Wilder shores of love: Five couples who went abroad to get married tell their stories to Alexandra Younger

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Jane Smith, 33, and Anthony Ward, 31, were married on the Caribbean island of Anguilla in the Lesser Antilles; they are both solicitors and live in London.

ANTHONY and I were engaged in January 1991 and started trying to organise our wedding immediately. But the church in Winchester where we wanted to marry did not have wheelchair access (my mother is disabled) and the hotel where we hoped to hold our reception was booked by a delegation of Japanese businessmen on our preferred dates.

Then, looking through a bridal magazine, I saw a small advertisement for Elegant Resorts and thought this could be the answer.

We learnt from a travel agent that we could leave all the wedding arrangements to them and stay at the hotel featured in the brochure - on the Caribbean isle of Anguilla.

The speed with which we wanted the transactions done and the fact that we paid for everything up-front made them think that we were eloping. They were delighted to be helping us on our way.

We arrived in Anguilla on a four- seater aircraft and were met by the representative, who was friendly and laid back. She dropped us at our hotel and said she would be back in five days to take us to the court house to sign some legal documents.

We had a period of total relaxation and being pampered, until our wedding a week later. The hotel had put us in a large suite overlooking their private beach, which was so quiet and unspoilt that it attracted herds of wandering water buffalo. The hotel was designed like a Moroccan village - whitewashed, with domes and courtyards on various levels, and we felt wonderfully anonymous. We didn't get to know any of the other guests and none of them knew that we were about to get married.

On the day of our wedding, we swam and lay on the beach until 4pm. The service took place at 5pm on a terrace outside our room. The sea was visible from where we stood, yet nobody could see us. We wore our most comfortable casual clothes, it was too hot to think about dressing up - although, not knowing what to expect, we had both brought suits.

Laura, the representative, the vicar and the photographer all arrived together. It emerged that they were all members of the same family - not surprising when you consider that Anguilla is just four by eight miles. I was given a bouquet of flowers prepared by the hotel, from which I extracted some of the garish blooms.

The Reverend Gumms conducted a full-length Methodist service. He led us through it slowly and carefully, as we hadn't had a rehearsal. Afterwards we were given a bottle of champagne and a wedding cake. Laura put flower petals on the floor leading to the bed. She tried very hard to make us feel romantic.

I felt a bit sad that we did not have any of our mates around to celebrate with us. We opened lots of telemessages and received bunches of flowers and champagne from friends and family - which was wonderful. We drank three bottles of champagne and then went for a walk along the beach. In the evening we avoided the hotel restaurant, which was gushingly romantic. Instead we opted for a tray of delicious food in our room.

I think our friends thought it was a shame that we were married abroad, because they felt excluded. But our families were much more laissez-faire about it. My parents didn't even seem to mind that our wedding video was geared for American voltage - we still haven't had it converted.

The pounds 2,000 that we paid for the holiday was a snip of what it would have cost us had we done it at home. But most importantly we had the hassle-free wedding that we both wanted.

Elegant Resorts: 0244 329 671.


Where locals are simpatico

Alexander Younger, 30, married Sarah Hopkins, 29, in Borgo a Mozzano, Italy. He is a civil servant and she is an arts administrator; they live in London.

AS AN agnostic I cared enough to be fearful of being hypocritical if we had married in church. So getting married in the palazzo del comune (town hall) in a Tuscan village near my fiancee's holiday home seemed the perfect solution. It fudged the religious issue and provided a more alluring wedding venue than Ipswich Register Office.

Sarah's parents were themselves married in a barn in the Sixties with very few friends present, so they supported us. And mine supported us, too.

We imagined that it would be easy obtaining permission to marry abroad. But the bureaucracy and red tape we had to negotiate made the Maastricht treaty seem simple.

But despite the paperwork, getting married in Italy was better than anything we could have imagined, though, luckily, we hadn't begun with high hopes. Even if the mayor had been drunk and I had forgotten the ring, the location and unusual ceremony would have easily made up for it.

The room in which the service was conducted was lit by a large chandelier and adorned with medieval carvings and frescos. None of your lino floors, strip-lighting and grey-suited registrars here. The mayor of Borgo was decked out in his ceremonial sash of national colours, which added a touch of pure theatre.

He was used to conducting civil ceremonies with a demure audience of about 10 people, rather than 70 ebullient tourists in dinner jackets. But he didn't seem fazed, even when, after the marriage, his greetings to this new alliance between Britain and Italy were drowned out by the sound of bagpipes.

