Florence's Duomo Cathedral Inspired Every Inch of This Destination Wedding in Italy
Then-law students Saghar Esfandiaarifard and Ben Herold first crossed paths in August 2012. Three years later, they found themselves in Italy; the pair took a trip to Florence together, and although they weren't yet engaged, they talked about how incredible it would be to host a wedding there. "We couldn't have pictured a more picturesque location!" Saghar says. Six-and-a-half years into their relationship, Ben popped the question on Valentine's Day at the pair's favorite restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn: Walter Foods.
Planning a faraway celebration gave the couple an excuse to travel to Florence twice; once as a couple and once with their families. Back home, the pair entrusted Daniela Tripodi from The Tuscan Wedding to help them breach the language barrier—and make the long-distance planning process a bit easier. "Many of our vendors we met for the first time on the day of our welcome dinner or at the wedding," the bride shares, noting that she, Ben, and Daniela worked together to curate a big-day team.
There were, of course, multiple parts of the planning process that Saghar and Ben took on firsthand—this included sourcing a venue. When the couple saw Villa Cora Hotel for the first time, they knew the locale would allow them to host a timeless celebration with great food and drinks; the destination also provided the romantic Italian ambience they had been searching for. "It was elegant, but not stuffy, and charming. Plus, the staff and management really understood and cared about delivering top-level hospitality," explains the bride. The venue was the ultimate place to host the couple's 98 guests, who traveled from all over the United States, Turkey, and Iran for their June 8, 2019, nuptials.
A Weekend in Italy
The couple's stationery suite paid homage to the city of Florence and the several venues incorporated into their wedding weekend, complete with maps and a custom crest with their initials. The set's color palette was inspired by the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, located in the Piazza del Duomo, featuring blush, muted greens, and off-white shades.
A Warm Welcome
Saghar and Ben hosted an outdoor dinner at Villa Medicea Di Liliano to welcome guests to Florence. One long table was topped with a white runner, a garland of greenery, and table settings that featured a bold blue glass at each seat for a pop of color.
Find Your Seat
At the welcome dinner, guests found their seating assignments on hand-painted leaves that were pinned to bright yellow lemons.
Have Some Gelato
For dessert, the couple served gelato from a turquoise Fiat 500.
When Life Gives You Lemons
They sent guests on their way with bottles of limoncello, presented in a vintage wicker cart.
A Dream Gown
Saghar had always envisioned herself in a lace wedding dress with long sleeves, and thoroughly enjoyed sourcing the gown that played into that vision during the shopping process. "It felt great to love the skin I was in," she recalls of the positive experience. She wore a custom lace Oscar de la Renta number with long sleeves, an open back, and a plunging neckline.
The Finishing Touches
She completed her look with a veil, also from Oscar de la Renta, simple pearl stud earrings, and Bella Belle flats with pearl embellishments.
Saghar's bouquet included peonies, English roses, and greenery tied with a blush ribbon. The arrangement actually went missing moments before the ceremony, causing a slight delay. "It was literally the only thing that went 'wrong' that day!" the bride shares.
The Groom's Look
Ben donned a custom tuxedo by Johnathan Behr with a white shawl-collared jacket. His bride gifted him custom cuff links featuring a picture of the couple's dog, Otter. "Otter has been in my life for 10 years. He's been a lovable third-wheel for us since we met," the groom says.
Bridesmaids in Black
With a black-tie dress code, Saghar thought it would be appropriate for her bridesmaids to wear classic ensembles. They stepped into black satin dresses in varying styles from Bella Bridesmaids in Beverly Hills. "I selected four options, and each of the four girls liked one of the options the most, so it was perfect!" Saghar says. The bride's maid of honor, her sister, had a black dress custom-made by their mom's friend, who also made their mother's dress for the big day.
