Louisa & Mike – Real Wedding

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Getting married abroad had never entered my head until we started to search for our dream wedding venue in the UK. I’m not saying that there aren’t some amazing places here, but for the type of wedding we wanted and for the cash that we had to spend our options were limited.

I’ve never been one of those people that has dreamt about getting married form an early age, it just kind of happened! So when it came to planning the “big day” I didn’t really know where to start! The only thing that was not up for negotiation was that I wanted all our family and close friends to spend more than one day celebrating our marriage in a place that we had exclusive use of, this was where the search began.

We had a few day trips out to the Lake District and many more hours were spent sending for brochures and googling on websites, but the one thing that became apparent from the searching was that you can have what I wanted in the UK but with it came a massive price tag.

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Then one day my sister in law, Kristie and I were googling venues and she found it. Chateau Rigaud in France. I seriously thought she’d had too much wine, but then I looked at it and started to get very excited. We booked flights that very night and flew out a couple of weeks later to have a look. I instantly fell in love with it and booked without my fiance even seeing it!!

Planning a wedding abroad is not without its difficult points as you’re here and “it’s” in another country! It did help that the owners of the Chateau were an English couple so there were no language barriers to overcome.

Choosing my photographer, which I think is THE most important aspect of any wedding, was not difficult. Not only is Brett Harkness one of the country’s most renowned and well heeled wedding photographers, he’s also my Brother!!! Brett and Kristie have an amazing way with people, making strangers feel like they’ve known them for ever. We didn’t have that barrier to overcome, but my now husband Michael hates having his photo taken and I was amazed at how relaxed he looked.

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Brett and Kristie inadvertently became our wedding planners, and between us we put together the most amazing, relaxed and fun wedding ever.

We flew out to France 4 days before, there was 20 of us staying at the Chateau and the other guests, 50 in total, stayed close by in other Chateaus and hotels. Most guests came out for the weekend, but our close family and friends enjoyed a week at Chateau Rigaud. Getting stuff out there was a challenge. We had some things, like the sky lanterns, confetti, candle bags etc posted out direct from source. Other things we had to carry and had to pay a little baggage excess on the way.

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We went for a rustic relaxed yet formal approach to the planning. The dress code for the day was “posh frock and suits” but I threw in a black and white with a splash of colour idea to add that wow factor. Everyone stuck to it and they all looked amazing.

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My dress was not really understated as you would probably imagine for a French wedding. It had a medium sized train with lots of Tulle and lace, with a fair bit of bling on the bodice! It was never something I would have picked myself, Kristie told me to just try it and see, and bingo! I strongly recommend letting someone else choose a few dresses for you to try it’s amazing what happens! Getting the dress to France was easy, I bought a box from the “empty box company” on line which came with tissue for packing. I wore pink wedges as my splash of colour and Michael had a pink button hole.

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At first I thought that keeping the colour theme neutral was the best idea and then after advice from the experts – AKA Brett and Kristie, I decided to go for pink and green. I had beautiful shocking pink and lime green hydrangeas with lots of pink and green accessories to match. The flowers have their own tale to tell!!! When we got to the florist in France the hydrangeas that she had bought were baby pink and totally not what I wanted. As there was none available at the local market we had to improvise and spent 2 hours driving round the hedge rows of the local village cutting them from the bushes!! The end result was amazing and it was well worth the effort, with the added humor factor!

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The day before the wedding was the putting it all together day. With Kristie running round with a clipboard giving out wedding morning jobs to everyone, tying on ribbons, making confetti cones, icing the cupcakes, folding napkins and putting the lids on the honey pots that my Mum bought me as the favors, which were sourced from my mums friend in France. We made all the paper stuff ourselves, like the menus, door hangers, seating plans, orders of service and the table names, it does save a fair bit if cash and you can spend this on other things.

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It was a really fun day which ended with the boys cooking fresh cuts of meat over a vine fired BBQ, washed down with several bottles of vino.

