Inside Chloe & Hugh’s Magical Sri Lankan Destination Wedding
Written by Peta Ireland Al Akawi on February 26, 2019.
Although we are blessed with an array of stunning wedding venue options here in the UAE, we are also lucky enough to be only a hop, skip and a short plane ride away from some of the most beautiful and exotic countries in the world! For our Real Wedding couple, Chloe & Hugh, they couldn’t quite find what they were looking for here in their city of residence, Dubai, so decided to look to a favourite holiday destination for their big day – Sri Lanka.
Dubai expats, Chloe & Hugh, had already had an intimate ceremony with their family in Queensland, Australia, where the couple are both originally from, about 13 months before they tied the knot again in Sri Lanka in January 2017. This allowed them to not worry about the formalities of a legal wedding in Sri Lanka and they were able to solely focus on creating the big party style wedding they wanted without the ideals of what a ‘traditional’ wedding should look like.
Read on as Chloe talks us through the planning process and how she created her enchanting, starry night, dream destination wedding!
Chloe, let’s start with the proposal…How did your hubby pop the question?
We were on holiday in Croatia for The Yacht Week (aka the famous floating festival!) with a group of my husband, Hugh’s, friends from school. It was actually our second trip there as we’d had such an amazing time there the year before that we decided to rebook the same holiday for that Summer. About three to four days into the yacht trip we were moored in Hvar. I wasn’t feeling too great, but Hugh told me we HAD to go to shore to have drinks with everyone that particular evening. When we arrived, we met a couple of friends at a beautiful spot overlooking the Hvar harbor. I started to become slightly suspicious when they left us all of a sudden and not long after, a very grumpy Croatian waiter served my ring to the table with a bunch of flowers and a bottle of bubbly. The rest is history!
How did you decide on a location for your wedding?
My husband and I have always been fans of Sri Lanka, having holidayed there since we met in 2012. It was a very obvious choice for us as it was a nice middle-ish point between Dubai and Australia, where most of our family and friends are located. Initially we were toying with the idea of both Australia and Dubai, however we found Dubai just too expensive for what we were looking for, and Australia had ridiculous restrictions on what the venue would and would not offer. At the beginning of our venue hunt we spoke to a few villa owners about using their property to get married on, but many of them didn’t really know where to start in terms of catering etc. So we very quickly worked out that we needed a locally-based wedding planner, and thankfully we were recommended a wonderful company, Galle Weddings and Events, by some friends of ours who’d had a great experience with them for their big day. After several skype calls, we went to meet the owner a couple of months prior to our wedding day to choose the actual venue. As we had left it so late to choose a venue (we don’t recommend doing this by the way!) there were no beach villas left that would cater to the 120 guests we wanted to host. We were pretty upset about this until Claudia, our planner, showed us the most magical venue about 10 minutes behind Galle. It was an old, overgrown tea plantation that had all these beautiful secret gardens and pools scattered around the grounds. We fell in love immediately and paid the deposit on the spot…When you know, you know!
Did you have a specific vision for your wedding?
To be honest, I have never dreamt of the stereotypical whole ‘white wedding’ that most girls do. I’d just always wanted a massive party that was an absolute celebration of love, with our closest friends and family, with no rules and limits on time or amounts of fun to be had! I had been to so many weddings that felt so rigid and stale and I wanted to steer well clear of that type of wedding. This is so incredibly lame, but I stole the idea of a ‘night’ wedding from Twilight, the movie. I loved the fact their wedding was at night under the stars and somehow, I wanted this to be part of our celebrations. There is something so magical about thousands of fairy lights and candles lighting up a natural space!
Talk us through the general flow of your special day?
