Santorini. Even for those of us not yet lucky enough to visit the island, the name conjures images of spectacular sunsets, whitewashed buildings with Mediterranean blue rooves and doors cascading down the steep volcanic cliffs, and crystal clear waters. I can only image the sun sinking slowly into the southern Aegean Sea as day meets night, casting rays of deep reds through oranges then yellows; the sun melting slowly from above into a golden-orange greying sky. But like I said, I can only imagine.
Stunning, spectacular, splendid Santorini has inspired poets, philosophers, and today, many brides and grooms to be and honeymooners seeking the relaxation, the luxury and the romance of exchanging vows during a Thera sunset.
Niobe Dean, a Melburnian who will wed her partner Nathan on the island in August can not wait for their wedding. “Even if the photos are even half as good as they look, which I’m sure they’re going to be ten times better, it’s going to be amazing,” she says excitedly.
The obvious question is why Santorini? Why not Australia? “I’ve never been to Santorini but my partner has and he loves it,” she says.
“Neither of us are religious so we didn’t want a big church thing and we didn’t want to spend thousands and thousands on just one day when it’s just a party at the end of the day. So we thought rather than spend this much money on a wedding, why not spend that same amount of money on a trip.”
And what a trip – Thera, Crete, Spain and a cruise in Croatia. But with just six guests and no family attending the intimate event, Niobe and Nathan’s destination wedding is probably not for everyone. After all, for many couples, no matter what size the wedding, family are an essential ingredient. Yet, as Niobe explains, it is because both her and Nathan are very close to their mothers and because neither mum is in a position to be there that no family are attending at all – they didn’t really even have a guest list, she says.
“Because our mums couldn’t be there, they would be the ones we’d really want to be there the most from the family, so we thought if they couldn’t come then no family could come. “My mum has just done everything in the whole world for me my whole life and it just wouldn’t feel right if other people were there and she wasn’t. “She’s sad that she’ll miss it but this is the thing that she’s wanted me to go and do my whole life. So she said, as long as we film it and bring it home so she can see it, and [we] take a million photos, then she’s alright.”
In contrast to luxury and relaxation, when it comes to weddings stress is for many the unwelcome but unshakeable pre-wedding partner. Not for Niobe. She seems relaxed and excited, that’s it. Only a few weeks out from tying the knot, her far from bridezilla-ish demeanour is a welcome sight. And the more she talks about the event, the more I attribute it to the fact that planning her wedding has been easy.
Wedding planners Stella and Moscha from Weddings in Santorini have been hired and have organised flowers, make-up, hairdresser – the lot. Niobe’s booked the wedding and reception at the luxury boutique hotel the Grace Santorini in Imerovigli and Australian photographer Nathan Wyatt, who has spent the last six years working on the island, will capture the moments.
That just leaves deciding between beetroot risotto with grilled oyster mushroom and haloumi cheese or Aegean Sea seabass moussaka with Santorini cherry tomatoes – one of several to be enjoyed in their own private area in front of a pool on the edge of the cliff. The hardest part has been organising the legal documents, says Niobe but she adds that it wasn’t even that difficult, just took some time.
There is transporting her Linda Gorringe Couture dress but Niobe is even fairly relaxed about the trip it will make in business class with her best friend. Recent unrest in Greece hasn’t deterred the couple either. On the advice of a Greek Australian friend who spent most of 2010 in Greece, they’re flying straight into Santorini, then out of Crete to avoid Athens.
“I could not be happier that I’m doing it overseas because it’s been so easy to organise… Everything’s organised. “I watched my friend, she married a Greek guy and her family’s Roman Catholic; she wanted to elope but she had to have two church ceremonies because of the different religions. “For more than a year, I just felt her pain of how every little thing you’ve got to think about – I couldn’t do it. So I recommend going and getting married in Santorini. It’s been a really good experience… but we haven’t done it yet.”
Santorini was recently ranked number one by Travel + Leisure readers as the World’s Best Island and it is an extremely popular wedding venue; search for ‘wedding’ and ‘Santorini’ online and multiple pages of wedding planners and venues pop up.
Stella says Thera is such a popular wedding destination because of the dramatic landscape and the extraordinary sunsets that make outdoor ceremonies there a once in a lifetime experience. “It is hard to describe the emotions of a couple when they are exchanging vows with this background,” she says. But there’s no reason to stop your search at Thera.
“The Greek Islands have got wedding planning services to cater for a small ‘elopement’ to a big wedding celebration with multiple events around the wedding. The hotels now offer really high-end services for couples with really high expectations,” explains Stella.
“The scenery wherever you go in the Greek islands is so truly unique that an event celebration is inevitably beautiful. The islands are also directly accessible from most major European airports or through Athens International Airport (El Venizelos).” Nathan, the photographer, adds that ‘unique’ is truly the best way to describe the island and that “it does really exceed people’s expectations”.
“The perfect iconic images of Santorini seen on travel documentaries and magazines doesn’t quite do such a destination as Santorini justice,” he says. “It’s just as much the experience and energy combined with stunning views and perspectives that captivates all that visit the island. Tourists, wedding couples and honeymooners are perpetually overwhelmed by the geographical landscape that they wake up to each day and I personally have never visited anywhere else in the world that I could describe as ‘similar’ to Santorini.”
He adds that he hasn’t spent much time on the other Greek islands, except for Milos, which he found inspiring, and he thinks some of the locations he’s visited there “would lend themself to a fabulous wedding”. Just as Niobe’s finishes telling me all about the wedding, her partner Nathan walks in. Are you looking forward to the wedding, I ask? Yes, definitely, he says, really excited. “It’s sort of a dream wedding.”
“Yeah, it’s a fairytale,” agrees Niobe with a smile.