The service itself sounded beautiful. The vows seemed quite poetic, even though they were standard legal language, and were a good deal more simpatico than the British equivalent. And, as neither of us spoke Italian, we were legally obliged to hire a translator, so we knew what we were agreeing to.

The responsibilities outlined between the couple were highly egalitarian. We promised to contribute equally to the needs of the family. We also promised, when bringing up children, not to push them too hard or make them do anything they didn't want to.

Great generosity of spirit was shown by the locals of Borgo: we received telegrams from the ironmongers and the bank in Lucca, and the event was written up in the local paper. The police chief kept a vigil outside the comune to ensure we had enough parking space in front of the building.

Afterwards, we celebrated at my in-laws' villa perched on a hill above the town. We drank champagne by candlelight and feasted on an eight-course traditional Italian meal in a converted barn hung with fir branches and lit by fairy lights. Then we danced all night to an Italian folk guitar. It was perfect - and far exceeded our wildest dreams.


Moved by the spirit of the bush

Catherine Sopwith, 32, married Philip Duff, 41, in the Luangwa National Park, Zambia. She is a cook, he is managing director of his own equestrian clothing business; they live in Oxfordshire.

WE HAVE both been married before so it would have been quite difficult to have a church wedding in this country. And it was important for us to have a religious service. So we searched for a wedding format with a spiritual aspect that was also meaningful to us. The ceremony this time was for Phil and me, not family and friends.

We decided to marry in Africa - Phil was born there and lived there for 18 years and I had also lived there for a time. But we weren't keen on most of the wedding packages on offer. We didn't fancy the idea of standing on the same rock as 10 other people who had married there that day, all given the same sparkling wine.

A friend of Phil's put us in touch with an agent who dealt with Zambia - a country neither of us had visited. She organised everything and found a camp in the bush where they were prepared to marry us. To get married in Zambia we should technically have been resident for three months. But our solicitor managed to have this restriction waived - instead, we sent our documents in advance and the banns were read for three months in the district of Chipata.

We arrived in the camp on the edge of the Luangwa river and confirmed that we wished to get married the following day at 9am, while the rest of the camp were on a game drive. We wanted very few people present at the ceremony. The camp organisers insisted we sleep in separate beds the night before. On the wedding night they would produce a double bed.

They also improvised an altar - a table covered in a white linen cloth, which stood under a thatched shelter on a raised bit of ground overlooking the river. On top they placed a giant dried pod from a tree, filled with local grasses. Garlands of seed pods were strung over the 'altar' and around the bar where the reception was held. The decorations were beautiful and simple.

On our wedding morning I dressed in the camp owner's tent. My dress had been made by a friend: it was very intricate with lace and embroidery and had been dyed in tea to gave it a dated, sepia look to match my shoes and veil. I was offered a coal-heated iron to press my dress, but I favoured the slightly crumpled look.

As I walked slowly to the altar, carrying a dried posy my mother had made, the African camp staff, all men, sang haunting traditional tribal wedding songs, with only a drumbeat for accompaniment. There had recently been a death among them and they wanted to sing for us to lift their spirits.

The vicar was as nervous as we were; he had not conducted many services in English. When he said 'a cremation' instead of 'acclamation' we all roared with laughter. We exchanged rings and vows and signed the marriage certificate; then we walked back to camp, one of the helpers scattering dried rose petals in front of us.

Later there was more singing and a traditional wedding dance in which they all hugged one another. Phil and I were overcome by the whole ceremony.

The Duffs' wedding was arranged by Bushbuck Safaris, 0488 684 702.


Lapping waves and reggae music

Miriam Fruitos, 32, married Andrew Lupton, 30, in Jamaica. He is an entrepreneur, she is a language teacher. They live near Wellingborough, Northants.

SHORTLY after we were engaged, we decided to go abroad on our own to get married. Part of the reason for this was practical. My parents are French and Spanish and don't speak English; Andy's are English and don't speak French or Spanish. Both sets lived in different countries. It would have been inconceivable to have a wedding with our parents unable to understand or communicate.

Spurred on by a wet autumn day, Andy and I went to a travel agent in Harrogate and booked our wedding in Jamaica. One reason for choosing this spot was its association with reggae music, which we both love and which we had as backing music on our wedding video.

