In the autumn of 2019 I spent a nearly week in Tuscany documenting Clarissa & Daniel’s dream destination wedding, and today I am thrilled to share that their Villa Cetinale wedding photos have been featured on Magnolia Rouge, in addition to their previous features on Martha Stewart Weddings and Style Me Pretty! High school sweethearts, this incredible couple traveled across the world with sixty of their nearest and dearest to celebrate their love and live ‘la dolce vita’ – and for this Villa Cetinale wedding photographer – the week could not have been more of a dream. Scroll down for the fully story and see their gorgeous rehearsal dinner, too!
Planning your destination wedding in Italy and dreaming of the perfect Villa Cetinale wedding photos? Contact me to book your complimentary consultation!
The ancient Medieval town of Siena, Italy played host to Clarissa and Daniel’s elegant affair. Upon leaving the city walls, a twenty-minute drive through the rolling countryside, dotted with olive groves and vineyards, will lead you to the village of Cetinale. There, perched regally on top of a hill, you will find the historic Villa Cetinale – a papal villa that is now a private estate which plays host to the most exclusive and luxurious destination weddings in Italy.
Clarissa and Daniel had traveled throughout Italy while they were dating, and finding their venue sealed the deal. Charmed by the historical architecture, olive groves, and statues around the grounds, the couple booked all of the property’s four villas to accommodate their 60 guests. “We enjoyed meals out on the terrace together and most nights stayed up late, accompanied by more than a few bottles of Brunello,” says Clarissa. “The wait staff is absolutely five-stars. The food is exquisite, even compared to the already delicious cuisine found in the area. In our minds, it would be hard to beat the combination of intimacy and extravagance the venue provides.”
Clarissa and Daniel turned to Nicole Catherine of Every Little Letter for an invitation suite that included a custom crest with a floral border, a one-of-a-kind illustration of the venue and the church, and gold foil lettering on cotton paper. “We knew asking our guests to go all the way to Italy was a tall order, so it was important to us to make the invitations special,” says the bride.
While Clarissa and her bridesmaids sipped the last of their champagne, Daniel and his groomsmen opted to have a traditional Italian barber come to the villa to give each of them a classic shave and haircut.
Daniel and his groomsmen got dressed in one of the villa’s noble bedrooms which was filled with priceless antiques, relics, and ancient leather bound books.
Each of the men wore a different flower on his lapel, with dry and fresh plants that included hellebores, pennycress, hydrangea, and autumn clematis—all native to late fall in Tuscany. “Perhaps our favorite part of their look was that Liz made each of them a very unique, masculine boutonnière,” says Clarissa.
Clarissa and Daniel thought of the most wonderful and intentional little ways to welcome their guests to Italy and spoil them throughout their wedding week. Their custom welcome bags featured Italian delicacies, hangover remedies, and custom door tags with each guests name.
After years of watching Say Yes to the Dress, Clarissa knew exactly what her dream wedding dress would look like. “I knew from the beginning I wanted a simple, timeless silhouette without any embellishments, as that would be the best reflection of my personal style and make me feel the most like myself,” she says. “This made me extremely particular about the fabric and details. There was nothing that would distract from the craftsmanship of the dress and the material.”
She selected a strapless gown with a full skirt from Monique Lhuillier, made from a limited-run floral brocade. “The fabric made the dress,” she says. “Mine was the very last one before the fabric ran out! I added 18 inches to the train and pockets to the dress to customize it.”
One of my favorite parts of destination weddings is the amount of time I get to spend with the bride, groom, and their friends and families. Clarissa’s bridesmaids were some of the nicest women I have ever met and made me feel like I was one of them by the end of the week! On their wedding morning, the golden Tuscan sun was streaming through the windows of the regal bridal suite. The girls laughed, sipped champagne, and reminisced about their favorite memories with Clarissa and Daniel. The moment that Clarissa slipped on her stunning Monique Lhullier gown, the entire room went silent. Moments later, the girls broke into laughter and happy tears – she truly looked like a princess.
A decade after they first met, Daniel and Clarissa were toasting to her recent promotion at sunset on a Santa Monica beach when he took a letter out of his pocket. “When he left for college his freshman year, he left me with a letter that promised one day he would marry me,” says Clarissa. “Each year after that he would write me a going-away love note as a sort of reassurance that we could get through another year of long distance. Senior year, I never got a letter, which I complained about a time or two—it turned out he had written the letter, but wasn’t quite ready to propose yet, so he saved it. We read the letter together with tears in our eyes, and then he pulled out the ring and proposed.”
