelessness, as if the words were penned in a bygone era. Nora’s skill was evident in her two watercolor illustrations – one depicting Campo Imperatore, the picturesque site of our ceremony, and the other featuring Santo Stefano de Sessanio, the medieval town where we stayed. Both illustrations are now proudly framed in our home. The menus, elegantly scripted in Italian, were a beautiful addition to our tablescape, setting the tone for the evening before dinner commenced.



We decided on a ‘Pizza dolce’ abruzzese, a traditional Abruzzese cake, crafted by the skilled pastry chefs at Sextantio. This two-tiered cake featured rich chocolate and custard layers, nestled between three layers of delicate sponge cake. To add a personalized touch, our florist  integrated elements of our wedding florals into the cake’s design, making it even more special.


Food & Beverages

Our dinner took place on the panoramic terrace of Locanda Sotto Archi at Sextantio, where we were treated to the breathtaking view of the valley at sunset. The menu celebrated Abruzzo’s traditional local cuisine, emphasizing dishes that would have been available and enjoyed in times past. The focus was on native, locally grown crops to recreate authentic, original recipes. We indulged in a three-course meal, complimented by a small dessert buffet and our wedding cake. The highlight of our beverages was a selection of refined red and white wines from Emidio Pepe, followed by champagne. Given the abundance of delicious food, we were delighted to share our wedding cake with our photographers, the Sextantio staff and chef, a small token of our gratitude and a way to spread the joy of our celebration.

elope in italy

Fashion & Beauty Notes


Bride’s Dress & Shoes

In the spirit of timeless elegance, I chose the exquisite Pronovias Ribelia white silk gown. This gown paid homage to the grace of the 1930s and the minimalism of the 1990s, capturing the allure of a slip dress. The back of the gown was adorned with a decadent line of buttons, cascading down into a mesmerizing extra-long train. My vision was to select a silk dress with a minimalist design that would stand the test of time, exuding chic opulence for years to come. Complementing the gown, I chose Magda Butrym‘s cream satin china mules, adorned with a crystal and pearl-embellished anklet. The entire look was brought together with the impeccable tailoring of Ludmila Tomashevskay at Ludmila Couture. Her team, essential in perfecting my dress, ensured an ideal fit at every fitting, even under tight time constraints.


Wedding Rings, Jewelry & Accessories

Ghayath designed my engagement ring, featuring a floating oval cut diamond with a delicate pavé band. For our wedding bands, we opted for classic gold bands. On the morning of our wedding day, as we exchanged heartfelt letters, he surprised me with a beautiful custom band adorned with round-cut diamonds, which I now pair with my other rings for a stacked look.

For my wedding, I chose to forego jewelry in order to maintain a minimal and classic look, allowing the focus to remain on my dress. However, I did incorporate special accessories with my Magda Butrym wedding shoes. The original pearl anklets were repurposed, incorporating my grandmother’s pearls into this meaningful addition.


Hair & Makeup

I embraced my long hair, letting the natural waves reflect the free-spirited essence of the countryside. As for makeup, I chose a natural style to create a dewy, ethereal look. I wanted to remember this day staying true to my everyday self.


Groom’s Attire

Ghayath wore Ralph Lauren Purple Label Gregory handmade barathea peak tuxedo, featuring a two-button modern silhouette and satin peak lapels. To complete the look, he wore Yves Saint Laurent Gabriel derbies in black patent leather, boasting a square pointed toe.

elope in italy

elope in italy

The Details


Italy has always held a special place in our hearts, so when it came time to plan our unforgettable month-long honeymoon, there was no question about our destination. Our adventure began with a return to our beloved island, Ponza – a tradition that has become a part of our love story with Italy. Days spent by boat on the sparkling Tyrrhenian Sea felt like a dream, a serene escape where there was nothing else to do but immerse ourselves in the crystal-blue waters and indulge in the delicious flavors of the local Mediterranean cuisine.

