Why I Got Married in Portugal {and why you should consider it too}

It’s literally sunny all the time.

I always knew I wanted an outdoor ceremony, but in Ottawa there is just no safe time of year that guarantees a perfect day. Sure, we have beautiful stretches of Canadian summer, but rain is always a possibility and stifling humidity isn’t much better … not to mention the mosquitoes!

Rather than take chances, I planned my wedding in one of the sunniest places on Earth: Estoril. Known as the Portuguese Riviera, the coastal area of Casscias and Estoril gets an average of only 10 days with rainfall in June, July, and August, as compared to 34 days in Ottawa. Even if it does rain in sunny Estoril, it will probably be a light refreshing sprinkle followed by a beautiful burst of sunshine. The average amount of rain that falls during that period is 27 mm as compared to a staggering 247 mm in Ottawa!

Portugal enjoys one of the most stable climates in the world with a moderate kind weather influenced by the sea. My wedding was at the end of August, but in Portugal, your chances for a warm bright day are high no matter what the time of year.
f4a3f-dsc_5393* Statistics according to WeatherWorldOnline.

Face it. Down-south all-inclusives have been done.

Sure they’re fun, easy, and have great weather, but do you really want to invite your guests to another resort wedding?  Chances are they have attended, or at least been invited to, a few already and may not be all that interested in taking the same type of vacation again. No matter where you go in the Caribbean, your wedding runs the risk of looking like every other resort wedding out there. … which is fine for some, but not for me.

While Portugal has all the ease and beauty of the Caribbean, it is an exotic unique choice that will intrigue and entice your guests.

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There are some seriously beautiful venues.

Our wedding was held in at the Villa São Paulo, a palace built in 1911 by a Mrs. Benedita Alves de Mello – A Portuguese millionairess who made her fortunes in the coffee plantations of Brazil. This little piece of history has been completely updated for a comfortable modern stay. TV, A/C, Wifi, what other acronyms could you need?

The Villa is positioned on a cliff directly facing the Atlantic Ocean, fifty private steps down to world-famous beaches. With 14 air-conditioned bedrooms, two fully equipped kitchens, a pool, and direct access to the beach, the Villa SP is a fantastic base for a Lisbon Coast vacation and an incredibly stunning location for a wedding.

VillaSaoPaulo3
from http://www.villa-sao-paulo.com

And I chose one of many many options. There are historic palaces, monasteries, luxury hotels, countryside mansions -many of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Absolutely breathtakingly beautiful venues that are the stuff of fairy-tale princess bride dreams.

other venues
from http://www.lisbonweddingplanner.com

Everyone speaks your language.

Okay, maybe not every single person, but the vast majority of Lisboetas speak more than enough English to point out a metro station or direct you to a landmark. Portuguese people are notoriously warm and friendly and -I may have a slight bias here- are the nicest and most interesting people on the planet.

So not only do you have fascinating conversations with locals to look forward to, but also detailed discussions with wedding vendors regarding your decor ambitions, hair, makeup, floral preferences, et cetera.

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The food.

We’ve all had wedding food:. chicken/fish/beef, fingerling potatoes, with steamed seasonal vegetables. Yummy

Cocktail Hour
Beef Croquetes
Pastelinhas de Bacalhau (codfish fritters)
Rissoes de Camarao (shrimp dumplings)
Linguiça grelhada em tacinhas (grilled sausage)
Mozzarella skewers
Prosciuto wrapped pineapple

Dinner
Shrimp stuffed papaya with cream sauce
Seabass and clams in a bed of vegetables
Lemon sorbet
Roast lamb, vegetables, and potatoes
Chocolate and passion fruit mousse
Red Velvet wedding cake with raspberry filling

Not to mention all the champagne, wine, beer, and cocktails 35 people could possibly consume in one evening.  No one saw the bottom of a glass, ever.

And yes, I know that there are actually fantastic caterers in this wonderful Northern country that I live in who could absolutely compete with my menu, but they are certainly not the standard! You’d have to find them out, go for tastings, work with them on the menu, and pay them your first born child. In Portugal the standard for good food and fine entertaining is much higher. Everyone eats well all the time, so at weddings the fare is expected to be fabulous.

My menu was part of a package offered by The Villa São Paulo. It was Menu C and I didn’t taste a bite of it until we took our seats at our reception. But more importantly, I didn’t worry about it. Not once. Ever. I knew with absolute certainty that in Portugal, I would be feeding my guests far better than I could ever have hoped to back home.

menu

Easy to get there and around. 

We had a few first-time travelers on our guest-list who were nervous about making their first jump across the Atlantic to this mysterious little sliver of Europe. But the direct Air Canada fights out of Toronto and Montreal made it a breeze for everyone, and the Lisbon airport is a seriously well-laid out facility. English signage is everywhere at airport and tourist areas, so being lost is always temporary.

Our guests arrived to us at the Villa São Paulo in several ways. Seasoned travel veterans rented cars at the airport and hopped on the highway out to Estoril. The adventurous crowd used the metro and train station, finding it all extremely cheap and easy. And for the group of 12 that were flying out together, consisting of my 80 year old grandma and some virgin-travelers, I arranged a private van transfer that was perfectly prompt and professional.

We were also constantly taking cabs to and from the centers of  Casscias and Estoril. Both a beautiful sea-side walk away, but it was sometimes more pleasant to take a 7€ cab ride  after a day of shopping or evening of eating.

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Euro goes a little bit further.

You can spend as much or as little on a wedding as you want. Weather you hire a white elephant to whisk you away, or if you walk to a bar after a ceremony at City Hall, it will still be your  wedding and will be romantic and memorable. Me, I wanted everything short of a white elephant, and in Portugal I got what I wanted.

I’m not saying that it was cheap!

We still spent a tone of money on our wedding, like a tone. But we certainly got a lot more bang for our canuck bucks. As already mentioned, the quality and style of catering far surpasses the North American standard for about the same cost, and alcohol was far cheaper. Videography was also a great deal. The video that would have cost us thousands here at home was an add-on to our photography package for mere hundreds (I’ll post the video soon I promise!). Hair & makeup and flowers & decor were right on par with Canadian prices. And other vendors like the officiant, security, DJ and musicians came up to a bit under what I would expect to pay here.

A lot of this assembling of fantastic services had to do with my wedding planner Claudia. She has a circle of top-notch wedding professionals around her that she brings with her own expertise and attention to every wedding held at the Villa a São Paulo. I would not have had my dream wedding without her.

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It’s a built-in Honeymoon.

Trust me, you wont want to leave. After your dream wedding, you can head to the Algarve for much needed time doing nothing but relaxing on the beach. Need a little more adventure? Well the waves around Sintra are some of the best in the world for surfing. Scuba diving, sea kayaking, fishing, and dolphin watching are also all on offer all along the coast. Not into water sports? Head into the cities to explore centuries of history and culture. Take in a Fado show for some chillingly beautiful Portuguese language ballads, or bob your head as you watch folkloric dancers perform in traditional village garb.

If you do want to branch out and see more of the world, Portugal is an excellent jumping off point to a host of other destinations. We had an opportunity to travel with family through Morocco and our flight to Casablanca out of Lisbon only cost us about $200. Many of our guests also took advantage of being in Europe and tagged on France, Italy, Spain, and the rest of the Meditarian onto attending our destination wedding.

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