Clarissa’s Mom helped her with the final touch – a delicate, cathedral-length veil which was illuminated by the dreamy Italian light and made the bride look like she had just stepped into a painting. As a special touch – Clarissa and Daniel each selected ‘his and hers’ fragrances by Jo Malone which they had engraved with their names and wedding dates. To signify the two individuals becoming one, they each layered the other’s fragrance on top of their selected perfumes to create a truly bespoke experience.
For Clarissa’s bridal portraits, I chose the magnificent fresco’ed dining room to continue the painterly aesthetic of the day. The Cetinale team so graciously cleared out all of the furniture in advance so that we could have a clean and elegant space that allowed Clarissa’s natural beauty to shine.
Clarissa requested a bouquet that was “light, airy, and feminine” but still statement-making, says Liz of Siloh Floral Artistry. White-and-cream garden roses, sweet pea, Queen Anne’s lace, ranunculus, and clematis kept to the neutral color scheme, while accents of “oatmeal and oyster-toned blooms” in the bridesmaids’ bouquets created a subtle contrast.
Clarissa and Daniel had planned to save their first look for her walk down the aisle, but spontaneously decided to meet before the ceremony. “It was the perfect moment to take in and calm our nerves,” she says. “When I turned the corner and saw Daniel waiting there for me, I immediately began to tear up. It didn’t take away any emotion from the ceremony, which is what I was concerned with, and allowed us more time to enjoy the reception.”
The photos from Clarissa and Daniel’s first look are some of my absolute favorite from the entire weekend, but would you know that these were actually taken at high noon? Bright, overhead sunlight doesn’t have to be harsh. In fact, with a little shade and film – it can be absolutely luminous.
To echo the garden-sophistication of Clarissa’s bridal bouquet, Liz created petite versions for each of her bridesmaids. I love how Clarissa worked with her calligrapher, Nicole, in advance of the wedding to create custom calligraphy nametags for each of the girls. These little thoughtful touches make such a difference in giving guests a truly elevated experience.
Clarissa encouraged each of her bridesmaids to choose their own custom gown from Fame and Partners. “All I asked was that they keep a long hem and champagne color for a cohesive look,” says the bride. “I wanted them to be able to choose flattering designs that reflected their personal style.”
To subtly bring in the autumn season, I chose this regal avenue of trees which was lined with freshly fallen golden leaves. I love how it created a natural backdrop, but thanks to the symmetry, their Villa Cetinale wedding photos still felt elegant and formal.
Daniel and his groomsmen wore classic black tuxedos with shawl jackets from The Black Tux, but Daniel traded his black jacket for a white one from J.Crew for contrast. “We wanted the groomsmen’s outfits to reflect Daniel’s, while allowing Daniel to stand out,” says Clarissa.
From there, it was off into the countryside for their ceremony. The ten-minute drive which was lined with stone farmhouses, groves of fig trees, and more vineyards, culminated with the most gorgeous vista – a wide, open field dotted with oak trees and, in the distance, their church.
The church, Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, had its foundations laid in the year 1,000, so the couple chose low-key adornments that enhanced the historic architecture. “The décor was purposefully kept light, and based on floral and greenery touches and big pillar candles that meant to highlight the most iconic features of the church—the portal and the altar—in a natural and masterly unkempt way,” says their planner Laura Bravi.
After Clarissa’s father walked her down the aisle, the bride and groom tied the knot in a Catholic ceremony that included traditional vows (they were required by the church). “I started crying the second the doors to the church opened,” says Clarissa. “Being side by side in this beautiful, thousand-year-old church, participating in a traditional Catholic ceremony which felt both timeless and spiritual, was absolutely out of this world.”
The couple had a traditional mass, and I loved catching the sweet little looks that Daniel kept giving to Clarissa. You could tell that he just couldn’t get over the fact that the beautiful woman next to him was his wife.
After an epic first kiss AND an epic exit, I gathered all of the guests for an impromptu group photo op in the church courtyard! This is the wonderful thing about intimate weddings – they will now be able to look back at at their Villa Cetinale wedding photos and see the faces of everyone they hold dear to them for the rest of their lives.
After the ceremony, it was back to the majestic Villa Cetinale where guests were greeted with a long and lingering cocktail reception on the lawn. In classic Italian style, bartenders served Aperol Spritzes which were especially refreshing on the unseasonably warm October day. Their calligrapher created a handmade leather bound drink menu which was a perfect memento for the couple to bring home.
While the guests celebrated, Clarissa and Daniel headed back into the Villa to take a few moments for just the two of them to soak up the love and to reflect on the fact that they were now husband and wife!
