Oh Sintra, Portugal, you most certainly are pretty. And today, we see why the savviest of brides & groom’s are flocking to this up-and-coming region thanks to this glamorous destination wedding.
Meeting in Australia, with family living around the world, our dapper couple chose this pastel-colored town in the Southwest of Portugal thanks to its natural beauty and excellent meeting point for all of their guests. Choosing a venue with impeccable beauty and plentiful outdoor space, and hiring an expert local planner, planning their wedding from afar seemed like a relative ‘piece of cake’ – after all, Passionate Photography‘s photos of the event are absolutely flawless.
But it was the bride’s modern wedding dress & glamorous beauty look that has all ‘heart eyes’. Wanting a gown designed in her beloved Australia that featured clean lines and pearls to pay homage to her Vietnamese heritage, Tonia instantly fell in love with Made With Love‘s Sienna – hitting all the marks.
Are you planning a wedding from afar? Bride Tonia was sweet enough to offer oodles of advice for destination (and local!) couples. We particularly appreciate her mention in how to make sure non-English speaking (or the language of the majority of guests) guests feel included on your wedding day.
Our Love Story
We met in Sydney on a summer day of 2015 at a friend’s BBQ. We connected immediately and spent the whole time talking about everything in our lives. It was very casual with no romantic intentions and some inappropriate jokes and so we quickly became good friends. We had our first kiss during a Chet Faker concert a few weeks later in front of the Sydney Opera House. But it was not until four months later, the day we returned from our trip to Vietnam, we both knew we wanted to be exclusive.
We planned a trip to Morocco in August 2017 as it had been my lifetime dream. Mario knew it is impossible to surprise me (I get annoyingly curious and just spoil surprises). So he decided to throw another surprise beforehand to knock off any suspicions. Days before heading to Morocco, Mario flew us to the Zurich Open Air Festival to see my favorite band Mumford and Sons. We then continued our travels to Morocco. Mid-way through the trip in Morocco, we had booked to stay at this Luxury Desert Camp in Merzouga. When we arrived at the nearest town, our tour guide said we would need to swap cars and the camp manager would drive us instead of him, everything seemed pretty normal (at least for me).
On the way to the camp, we made a stop in the middle of the desert to hang out with a group of beautiful camels. I remember being in a complete shock the whole ride – it was truly stunning. We finally arrived at the camp and everything was so picturesque, there was no one around.
They set up dinner for us on top of the hill. As we finished dinner, it went dark and we were surrounded by candle lights in heart shape. I really thought the heart shape candles is just what they setup for couples’ dinners. Mario eventually said to me that he had a gift prepared for our one year anniversary that we never had a chance to celebrate. He even said that some friends had helped out. I remember thinking then “Why would you ask friends to chip in for our anniversary gift…”
The waiter brought to our table a laptop bag. Mario opened the laptop and began playing a video. The video was a compilation of short videos he had been filming of all different moments we shared over the year and some from our friends filming. The video ended with quick recordings from all of our closest friends wishing us a ‘happy life together’.
When the video finished, I turned around and here he was on one knee with the box…He said he had prepared the whole speech but was so nervous had forgotten everything. But I honestly didn’t care and said ‘Yes’.
I am not usually the romantic type, but I have to admit, he truly nailed the surprise and acted so cool. The whole time I had no idea and after the Zurich festival, I had already thought maybe not this trip. The funny thing is, it was so hot in the tent that night, that we could not even hold hands.
In planning the wedding, we both quickly agreed on the mood and the vibe of the day we wanted to have. It had to feel warm, inclusive, intimate, casual and surrounded by nature. Since we came from different cultural backgrounds, the best was to eliminate all the rituals and traditions. We wanted our guests to feel the least formal as possible.
We bounced around different options for the location, from Bali to Ibiza but ended up agreeing on Portugal. It made perfect sense, it is a beautiful country with most of Mario’s family and friends there and amazing food and finally, good weather was guaranteed. Portugal was very central for everyone to fly to.
The Dress & Attire
I had a pretty good picture of what kind of dress I wanted. It had to be classy, minimalistic and elegant. I always prefer comfort over ‘dressy’ so I knew my dress would not be a princess type ballgown or include much lace. I wanted a dress by an Australian designer, as Australia had been one of the biggest part of my life and where Mario and I met. As for details of the dress, I have envisioned it to be straight line, mermaid long tail, open shoulder and most importantly pearls to highlight my Vietnamese heritage.
I spent exactly just a few weeks researching until stumbled upon the Sienna dress by Made With Love Bridal. I scheduled an appointment and tried their three dresses. But it didn’t take too long for me to decide that Sienna was the one – I never doubted once. I felt absolutely so confident and beautiful on the day wearing Sienna. The dress was complete with gold heels and pearl earrings. After our first dance, I changed into a white jumpsuit.
Mario’s outfit was done through an Australian tailor Institchu. His look would need to be aligned with my dress, be classy yet casual. We spent some time picking the colors and material and chose to have a navy blue jacket and light grey pants, with brown leather items and shoes.
We have also asked all our guests to dress in a smart casual style in pastel and blue tones.
After several months of search and as we were about to agree on one venue, our wedding planner Sofia found on Instagram a Quinta which had a huge park in the middle of Sintra. Since we were in Sydney and could not see the venue ourselves, Mario’s dad and Sofia went to inspect it and both returned saying, “This is what we have been looking for.” Quinta da Penalva, unlike many other Quinta or villas, was a private estate with lavish greenery in Sintra’s spirit, several different natural areas throughout the estate. The villa itself had this beautiful green wall, two huge indoor and outdoor pools and a small bar house.
