Sorrento's such a gorgeous setting for a family wedding
Half a lifetime after spending their honeymoon in Sorrento, Margaret Carragher and her other half return to the jewel of the Amalfi coast for the wedding of their son, following in the footsteps of an increasing number of Irish people getting married abroad
IF A country’s wealth were to be calculated by the scale and opulence of its weddings, Ireland would be up there with Qatar. Go to any Wedding Fayre across the island and you’ll meet pedlars of everything from photo booths to candy carts; sparkling dance floors to gilt thrones; chandeliered marquees to exorbitant wedding favours.
Which is fair enough if your daddy owns an oil well and the guests are all lottery winners. For many others, Irish weddings can be fraught; those tales of torrential downpours and incontinent turtle doves aren’t all urban myths.
But there is an alternative, and it seems more and more couples are opting for it – getting hitched abroad. According to official statistics, more than 3,000 Irish citizens celebrated their nuptials overseas last year, with Italy the most popular destination.
And yours truly happened to be at one of them.
The bride and groom-to-be, having had their fill of sugared almonds and flying bouquets, had resolved to do it their way with a small, no-fuss August wedding in the seaside town of Sorrento, a jewel of the Mediterranean perched high on Italy’s Amalfi Coast overlooking the Bay of Naples.
On the basis of its climate alone (August is Sorrento’s hottest, driest and sunniest month, with an average temperature of 24C, cooled by gentle sea breezes) the choice of venue would be a no-brainer. Add jaw-dropping scenery, world-class cuisine, and accessibility (Aer Lingus flies regularly to and from Naples, just an hour from Sorrento, with excellent transport links) and it’s little wonder this clifftop idyll is among the most sought-after wedding destinations in all of Europe.
With wedding planners available to sort everything from the marriage ceremony and reception, to transport, flower arrangements, hair and beauty appointments, photography, entertainment, legal procedures and honeymoon, all the happy couple and their guests have to do is chill out and go with the flow.
And so to Sorrento, the good man and I, and the thrill of finally revisiting our own honeymoon destination.
Little had changed in the intervening years: the pastel-washed houses still clung like limpets to their teetering cliffs; bus and taxi drivers still zoomed like maniacs around vertiginous mountain bends; and the air was still thick with lemons the size of turnips, lemon-scented soap, lemon liquor, lemons adorning everything from postcards to tea towels to fruit bowls.
Back in 1977, with airline baggage restrictions still in the dim and distant future, we’d stocked up with enough lemon-bedecked crockery to feed an army. Now, with the clutter of a lifetime accumulated, we were collecting only memories.
With time to spare before the wedding, we set about retracing our steps around some of the region’s most iconic sights. Onwards then to Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried under tons of volcanic ash in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. On our first visit here, the sheer impact of the place had left us breathless.
Almost 40 years on, Pompeii had lost none of its power to amaze and confound: the sprawling amphitheatre, one of the oldest manmade structures on Earth, and capable of accommodating up to 12,000 spectators; the exquisitely wrought sculptures in bronze, marble and terracotta scattered willy-nilly across the forum; a loaf of bread – the ultimate piece of toast – carbonised in a baker’s oven; mosaics and graffiti, still fresh and vibrant after almost 2,000 years, depicting a way of life that vanished in an flash.
Even when thronged with tourists – which, as one of the country’s most popular attractions with Unesco World Heritage status, it invariably is – Pompeii resonates with otherworldliness; tracing the chariot tracks along its cobbled streets is like stepping back in time.
Back then to the present and, having missed out on Capri first time round, it was off on a boat trip to this legendary isle. Extending to just four square miles of soaring limestone cliffs, pine forests and cactus-strewn shores, Capri punches way above its weight, with a history stretching back into the mists of time; over countless millennia it has hosted Neolithic Man, Phoenicians, and ancient Greeks and Romans in their droves.
In more recent times, Capri’s stupendous views, Michelin-starred restaurants, and designer boutiques and hotels have welcomed the international jet set who regularly roll up on private yachts, helicopters and luxury cruise ships. Fay Dunaway, Liz Taylor and Sophia Loren have all holidayed in Capri, and Mariah Carey is said to have a villa in the hills overlooking its mythical Blue Grotto.
You could spend forever here just people-watching and window-shopping and soaking up the rays – but we had a wedding to go to.
And although, between churches and beaches and villas and lemon groves, there are perhaps as many wedding venues in Sorrento as there are weddings, there was only ever going to be one venue for this wedding party.
Located in the centre of Sorrento but a world away from its 21st century vibe, the San Francesco Cloister nestles in the grounds of an eighth century Franciscan monastery overlooking Mount Vesuvius. A hybrid of architectural styles smothered in ancient vines and heavily scented climbers, this cloister, pounded for centuries by the sandalled feet of countless Franciscan friars, resounds with atmosphere and birdsong; close your eyes, be still, and you can almost hear the swish of habits as generations of friars rushed to prayer.
We first came here as newlyweds, captivated by the history and ethereal beauty of the place. Little did we know back then, that one day our son would marry the girl of his dreams – and ours – on this very spot.
Afterwards, in a swirl of confetti, a vintage VW convertible, identical to the father-of-the-bride’s first much loved and lamented set of wheels, rolled up to transport the newlyweds to their clifftop reception. And later on, as the Bay of Naples faded from aquamarine to lilac in the evening sun, we raised a glass to the happy couple and vowed one day to return.
Because that’s the thing about Sorrento – once you’ve been there, you always, always want to go back.
:: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) operates daily flights from Dublin to Naples as part of its summer schedule. Fares start from €78.99 one-way including taxes and charges. The service will run until end of October.
:: Topflight (topflight.ie) have a team of professionals to organise every aspect of getting married abroad, from booking the venue and reception, to advising on, and tracking necessary documentation, and confirming all wedding day services: car, flowers, photography, video, music, hair and beauty appointments, guest transportation etc.
:: Topflight Quality Escorted European & Worldwide Holidays offers an eight day escorted tour of Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, Pompeii and Vesuvius from €1,019 pps.
Price includes return flights from Dublin to Naples; return airport transfers; seven nights half board at Sorrento’s four-star plus Hotel Bristol; guided Sorrento walkabout; full-day guided excursion to Pompeii and Vesuvius; half-day guided excursion to the Amalfi Coast; Sorrentine musical evening; Topflight representative service in resort.
:: For more information about Sorrento, visit sorrentotourism.com/en/