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A Magical Garden Wedding in Spain

Names: Rachel Nelligan & Conor O’Boyle

Length of engagement: 16 months

Wedding Date: 27/09/18

Wedding location: Casa Santonja, Denia, Spain

Photographer: Anna Senchermés

Planner: Your Dream Wedding in Spain



We met… at work in Cork in 2012. Conor was home for 8 months after a year in Australia to save up to move to Queenstown, New Zealand for 12 months. He took a short term contract role where I worked to help me with my workload so I could focus on a project. He was such a good support and we had some great banter. Sparks started to fly just before he left after Christmas but we both had our own plans and we promised to stay in touch. He contacted a friend of mine to get my home address and arranged for a flower delivery for Valentine’s Day which completely surprised me. Our relationship developed slowly through phone calls and texts over the year, it was such a unique situation but we were both happy to pursue it and see how everything would turn out when he got back. His brother got engaged and booked his wedding for November 2013 so Conor came back early in October and asked me to be his date. I felt at home straight away with his family and friends. I had never lived away from home before but I was keen to give it a go. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2009 and was nervous about leaving my support system, but Conor understood and supported me every step of the way. Within 7 months of him coming home, we quit our jobs, applied for visas and booked our flights to New Zealand. We’re still here after 5 years.



Our proposal…We had talked about getting married for a while, even brainstormed where our dream wedding would be and browsed jewellers for rings but he wanted to plan a surprise so we parked the talks. We planned a trip home in May 2017 to attend two weddings. We booked one weekend in Barleycove with our parents. It is a very special place to Conor as he had spent every summer there with his family as a child. He didn’t want to do it anywhere else. While everyone settled into their rooms, I was exhausted so lay down for a little nap. He said he forgot something in the car but he ran down to my parent’s room to ask their permission to propose. My dad had been recording a video of the view and had forgotten to stop recording so he got it all on video and I got to watch it later. J He looked so excited and nervous. When I woke, he steered me towards the beach for a walk with him alone while everyone chilled at the bar after their walk. As I wandered around picking up shells for my niece, I turned around and he was on bended knee with the ring I loved in Queenstown. I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t understand how he had kept it a secret! Apparently he stored the ring in his toiletry bag in his checked luggage flying home! Lucky boy that that bag didn’t go missing!! I bawled my eyes out! We took some time to ourselves then walked back to the bar to share the news over some bottles of bubbly!



Our wedding theme/colours… The garden at Casa Santonja is magical, especially at night with the festoon lights. It looks like an ethereal fairy garden fitted with a swing on a tree. So that was our basic theme. I waited until I picked my dress to see what colours would blend well with it. The dress I chose was ivory lacy with antique ivory lining peeping through. After some research with the girls on pinterest we settled with neutral tones to match my dress. I’ve always been drawn to pink so we went with silver pink for the bridesmaid dresses. The flowers were a mix of pink roses, white freesia, pink feathery astilbe, a few wispy hints of greenery and gypsophilia sprayed gold. The table centre pieces were a mixture of gold birdcage candle lanterns and gold sprayed jars with foliage, pink roses, gypsophilia and pink feathery astilbe on alternating tables.



Things we DIY’d/made ourselves… As we were travelling from NZ to Ireland, then on to Spain, I knew I wouldn’t have much time or luggage space to bring any DIY bits and bobs. I’m sure if I had them, I could have posted them to my planner Marcella and she would have been more than happy to help. Our florist Heidi had an array of pieces to hire for the day and was very creative with jars and candle holders so the pressure was off to customise things ourselves. In the end, the only thing I was concerned about providing myself were paper fans for the guests in case it was uncomfortably warm in the sun. I ordered these from DH Gate. I think they were $95USD for 100 fans. Probably our best investment for guests as it got pretty warm in the garden for the ceremony. Heidi provided baskets to lay them out in for easy access. They also doubled up as favours.



