why a wedding on lake como is more affordable than you think
I struggled with finding the best way to justify my pitch that a wedding in Lake Como is affordable, because unless you do the exact same things I did, there are too many variables when it comes to expectations and vendors to provide pricing estimates. However, I've identified a few universal methods for cost cutting; while these are applicable to weddings in general, these are all things I found to be particularly easier to pull off in Italy. Here are the things we did that ended up saving us thousands of Euros (seriously!):
in italy, many places do not have venue fees.
Paying only for what you eat and drink?! Including the napkins, tables, chairs, and silverware required to eat their food?! Putting a deposit toward your final balance instead of pocketing it?! Yes, you heard right. The way many Italian wedding venues do things almost makes TOO much sense. It only takes a couple hours of venue hunting in the U.S. to be shocked and appalled by the booking/venue fees that are thousands of dollars, non-refundable, and often include very little but reserving the date and the space. This was so hard for me to conceptualize; it bothered me that the highest expense in my budget wasn't adding a ton of value to the overall experience. When we first thought about having a wedding in Italy, I had my expectations managed that it would be out of the question cost-wise. Imagine my surprise when we got our quote back, and it was the cost of feeding and providing drinks 70 people, including all accessories required for eating/drinking, an hour long aperitif (cocktail hour), wine, gratuity, tax, a wedding cake, and we would have the restaurant privately at the Villa during that time period. Granted, it was a high cost per head because it was an 8 course meal, but we wanted to make sure it was nice enough to thank our guests for their attendance.
it's easier to get away with not providing liquor.
Picture yourself in Italy... eating on a cobblestone street under twinkle lights, a glorious pizza or pasta dish in front of you... what are you drinking? A vodka cranberry? Probably not. One of my favorite things about Italy is the long dinners with carafes of house wine, and the only cocktail I've ever opted for while there is an Aperol Spritz (which is very Italian and was included with our wedding package). Adding liquor to an open bar can add thousands of dollars onto your tab, and while you don't want to appear to cheap out on your guests, I think you should feel comfortable providing whatever you feel is appropriate for the event and will maximize your guests' experience. We wanted to take advantage of what was unique to this location by allocating our budget to the incredible local wines/proseccos rather than spend a fortune on cocktails you can get anywhere. So we had beer (Peronis), Aperol Spritzes and two types of prosecco during the cocktail hour, along with several types of wine throughout the evening (a white and red for dinner, a moscato and prosecco for dessert, a rosé and new red wine for dancing). In having some variety, we hoped our guests wouldn't feel their palettes were neglected and it turned out to be the perfect bar situation for us. All were available and in-house at the venue, we selected them just two days before, and it could not have been better. Also, if you don't feel comfortable neglecting liquor, another great option is to have signature cocktails to limit the scope of what people order (AKA prevent people from ordering tons of shots at last call).
I ONLY SPENT 1,000 EUROS ON FLOWERS
If you research the average cost of flowers for American weddings, one of the first things that comes up is a recent Brides article, where a planner says her clients spend $6,000-$11,000 on flowers (WHAT!). They do caveat that you can have a beautiful display for a minimum of $3,000, which still feels high to me. I love flowers, but I do not love paying for things that don't last very long. The great thing about Italy is that the backdrops of many locations (whether inside or outside) are so beautiful by default, that elaborate flowers, pillar candles, and tea lights aren't going to add a whole lot. We were lucky in that Villa Cipressi's outdoor area had an ivy-covered trellis and lush gardens surrounding it, but this type of venue is certainly not the exception. Overall, I can pinpoint two things we did that made our flowers more affordable:
1. Instead of large floral centerpieces, I rented gold candelabras from our wedding planner and asked the florist to make garland instead of structured arrangements. My request was to have some combination of anemones, peonies, garden roses, snapdragons, lily of the valley, and various white and green fillers like eucalyptus, lemon leaves, baby's breath, etc. (Read more about how I requested flowers here). In general, I like deconstructed florals, and this was a way for us to: A. not have large arrangements blocking the view, B. to save money by making flowers more of an accent than a focal point, and C. not have to pay for vase rentals. We draped 1 meter of flower garland on the round tables around each candelabra and had 4 meters on the longer tables. Instead of centerpieces that were at least 100 EUR each, the garland ran us around 50 EUR per meter. With the money saved, we spent money on some details I thought added more to the ambiance, such as fairy lights overhead, personalized miniature bottles of limoncello, and several antique etched glass tea lights on the table.
