Visions of the lovely Pemberley from Pride and Prejudice sprang to mind when I glimpsed the venue for today’s beautifully elegant celebration. Rachael and Anthony were married at Chateau de Pennautier in the Carcassonne region of France after planning their wedding from Ireland. Their celebration combined just the right amount of old world glamour and the Chateau was truly magnificent, as you’ll see. Luckily for us, the ever-brilliant Poppies & Me were along for the ride as well. Lots more from Rachel the bride on the details below, but first feast your eyes…
How they Met
We met at the famous Durty Nelly’s Pub and Restaurant in Bunratty, Co.Clare almost six years ago. Anthony planned a very elaborate engagement – we flew to Monaco, where he had booked the Churchill Suite in the Hotel de Paris. We had a private dinner on the terrace watching the sun go down over Monte Carlo Bay and when the pianist switched to our favourite Nat King Cole song, Anthony went down one knee and produced a beautiful ring. I was so happy I forgot to say yes – I still haven’t!
Deciding to go Destination
I’m from a family of dedicated Francophiles (my parents spend half the year in the South of France) so I never gave anything but a French wedding a moment’s thought. Luckily, my fiancé was very open to suggestions and after a week spent scouting chateaux in the Languedoc/Aude regions he was hooked as well. We always wanted a small wedding in order to have the biggest party, so a destination wedding was the perfect way to achieve this.
Choosing the south of France was easy, as we are head over heels in love with the people, weather, countryside and gastronomy. Finding the right venue was a little more difficult as we kept falling in love with each magical chateau we visited! In the end, we literally did up a comparison sheet, and Chateau de Pennautier ticked the most boxes. It is a stunning 17th century building designed by the architect responsible for Versailles and located in a beautiful quaint village surrounded by vineyards and sunflower fields, but at the same time just five minutes’ drive from the airport. It meant our guests didn’t have to hire cars, and could all find accommodation either in or directly outside the chateau. We didn’t even need a wedding car, as the church was just a short stroll from the chateau. Almost all 69 guests stayed for a week or two weeks, either in the immediate location (Carcassonne) or further south towards Spain or east, to the coast. We got married on a bank holiday weekend and with regular flights from Ireland and London, guests took it as an opportunity for an extra summer holiday.
I had so many little extras such as menu frames, booklets, sparklers, handmade wooden signs, seat sashes, flip-flops, embossed napkins etc. that my poor Dad very kindly drove a car full of all my ‘stuff’ (he had a stronger word!) all the way to the south of France for me. We even added boxes of Tayto and Bacon Fries for the bar! My darling Mum flew with my wedding dress too, leaving me with just myself and my honeymoon bag to fly with. I am utterly blessed to have them.
Sabine Jacobs, manager of Chateau de Pennautier was a great help in providing us with a list of trusted contacts and problem-solving when any issues arose. She and her team were also fantastic in helping to organise the supplier list, wine pairings and access to the church. But in terms of actual event planning, styling and the scheduling of the weekend, I did most of it myself, with great help from my parents, brothers and bridesmaids Rebecca and Suzi.
Because we really needed to nail down the numbers early we sent a mail with a link to a very detailed wedding website eight months in advance. Guests found this incredibly useful while planning their flights, accommodation, etc. Our actual wedding invitations went out about nine weeks beforehand, but everybody had been in regular touch about flights and accommodation, so we had a good idea of the list already.
I really wanted an old-fashioned, glamorous look that was going to blend with the sumptuous chateau environment without looking too heavily styled. In the end, we chose champagne and ivory colours and I’m delighted with how well they worked with the vibrant colours of the Chateau. I’m a real bargain-hunter and spent a huge amount of time online sourcing the little extras such as French welcome bags along with little candle holders, tea lights, sparklers, petal cones, frames, fans, parasols, etc. We also visited country markets in French villages to source items such as candelabra, lavender and antique French poetry books to use as centerpieces. There was no theme per se, but we did incorporate my love for literature by framing the table numbers with favourite poetry, balanced on antique books and using quotes from famous writers on our menus and signs. Our preference for an old-fashioned, classical approach came through in aspects such as three-piece suits, champagne saucers, a rare aged whiskey bar and a swing band to get us jiving. The fleur de lis motif emerged early on in designing my stationary, so I carried it through on everything from invitations, menus and even on the speech-betting cards (the prize was a magnum of fine wine!)
Being foodies, the food and wine was incredibly important to us – we wanted to feature locally-produced wines and champagnes and traditional French dishes, without isolating those who prefer not to be too adventurous. Our caterer, Stéphane Reau was the hero of the weekend – he and his super professional team provided eight stunning courses with wine and champagne pairings for each dish, as well as a full steak BBQ the next day. He even served us fresh mojitos at the pool party.
Best Decision & Advice
The best decision we made was in our choice of chateau. It was in a beautiful traditional village, while also being five minutes from the airport and ten minutes from Carcassonne. With twenty bedrooms and suites, forty guests could stay there, with the other thirty in the village directly outside. We had a beautifully relaxed tapas meal at their vineyard restaurant on the Friday night, the wedding on Saturday afternoon, and a BBQ on the lawn and pool party on the Sunday. We sourced all our wonderful wine from the famous Lorgeril estates and the owners very graciously allowed us to supply all the other champagne, beer and spirits ourselves and stock the chateau kitchens with food, meaning that our guests essentially had an epic three day house party!
It’s really hard to choose a moment that is most memorable. All in all it was a wonderful, relaxed weekend spent with our very best friends and family in stunning surroundings. We loved welcoming our guests with champagne on the lawn on Friday afternoon, enjoying tapas and wine-tasting in the vineyard that night, dashing up to a field of sunflowers with our amazing photographers at sunset, getting ready with my Mum in the chateau (as she force-fed me a baguette with butter and cheese!), walking through the village to the church with my Dad, seeing my husband shed a tear of joy as I walked up the aisle, listening to the spell-binding speeches, watching as our guests devoured our carefully planned menu, dancing to our swing band and revelling in a 5am singsong, enjoying a mojito at the BBQ the next day and even watching the guys canon-balling into the pool, we really couldn’t choose!
We have no regrets, but if I was doing it again, I’d probably bring in outside planners to manage the day itself. In all my meticulous planning, I forgot that I would be essentially trapped in hair and makeup for the morning, so my poor parents, cousins and brothers and sister had to work hard to implement my many many plans for the day (the schedule for that day alone ran to three pages!). They were simply amazing though; I would have been utterly lost without them.
I dismissed the idea of a second dress for dancing as frivolous, but in hindsight I would definitely recommend splurging on a low-key, shorter dress for dancing. On the dance floor guests were trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid spilling or standing on my dress – I would have much preferred that they didn’t have to worry and could just let loose. I also think I looked a little ungainly bopping to Britney in a full chiffon train!