My dress… I went shopping at Brides of Eire in Clonakilty, Cork with my Mother, Sister and Conor’s Mother and Sister just after the engagement before we flew back to New Zealand. Realistically I knew I wouldn’t find the dress at that stage as we hadn’t decided on a venue. The only thing we knew at that stage was we wanted a destination wedding in Europe in 2018. This meant we wouldn’t be home again before the wedding, so I’d be buying the dress in New Zealand without my family.  I really wanted the bridal shopping experience with them and was keen to hear their opinion. It was a lovely afternoon. They stocked bridesmaid dresses too so it gave me a chance to shop with my two bridesmaids to see what styles they liked and felt comfortable in.

Once we booked the venue in July, I gave myself 2-3 months to shop around for dresses to allow the 12 month order period before the wedding. There are no bridal shops in Queenstown. The closest one was 2.5 hours away in Invercargill, Brides by Donna Rae. Donna was amazing. Her website is so transparent and easy to navigate. I was able to pick out all the dresses I wanted to try on, let her know and she had them ALL waiting for me at my appointment. There must have been 15-20 that took my eye. I headed down with 3 friends in September 2017.

I thought I knew what I wanted. Something very light, white and off the shoulder or strapless. It’s funny actually, my final choice was nothing like what I had been going for but at that stage I figured I’d through in a few wild cards to get a good variation of options. I highly recommend visualising how you want to look and feel on the day. It makes it very easy to see if which dress aligns with it. Also Donna was paying very close attention to my mood and body language in each dress and when I fit on my final choice my whole face lit up and I was dancing around in it. It came down to my final wild card choice and a typical one that I was originally going for. Donna was very understanding and let me take some photos away to think it over and send to my Mother for her opinion. As much as I thought it over, I couldn’t get how I felt in the dress out of my head. The following day I put in my order.

I went with a Maddison James fitted dress with a train, Ivory lace with Antique ivory lining, round illusion and lace V neck front and illusion back less. I went with a long plain veil so it wouldn’t distract from the detail of the dress at the back.

The dress was ready by January 2018. Conor’s parents were visiting so his Mother got to come with me for my fitting. At this stage my Crohn’s Disease had flared up whilst trialling different drugs and I had lost a stone in weight in 4 months and couldn’t stabilise it. This made me nervous but I knew I had 8 months to settle things down and could always have some fittings closer to the wedding date. I lost a further half a stone soon after that but managed to put that back on just in time for the wedding. In the end, I left the fittings as late as possible and found a great dressmaker in Ballincollig, Cork called Urata at Urata Designs. She did a great job lifting the lace from the illusion back and re-stitching it seamlessly, and replacing the front cups as they were sitting below my rib cage at that stage!



My hair and make up… I chose to keep it simple and stick with what I’m comfortable with, with a professional touch. Leah at Peter Marks Wilton, Cork had been my hairdresser for years at home so she helped me take the brave step of adding some balayage to give my natural brown hair a sunkissed look a few weeks before the wedding. Jo Black in Denia is part of Marcella’s A team and she popped around to my hotel room a few days before the wedding for a hair trial. We went with my go-to soft curls using my own large barrel curler. She added some volume, spray and fitted my veil perfectly. Jo also came to our hotel the morning of the wedding with her assistant to do many of the guest’s hair.

Maria at Revive Novias, Denia, a former Miss Venezuela, did our make-up. She swung by the hotel to for my trial 2 days before the wedding. She was amazing. She gave me two looks on either side of my face so she could gauge what I liked and didn’t. I think I went for a soft smokey look with browns and golds. She also shuffled her own appointments the next day to make sure I had any waxing and tanning needs met. She even helped sew my bridesmaid with a broken zipper issue literally 5 minutes before the ceremony.



His suit…So in Ireland it is standard practice to hire suits for the groom and groomsmen but there is no market for it in Spain. We considered hiring the suits from Ireland and bringing them to Spain but we needed a light material to tolerate the heat and there was no market for Linen suits to hire in Cork. Also, we didn’t want to overspend on hiring suits for a week when we could buy them for a similar price or less. I did all my research in mid 2017 and parked everything until it was time to measure and order. The only place I found that sold linen suits was a Men’s Suit shop in Sydney and it was quite expensive. We considered just getting Conor the trousers with the waistcoat and just trousers for the groomsmen. I got a quote in June but when I went to order in January, the price had nearly doubled. Conor stepped in and did his own research. He sourced a tailor in India that would make them to order at Studio Suits. I was hesitant but he placed an order just for his own trousers and vest with plenty of time to accommodate any disasters. But we were super happy with it and ordered the groomsmen’s suit too.