Craving a change of scenery, we set off on a scenic road trip through the picturesque Puglian countryside. Our chosen haven was nestled in the heart of Lecce’s charming old town – the exquisite Palazzo Lecce. We were captivated by the Palazzo’s distinctive architecture and design. Evenings were truly magical as we savored aperitifs on the rooftop, which unveiled breathtaking views of the Duomo and the glittering cityscape below. Wandering through the narrow streets of Lecce by night, admiring the Baroque architecture under the moonlight, was an incredibly romantic experience.

Our final destination was Ostuni, known as the ‘white city’ – a realm where time seemed to stand still. Here, we found solace at Masseria Le Carrube, a rustic retreat embraced by the authentic essence of Puglia, with bougainvillea trees adorning the courtyards and lemon and prickly pear trees gracing the property’s walls. Throughout our stay in Puglia, we embarked on a journey through charming towns, each narrating its own unique story – Ostuni, Polignano A Mare, Monopoli, and Lecce, where each stop added a new chapter to our love story.

elope in italy

Wedding Songs

First Dance: “Baby” by Donnie & Joe Emerson



Originally, we had reserved Palazzo Delle Logge at Sextantio, offering a magnificent view overlooking the village square and the Medici gate. Our plan included hiring a DJ and having an open bar to entertain our guests. However, due to the unexpected changes brought by the pandemic, we made a spontaneous decision to keep the private DJ and mixologist exclusively for ourselves. DJ Angelo D’Eramo skilfully integrated our selected songs with his own choices, while mixologist Carlos Casasanta curated a cocktail menu infused with local saffron and herbs, adding a unique touch to our celebration. We quickly forged a friendship and relished their company and engaging conversations. The two of us danced the night away until the early hours of the morning, creating an intimate and unforgettable experience.



In the spirit of authenticity and being in the moment, we decided to speak from our hearts.

elope in italy

“My vision was to create a poetic ambiance, filled with ethereal and romantic moments, characterized by organic wild blooms, natural textures, and a sense of timelessness.”

elope in italy

Our Advice


A memorable moment…

As we were finishing our vows, a family of wild horses suddenly appeared, galloping by in the distance. It was an incredibly enchanting moment, one that felt almost dreamlike. To further elevate the enchantment, a singular white horse from the group chose to draw near. It seemed as though it was drawn to our love, lightly nibbling at Ghayath’s jacket and the train of my wedding dress. It followed us closely, creating an unforgettable connection between nature and our special day.

Upon our return from the ceremony, the sun began to set, casting a warm, golden glow over the landscape as we made our way back to our hotel. There, the hotel staff had thoughtfully illuminated a path with flickering candles, leading us through the heart of the town to our dinner venue. It was such a beautiful moment, feeling as though the entire town had come together to honor and commemorate our union.


One thing I wish I knew before I started my wedding plans…

It’s crucial not to become too fixated on executing your exact vision, but instead to allow the day to evolve organically and find its own rhythm. I’ve come to realize that everything tends to fall into place and work out in its own way.

We were fortunate to have the support of our families as we embarked on our elopement. This support allowed us to focus on the elements that held deep significance for us on that day. Our advice to other couples is to prioritize what holds great meaning for both of you. Cherish every moment, as a wedding day tends to pass by in the blink of an eye. Slow down, immerse yourselves in the experience, and truly savor each moment.

Sources of inspiration…

The Italian countryside itself was my muse and source of unfiltered inspiration. In the untamed beauty of nature, forgotten medieval towns, poetic table settings, and ambient, ethereal moments, I discovered the essence of my creative inspiration.

Our Contacts


Wedding Venue / Sextantio

Wedding Stylist & Planner / Erika Fong

Coordinator / Tellina

Photography / Monica Leggio & Giuseppe Marano

Bride’s Dress / Pronovias

Tailoring / Ludmila Couture

Bride’s Shoes / Magda Butrym

Groom’s Formal Wear / Ralph Lauren

Groom’s Shoes / Yves Saint Laurent

Stationery / Acqua & Ink

Florist / Nina E I Fiori

Cake / Sextantio

Catering /Sextantio

Entertainment /  Angelo Deramo

Mixologist / Carlos Casasanta



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