The groomsmen received a few attire directions from Ben: They needed to wear black peaked lapel tuxedos with French-cuffed shirts and black patent leather shoes. "My groomsmen are the best people I know, but are not particularly adept at following directions," Ben says. "So, while they all wore tuxedos, some wore sneakers, some wore different jackets, and none of us matched. In the end, though, I loved it!"
The First Look
This couple didn't want to miss a minute of their cocktail hour, so they planned a first look below the terrace at Villa Cora. "Once we saw each other, we forgot all about the hours leading up to that moment and got lost for a few seconds," Saghar recalls.
The Ceremony Setup
The outdoor ceremony space was decorated with gold and glass lanterns, ceramic urns holding flower arrangements, a eucalyptus garland (which along the final row of gold chairs), and white flower petals down the aisle.
A Cultural Spread
The ceremony incorporated traditional elements of Persian Sofreh design, some of which were brought to Italy from Los Angeles by the bride's mother and aunt. The spread, which included grapes, candles, and a prayer book, was laid out on a table with two stools for the bride and groom to sit.
A Personalized Service
Saghar is Iranian American, so it was important to the couple to have the ceremony in both English and Farsi. The bride made her way down the aisle accompanied by her parents while "Crazy Love" by Van Morrison played. The couple exchanged vows they wrote for each other and opted to skip traditional readings.
The newlyweds served signature drinks during the cocktail hour; the bride chose an Aperol spritz, while the groom opted for a negroni. The bar also offered Prosecco, beer, and wine.
Missing Their Dog
Although the couple's pup, Otter, couldn't attend the wedding, the pair included him by emblazoning their napkins and cocktail stirrers with his hand-drawn portrait, along with the phrase "I'll Have an-Otter!"
While guests enjoyed the signature cocktails and passed appetizers, an Italian folk trio played the accordion, guitar, and violin.
Versailles, But in Florence
The reception took place in the hotel's Mirror Room, where original mural paintings from the 19th-century created an instant feeling of grandeur.
Guest's names were calligraphed on small scrolls and placed inside Champagne flutes. "They were perfect for the first toasts and getting the energy going," the bride reflects.
On the Tables
Round tables were topped with creamy linens and paired with gold Chiavari chairs. All-white centerpieces were placed on each table, along with candles in varying heights.
Dinner Is Served
Attendees enjoyed a four-course plated meal that began with millefeuille eggplants with mozzarella, tomato, and parmesan, followed by cacio e pepe, filet mignon with potatoes, and chocolate gelato with hazelnut crumble—in lieu of a traditional wedding cake.
To couples unsure of whether or not a destination celebration is right for them, Saghar says, "Go with your gut and lean in all the way. While a destination wedding can have its challenges, it was perfect for us and our guests, who, to this day, describe it as a memorable day and trip for them!"
Photography, Anya Kernes Photography
Welcome Party Venue, Villa Medicea Di Liliano
Welcome Party Catering, Galateo Ricevimenti
Welcome Party Lighting, Alma Project
Wedding Venue and Catering, Villa Cora Hotel
Event Planning and Design, The Tuscan Wedding
Videography, Waterfall Visuals
Flowers, Flowers Living
Invitations, Laura Sherma of Jolly Edition
Paper Products, The Wedding Letters
Ring Bearer Signage, La Precisina
Bride's Robe, Homebodii
Bride's Gown, Oscar de la Renta
Bride's Shoes, Bella Belle Shoes
Hair and Makeup, Natalia Issa
Bridesmaids' Robes, Le Rose
Bridesmaids' Dresses, Bella Bridesmaids
Groom's Attire, Johnathan Behr Bespoke Clothiers
Ring Box, Mrs. Box
Vow Books, Ciarra Claire
Music, The Sax Man; DJ Sam Young; Deji Carr
Lighting, Wedding Music and Lights
Photo Booth, Funny Booth
Styling Ceramics, Simple Things Ceramics
Custom Napkins and Cocktail Stirrers, The Emerald Hound