Paris, France Wedding AdviceWords by Courtney Cox
It's day two of our Destination: Paris week and we're exploring alternative ideas to hosting a traditional destination wedding in France. Couples take full advantage of the romantic offerings of Paris by using it as a backdrop for any number of special occasions. Whether you're celebrating an engagement, elopement or anniversary, Paris and France in general offer a stunning setting. It's actually quite difficult to get legally married in France, so most couples opt to host a symbolic ceremony, elopement or engagement shoot. Below, you'll find expert advice on hosting an elopement, maximizing your chosen destination for engagement photos and planning your wedding away. Our elopement couple opted for the South of France for their beautiful day - party of two! Our engagement shoot couple actually opted for exotic Morocco, but the advice holds true no matter where you choose to celebrate your pending nuptials! Lastly, we have the wedding planner from the lovely Château de Lerse sharing her advice on vendor sourcing for anything and everything, from caterers and décor to transportation and lighting!
A Southern France Elopement + Expert Advice
Couples might choose to elope for a number of reasons, but a common thread is the desire for logistical simplicity. While there might not be guests to accommodate and a large event to plan, eloping comes with its own unique set of questions. We’ve asked five experts to aid in your quest for simplification.
WEDDING & EVENT PLANNER
DID: Would you recommend couples hire a wedding planner if they are doing an elopement?
JG: Yes, I would highly recommend they hire a planner to prearrange the actual ceremony and then plan a private dinner celebration. A planner can help hire the best vendors to provide photography and video and organize a romantic dinner for two. Once the ceremony concludes and they return home, they want to show their family and friends their wedding ceremony, so having photography and video documentation is important.
DID: If a couple is eloping, can they still opt for all the traditional trimmings of a larger wedding (i.e. wedding cake, floral arrangements)?
JG: Absolutely. I did a recent elopement in Napa complete with a wedding cake, a Champagne toast, a floral bouquet and candles – plus a wonderful private dinner prepared by a personal chef. We even hired an antique car to drive the couple around Napa to take wedding pictures.
WEDDING & ELOPEMENT PHOTOGRAPHER
DID: Elopements are generally shorter and much more simple than traditional weddings. Should couples pay less for their photographer if they’re eloping?
SE: You get what you pay for, right? If you want amazing photographs and you are already going the extra mile (literally) to elope in a beautiful destination, then why not choose a photographer that you know you’ll love and trust on one of the most important days of your life? There are so many ways to cut down on a budget when it comes to weddings, but photography should never be one of them.
DID: If a couple gets married away and then hosts a hometown reception, would you recommend they book the same photographer for both events?
SE: 100% YES! Not only is a connection already established with the photographer and couple, but it brings the photographs full circle and tells a more complete story. Plus, there’s the added fact that the photographs will all have a similar style and look, which if you have OCD like me, can’t hurt!
DID: For couples that opt to elope, would you recommend they wrap their honeymoon into the same trip or should they say “I do” in one place and honeymoon in another?
SM: The great thing about eloping is that it’s just the two of you, uniting and celebrating in your own unique style. Personally, I look at the wedding and the honeymoon as two separate events, so in my world, I would do the elopement in one place and then move to a new place for the honeymoon. It’s all about the two of you taking time out of your lives to fully commit to each other and then to have some time to bask in the glow of that connection before you return to the real word.
DID: Sometimes resorts offer perks for couples hosting their wedding on-site. Does the same hold true for elopements?
SM: All-inclusive resorts are known for offering special incentives for weddings, but if it’s just the two of you for a short stay, you may not find as many packages and perks. Whether you’re eloping or booking a honeymoon package, read the fine print carefully. That’s the job of a good travel or wedding planner – to act as your advocate, help you decipher the details and make sure you’re truly getting a great value, instead of one that just looks good online!
Karly, eloped to the South of France (shown here).
DID: What were the logistics of planning an elopement like? Do you feel it was significantly less stressful than planning a destination or hometown wedding?
RB: Our elopement was in a foreign country, but it was certainly less stressful not having to worry about guests: which dates work for which people, how much it would cost them, logistics of getting them to a rural venue in a foreign country, accommodations, etc.. It’s refreshing to be able to focus on each other, which is really what it’s all about.
DID: What resources did you use to help you pull off your dream event? A traditional wedding planner, online resources, etc.?
