Romanced by the crumbling facades and picturesque surrounds of Umbria’s Abbazia San Pietro in Valle, Chiara and Oliver’s wedding was the perfect synergy of untamed beauty and old-world elegance.
Drawing on the poetry of its location, vows were exchanged in a timeworn chapel, where weathered walls and foraged blooms looked down upon a ceremony steeped in history. The bride graceful in a gown of delicate French lace moved effortlessly throughout the proceedings, her hair adorned with a crown of gilded flowers.
As twilight set in, guests moved from Aperitivo to a reception set within an ancient courtyard. Complementing the ageing architecture, styling was kept to a muted palette of natural hues and classically themed tableware. Bold arrangements spilling with lush greenery and whimsical florals stood salient upon the tablescapes, while gleaming candelabras climbed the stairwell nearby, washing the space in a dreamy ambient light.
Behind the lens capturing every enchanting detail was LANE handpicked photographer, Lelia Scarfiotti.
Names / Chiara and Oliver
Wedding Date / September 24, 2018
Guest Numbers / 90
Budget / $50,000 USD
How We Met
We met at a Christmas Dinner Party in 2012; I’d been single for a couple of years and on the brink of what seemed like impending spinsterdom, when suddenly my luck changed. We clocked eyes across the table and sparks finally flew! He was Italian (which almost certainly helped) and had been living in the UK for a couple of years but was set to move back to Italy within the month. After a three-week whirlwind romance, we declared ourselves a couple and decided to give long distance a go. He moved back to London six months later and proposed the following year.
Our Engagement Story
We spoke quite openly about getting engaged and even chose a ring together; I just had no idea when and how he would pop the question. On the evening in question, he prepared a trip down memory lane, revisiting all the places we went on our first few dates. He blind folded me for the final leg, having prepared a little champagne picnic outside Westminster Abbey. He made a beautiful book full of pictures, little notes we wrote for each other, souvenirs from our trips, and when I reached the last page, he got down on two knees (not knowing the correct protocol!) and popped the question!
Marriage to us Means
Starting a new chapter of life together, commitment to lifelong companionship, love, and security. Generally being more adult! Family.
Aside from Oliver’s obvious connection, getting married in Italy made sense for so many reasons. We knew we’d get much more for our money and that we’d be able to host the kind of wedding we wanted. Italy gave us an endless choice of stunning venues, incredible landscape, exceptional food and wine, al fresco dining, and the flexibility to drink and party until the early hours.
I discovered Abbazia San Pietro in Valle on a Trip Advisor review and immediately fell in love with its timeworn charm and old-world vibes. As a former monastery, it had a deconsecrated chapel on-site, accommodation for half our guests, and its secluded position deep in the Umbrian hills offered the most sensational views. As soon as we drove down the cypress-lined driveway, and walked through the gardens into the courtyard, we knew it was the one. It was serene and peaceful and had all the wow factor without feeling pretentious or extravagant. The chapel was out of this world.
Theme & Style
The aesthetic for our day was very site specific. I took a lot inspiration from the timeworn features within the venue and the nature surrounding it. Despite being a former monastery, the architecture and setting gave it this intangible sense of elegance and old-world charm.
I wanted to create an atmosphere that was enchanting and sophisticated but approachable and authentic, so we used flowers and candles as props, avoiding any gimmicks or styling clichés. We used the timeworn frescos in the chapel as our palette and had a mixture of rich and muted antique hues running through the florals and stationery, with hints of gold and pewter on the tables.
Where to start with Lelia. The stories she tells through her lens and her ability to breathe life into captured moments is inimitable. I was completely captivated by her poetic style and couldn’t get her images out of my head. There was magic, beguile and emotion in every one, which is exactly how I wanted our wedding to be portrayed. Lelia was the best investment we made. It’s definitely true that as your memories of your day become less vivid, it’s the imagery that transports you back – but any photographer can do that. What distinguishes the real artists from those who systematically document what they see before them, is an ability to evoke feelings and a sense of place in a way that does justice to the atmosphere on the day. I have no vivid recollections from the day, it went by in such a blur, but Lelia’s poetic style has sculpted my memories of the day in the most magical way, and that is priceless. I will always be so grateful to her for giving me back a day that would have been otherwise lost.
The start of my search was a little traumatic; having a large chest and a short torso ruled out a lot of dream dresses and I didn’t feel good in anything I tried.
After a recommendation from a friend, I booked an appointment at British Couture Designer, Phillipa Lepley, and ended up buying a dress before we’d even booked our venue. The experience I received from her team was on another level, but Phillipa’s gowns were exquisite; each one meticulously crafted by hand with the finest materials. The gown I eventually chose was made from slipper satin silk and French lace, hand-beaded with mother of pearl, Swarovski crystal and silver silk thread. The train was sensational! After our first dance I changed into a slinky gold number by Ralph Lauren.