The travel agent guaranteed to arrange everything - the vicar, best man, bridesmaid, flowers, cake, champagne and photographs - for an all-in price. All we had to provide was our birth certificates and passports, and they dealt with the legalities.

The Shaw Park Hotel, near Ocho Rios, is sited on a secluded part of the island. We were welcomed with a bunch of exotic Caribbean blooms in our special prenuptial suite, which overlooked a private beach. At no time did we feel that we were part of a regular wedding package.

We discussed the finer details of the big day with hotel personnel, who showed us photographs of the different places we could hold the ceremony: the beach, the verandah, the garden, or even among the surf. We favoured the garden because it was more private and cooler in the shade.

On the day of the wedding, Andy went into town to pick up some trousers he had had specially made by a local tailor; I went to a hairdresser to have flowers wound into my hair.

I had brought out a romantic long white lacy dress that my mother and I had bought together. I felt a bit strange dressing on my own. This was the one time when I wished she could have been there with me. I felt sad, until I came out of our room and two cleaning ladies said how lovely I looked, and offered to help me with last-minute adjustments.

The wedding took place in the garden one morning under the shade of a magnolia tree, where there was a semi-permanent wedding arch with a paper bell and garlands of hibiscus flowers suspended above our heads. We were 20 yards from the sea - the noise of waves washing over the sand was our only aural accompaniment.

Andy arrived with his best man, Patrick (a local chef with whom we had made friends), looking nervous and hot. The Methodist vicar and my bridesmaid, Anthea, a local girl who had been specially recruited by the hotel, were waiting.

The vicar, Erroll, helped us through the service, since we had not had a rehearsal and it wasn't easy to hear what he said. At the point where we said our vows and exchanged rings, a local Rastafarian, who had been watching the proceedings from behind a palm tree, shouted to Andy: 'You're trapped, man]' We both looked at each other and smiled.

After toasting us with champagne, the wedding personnel dispersed and we were left alone to read our telegrams. Andy then grabbed the champagne bottle, I picked up the hem of my dress and we wandered barefoot along the beach, revelling in our surroundings.

We travelled into town on a hired scooter, my wedding dress flowing out behind us, and celebrated our marriage at the Jungle Lobster Restaurant where our best man worked. They had laid on lobster caught that morning and ice-cold beers. We listened to reggae all afternoon and partied with the locals. It was magical.


We made our promises alone in a valley

Francis Newman, 30, married Katharine Edwards, 30, in Kathmandu, Nepal. He is an industrial supplier and she is an artist; they live in London.

IT WAS a relief when we realised that neither of us wanted a big celebration. Committing ourselves to each other for the rest of our lives was the crucial part.

The wedding that I envisaged was matter-of-fact, really just a legal agreement. We had already planned an extensive trip around Asia and arranged to take six months off work. We decided to get married on the Nepalese leg of our journey.

Katharine's father was a little disappointed that we weren't opting for a traditional church wedding. He would have liked to take her up the aisle.

We travelled for a good six weeks in Nepal before we married. The British Embassy in Kathmandu organised the marriage for us. The preparation - filling out forms and being interviewed - took days.

We declared our banns three weeks before the marriage; to do this we had to be registered in the region. All in all we had to stay in and around Kathmandu for nine weeks. We went on two treks between registering and marrying; but the waiting around made us feel impatient.

In the mountains on our second trek is where Katharine and I think of as the place we married. We were walking alone in a valley between two of the biggest mountains in the world: Dhaulagiri and Annapurna, both over 8,000 metres high. It was stunningly beautiful. We felt elated and exhilarated by the altitude and the scenery.

In spite of our blisters, exhaustion and bad stomachs, it was here that we pledged to spend the rest of our lives together, here that we promised to love and cherish each other. It was very special. I had bought a wedding ring engraved with our initials; and after we said our vows, I put the ring on Katharine's finger and we took a photo of ourselves with the self- timer. The camera was balanced on a nearby rock. It was important that we were on our own to make our promises to each other.

The wedding certificate was one foot square, made of rough local paper, with a red heart at the top held by two hands and a swag. Everything was written in Nepali.

As witnesses we chose two women we had met trekking and a sherpa who had been our guide. One of them gave us a pair of Tibetan cymbals with a card that read, 'You can't make a beautiful noise without two halves'.

Afterwards we all went to an ice-cream bar to celebrate.

Danny Danziger returns next Monday

(Photographs omitted)