When imagining a dream wedding in Italy you picture a nice villa, an ancient church, and of course romance. Now picture a grand castle fit for Cinderella from the 15th century with lush green gardens, ivy covered walls, and complete with towers and turrets. This magnificent jewel surmounts a hill overlooking a crystal blue lake. Combine this picture with a cycling tour and what do you get? An unmatchable fairytale wedding made complete with bicycle wheel arches, wedding livery of matching jerseys, and a water bottle salute.
Last year Granfondo Cycling Tours was asked by a couple if they could be married while on a tour from Florence to Rome. This was a first to us and we accepted the challenge. Now don’t get me wrong: I have planned weddings before. Tobias and I were married 14 years ago and I have helped with 3 or 4 weddings since. However I’ve never been asked to set up an entire wedding in another country. Kellyanne and Brian didn’t really set any requirements, but they thought a Christian wedding in an old church would be nice. This was my starting place to learn about the complexity of marriage in Italy.
It turns out that it is almost impossible to get married in a church in Italy unless you happen to be Roman Catholic and have a government certified interpreter in tow, so a church wedding was out. My next try was for an outdoor wedding, but I was told that the only way for this couple to be officially married in Italy was a “civil wedding” in a town hall. There are some beautiful town halls in Italy so we proceeded in this direction. The bride and groom had to make a trip to the Italian Embassy in the USA and obtain letters of permission and signatures. Kellyanne even had a friend in the Italian government helping out with arranging the town hall and setting up appointments with the needed officials in Florence. Everything looked as if it were going to work out until the atto notorio office (notary) in Florence told Kellyanne that they would only sign the papers on Tuesday and Thursday. The couple had already purchased unchangeable tickets to arrive on Friday, and we were starting our group cycling tour that Sunday, making our way to Rome by bicycle. At this point — only a couple of weeks from the tour start — it seemed we were out of options. Their marriage would not occur in Italy.
The next day I was cleaning out my closet in preparation for the trip, and came upon an object of great personal nostalgia and the fondest of memories, my wedding dress. I am a very sentimental person, a great fan of marriage, and not one who easily backs down from a challenge. I headed back to the office and renewed my efforts for wedded bliss with a new idea in mind. I had read somewhere during my Italian research that you could bring your own pastor with you to perform your marriage. We couldn’t carry a pastor on our bikes, but maybe I could find one that was already there. After many emails and phone calls I located Pastor Gray Williams of La Scuola Biblica di Firenze. After interviewing the bride and groom by phone he agreed to marry them. A major hurdle overcome! Now we needed to coordinate a location and a day on the tour. We decided that our day on Lake Bracciano just north of Rome would be the best. We thought we could have an afternoon wedding on the shores of the lake. Perhaps the local landowner would allow the wedding in the near by vineyard.
A few days before the group arrived, Tobias and I went to Lake Bracciano to find the spot. Walking along the lake I kept looking up to the enchanting Odescalchi castle on the near by hill and thinking to myself, “THAT is the place, wow wouldn’t that be fantastic.” But with only a week until the wedding, and working with a modest budget, I dismissed the idea as fantasy. It was time for us to head back to Florence, so we went back to our hotel to wrap up some details. Again I saw the castle, this time on a promotional brochure with a phone number… and a few words about weddings. There’s no hurt in trying, so we called the castle. We managed to talk the staff into staying through the lunch hour so that we could see the castle. We loved the castle but the caretakers could not confirm that we could use the castle. In fact, they could not even quote a price until they asked permission from the owner: the Princess Odescalchi!
Even in Italy, an enchanted land, available castles are scarce. Normally the castle is rented out by the day for elite weddings, for a price around 50,000 Euro. Many famous people have been married at Castello Odescalchi including Martin Scorsese. Their most recent knot was tied between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. We explained that the couple was trying to have a somewhat spontaneous casual wedding and that we would really appreciate it if we could use the castle for an hour. The princess and I must share the same sentiments on marriage, because a few days later she gave us permission to use the castle for one hour. She also offered to provide us with an English speaking guide for a tour of the castle after the ceremony. And to complete the fairy tale, she insisted upon a minimal fraction of the going rate. So at last we knew we were going to have the wedding!
While cycling through Tuscany and Umbria all the details came together. The bride, after admiring her bike jersey tan in the mirror while thinking of her strapless dress, decided it would be fitting to have a cycling themed wedding. Imagine our humor and delight as she requested me to be her matron of honor, and asked the whole group to dress in their Granfondo gear. The timeless romantic beauty of Italy embraced the new wedding format, which included a processional arch made out of bike wheels, and wedding fountains supplied by shooting water into the air with our Granfondo bottles.
Now what to do for music? The theme song for this tour group had become “Volare,” instigated by Dr. Robert Kahan, who serenaded us every time he passed us on his bike or in the support van. “Volare” became the natural choice for the wedding. Everyone took part in learning the song, and practicing the pronunciation of the words with our guide Massimo. I love the song, but I remembered the couple’s original request for a Christian wedding, and thought the entrance of the bride needed something more. I remembered hearing one of our tour guests, Patti Leahy, singing Ave Maria. I asked her if she would be willing to sing this beautiful hymn in the wedding. She graciously agreed to sing as a duet with her husband Dr. Michael Leahy. The chosen day was beautiful and the weather was perfect. The bride arrived in her motor dawn cycling carriage (also known as our tour van) to the castle gardens, her guests all attired in their finest cycling gear. At the queue of Ave Maria the wedding started. The bride was walked down the aisle by Dr. Kahan who had become like the “God Father” of our group. Even though the wedding had a relaxed bicycle theme, Kellyanne and Brian had a wonderfully reverent ceremony which led to many joyful tears all around. Pastor Gary did a fantastic job, and we are very thankful that he could make this day possible for Kellyanne and Brian. After pronouncing the couple man and wife they walked though the wheel arches with all singing “Volare” and shooting water in the air….the castle staff must have thought we were crazy!
We finished the day with our castle tour and a dinner reception on the lake. The challenges of planning this wedding, its delightful outcome, the enthusiastic participation by our fellow riders, all made possible through magical intervention by the princess, show that Italy is a land where fairytales come true! Even without a fairytale wedding in an enchanted castle, this bicycle tour from Florence to Rome was a fabulous ride. We cycled through historical towns and national parklands of great beauty. Our stay in Rome exceeded all expectations. But those are Italian tales for another time!