Dubrovnik is fast becoming a wedding destination of choice, and Anna Burlow asks why settle for less when you can get married in a medieval palace.
The Dubrovnik Archives possess a picture depicting an array of men in bright blue pantaloons and a woman in an embroidered tunic. The picture, painted in 1892, is of a traditional Dubrovnik wedding procession with red flags and loaded guns exploding. On observing the print, one wonders if this procession paraded down the Stradun, the central avenue of Dubrovnik 's old city with its polished white stones. Or did they wander along the vast city walls, stopping to catch their breath as the sunset bathed this medieval city in subtle oranges and gold.
If you were to ask any English bride-to-be what her ideal wedding location would include, it would either be a sultry summer location with sea views or an ancient castle with elegant arches framing the couple for those perfect, atmospheric photographs. Dubrovnik, with its rich history and swathes of brilliant blue water, combines both to provide the perfect wedding location.
The last few years have seen an increase in intrepid wedding parties sampling the delights of this deeply romantic city. Of course there is more to a wedding than happy couples framed by gorgeous vistas; there is military precision planning, detailed arrangements and near chaos averted. Dubrovnik , with its acclaimed history of diplomatic successes - throughout its history the Ragusa Republic never engaged in war - thrives on planning, organizing and hosting big events as well as intimate soirees. The city's hotels, restaurants and specialised wedding agencies offer a range of wedding services that rival other established wedding destinations such as Italy and France with friendly assistance assured. Ceremony, reception and accommodation venues abound, with quality being the defining factor.
The City of Dubrovnik offers various ancient buildings within the city's wall for hire for civil wedding ceremonies. Venues such as the 13th Century Sponza Palace, which served as the bank, customs, mint and treasury during the Ragusa Republic, exudes a unique and rarefied atmosphere. Take note of the inscription at thePalace's entrance, which served as a chastening reminder totraders, but could easily be applied to the bride and groom: 'We are forbidden to cheat and use false measurers and when I weigh goods, God weighs me'. Other historic venues include the Rector's Palace on the south side of the Luza Square. This baroque building dating from 1739, housed the Rector during his period of office for one month. The Palace's stone staircase descending into its atrium, which is framed by arches, will fulfil every bride's dream of arriving in style. The Mariner's Museum records the rich mariner history of the city. Catered receptions can be organised within its curved and atmospheric halls and your guests will be observed by paintings and photographs of some of Dubrovnik's famous sea captains and sailing ships. Part of the defence structure of the old republic, the Fortress of St Lawrence, with its three expansive terraces and a spectacular view of the water is an exceptional and memorable spot. Gloria Weddings Services, a Dubrovnik based wedding agency that has been providing assistance to foreigners for six years, can organise the hire of these venues, catering and music as well as all the subtle touches such as torches and candles. Ana Milic, Director of Gloria Weddings, specialises in these outdoor locations during the warmer months of May to October. She offers a unique service working only at locations that she herself loves having lived all her life in Dubrovnik.
A former nobleman's palace, the elegant boutique hotel, Pucic Palace on Grundulic Square provides a ceremony space in the hotel's private chapel as well as accommodation and two reception venues. Its open terrace overlooking the lanes of the old city or its outdoor seating on Grundulic Square, provide a beautiful setting for your catered wedding dinner. The hotel also has a private yacht, so although you may not have sea views on the night, you can take your wedding guests on a sea jaunt the following day. This combined with the Hotel's antique furnishings, traditional architecture and Bulgari toiletries will result in a truly indulgent wedding experience.
Large banquets in ancient forts may be a little overwhelming for some, but there is always the option of a small civil ceremony upon a traditional wooden Croatian yacht. Whilst you sail around Dubrovnik's islands and circular walls, you and your guests can indulge in champagne and canapés. You could then invite your guests to a sumptuous meal at Dubrovnik's most famous and lauded restaurant, Club Atlas Nautika. Dine on Lobster Medallions Korcula Style or Lopud Fish Brodetto with Polenta and enjoy the restaurant's stunning views. If your mother-in-law is not so fond of boats, you can have your civil ceremony on the terrace of the restaurant and watch the white sails of the yachts pass by at safe distance. Receptions can also be organised at other Dubrovnik restaurants and luxury hotels. Hotel Argentina and Excelsior also have wellness centres to ensure that all members of the bridal party, but particularly the bride, feel adequately pampered. Excelsior and Argentina can also arrange the hire of Dubrovnik's historic sites as well as coordinating all the floral, beauty, musical, photographic and hospitality requirements. Excelsior offers newlyweds a complimentary nights stay in a luxurious suite with a jacuzzi, rose petal covered bed, aromatic candles and a view to die for. Just don't forget your pearls, as Croatian tradition has it that a bride's head should be adorned by a string of pearls fitted by her father, rather than a wreath of flowers. Other traditions include the men wearing sprigs of rosemary instead of buttonholes. It is also traditional to offer your guests on arrival a shot of rakija, plum brandy. This often tasty firewater will surely get all the guests chattering although too much may provoke family disputes, so top up with caution.
Catholic weddings, although involving more paperwork, can be organised at St. Blasius Church, a wonderful 16th century church, rebuilt in 1715. St Blasius is the patron saint of Dubrovnik and his gilt silver statue was the only one to survive a devastating fire in 1706. The statue's survival is taken as proof of its miraculous powers and you can peek up at it and let it imbue your vows with even more significance as you stand at the altar. For both civil and catholic weddings you will require birth certificates (not less than three months old), a certificate from your country's Births, Deaths and Marriages Registry evidencing that you are of single status, a certificate of citizenship, an affidavit from your country's legal authorities that the marriage shall be valid under their state laws (not less than three months old) and a copy of your passport.
All these documents should be notarised in Croatia or by an Apostate in your own country. For a catholic wedding you must also have a certificate from your parish or bishop's office agreeing that you can get married in another parish. Of course, it is necessary to translate all English documents into Croatian. Such a gathering of papers could be a potential headache, but most hotels, wedding or travel agencies offering wedding arrangements can assist you with this process.
After the party
The most desirable aspect of a wedding in Dubrovnik is that you can choose different locations for your ceremony and for your reception and all of its within ambling distance of each other. So as you wander from your ceremony at the St Blasius Church to your reception at Fort Lawrence or Pucic Palace, take a moment to lead your guests to the Big Onofrio Fountain, and partake in the Croatian wedding tradition of circling the well three times to represent the holy trinity and bring good luck to the union.
Once you have said 'I do', and taken your last eyeful of the rosy terracotta roofs of the city, the mountains and islands, all you have to do is head north and explore the rest of this diverse and delightful country on your honeymoon. Travel to the islands of Korcula, Hvar and Miljet, explore the waterfalls at Plitvice Lake and the cities of Zagreb, Split and Pula and bask in all that Croatia has to offer.