Hannah and Raphael blended English romance and French chic at their island celebration
An island off the French Riviera was the natural choice for Hannah and Raphael’s spring wedding. “Raphael is from the South of France and spent many summers sailing to the Ile de Porquerolles,” explains Hannah. “The island holds many special memories for him and his family and friends. And now Porquerolles is special to me too!” The island also has a suitably romantic history: in 1912, a Belgian adventurer reputedly gave Porquerolles to his wife as a wedding gift.
"The ceremony was a mixture of French and English, to represent my heritage and Raphael’s,” says Hannah. The UK-based pair introduced some quintessentially English accents to their French reception, including homemade bunting, and arrangements and bouquets of cream roses. But there was one local tradition Raphael simply refused to do without: “He insisted we buy Champagne, not prosecco, for the welcome drink and speeches,” says Hannah. “I guess that would be the Frenchman in him.”
“Porquerolles is a completely untouched, natural beauty,” says Hannah. “As one of France’s national parks, the island is highly protected, so cars aren’t allowed.” For transport, the couple hired a local golf buggy. “We were able to completely decorate it with voile draping, cream roses and green foliage."
Hannah chose her Caroline Castigliano dress (carolinecastigliano.co.uk) very much with her location in mind. Porquerolles has almost year-round sunshine – great for outdoor celebrations, not so perfect for flouncy frocks. “I was very aware that I wanted something lightweight as it can get very hot, and a traditional wedding dress would have looked out of place on the island.”
For their reception, Hannah and Raphael chose Villa des Agapanthes, a large house overlooking the harbour with its own private beach. “We hired it for the week before, which was perfect because in the days running up to the wedding we were able to decorate it with lighting, lanterns and bunting,” says Hannah. “Being there in the run-up made us feel in total control.” Hannah’s nearest and dearest made the trip to France before the big day to help out. “Our wedding became a lovely family holiday too,” she explains.
Planning a wedding abroad meant overcoming cultural differences. “In France, people will plan a wedding a few months before, rather than over a year,” says Hannah. “The caterer thought we were mad wanting to secure details about the meal six months before our wedding day!” Hannah admits she had to learn to go with the flow: “Our suppliers were totally laidback and carefree, but they truly delivered on the day.”
“We wanted the beauty of the place to be the dominant theme, so we used soft colours to emphasise this,” says Hannah. “The flower girls wore vintage pink dresses from Next (next.co.uk) and we kept all the venue decorations white, from the bunting and lanterns to the birdcages and fairylights.”
“We named the tables after our favourite books based on islands, such as Treasure Island, The Rum Diary and The Beach,” says Hannah. In fact, Robert Louis Stevenson based classic pirate adventure novel Treasure Island on Porquerolles, and Raphael and Hannah incorporated the location’s rich history into their day. As a surprise, the best man even pulled on a pirate costume to deliver his speech.
“French weddings traditionally go on until very late,” says Hannah. “It was brilliant having our wedding abroad, because we could stick with French tradition and let the party go on all night.” The couple were more than happy to join their guests on the dancefloor, but drew the line at the customary first dance. “As a couple we would have found it really awkward and forced,” Hannah explains. “I think some traditions make people do things they really don’t like doing, and that increases the stress on your day.”
To see more weddings abroad, pick up the destination special in our March/April issue, out now.