When Finnish November is showing off its dullest, most grey weather, it’s time to reminisce on hot summer days spent in Puglia, southern Italy. My half-Finnish-half-French cousin Julia got married to her Italian sweetheart Michele in June, and I had the privilege to be a part of their big day.

An Italian wedding is no small affair. Anyone who knows anything about Italian culture will know that Italians love their food and sharing it with family, and that the Italian concept of “family” comprehends just about everyone who’s related to you in some sense. When Italian families come together to celebrate a wedding, you’re bound to have around 200 guests, tables filled with heavenly Mediterranean dishes, copious amounts of wine, lots of loud voices and laughter, and several days’ worth of celebrations. Julia and Michele’s wedding was no exception, and it was made even more extraordinary by the fact that they’re such an international couple. With relatives from Italy, France and Finland, and with friends from all around the world due to a) Julia’s three and Michele’s two student exchanges and b) the fact that the couple lives in Zürich (a part of the German-speaking area of Switzerland), there was a multitude of languages to be heard and lots of new people to get to know!

The “centre” for the wedding celebrations was the incredibly beautiful Masseria Borgo San Marco in the little town of Fasano. An Italian masseria is “a fortified farmhouse or country house on a country estate“, and many Italian masserias have been converted into boutique hotels as farming has either diminished or ceased. This was also the case with Borgo San Marco, an olive farming estate beautifully renovated into a rustic hotel. The place still has an olive plantation and they make their own olive oil in addition to managing the hotel business. During the wedding weekend, the hotel was all booked for us wedding guests (although not all could fit, so some stayed at other hotels in neighbouring towns in Puglia).

The main piazza at Borgo San Marco (in bright sunshine, the light bounces off the white walls with such a strength that you’ll be blinded without sunglasses!)

The upper terrace by our family’s suite

The view from the terrace over the estate

Interior decor

Olive trees and red sand

Popping out for a swim in the mornings – all you need in a holiday

There were different kinds of flowers, fruit bushes and cacti everywhere!

Convinced yet that the place was a paradise? Thought so.

The day before the wedding was a bit hectic, at least for me – I was going to sing at the wedding, so me and one of Julia and Michele’s friends, Matteo, who was going to accompany me with his guitar, spent some time rehearsing the performance. Julia and Michele were kind enough to drive us to the church in Ostuni to check out the acoustics. I was super nervous about the performance because I’d never performed a solo classical piece before (even though I’d done lots of pop performances and regularly sing at choir concerts). A big shout-out to my friend Laura who coached me in advance! After getting a bit of practice in, I managed to relax a bit and enjoy the rest of the day.

On the eve of the wedding, there was a pizza dinner organized for us younger guests in the town of Mola di Bari. Me and Nelli knew only a couple of Julia’s friends in advance, so it was super nice to get to know more of the people we’d be spending the weekend with. The evening was a real immersive experience of Italian culture, both the wonderful and the slightly annoying parts. Pros: people are warm and open, enjoy their jokes and laugh a lot. And oh God, the food – dishes just kept coming in: we had tons of different antipasti and got to taste several different pizzas. Cons: Italians don’t really follow schedules, which can be annoying for us punctual Finns. Me and Nelli waited around for 45 minutes for the other guests to be ready to leave, then waited as they looked for an ATM, then waited as they stopped for smokes outside the restaurant for 20 minutes, then waited at the table for a long time before the first dishes came in… It’s a different way of life and probably a more relaxed and flexible one than us Finns lead, but as a product of my own culture, I prefer a bit more structure in my day 😉

The morning of the wedding was a blur – I was so nervous about my performance that I had a hard time concentrating on anything. Us guests were taken to the white-washed town of Ostuni with buses organized by Michele’s family business, and by the time we got to the church, my heart was pounding in my throat. The ceremony turned out to be quite different from what I’d expected – you wouldn’t expect a Catholic priest to be joking around for the whole wedding, with the guests chuckling every few minutes! Julia translated the priest’s Italian words into French, and the moment when the couple exchanged their vows was very touching. When it was my time to get up and sing, I was worried I’d tear up all over again and wouldn’t be able to get a peep out of my mouth. The relaxed atmosphere helped me get up and push through. My lower notes were a bit off at points, but all in all, I was happy with myself.

I didn’t really take any photos of the moments leading up to the wedding, and the couple had also asked us to keep our cameras in our pockets during the ceremony itself. I managed some phone snapshots, though, so here they are – maybe they’ll convey some of the feeling!

After the ceremony, it was time for the reception. When we arrived back in Borgo San Marco, there were drinks awaiting us (Aperol Spritz, anyone?), and the hotel’s piazza had been turned into a buffet of local delicacies. As busloads of guests arrived and the couple took photos with everyone, the sun began to set and a beautiful blue haze fell upon people enjoying bread, cheese, wine, sausages, fish, olives, pizza and other antipasti.

This was the best mozzarella EVER

As everyone was socializing around, I took a brief break of all the small talk and ventured into the backyard for a sneak peek of the tables being laid out. The photos you’re about to see show just how Pinterest-worthy the decor was; fairy lights, olive branches, candles…

The newlyweds just before dinner began

When we moved into the tables, darkness had already fallen. Even though I love the endless white nights that Finland enjoys in the summer, I also really love those dark but warm Mediterranean summer nights when the darkness seems to caress you instead of distancing you from the world. The fairy lights took care of turning the atmosphere even more magical. Me and Nelli sat with the bridesmaids, right next to Julia and Michele, which felt like a great honour; we got to share the celebrations with the couple and their closest friends.

The dinner consisted of many courses – I can’t even remember how many there were anymore – and of speeches, laughter, and music. The couple’s friends, including yours truly, took care of the music part. I actually performed a contemporary Finnish love song for the couple, and even though I knew most of the guests wouldn’t be able to understand the lyrics, I though it would be fun to bring a touch of Julia’s Finnish heritage into the celebrations. Our grandfather also sang an old Finnish love song for the couple, and they seemed really touched by the gesture.

The dinner slowly turned into a party as people left the tables to enjoy the dessert buffet (!!!!!!) and the open bar. There was a DJ playing in the yard, and people took to dancing under the starry, black sky. At some point, I abandoned my heels and danced barefoot on the dewy grass. The day had been long, which meant that I got tired (somewhat) early and left dancing into the wee hours for the more energetic people.

On the day after the wedding, we enjoyed a nice and hearty breakfast in the sunshine. Many of the guests staying at Borgo San Marco spent the day at the pool, but our family (excluding our weary grandparents) went exploring Puglia further (I’ll write about our adventures in another blog post, since this one has already turned into a novel). The weekend was concluded with a relaxed dinner among our Finnish-French fam (on the menu: MORE PIZZA!).

All in all, I was so, so happy to have been part of Julia and Michele’s special day. Spending time with loved ones who live in different countries than I was a perfect way to begin the summer, especially after having spent the past 5 months in Scotland. Attending a big Italian wedding was also a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that not everyone can say they’ve had. Thank you, Julia and Michele, for the wonderful weekend!

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