The couple offered two signature drinks: an old fashioned playfully named “Grow Old with Me,” and a gin-and-thyme cocktail called “‘Til the End of Thyme.” “I surprised Daniel with ‘C+D’ branded orange peel garnishes for the cocktails,” says Clarissa. Their selection of Italian small bites were a hit, too: “After the wedding, we had people tell us the passed appetizers were their favorite part of the wedding and perhaps the best they ever had,” says Clarissa.
To welcome guests to dinner, traditional tented escort cards displayed each person’s name and table number in elegant calligraphy, while a gold wax seal with a custom floral sketch (taken from the invitation suite) added an opulent accent.
The couple sat their 60 guests at one long table between two rows of cypress trees behind the villa, where a clear tent allowed views of the landscape and filtered natural light. As a Villa Cetinale wedding photographer, this was such a beautiful choice as it allowed guests to feel warm and enveloped while still being able to enjoy the stunning surroundings of the gardens. Chandeliers and draping turned the space into an intimate room as night fell.
Elegant monochrome place settings included white china, traditional flatware, and delicate crystal on white linens. The couple added tiny bottles of olive oil personalized with the illustration of the venue and each guest’s name (they doubled as place cards), and placed custom-printed menus on each plate.
A very special favor – locally pressed olive oil with custom name cards allowed each guest to see where they were to sit. Elegant monochrome place settings included white china, traditional flatware, and delicate crystal on white linens. The couple added tiny bottles of olive oil personalized with the illustration of the venue and each guest’s name (they doubled as place cards), and placed custom-printed menus on each plate.
While guests made their way to the reception, we headed out into the sprawling formal Italian gardens for their bride and groom portraits and Villa Cetinale wedding photos. The combination of the clipped boxwood hedges and giant Cypress trees made it feel like we had stepped into an Italian Alice in Wonderland.
During the cocktail hour, Clarissa and Daniel spent a few minutes alone as the bride’s hairstylist Frank Giacone pulled her loose waves into a chic updo better suited to the warm evening. He decided to bring in a few blooms from the bridesmaids bouquets to create a romantic look which so perfectly suited the bride.
“Much of our day was spent in various locations around the villa taking photos as a couple,” she recalls. “It was so incredibly special to be able to take in all the beauty surrounding us and spend time alone taking in the gravity of the day.” There isn’t a much better feeling in the world than when it finally sinks in that you are married, but I have to imagine it was made even sweeter being in this incredible atmosphere!
For their first dance in front of the villa, Clarissa & Daniel embraced as they swayed to Michael Bubble’s ‘Everything’ – their song sing high school. After, Clarissa and her dad surprised guests with the most darling father daughter dance that I had ever seen. He spontaneously picked her up and swung her through the air – something he said he has done with her since she was just a baby.
From there began an elaborate multi-course Italian dinner which was served family style along with countless bottles of local Brunello.
Can you imagine a more romantic setting for dinner? I loved the way the light of the candles and chandeliers softly reflected off the clear tent, creating an enchanting aura that enveloped Clarissa, Daniel, and their guests with magic. The luminosity of the moment made for the most beautiful Villa Cetinale wedding photos.
The long, lingering dinner was filled with countless toasts and cheers. Classic Italian music and the sounds of laughter filled the twilight sky as it slowly drifted down into the valley.
The newlyweds followed local custom by having a chef from caterer Galateo Ricevimenti assemble a traditional Italian wedding cake with layers of pastry, cream, powdered sugar, and berries in front of the guests
“It was by far the best cake either of us have ever had, and such a cool, unique experience,” they say. “We ended in a cake fight and began dancing. We still crave the cake and wish there was a way for us to have brought the leftovers home.”
Words cannot even begin to express the absolute magic that was this wedding week. Every single detail, moment, and vista was absolute perfection, and, as a Villa Cetinale wedding photographer, was inspiring beyond words. Clarissa and Daniel, I adore you both and know that your life will be filled with beauty, romance, and adventure! Congratulations and thank you for allowing me to be a part of your love story!
PS – Planning your destination wedding in Italy and searching for a Villa Cetinale wedding photographer? Contact me to book your complimentary consultation!
Villa Cetinale Wedding Photos: Molly Carr | Ceremony: Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, Sovicille | Reception: Villa Cetinale | Event Planning: Laura Bravi Events | Catering and Cake: Galateo Ricevimenti | Flowers: Siloh Floral Artistry | Stationery: Every Little Letter | Music and Lighting: Wedding Music and Lights | Bride’s Gown: Monique Lhuillier | Bride’s Shoes:Jimmy Choo | Hair: Frank Giacone | Makeup: Makeup Florence | Bridesmaids’ Dresses: Fame and Partners | Groom’s Jacket: J. Crew | Menswear: The Black Tux | Groom’s Accessories: Ferragamo | Watch: Movado | Ribbon: Frou Frou Chic | Rings: Peter Norman