We ended up splitting the venue into three sections: down the hill near the pond, we had the ceremony where we felt complete peace and isolation; after which guests were guided through hidden path to go up to the back lawn of the house and outdoor pool for reception with lounge furniture and dinner was hosted at the front of the house with view to the green wall. There was no signage just to allow guests to wander and explore the space. For us it was important to have different spaces for guests to interact. We also had a projector setup to play photo slideshow. The dance floor was right in front of the outdoor pool.
The Flowers & Decor
Once the venue was selected, Mario happily left me with decoration duties. We envisioned the space as more romantic, intimate and laid-back like if you were on a summer date. For this theme, we combined soft hues, delicate lighting, chandeliers, calligraphy and soft flowers.
Picking theme colors was quite simple, I did not care so much about trends. Our hero colour was to be blue or dusty blue in line with the color of the engagement ring – sapphire. We also wanted to include both gold and silver tones to match with Mario’s wedding band. Finally, white splashed across flowers and other details to highlight our star signs belonging to the same astrological birthstone – moonstone.
Since the venue itself provided a lot of green colour, we wanted to use simple white with dusty blue tones to add extra pop. Flowers used were pulled together by our wedding planner and consisted of mostly white roses, white lilies, some greenery and for blue and grey accents we used Dusty Miller Flat and Brunia Berry. We also used some blue accent flowers on tables centrepieces and large floor vases with more bushy setup of white flowers. We kept flower decoration at a minimum essential number to give extra wedding feel.
First was a particular moment in our vows. The back story to this is we both had this inside tradition to ‘high five’ whenever our thoughts or choices would suddenly be the same and this is how we started becoming very good friends as we noticed we were constantly ‘high fiving’.
We wrote our vows separately and both emailed them to our celebrant to have a quick check. Our celebrant only comment was ‘it is crazy how similar you think’. Little did we know that we both wrote in our vows to ‘never stop high fiving each other during mind reading moments’ – it was a real mind reading moment.
You know how normally either the groomsman or groom is late? Well, we had our late, runaway groomsman. One of the groomsmen – who is known for always getting lost – got very hungry just before the ceremony started and left the villa to go into town for a snack. He lost track of time and in a hurry returned twenty mins late when we were all searching for him. We had a good laugh.
The best and final part of the day, was after local police arrived at the villa around 2.30 AM and asked to shut down the music due noise complaints, our DJs happily agreed to continue inside villa around the indoor pool. We carried on until 5 AM and at the end, all jumped into the pool with the DJ!
The Reception & Important Details
Music and food were probably the most important things for us. We wanted everyone to have a beautiful meal and have a fun party being that most of the guests were quite young. We also wanted to make sure we pick the best photographers and videographer as these would be the only physical memories of the wedding.
We had requested to have all the stationary to be calligraphed including vows, table carts, seating plan and menu. We added Polaroid and Kodak 35 mm cameras for guests to play around and take photos of themselves.
Since the ceremony was civil and not to a specific culture, we asked our celebrant if we could perform a unity ceremony. She then explained to us the ‘charity’ ritual. Since we both talked about how we love the childish side that exists in each other and how important it is to keep that inner child alive for the rest of our lives, the Charity Ritual symbolizes this will. During the charity ritual we exchanged gifts with our childhood photos. This exchange of childhood images symbolizes a commitment to treat each other with the kindness that one wouldn’t hesitate to show a child but so often refuse to show grown-ups.
The Cake & Favors
The cake was made by amazing Migalha Doce. We wanted to have a small cake and have doughnuts with similar design next to the cake. Fillings had hazelnut, berry and chocolate flavors. The cake design had two layers with abstract blue tones at the bottom and gold highlights for the top layer. It would then be decorated with the same flowers we used in the bouquet and native Australian flower protea. Doughnuts were covered with abstract blue painting. Outside of the cake, we had a dessert buffet served after dinner.
For favors, we wanted to give our guests gifts that would symbolize a mix of two worlds: locally sorted olive oil infused with chili and a custom mix of ‘China Lychee’ (my favorite flavor) and ‘Citrus Twist Black Tea’ (Mario’s favorite flavor).
Advice to Other Couples
Some tips about the actual wedding day planning: 1) For destination weddings we would recommend to keep it small (50-100 guests) and plan a get together before the wedding day for everyone to catch up. 2) Have a clean and organised Pinterest board – it will really help your wedding planner! 3) Start by adding things that are truly necessary as it can get really overwhelming with all the wedding ideas out there and plan around the theme and color. 4) We had an international wedding with some families not speaking English very well. We do advise to translate scripts where possible to ensure everyone feels included.
We also didn’t follow some traditional rules of the wedding day. 1) We did the cake cutting with a champagne tower right after the ceremony and it was definitely great advice from our wedding planner. Just a different kick off for the day! 2) We played a game to break up dinner time 3) It is worth having a wedding planner on the day so you can take as much time to enjoy your special day and each other.
Some tips on the emotional part: 1) Not everything will go as planned so just let it be. 2) Only you know what went wrong in terms of small details. Guests never notice small details. 3) Guests will notice if you are having fun or not – so just have fun!