Not my usual style, and I’ll admit to being incentivised by Olivers Travels but helping my daughter to arrange her wedding has given me considerable insight into how much the process of getting married has changed in the 30 years since I did it.
I was aware that I’d heard improbably large figures bandied around over the past couple of years, but was quite shocked to see that googling ‘average cost of a uk wedding’ fairly reliably throws up costs in the region of £18-25,000. It seems the ultimate irony that as the divorce rate rises to around 50% wedding costs also rise inexorably. Meanwhile my daughter (restricted to school holidays for her wedding as she is a teacher) discovered that many potential venues in the UK are booked up for well over a year in advance. She and her fiance had no desire for a lengthy engagement (and I don’t really understand why anyone needs a long engagement in 21st century – what’s the purpose?), one of her best friends got married last year in Marbella, so they decided to look abroad.
Her initial choice was Italy, but having pointed out that taking absolutely everything for a wedding by air (not to mention the fact that none of us speak a word of Italian) would be hard work and expensive, she moved her sights to France. We had spent most of our family holidays in gites in France when the children were growing up, we were familiar with the pros and cons of different regions, and I had a moderate command of the language. We quickly settled on the Loire Valley as somewhere that was far enough south to hopefully increase our chances of good weather, yet within easy driving distance of the Portsmouth channel crossings.
As I started to look for possible venues it didn’t take long to discover that prefacing anything with the word ‘wedding’, be it food, wine or accommodation, instantly doubled the price (and when I say doubled I don’t use the word lightly; some of the chateaux sleeping about 25 that I looked at were literally twice as much if they were marketed as wedding venues.) So we decided to look for gites in the same way that I used to look for our 2-3 family summer holidays, and from a shortlist of five we were unanimous in deciding on Chateau De Tille.
The chateau wasn’t cheap (especially as we were of course confined to the school summer holiday period), but we rented it for 8 days, and everyone who stayed contributed towards the cost of what was a holiday as well as a wedding. We were surrounded by vineyards and there were numerous ‘degustations’ within a few kilometres, so we had great fun during the days before the actual wedding choosing the wines for the wedding feast. The pleasure of knowing that we were drinking local wines produced in too limited numbers to export was enhanced by the knowledge that we were drinking quality wines for around 5 euros a bottle, and sparkling wines for a euro more – without exorbitant hotel markups. (The disadvantage was that we all drunk more that we might otherwise have done!) I met with a recommended local cook on our single visit when we booked and arranged all the food for the wedding day. I was anxious that my French might not have been adequate but happily canapes, a hog roast (very spectacular), salmon, salads, bread, cheese and a magnificent French wedding cake all appeared exactly as planned. Likewise our conversations with the local florist produced the anticipated results on the day.
The chateau was brilliantly equipped with huge gardens, a tennis court, a swimming pool and more than adequate cooking facilities for the 26 of us that were staying, and was perfect for the wedding as there was a consecrated chapel in the grounds. My daughter and her fiance had completed the legalities at the local registry office a few days before leaving the UK and had their ‘proper’ wedding celebration in France, with a charming retired Anglican priest who lived locally available to conduct the blessing ceremony.It was a moving and beautiful service in the tiny chapel, which was full to standing room with the 60 guests. After the wedding feast we partied until late, and the caretaker of the chateau, together with his wife and a couple of helpers magically cleared everything away virtually before we were properly up the following day.
We all had a wonderful holiday, and my daughter said that the wedding had been magical, even better than she had imagined. The week was relaxed and stress free, and because of the limitation on numbers my daughter and son-in-law invited the people that really meant a lot to them, rather than, as often happens at weddings, feeling that ‘because so and so is invited I must invite such and such.’ In practice it was much like the extended family holidays that we have always had, but in luxurious surroundings, and with the excitement of a wedding included.
At the end of the day we probably spent about the same as the lower end estimate of the average wedding cost – but 26 of us had an eight day holiday, we provided a sumptuous wedding feast with more wine than we could drink (or rather than we should have drunk!), with good self-catered meals and wine every day (mostly courtesy of my husband who cooks on holiday because he complains that he doesn’t get the chance to at home).
Had we chosen a less luxurious chateau, or more importantly been able to travel outside the peak holiday period, we could undoubtedly have knocked several thousand off the costs.Most importantly though we all enjoyed a prolonged wedding celebration in glorious surroundings, rather than being cooped up in a hotel for six hours, waking up and wondering why all the preparation had vanished so fast.Weddings nowadays seem to involve an enormous amount of keeping up with the Jones, of one upmanship about how much the dress/ shoes/ decorations/ favours (an appalling American import) cost. I hope that our family will look back on this, our first wedding, and remember it as a fairytale week in a fairytale chateau, filled with fun, laughter and love, deep in the Loire valley.