I was tempted to splurge hard on the wedding shoes, but in the end gave way to practicality and comfort with a pair of 1920s-style pale gold shoes from Rachel Simpson. I’d heard great reviews and the metallic gold accent complemented my dress perfectly.
My girls wore long silk white dresses from Ghost and Jenny Packham and looked like angels gliding down the aisle.
I loved the idea of an antique ring and eventually found the perfect one in Grey’s Antique Centre on Bond Street. It was a gold art deco ring from the 1920s with a tall setting that encapsulated three square diamonds. We both bought plain gold bands from a local jeweller.
Jewelry & Accessories
My gold headpiece was handmade by Lila in London. The flowers and buds were hand-crafted using clay and delicately hand-gilded with pure 24ct gold leaf, using a special technique to create a timeworn feel. Sofia also made a matching headpiece for my mother and my silk drop veil. I wore gold drop earrings borrowed from my mother.
Oliver wore a midnight blue smoking jacket and dress trousers from Scabel. As a tennis player he spends most of the time in a tracksuit, so I couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked down the aisle and saw him! He also wore a dress shirt, cummerbund and bowtie, all from John Lewis, and shoes from Loake.
Hair and Makeup
Giulia Cresci did my hair and makeup, and it was amazing. All I remember is that I had Giorgio Armani on my face, Tom Ford on my eyes and Charlotte Tilbury on my lips! I had a hair and makeup trial with her six months before the wedding which is worthwhile doing. I was tempted for the classical bridal up-do but after trying a few styles, felt much more me with it down. Unfortunately, a mishap at a hair salon the evening before I flew to Italy left me looking like Morticia from the Adams Family, and no amount of shower time with Head and Shoulders would tone it down! Despite feeling initially uncomfortable with it up, it felt less black tied back, and Giulia did such a beautiful job, both in calming my nerves and creating
With so much information to communicate to guests at various stages before the wedding, we opted for a wedding website instead of traditional invites; it was super easy for our guests to RSVP and saved us loads of hassle.
Our Order of Service booklets and dinner menus were beautifully created by Tanya of Bureau Design. In keeping with the timeworn theme, they were printed on handmade cotton rag paper with deckled edges, then handstitched by my mother. There were lots of botanical prints within the venue, so I asked a family friend to hand paint botanical flowers and foliage used within the floral composition, which doubled up as table numbers. My mother also hand-stained my piano manuscripts with tea and made them into confetti cones – she was such a great help with so many little tasks.
We didn’t have table favors as such but bought flip flops for guests to wear once the dancing started to soothe tired feet. Not one pair was left!
Flowers & Bouquets
In terms of flowers and compositions, I wanted something that was visually memorable and unique; a look inspired by nature that enhanced the space and mood. I didn’t feel confident that the local florists recommended by the venue could deliver what I was after, so I turned to Tuscany and eventually found Alessandra of Fluida Design.
I was instantly mesmerised by her unique style and dramatic floral installations; her work was bold, daring, interesting, and so unique. She thought beyond an inventory of bouquets, buttonholes, centrepieces, and designed holistically, treating the venue as a set rather than a “wedding location”. From that point on, I became less concerned about specifics as I trusted her completely. What Alessandra and her team created completely exceeded every expectation I had. She cleverly balanced my love for organic, wild and untamed florals with elegance and glamour, creating a moody, enchanting and beautifully chaotic look.
We wanted our video to provide a narrative of our day in a way that felt candid and natural, almost like a home movie but filmed and edited professionally. I fell in love with a film by Worldy Nomads that encapsulated all those things. They did such a beautiful job bringing our day to life, capturing the anticipation, spirit and love.
Wedding Planner/Wedding Stylist
With a view to moving into the wedding industry and setting up my own Event Planning business in Italy, I took the job on myself. I definitely loved planning our day more than being the bride!
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Ceremony Décor & Reception Décor
The frescoed church and gothic cloisters already had lots going on in terms of color and architecture, so we didn’t need to do much. I wanted the antiquity and raw beauty of these features to come through to give guests a real sense of place, so we used minimal floral décor in the chapel with lots of candles and incense. A few months before the wedding, the diocese told us we couldn’t use naked flames. I was so gutted, but when I stepped into the church Alessandra had lined the aisle with LED candles, which was such a lovely surprise.
The reception décor was the highlight for me. I wanted to add a bit drama to the setting in a way that was respectful and authentic, so Alessandra created tall centrepieces of variant heights, bursting with unusual foliage and flowers. It looked incredible, and playing with the heights worked wonderfully. She also lined the main stairwell with candelabras and created a beautiful installation above the cloister arch.
We had a traditional Italian Millefoglie wedding cake, with layers of fresh pastry, crème patisserie, fresh fruit and white chocolate.