What our bridal party wore…Bridesmaids wore sheath-column, one shouldered, natural floor length, chiffon and lace dresses in silver pink. The junior bridesmaid wore an A-Line illusion, natural knee length chiffon and lace sleeveless dress in silver pink. All dresses were made to order online at Coco Melody. Once the girls agreed on the fit and style they were comfortable in, I ordered some swatches from Coco Melody to pick colours. The colours in the photos online can be deceiving and they recommend reviewing swatches. They batch dye all the dresses together so they’ll be identical in colour.



Our ceremony…you’ve got two options for a ceremony in Spain if you are not a resident, a Catholic wedding or a wedding blessing ceremony. We went with a wedding blessing and legalising it in the courthouse in Queenstown. Lee was our celebrant. He was vibrant, friendly and full of life. He offered us some ceremony template options but we could pick and choose whatever we wanted. We went with a standard format exchanging vows and ring. We also asked both our mothers to do readings.  Think it was a 20 minute ceremony which was perfect. Not too long, not too short. It was pretty warm at that stage too so we didn’t want our guests to be too uncomfortable. There is a beautiful outdoor alter at the end of the garden at Casa Santonja. Guests were seated in rows with space for an aisle to walk up. We hired Passion Doble a cellist and pianist to play our music. I walked up the aisle to “Can’t help falling in love with you”. It was beautiful.



We chose our photographer because…Marcella had two photographers on her team. Both sets of sample photos were stunning. We chose Anna because her photos were beautiful, natural and she had a great eye for catching candid moments. On the day she was amazing. She was vibrant, friendly and unintrusive. She fed off our excitement and energy and flowed with it. She didn’t try enforcing any formal poses. She even sent us all the photo copies which were more than we paid for.



We chose our wedding coordinator because…We had reached out to some planners in Portugal, Italy and Greece that we had found online. It was hard to get a grasp of their abilities and services online and over email. We were very lucky to find Marcella. We met a friend of a friend at a rugby match within a month of getting engaged. He had used Marcella’s services at Casa Santonja for his own wedding a few years previous and couldn’t recommend her more. Himself and his wife were both Irish and based in Australia so they faced similar concerns and obstacles to us in regards to organising a wedding from a distance. He gave us Marcella’s contact details and from the first email exchange she blew us away. She’s originally from Ireland but has lived in Spain for over 20 years. She has a great understanding of what a typical Irish wedding looks like and how we could integrate that in Spain. She’s got a grade A team behind her who prioritise her clients first and foremost. She has a selection of venues, caterer, hair stylist, make-up artist, musicians, photographers, videographer, celebrant, priest, childminders and bus hire to book. She answered any questions we had (and I had LOADS) with speedy responses and endless patience. She was very transparent with costs with a simple business model. As we were not going to see the venue before the week of the wedding, she offered to show Conor’s Parents around when they visited in October. She gave some great recommendations on accommodation and booking a venue for a BBQ the day after the wedding. There was nothing left to organise. She is at the venue before anyone else on the day of the wedding orchestrating everything, making sure everything runs smoothly. She takes it in turn with her assistant to cover the late nights until everyone has left. Any requests our guests had were met on the day and night. They even sent a taxi driver out to pick up cigarettes as the guests were running low. We couldn’t recommend her enough!




We chose our venue because… We were looking for a one stop shop for the day with plenty of shade so everyone could dip in and out of the sun. Marcella had a few venue options to choose from. There were hotels on beaches and Casa Santonja. Casa Santonja is a very special place. It has a beautiful landscape of gardens with each section serving a different function throughout the day: the ceremony at the altar, cocktails & canapés on the terrace, dinner at the gazebo and a party in the cellar of the house with an outdoor patio for guests to chill out. It also had a beautiful apartment for the bride and bridesmaids to get ready, for babies to take naps and the bride and groom to sleep the night of the wedding. It’s only a 20 minute drive from Denia but it feels completely secluded and we had the place exclusively to ourselves.



