Interview with Laura Wedding Planner in France

Laura, owner of French Wedding Company was recently interviewed by ‘To Have and To Hold Films’ on planning a wedding in France…

Laura Southgate heads up the French Wedding Company and has been planning weddings and events for over 20 years, working on over 200 weddings and 500 events! That’s some serious experience right there!

Laura and her team can spend anything up to 300 hours on each individual couples wedding planning, as long as it takes to ensure the clients are 100% happy. If you are planning a wedding in France they are the award winning team you have to contact.

We interviewed Laura to hear all about her tips and advice on planning a wedding in France and what she sees as the up and coming trends in Weddings this year! Make sure you find out what is her one piece of advice she’d give to couples – we think its a fantastic idea!

Where is your favourite location to plan a wedding in France and why?

I don’t have a favourite location as France is such a diverse country. That is, in fact, what I love about it – I have planned weddings in vineyards, on beaches, with views of the mountains, as well as at many chateaux, of course. The whole reason I decided to go freelance was so that I wasn’t tied to a specific location or venue. My favourite location is the new one I find, that a couple never even knew, existed.

What makes weddings in France different to UK weddings?

Outdoor Wedding Breakfast

The biggest difference is the way a wedding is organised. In the UK, it tends to be very ‘packaged’ and the venues provide everything. Even though more and more venues are getting into ‘packages’ in France, it is still not the norm. In France, couples start with a venue that is just a blank canvas or ‘dry hire’ and can then choose their own suppliers to create the day that they want. Whilst ‘packages’ can suit many couples, all the clients that we work with at French Wedding Company are looking to create a unique day with special experiences for their guests and so don’t want the constraints that a ‘package’ and fixed set of suppliers, bring.

Why did you relocate to South West France to be a Wedding planner?

Ballerina's at French Wedding

I didn’t relocate to SW France to become a wedding planner, I just relocated for a change, to get out of the London scene and do something different. I didn’t come with a plan. Life just evolved. I managed a couple of chateaux for a while and developed their wedding, holiday rental and events businesses. When the chateau I was working at was sold, I was made redundant and I had to move six weddings… so I became a freelance wedding planner.

What’s been the most unusual thing you’ve been asked to plan for a wedding?

Wedding Entertainment

There have been a few things over the years. Last year I was asked to source professional ballet dancers for a wedding (we arranged for two ballerinas from the Royal Ballet in London to come and perform a specially choreographed piece of dance). I am currently working on sourcing a falcon for a wedding next year, but one of my favourites was organising a jockey race as part of the wedding day experience.
The Groom’s Dad was editor of the Racing Post and they had this ‘idea’ of having a jockey race but weren’t sure how to go about it. Anyway, after the site visit and over a few glasses of wine (the best ideas spring to mind over a relaxed glass of the local tipple!), we threw around some ideas and ended up creating a parade ring at the welcome dinner the night before. The jockeys paraded around in their silks and had to go over a trial jump whilst the Groom’s Dad commentated on their ‘form’ so that guests could place bets. The next day, a ‘racecourse’ was set up around the wedding tent and just before dinner, six guests, representing different groups in the party, raced three times around the course, jumping wine barrels, whilst the rest of the guests cheered them on to the Father of the Groom’s commentary. It was great fun, the winnings were divided up and there was a prize-giving at the end of dinner too… It really created some great memories.

Do you prefer a Chateau or Beach Wedding?

They are both beautiful and both present their own challenges. My favourite weddings are the ones where it is a true reflection of the bride and groom. This is often less about the venue, although the right setting helps.

In your opinion what makes a “Good Wedding”?

Fireworks display at Wedding

A good wedding is about the people. Brides and grooms often get caught up in worrying too much about keeping up with the Jones’ or planning lots of little details that are so often unappreciated, overlooked or end up in the bin. Guests will take the day as it comes and are there because they want to support the couple. If the couple are relaxed, the guests will be relaxed. The key then is about creating the right level of activity to keep everyone entertained and the vibe going. This is where guidance from a good planner comes in.

What new styles/trends do you think are going to be the next big thing for weddings in France?

Experiential weddings are becoming the new trend. Today’s couples are looking to create memorable experiences for both themselves and their guests, and not follow the traditional wedding format. At French Wedding Company, this is how we have always approached our wedding planning and we love the challenge of coming up with new ideas as to how the couple can style, entertain or deliver their day differently, whilst staying true to themselves.

What’s your favourite wedding trend currently?

Wedding Picnic

Doing food differently. Couples are looking for new ways to offer food at their weddings, with many couples not wanting to sit down for long drawn-out meals. This year we are planning weddings with food trucks, picnics, gourmet hog roasts and cocktail dinatoire to name a few, but all with a twist… like an opera-singing Italian ice cream seller!

French Wedding Company Vie de Chateau White wedding balloons 001074

What’s the one piece of advice you would give couples on their wedding day?

Apart from… get a planner who you can hand everything over to so that you can truly be ‘in’ your day and enjoy it? The next would be to give up your mobile phone 24 hours beforehand or give it to someone else. When guests need to know something, even the simplest of things, they always contact first the person hosting the event, (often without even bothering to try and sort it out themselves). We’ve all done it. It’s easier. But, so often I have seen brides and grooms running around and getting stressed the day before trying to sort things out for guests that really they could be sorting out for themselves. This is not how you want to be spending the 24 hours before your wedding day!

