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While the thought of a Tuscan wedding may inspire visions of cities like Florence, you'll find just as romantic a location-minus the crowds-in the secluded countryside less than an hour away. From charming 12th-century churches to walled medieval cities with bistros sitting in underground caverns, the Serchio Valley and its villages are one of Tuscany's best-kept secrets. Nestled between the Apuan Alps and Appennino Tosco-Emiliano National Park, this region, with its rugged mountain setting and lush forests of chestnut and beech trees, looks straight out of a storybook and even requires crossing a 14th-century bridge to reach it. From Tuscan wine tastings to local bistro lunches, here's how to plan a picture-perfect destination wedding in Tuscany with a honeymoon just as dreamy to follow.
Nothing gets more vintage Italian chic (Г la Sophia Loren) than a ceremony in the walled town of Barga, about an hour's drive from some of the region's more famous neighbors, like Pisa and Florence. Barga is home to the Duomo, a Romanesque 12th-century cathedral perched 1,500 feet above sea level, that makes for a scenic spot for religious ceremonies. As if tying the knot here isn't romantic enough, make your getaway in style by sweeping off in a vintage Italian car along the Serchio Valley's winding hills to a reception at the nearby 180-room Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa. Just a 15-minute drive away, the resort sprawls down the olive- and chestnut-grove-lined Ciocco Estate and Park and is like having a Tuscan villa all to yourself (with room to host all of your friends and family).
Couples can also exchange vows on the terrace here or host welcome drinks around the pool for up to 150, complete with a pizza party (baked in on-site pizza ovens) and aperitifs in the form of prosecco and Bellini cocktails. When it comes time for dinner and dancing, start on the vine-covered terrace and serve up an appetizer buffet of local meat and cheeses and a Tuscan-fueled menu of lobster risotto and fresh ravioli before taking the party indoors for late-night dancing at the discotheque.
If you'd prefer to keep things on the smaller side, after saying вЂњI do,вЂќ take your wedding procession down Barga's narrow cobblestone streets to one of the village's finest eateries, Locanda di Mezzo, housed in a historic 700-year-old building. Seat your party inside the converted antique stone wine cellar for a whimsical tasting menu of more modern Tuscan cuisine that showcases local ingredients, like chestnut and chicken, on plates painted with sauces and dusted with spices.
See More: A Creative Consultant's Destination Wedding at Borgo Bastia Creti in Umbria, Italy
Tuscan Cooking (and Eating)
Give your guests a souvenir worth more than anything they'd have to lug back home with a Tuscan cooking course. The day starts in typical chef fashion with a trip to the markets in Barga to source ingredients for traditional recipes, like handmade ricotta- and spinach-filled ravioli. The Renaissance Tuscany's chef will guide guests through a course where they'll prep three dishes for lunch that afternoon, matched by just the right types of regional wines. And when it comes to where to dine, options are as scenic as can be. Our favorite? A picnic on the lawn looking out at sweeping views of the Serchio Valley from the Ciocco Estate.
Less than an hour away, the medieval Roman town of Lucca is what Tuscan dreams are made of. Sitting along the Serchio River, the walled city's architecture dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries, with pedestrian cobblestoned streets leading to picturesque piazzas with sprawling terraces and cafes. In the corner of one of these piazzas behind the Bernardini Palace lies Cantine Bernardini 1586, an eatery with alfresco patio seating and an expansive cavernous restaurant sitting down below. Host a wine tasting on the patio and sample a series of local vino paired with some of Tuscany's best bruschetta and olive oil, or take things up a notch with an evening cocktail master class while indulging in fine-dining Tuscan fare like seabass-filled black ravioli and fresh pappardelle pasta with rosemary sauce.
How to Get There
Fly into Florence, the closest major city, which sits 70 miles away. Use the city as a landing base where you can set out and explore other towns nearby, like Pisa, Lucca, and Barga. Guests heading to Tuscany can arrange for a airport shuttle service to hotels like the Renaissance Tuscany, about an hour and a half away. Another option: a scenic helicopter ride straight to the Il Ciocco estate. Tuscany is stunning from above, but one of the best ways to get the lay of the land is driving through its rolling hills. Renting a car will give guests more mobility (instead of worrying about taxis) to explore the small towns dotting the Serchio Valley when they have a bit of down time during the wedding.