Our menu… El Poblet did an amazing job with the menu. The food was like art work, 5 star quality. We had a 5 course set menu including Entrees, Fish, Sorbet, Meat and Desserts.



Our honeymoon… After a week at the Port Denia Hotel with everyone, we spent 5 days at the boutique Hotel Los Angeles on the other side of Denia. Most of our guests had gone home so we got to chill out on the beach of the hotel, sipping cocktails and strolling around the beautiful cobbled streets of Denia taking it all in. We had a few days back in Cork before saying goodbye to family and friends and heading back to New Zealand.



My favourite part of the wedding day… I don’t know if we could pick just one! I woke up feeling good after being ill the night before. The sun came out after two days of torrential rain. My mom, the driver and myself sang and danced to Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” on the way to the venue. Everything went so smoothly all day we had to pinch ourselves to stop and take it all in. Once everyone got on the bus at the end of the night, myself and Conor took a stroll around the empty garden to digest it all. We felt so lucky and high as kites.



My piece of advice for other couples…

  • Sit down together and brainstorm as much as possible at the start to make sure you both are getting exactly what you want. Know what you each are willing to budge on and what you’re not. It’s hard to change things around when you’ve committed to a date and a venue.
  • Try not to get tied down to specific details, just create a general vision or idea. For example, Conor originally wanted to get married on a beach on a Greek island in shorts and flip flops. I wanted anywhere warm, nothing too formal, the less fuss the better and a one stop shop for the whole day. Once we did some research and weighed everything up, it was more important to make it as easy as possible for our guests to get there. Greece involved 2-3 flights and I think they only offered flights one or two days a week. There are direct flights to Alicante from Cork, Dublin and the UK 4-5 days every week. This gave guests flexibility about how long they want to stay in Spain.
  • We had heard a few couples say they regretted not using a videographer as the day goes by so quick, you can’t take it all in. We booked one and are so grateful for it. It’s great to see all the details we missed on the day and look back over the speeches.
  • Ask your potential planner for testimonials or contact details from previous couples. We were lucky to have met someone who had used Marcella’s services previously but I have since been onto potential brides for Marcella to answer any questions they had. Who doesn’t love to relive their wedding over and over again!
  • Don’t get bogged down by the Do’s and Don’ts of wedding etiquette. Hopefully you’ll only do it once, do it exactly the way you want.
  • Be realistic about your budget. Decide on the areas that you are willing to invest in and the areas that you don’t. You don’t need to go into debt to create a beautiful day. The only people you need to impress are yourselves. The guests will be happy as long as they are fed, watered, and comfortable and see you both enjoying yourselves.
  • Spread out your planning. Do as much research as possible at the start. Give yourself a realistic timeline when everything should be booked, bought and ordered. Allow yourself time to dip in and out of planning to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Remember to enjoy every minute of the day, it goes by so quick.
  • Pick the dress: I highly recommend visualising how you want to look and feel on the day. It makes it very easy to see if which dress aligns with it. And make sure you’re comfortable.
  • Trust your wedding planner’s advice. She’s got hundreds of weddings under her belt.




Wedding venue: Casa Santonja, Denia, Spain | Photographer: Anna Senchermes | Planner/coordinator: Marcella Doran at Your Dream Wedding in Spain | Videographer: Ricardo Doblado at Tiveus | Musician: Passion Doble & Gatecrashers | DJ: Darrell Clayton | Hair: Jo Black | Makeup: Maria at Revive Novias | Dress: Maddison James at Brides by Donna Rae, Invercargill, NZ | Suits: Studio Suits | Ties: Next | Bridesmaids dresses: Coco Melody | Caterer: Eventos el  | Celebrant: Lee | Stationary: Save the Dates on Photobox, wedding invitations Optimal Print

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Kelly Jane Hartmann

Kelly is a former wedding planner and a lover of anything pink. She believes that any bride can plan her own wedding, with a few tips and helpful tools.

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