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On the morning of the wedding I was the most relaxed that I have ever been in my whole life, this is the best bit of advice I can give to any bride to be, the more relaxed you are the more you enjoy it. At this point if it’s going to go wrong it will do and there’s nothing you can do about it. Even when I put my dress on and discovered that it had had to be peeled of a resin stained wardrobe door half an hour before leaving a brown stain on the skirt, I just thought well what can I do about it and it was hardly noticeable!!

I took my hairdresser out with me so she did my hair, but I did my own make up. I never truly felt like me when anyone else did my make up for me, so I had a few lessons at the Bobbi Brown counter and did my own and I was really happy with it.

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I wanted to make my wedding morning gift to Michael something personal, so I made him a scrap book of our 10 years together. I crammed it full of pictures and messages and it was quite an emotional journey making it, he loved it and we took it out to the wedding party and they all loved it too. Michael bought me a 2 charms for my Troll bracelet, they were the hand of friendship and a pair of kissing french snails!! Rather apt I thought.

When the guest arrived we had a cellist playing in the garden, although she was a little late. They were served with pink coloured champagne and asked to tie a wish to a tree for me and Michael.

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The ceremony was a dream, the lawn was decked with white chairs with buckets of pink and green hydrangeas on the edges of them. My brothers gave me away and we walked own the aisle to the sound of the cellist. Our ceremony was sweet and simple, we wrote it ourselves and wanted it to mirror how we felt about each other. We included a sand unity within the ceremony, using sand that we had collected from our travels around the world. We each had a bottle of sand and poured it into the same container, this represents unity and being together forever like the sand. We also had two empty chairs at the front of the congregation in memory of Mikes Dad and my Grandad. We placed an order of service on each chair with a pink long stemmed rose and a candle, which Mike and I lit during the ceremony. We felt this was an understated way to remember two very special people in our lives who would have loved every minute of our special day.

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After the ceremony we had champagne on the lawn where we got the chance to greet all our guests for the first time. After the toast we then went through to the other side of the chateau, which looks out over the meadow and vineyards, to amazing array of cananpes including oysters and prawns, seabass and gaspatcho. We spent a couple of hours here while Brett and Kristie captured the atmophere of the day, listening to the band playing. The wedding breakfast was held in the barn which had been prepared earlier in the day. We had all the same flowers for the table centres, our tables were named after our favourite places in the world, each with a picture that we had taken ourselves. We had pink uplighters in the barn casting a pink glow up the whitewashed walls and they were the best idea ever. The room was also lit with over a hundred candles which added an amazing fairy tale feeling. We also made little happiness kits to go with the honey pots, these are a bit of fun and contain 6 little things that you need throughout life like a marble for when you lose your own!!!! Dinner was amazing with monkfish, duck, french cheese and a chocolate trio with 3 delicious french wines to go with it all. On the pudding plates we put little fortune sticks from a great web site called Cox and Cox. While everyone was eating their pudding Brett and Kris took us off to a little derelict church that was two minutes away from the chateau. We stopped for pictures in a vineyard on the way, this was an amazing hour spent away from the wedding just us and them in rural France with a camera. The outcome was some of the most amazing pictures I have ever seen and I still to this day can’t believe that I am am in them!! When we got back the guests were just finishing dessert and has the speeches had been completed before we left for the photos, then the party started!!

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The live band were the best idea ever, they cost a little bit more but if music is important to you them it is well worth the extra expense. They were there for the whole day, with breaks in between and then did the DJ until 2am aswell!! We had our first dance to Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol and then everyone hit the floor. We cut the cake and instead of giving it out for people to take we made a little sign that said “please eat after 10pm”. At 11pm we lit sky lanterns. We got enough for everyone to have one each and it was an amazing and emotional part of the night, everyone loved it. Mike and I just lay on the grass and watched the lanterns float away into the night, its a much better option than fireworks. We also had a table and chairs outside with a selection of cigars for everyone to enjoy, even the non smokers amongst us joined in!! We then opened a bar in the chateau where all the drinks were paid for and partied until dawn!

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Our week long wedding was an inexplicable experience, one that did not cost the earth, that was put together by people with great imaginations and lots of patience. It totally exceeded even my wildest dreams and was something that will stay with not only me and my family but with all our guests for the rest of our lives.

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All photography by Brett Harkness

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