To make sure we got quality time with our loved ones we held a cocktail reception from 4pm and hired around 50 Tuk Tuks to bring our guests from all over the island to meet us. The cocktail reception was two hours and it gave my husband and I the chance to chat to our guests properly in an informal setting, before we started the formalities of the ceremony. We wanted to keep as much Sri Lankan tradition in the wedding as possible so decided to use a local caterer to help us with the food. Instead of the usual chicken and lamb, we went with a selection of Sri Lankan curries with rice, salads and sides. These were made by an incredible vegetarian kitchen in Galle and added a lovely touch to the night. Alongside the local tradition, we also wanted to have some Middle Eastern flair (as we met and live in Dubai!) in the mix, so our wedding planner designed the most incredible shisha tent that had a real Bedouin influence. Around 6.30pm, I went and changed into my wedding dress with my family and bridesmaids. We walked down the aisle at 7pm and then waltzed straight in to the reception at 7.30pm. I will never forget walking down the aisle to the song, ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ (from the Lion King). The night progressed normally with dinner, dessert, speeches and then dancing, lots of dancing! I don’t remember too much past 2am, but it was the wild night we wanted with everyone wandering home between 6am and 7am. The following day we held a champagne party at Talpe Beach Club with all our guests as a recovery party. Unfortunately, I did not manage to make this as I was suffering mildly (understatement!) from the night before…But I’ve been told since all of our guests thoroughly enjoyed themselves!
Our wedding planner really helped to bring our vision together and I remember saying to her, “Just how many fairy lights do you actually own?”, and her response being, “If we don’t have enough, I will find more!”
Tell us about the inspiration behind your fabulous sparkly look and where you found your dream dress?
As I mentioned, I never wanted to wear white to my wedding, but I wasn’t sure where to go from there! I had initially wanted a black dress, but felt it wasn’t fitting with the nighttime theme we had chosen. In the end, I decided to throw caution to the wind and go with a beautiful ombre gold/rose gold dress with capped sleeves. The dress was a Marchesa ball gown and was purchased about four weeks prior to the wedding from Boutique One in Mall of Emirates. It literally caught my eye as I walked past it. I went in to try it on and about five minutes later I walked out with it in a bag and it was mine! We actually asked all of our guests to strictly wear black and white only, so the gold was the only pop of colour for the whole night. Instead of flowers, my bridesmaids and I all carried candles down the aisle. It was a beautiful touch and matched the hundreds of thousands of fairy lights and candles placed around the grounds.
Tell us about the outfit changes you made throughout the day?
I chose to wear a bright cocktail dress for the afternoon cocktail reception and then changed in to my wedding dress around 6.30pm, just before I walked down the aisle. My cocktail dress was a beautiful silk number from an Australian designer, Nancy King. To walk down the aisle I did wear heels however for the rest of the night I changed into my converse!
What did you find the most enjoyable part of planning your big day?
I loved putting all the small, but vital, elements together from choosing the entertainment, the decorative details and the small, personal touches. Once we got past the big items such as the venue, caterers and overall logistics, that’s when the fun started for me!
What was the most challenging thing about planning a destination wedding in Sri Lanka from Dubai?
For me, it was learning to have faith in our wedding planner to get the job done. She was the world’s busiest woman and sometimes would go missing for short periods of time and wouldn’t come back to us on certain things. To be fair, she does so many weddings each year and puts 120% into each one, so I can only thank her for putting that much effort in when it was our turn.
For other expat Dubai Brides looking to have their dream wedding in Sri Lanka, what would be your top three tips?
♡ Hire a wedding planner. Our wedding would have looked a lot different if we had tried to plan it ourselves! And not in a good way…
♡ Be willing to pay for everything in cash. There were so many smaller expenses that needed to be sorted and they simply don’t have the credit card facilities of more developed countries.
♡ Don’t expect everything to go smoothly. Our wedding was really raw and beautiful, but with a whole lot of glitches along the way. Things won’t go to plan, but you just have to roll with it!
What was your favorite part of the whole day?
Our first dance! We didn’t have a ‘song’ as most couples do, so we asked all 120 of our guests to write their ABSOLUTE favourite song on a piece of paper. After dinner we drew one song out of bucket and told everyone we would dance to that song. The song ended up being Kid Cudi, Pursuit of Happiness and that’s now ‘our song’.
The Bride’s Little Pink Book
Location: Apa Villa, Illuketia, Sri Lanka / Photographer: Edwina Robertson Photography (Flown in especially from Australia) / Wedding Planner: Galle Weddings & Events / Catering: Poonies Kitchen, Galle / Dress: Marchesa, Boutique 1 / Decorations: Many trips to Dragon Mart and flown over to Sri Lanka