RB: We were already familiar with France, so initially we were going to try and see what we could accomplish on our own. After a while, we decided that given how busy we were with our jobs, bringing in a French wedding planner would be convenient given the time commitment necessary to sort out the details, plus factors like significant time zone differences, having to work out back and forth negotiations, and legwork that simply required eyes on the ground in France.
Beth Chapman, Stylist/Owner of The White Dress by the shore
DID: Is it still appropriate to have a large, formal gown for an elopement or should it be more understated like the event?
BC: I generally recommend that the level of formality of the gown mirror that of the event. That being said, that does not mean you can’t do a ball gown for an elopement. If a princess silhouette is what is the most flattering for you and reflects the vision you have for your wedding, then by all means go for it! I might recommend a ball gown in a soft, lightweight fabric, like tulle or organza, so it is not as formal and easier to travel with.
DID: In terms of accessories, can a couple still go all-out for an elopement, i.e. veil, bouquet etc.?
BC: Whether your wedding is an intimate elopement or a grand soiree for 500 guests, it is still your wedding. I think a veil and bouquet are always appropriate for a bride regardless of the size of the event. They are traditional elements that make a bride, a bride!
How to Maximize Your Destination Engagement Photoshoot
It’s not every day the photographer becomes the photographed. But one magical vacation-turned-proposal created just that opportunity. Professional wedding photographer, Sarah Natasha Horowitz, set off on a Moroccan journey and ended up with a fairy tale engagement story for the history books. She not only shares her story with us, but also her advice as a wedding photographer on how to capture your engagement and make the most out of your destination.
Q: During your trip to Morocco, how did your fiancé propose and how did you end up with such incredible photos? Did you have any idea he had planned something so elaborate?
A: After fourty minutes of slow motion camel walking, we arrived at our dreamlike glamping tent hotel in the middle of the northern Sahara Desert.
Unbeknownst to me, my soon-to-be fiancé had the engagement ring in his pocket all evening – he was waiting for just the right moment.
Following dinner, our eclectic crew cozied up on Berber pillows around a campfire to enjoy the voices of a few local Moroccan tribesmen under the starry night sky. Such a perfect moment…I wanted to bask in its warmth and swim in it until our fingers got all prune-y. At the top of one of the nearest dunes, a couple sat at a bistro table. Their silhouette was perfectly cast by the rising moon coming up behind them. “What a marvelous opportunity for an epic photo,” I thought as I dashed into the tent to grab my photography gear.
I set up my tripod and camera and framed the image just right: with us in one corner and the glowing tent in the other. With the stars above, all anyone had to do was push the button. My boyfriend was already waiting for me at the top of the hill, so I approached our nearest neighbors and kindly asked if they would give us a hand. Little did I know they were about to capture the most special moment of all moments.
I raced up the hill to my love for our mini photo shoot where I was expecting to pose holding his hand or kissing him for the sake of the silhouette, but he had something else in mind. “How should we pose?” I asked. “How about we do this pro-pose instead?” he said excitedly as he got out the ring and sunk one knee into the sand. Click!
Q: A lot of couples, especially grooms, aren’t used to being in front of a camera. What advice do you give your clients to help them relax and look natural in their photos?
A: Focus on each other’s eyes, get lost in the moment. Think about the first time you met. What did you love about them first? What funny things did you say to each other? Your feelings for the person will be written all over your face and will show through your body language. Just think happy thoughts, it works every time!
Q: Is it different being the bride instead of the person behind the lens?
A: It is so weird being a bride and not a photographer for the first time in my life. At first, I found myself forgetting all the helpful things I’ve learned or taught others in regards to wedding planning and I had an even worse time being in front of the camera. “What do I do with my hands?” “Where do I look?” “How do I pose?” It was so bizarre how the expert was suddenly clueless. But, after receiving some coaching from my peers and talking with other couples, I quickly found my happy place again.
Q: What do you recommend for your clients’ engagement photos when it comes to hair, makeup and attire? Is it the bolder the better or is everyday cool the way to go?
A: There are a million ways to go. Spend time checking out what other couples have done to get a sense of your style preference. Choose the style you are most excited about or isn’t too difficult to achieve. Have fun with it, but don’t break the bank – remember you have a wedding to pay for!
Q: Based on your own travel and photography experience, how can couples make the most of their chosen destination?
A: Ask questions to as many knowledgeable folks as you can and study-up on the location you want to visit via the Web and social media. Instagram is actually a great tool to see what’s trending in that area. It might give you some extra info you won’t be able to find elsewhere.