Food and Beverages
All the catering was provided by Apollinare, who were nothing short of incredible. Guests still remark on our menu and even remember what they ate – a compliment in itself! We started off with a traditional Italian Aperitivo – Aperol spritz on tap and multiple food stations of cheese, cured meats, fried vegetables, salads, pastas. For the seated dinner we had two pasta courses and a main served with unlimited wine. After the speeches, we went through to the garden for a massive buffet of desserts, allowing guests to sample a little bit everything. The interactive element of this worked so well. The caterers also provided our open bar during the party.
Planning the music for our ceremony was one of the most enjoyable parts of the process! I wanted to make the most of the unique setting and create an evocative experience for our guests, and the music really helped. We played a mixture of Gregorian chants as they walked into the chapel, Oliver and his mother walled down the aisle to Vide cor Meum, my mother and brother to Ubi Caritas et Amor, and I made my entrance to a lesser known version of Ave Maria by Rachmaninoff. For the signing of the register, we played the cello version of ‘Gabriel’s Obe’ played by Yo Yo Ma, which was so moving. When I listen back to the music from the ceremony it gives me goosebumps and takes me straight back to that day. Later on in the day when it was time for dinner, we made our entrance via the amazing stairwell to ‘Always in My Head’ by Coldplay (such a great moment!) and for our first-dance ‘De Usuahia a la Quiaca’ by Gustavo Santaolalla. It was the backdrop to our first kiss and a song we loved, albeit a bit haunting! The DJ then livened the mood with ‘September’ by Earth Wind and Fire, which got everyone fired up and on the floor!
Live music during the Aperitivo was an absolute must for us. After the long church ceremony, we wanted something fun and spirited to get everyone in the party spirit. I eventually found a Dixie jazz band from Rome who were perfect and became a highlight of the day for so many.
As Oliver and I stepped out of the church they played a jazz version of ‘Here comes the Bride’ (another amazing moment!), then led a procession to the garden where the Aperitivo took place. DJ Betty took over in the evening and played different playlists for each course, to keep the energy up. We started off with some classic Italian tunes then switched to some 80s RnB, which got the party started much earlier than planned…everyone was up and dancing around the tables, and properly going for it! I had to get on the microphone and ask everyone to stop dancing and sit down so the waiters could serve their main course! At that point, we switched tempo to some cool Ibiza style lounge music, then after the dessert buffet, the proper party got underway.
My husband has a severe phobia of flying, so we decided to spend a week in Tuscany so he could relax in the lead up to the wedding. We spent five days exploring the beautiful Val d’Orcia and spent the first two nights at Monteverdi which was super luxurious!
My school priest kindly flew out to Italy to officiate the ceremony. It was so special and comforting to have him there, and he was absolutely brilliant on the day, conducting the service in both English and Italian.
I spent months searching for readings that felt relevant to us that also hadn’t been heard a hundred times before. After skim-reading the entire bible, I eventually found a verse from the Book of Ruth that was perfect given our history and future: “But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also, if anything but death parts me from you.”
Sources of Inspiration
The venue and setting was the major source of inspiration, but in terms of resources, The Lane was my mecca! After we booked our venue and I started planning the detail, I quickly became confused by the constant stream of images and advice. As soon as I discovered The Lane, I stopped using any other blog. The style guides were so useful and really helped me to create a celebration and style that was unique to us.
A Memorable Moment
My brother singing an acoustic version of ‘Green Eyes’ during the ceremony. It was a surprise for Oliver (one of his favourite songs) and one of the few moments I remember. Walking into the courtyard and seeing everything that Alessandra had created was incredible – I was in complete awe!
If I could give other Brides-To-Be one Piece of Advice
Invest in suppliers you trust and admire, whose presence will make a tangible difference on the day and long after. Alessandra and Leila were my saviours on our day, and the day would’ve looked very different without them. Also – organise a get together with your guests the day after the wedding, and book an extra night at the venue. The morning after the wedding, I woke up very hungover, guests were leaving, we had to pack and check out…it was very stressful. In hindsight, I would’ve hosted the welcome dinner on Thursday, the wedding on Friday and a casual lunch on Saturday.
Photography / Lelia Scarfiotti
Videography / Worldly Nomads
Bride’s Dress / Phillipa Lepley
Bridesmaids Dresses / Ghost and Jenny Packham
Groom’s Formal Wear / Scabel
Groom’s Shoes / Loake
Wedding Rings / Grey’s Antique Centre
Headpiece and Veil / Lila
Hair and Makeup / Giulia Cresci
Florist / Fluida Design
Catering / Apollinare Catering
Cake / Apollinare Catering
Wedding Planner / Avenue Cipresso
Wedding Venue /Abbazia San Pietro in Valle
Entertainment / MM Dixie Band and DJ Betty
Honeymoon Destination / Monteverdi