It was a glorious late afternoon on the grounds of an old-world villa in the lush Tuscany hills in Italy when Donna Laverdiere and Loren Crippin exchanged their wedding vows on Sept. 4, 2010 before 40 friends and family.

Tuscany is a popular wedding locale for Italians because of its vistas, good wine and excellent food. But to plan such a major event at an off-the-beaten-track site about 35 miles east of Florence was a challenge for an American couple who opted to do it on their own.

Laverdiere, the daughter of Claire Laverdiere-Michaud of Jay and Donald Laverdiere of Embden, was the Jay High School 2002 valedictorian. She is now a policy analyst for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service. Crippin works in advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association. They met at Duke University where both received master’s degrees at the Sanford School of Public Policy.

After a two-week honeymoon on the Italian Riviera and the island of Sardinia, they live on Capital Hill in Washington, D. C. According to the premier wedding website, The Knot Inc. (www.theknot.com), more than 300,000 destination weddings of U.S. couples take place every year.

These celebrations can be virtually stress-free because they are simpler to plan and often less expensive due to a smaller guest list, The Knot reports. Resorts, cruise lines, and tourist boards can offer complete wedding packages and there are experts who specialize in arranging destination weddings.

Crippin spent his younger years in Italy and learned to speak Italian, and his parents, Dr. Gary and Cynthia Crippin, owned a summer home in the tiny village of Gioglato on the grounds of a restored 12th century villa.

Laverdiere and Crippin decided that was where they wanted to hold their wedding and that they could plan it themselves using local vendors. There were many transatlantic phone calls and on a trip to Italy last April, they decided on a caterer, photographer, florist, and rental company for the tent, tables, chairs, dishes and linens. “We got a lot of good information on that trip and knew we could do the rest over the phone,” Crippin said.

The couple arrived seven days before the wedding to touch base with vendors, get things organized, decorate, prepare the site and make sure early arriving guests were entertained and accommodated comfortably.

Crippin said one additional pre-wedding task on their to-do list was to buy 15-liter kegs of Chianti from a nearby vineyard and bottle it, placing on each a personalized commemorative label designed by a local Italian artist.

As for wedding decorations, Laverdiere suggested do-it-yourself brides may want to buy them stateside, as they did. They brought a suitcase filled with ribbons, floral wire and other decorative items and also hand-printed programs, escort cards and table signs that Laverdiere had made over the summer. “We wanted to focus on having this be different and personal,” she said. “But the setting was really the main decoration. It was the backdrop and did the work for us.”

The couple had agreed that they wanted the meal to be memorable and traditional. After the outdoor ceremony, there was a cocktail hour with a huge antipasti buffet –wheels of aged Italian cheeses expertly carved by waiters, a spread of salamis and other cured meats, and assorted condiments. The five-course dinner, which lasted nearly three hours, started out with two pasta dishes, including an amazing ravioli in truffle cream sauce and a Tuscan beef ragu followed by thinly-sliced rosemary-marinated steak. To ensure the homemade pasta was served hot and as fresh as possible, the caterer had set up a mobile kitchen next to the tent where staff cooked it right before it was to be served. The meal ended with a dessert buffet followed by the wedding cake, and then dancing into the night.

Crippin said the special moment for him was after the ceremony when he and Laverdiere could sit back and see how all the pieces to the wedding “puzzle” they had worked on for months had come together. “It was nice to see that it had stopped being a million pieces and everything fell into place. The wedding took on a life of its own and everyone helped out,” he said.

Laverdiere’s favorite moment was the ceremony itself. The bride and groom had written their own vows and Crippin’s brother, Galen, officiated. “Standing in front of everyone to say our vows, overlooking the Tuscan hills, and looking at Loren and seeing all the people who had traveled so far to be with us was so wonderful,” she said.

As for tips on planning a destination wedding, Laverdiere said she relied on the book, Destination Weddings, that she purchased from The Knot. “But what I learned from all this is that there are so many things you could control, but you have to go with the flow. Give in to local customs and remember, things are done differently in different countries,” she said.

Crippin agreed: “Let the little details really sparkle. Those are the moments people will remember.”

1. Over 20 percent of brides consider their wedding a destination wedding.

2. Three out of five destination weddings take place in the continental U.S.; 42 percent take place internationally.

3. More than 300,000 destination weddings of U.S. Couples take place each year with the most popular locales being the Caribbean, Mexico and Hawaii.

4. More than half use a wedding planner.

5. Most have fewer guests (average 77) compared to 150 at traditional weddings.


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