Q: In your opinion, should a couple go with a local photographer for their engagement shoot instead of their chosen wedding photographer?
A: I’m a firm believer in doing an engagement shoot with your wedding photographer prior to the wedding. You can learn many things during this exclusive session, like how to streamline collaborating with your photographer and they can learn how to work with you. You can also find out preferences about how you like to be photographed. For example, “I don’t like my left side,” or “my nose looks better from this angle.” These are important tips for your photographer to know, so come wedding day they are prepared to capture images for you in the best possible way. You don’t get a do-over and practice makes perfect.
A French Wedding Planner Offers Advice
Words by Abigail Wells-Davies
In addition to being the in-house wedding planner for Château de Lerse, an hour from Bordeaux, France, I also work as an independent wedding planner at other venues. With this in mind, I have put together a few pointers that should help you when making your decision about booking a venue for your big day. Here are tips on how to be prepared for booking your venue, for a visit and meeting suppliers. This is, of course, if you are able to visit before your wedding day, which I highly recommend!
You should have a rough idea of your guest numbers before you visit and how many guests you anticipate staying on-site as part of the bridal party. You should also know what sort of budget you have to play with. Ask for a floor plan and a list of room details, i.e. what size beds are in each room, do they provide any children’s beds/cots and any single beds? When do you have to pay your deposit and how many weeks before the wedding do you have to pay the balance? Are there any reductions being offered for off peak dates, weddings booked a long way in advance or mid-week?
A lot of venues insist on having a wedding planner in place to help the owners. There is a lot of work involved in planning a wedding and not all venue owners live on-site, have the contacts for suppliers or have the time to get involved with planning. When you visit, make sure you walk around the venue, go through the day using all the different areas in the order in which you would be using them. If you are booking more than a year in advance, if possible, try to visit at the same time of year to get a feel for the weather you can expect and sunset times, i.e. will you need to supply a chest full of blankets for the evenings?
Caterers & Wine Supplier:
When choosing your caterer, ask to see a variety of menus at different price levels, so you get to see what is included. Cheaper priced menus sometimes have higher priced dish options with a supplement, so if you wanted to have a beef steak for some of the guests, but not everyone, you only pay the higher price for one dish per person and not the same higher price for all guests. Ask for a menu tasting, preferably with wine, so you get to choose which wines work with your specific dishes.
Make sure you take photos of each course, even the canapés, and if possible have your planner there to take notes, as I find this imperative further down the line. Once you get to the invoice stage, ask to have your chosen menu included on the invoice – it cuts out any chance of mistakes, i.e. if you’ve asked for all steaks to be well cooked. If you are having tastings with more than one chef, then be up front and tell them this, as they will hold the date for you, but only for so long. Most chefs don’t charge the couple for tastings if they book with them, but most chefs will make a charge for additional people like parents tasting – anywhere between €30-50pp depending on the chef.
Some suppliers charge an upfront fee for the wine tasting, as they take a couple of hours with you to sample several wines and cremants. But, if you place an order with them for the drinks reception, table wine, evening bar and possibly any other day’s events, they deduct this off the end bill. It’s best to find a wine supplier who is able to offer you ‘sale or return,’ which ensures that you are not paying for undrunk wine that you are unable to take home with you on a flight, as you only pay for what you used.
When it comes to choosing your florist, ask your planner’s advice, as they will know your budget and the style that you are hoping to achieve. If you are on Pinterest, then send your flower board to your planner. If not, look online at the huge array of past wedding shots to show you what other couples have done. Otherwise, buy a handful of wedding magazines and get cutting! Do send shots to your florist along with a brief in advance of your meeting with them. Any florist worth their salt will have a portfolio of shots to show you of past weddings and they will also be able to tell you which flowers will be in season for your date.
I always suggest getting prices in place for everything you like the sound or look of and then sit down and make a choice on which flowers you definitely want to have and those that you can do without. I always reuse flowers from one part of the day to another, as there’s no sense in wasting money and flowers always look gorgeous wherever you put them, so move them around!
If they are able to meet you at the venue, then I suggest this, so you can walk around together and discuss the lighting you would like. Otherwise, ask to see shots of past work, their website or brochures. Have they worked at your venue before, what are their thoughts on the best way to light your venue? Ask your planner as well, as they will no doubt be able to guide you.