2. We didn't splurge on the church decorations (and got a little lucky with what was already there). I feel bad admitting this, but I was disappointed when I learned that churches keep the flowers as a gift following a wedding ceremony. Not that the church doesn't deserve them, but these are some of the most pricey arrangements that would really be great to take with you to the reception. Having two large arrangements on the altar, flowers over the doorway, and on the pews would have been an additional 1,000+ EUR, and I decided I'd rather spend that money on the longer event where we'd get to enjoy the decorations more. This is also a perk of getting married in an old Cathedral, as they are typically very ornate and grandiose by design and don't require much else! Side note, as you can see on the right, there are many lilies on the altar- but those were there for a first communion scheduled the next day! I am not a huge fan of lilies, but I certainly wasn't complaining. You never know what may already be there from another wedding or function, since whoever is using the church has to leave them behind.
LOCAL VENDORS ARE VERY OPEN TO NEGOTIATING
While I can't speak to the legal implications of this in another country, many vendors will save you quite a bit of money if you pay in cash. In Italy, there's a 22% VAT (tax) on many items and services, and if you're booking big ticket items like a DJ, cocktail hour music, videographer, etc., it doesn't hurt to ask if they'll take cash. Otherwise, try to negotiate and have them think outside their normal wedding package. For example, we didn't want a 20 minute wedding video, so we requested to just have a 4 minute trailer, which is considerably cheaper. I won't ramble on this topic, because I think you get the picture, but remember it never hurts to ask. Just make sure you are providing them some sort of benefit in return, as you want to support the community, not rip them off. For example, offer to write a review, share on social media, pay in cash, reduce the scope of services, bring them more business, etc. Or ask if there's something they need help with, you never know!
IN SMALL LAKESIDE TOWNS, YOU CAN SAVE THOUSANDS ON TRANSPORTATION
In Varenna, the church was a stone's throw from the Villa, which was amazing for convenience, timing, and cost. A ceremony at Villa del Balbianello across the lake is a dream, but it's about 1000 EUR to transport 70 people privately in one boat, and even pricier to divide up among taxis or riva boats. Many locations aren't easily accessed by car, and for those that are, a bus to transport people 2 ways is going to run you at least 600-700 EUR depending on distance and number of people. These are the small things that start to add up quickly that I was so relieved to not worry about. At first, I wanted to do things in different cities so people could see more than one town, but we ended up booking a private happy hour cruise on Friday (link) that allowed our guests to see other parts of the lake.
tip: purchase 'sfuso' (wine on tap) from local shops for you & your guests to enjoy in hotel rooms
I'm pretty sure this is the sole reason my mom and I keep returning to Italy. There are many translations of Sfuso out there, but my first introduction was in Venice, where it was explained to me as being 'next day wine on tap.' It's considered next-day because there's no preservatives or sulfites in the wines; certain small shops carry barrels of local wines from nearby wineries that are only good for a limited amount of time. Basically, once exposed to air, you have 24 hours to drink it. You have to purchase it by the liter, so you can either bring an empty liter water bottle or they'll provide glass bottles, and you fill up to your liking. It's always delicious, hangover free (!!), and so affordable. We gave all of our guests a liter per room to enjoy on their balconies or during down time, I figured that was the least we could do after such a long trip! Take a look at the photo to the right - 2.15 per liter!!! What a dream.