Hair and Make-up Trials:
If you have the time to have a trial for both hair and make-up styling before the wedding, then do, as it will give you the chance to see if that upstyle looks as lovely on you as it does online. Don’t try out something new on the day without having first had a trial, as this can create stress and you may not end up with the look you like or are comfortable with. If you know that it’s going to be really hot on your wedding day, and you have long hair, be sensible and wear it up.
With your make-up, try new colors out at home or go to your local department store where you can try out make-up for free – some stores offer a free make over if you by some product at the end. If you have a certain coloured lipstick that you love, take it with you to your trial and make sure you have it with you on your wedding day to top up. If you can, send shots ahead of your trial of both your hair and your face, so the stylist can see what your hair looks like and your skin tone. Send shots of the look or style you are after for both services, so they can come prepared. Some stylists offer packages for each service to cover styling both you, your mums and maids.
Get links to YouTube videos/websites and compare to see what else is available. What can they offer track list wise, how current are their track choices, what different styles can they do? Which parts of the day can they cover for you, how many sets do they do, what’s the cost to use their system for speeches, how late do they work? Do they offer an inclusive all-day fee? Do they offer an evening-only package price? What deposit do they require and when is the balance to be paid? Get word of mouth recommendations from friends.
Look at a variety of different websites, work out which style of photography appeals to you most. Do you want a formal style photographer (lots of staged shots with family and friends) or do you prefer a more relaxed reportage style? Look at the different packages that are available, as some photographers may seem more expensive, but do they give you more at the end with prints, a USB or book included? Do you book a photographer local to the venue or do you take someone from home with you? If you find a photographer who is up for entering your wedding shots onto a wedding blog site, you can sometimes cut a deal with them. If you think your wedding will be different to others and they would like a name credit to promote themselves.
Not everyone wants one, but they can be great fun and a different way to remember your wedding day. My favourite videography feature is a ‘Marry-Oke,’ where each guest learns a line to a specially chosen track and they’re filmed singing it. It’s then edited together to form a fantastic song for you.
Do you want one or do you need one? If you’re having a ceremony on-site at the venue and you would like a non-religious ceremony, then book a professionally trained person to do this. As much as you would love your friend/uncle or sister to do it, unless that person is used to public speaking, and can think fast on their feet, I highly recommend hiring a celebrant, as they will guide you with the content for your ceremony and vows. They will also advise you on the best way to conduct your ceremony.
If you can, visit for a cake tasting. Discuss with your planner all of the available options, as there are numerous ways to have your cake and eat it. For example, you could have a traditional French wedding cake called a croquembouche, which consists of choux pastry balls filled with patisserie cream (a variety of different flavoured fillings), stacked in a conical triangle held together with sticky caramel and usually presented with burning cake candles that look like high powered sparklers!
The world is your oyster when it comes to décor. Most planners have some décor they can rent to you, even if just a few directional signs, otherwise they will be able to point you in the right direction (excuse the pun!). I have a lot of décor that I hire out to couples or, if I don’t have it, I make it or find someone who has it or something like it to hire. If you’re stuck for ideas, just raid Pinterest…it’s one of the best reference and sourcing points for décor.
Ask your planner to get quotes in place for you. This is useful if you have groups of guests all arriving at the airport on the same flight or if you need to bus guests into your wedding venue and home again at the end of the evening.
This is a whole other chapter and too complex to go into here in great detail, but suffice it to say that you can’t get legally married in France unless you have resided here for 40 days or more…and then you get married in the mayor’s office. But, you can have a church blessing if you provide evidence of your marriage in your own country. You will have to ask your planner to liaise with the appropriate church authorities in France on your behalf, as the local diocese will need to contact your church and create a dossier for you that is used to document all the church permissions etc. The priest or vicar for the church where you would like your blessing to be held has to give permission for use of the church. They will also have to approve if they are happy for a different faith ceremony to take place, if this applies. All of this can take time, so this needs to be put in place ASAP!
If you are interested in holding your wedding at Château de Lerse, then please get in touch via the website: chateaudelerse.com or directly with Abigail the planner via email: firstname.lastname@example.orgPhotos courtesy of (in order of appearance): Shannon Elizabeth Photography (1st-9th), Sarah Natasha Photography (10th-13th) & Tony Terrot (14th-16th)
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We’ve asked five experts to aid in your quest for simplification.
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