Home Wedding in the Lot

Home weddings are always trickier and more expensive than you think – and in this case, Natasha’s family, amongst other things, re-levelled the ground for the dancing marquee and knocked down (and re-built) a garden wall to provide entry to the neighbour’s garden for dining!

But this is what I love about home weddings, the challenge of making a place that is special to someone into something they never thought possible, for the biggest day of their lives. It was worth it in the end…

Congratulations Natasha and Jake

Official Photography by Shanna Jones

Natasha’s family have a beautiful property in the Lot where Jake and she had shared many happy memories with friends and family. They therefore thought it fitting that they have their wedding there.

So they invited 140 guests from the UK and Ireland, for three days of celebrations.

The event kicked off with a cocktail evening the night before at nearby Chateau de Cenevières.

The weather held off for them but back at the house setting up, we had hail – thank goodness we had a plan B just in case!

But, as it turned out, we didn’t need plan B as the sun came out for the wedding day and the rain stayed away.

Jake and Natasha were able to have a beautiful ceremony on the terrace and lawn, conducted by Father Brian D’Arcy and with music by Brian Kennedy, both family friends.

This was followed by a champagne fountain and cocktail food and drink by the pool.

Before moving into the marquee in the (neighbour’s) garden for speeches and dinner.

From dinner back into their own garden for cake-cutting (made by the bride’s mum) and the first dance.

And it wouldn’t have been a McGuigan party without it being kicked off by a rendition of ‘Mustang Sally’ from father of the groom… Barry.

Barry McGuigan singing

The next day it was round the pool for a BBQ and Jake’s favourite… gelato, specially shipped in.

If you are looking to get married at your own place in France or want your favourite gelato shipped in!.. then contact someone who knows how and tell us about your wedding day aspirations. Book a call to discuss you home wedding.

Venue Search Tips 1: Setting Your Venue Budget

Don’t let your venue choice mean compromising on your wedding day

If you are starting out on your wedding planning journey then it’s an exciting time, but, it can also be a confusing one… not least because most wedding venues in France do not offer an ‘all-in’ package. ‘GREAT!’ I hear you cry, ‘we can have our day, our way’, and yes, that is of part of the joy of a wedding in France.

But beware …

Before you get out your iPad and start searching for venues, have you considered what venues you can afford AFTER you have calculated your wedding day costs?

So often I hear…

I thought the venue would do that’

or

I didn’t realise that wasn’t included

 

The reality is that there is a huge choice of wedding venues in France to suit all tastes and budgets, if you know where to look for them, but the cost of hiring a venue can vary vastly from one venue to another.

The cost of your wedding day, however, generally varies little from venue to venue (assuming you are comparing apples with apples!).

So, to avoid disappointment and to get a fabulous wedding venue AND the wedding day of your dreams, follow these 5 steps.

  1. Fix Your Overall Budget
    Decide on a total figure that you both feel comfortable spending, taking into account any family contributions.
  2. Work Out What Your Ideal Day Will Cost
    Talk through your ‘ideal’ wedding day and research the average cost that each service required will be.  Don’t forget support services such as staff, delivery charges and equipment hire, for example. DON’T ASSUME ANYTHING!!!  This is perhaps one of the hardest areas of your budgeting as it will take time and research, but make the effort, take advice and you are setting yourself up for a lot less hassle and potential heartache.
  3.  Allow Contingency
    It may be impossible to know all costs before you know your venue or exactly which suppliers you are using.  Also, things often have a bad habit of coming up unexpectedly, so, add a contingency:  10% is usually good.
  4. Work Out Your Venue Budget
    Take your wedding day costs from your overall wedding budget and see what you come out with.  Don’t be too upset if your venue budget comes out less that you thought, you won’t be the first!  It is at this stage you can then add in any accommodation costs you are hoping to recoup from guests, as this will boost your venue hire spend.
  5. Find Your Venue
    Before despairing that you can’t afford anywhere or the venue of your dreams, do take a look around.  With over 8000 wedding venues in France there are sure to be some options for you.  If not, then this is when you need to decide where you might be happy to compromise.  Prioritise on-the-day services, identify where you might be prepared to shave some money off to increase your venue budget… and get expert help!

DON’T get yourself in a position where you fall in love with or even commit to a venue but can’t afford to hold the wedding day you had dreamed of.  You’ll end up resenting the fact that you had to squeeze other areas so tightly or spend the whole planning process and even on the day, stressing about it.

If it all feels a bit overwhelming, why not contact French Wedding Company about our Venue-Finding Service.  We know how to find a broad spectrum of venues, understand site logistics and their impacts on costs.  We also thrive on getting creative… thinking of different ways of doing things to achieve your dream wedding.  The service includes helping you to understand your options and set your wedding day budget.

Contact us about our Venue-Finding Service now and we’ll get you started on the right path.

Coming Next… Venue Search Tips 2: Search Pitfalls

Coming Soon… Venue Search Tips 3: Getting the most from your site visit

A four-day celebration with a ‘jockey race’

Jasemin and John run a busy company in London and were referred to me by one of our agency partners.

“We didn’t realise how much help we were going to need until the first venue advised us how much they did not arrange!  It was then we realised we need a wedding planner”

John said, “I am a natural worrier and it doesn’t matter how much you say it will be fine I still worry, but when I turned up for our wedding and had seen all that you and your team had done behind the scenes I knew it would be fine. Our guests and we had an unforgettable 4 days. Everything that you did for us was worth every penny and more.”

Jasemin said, “You do so much more than anyone can imagine and should shout about it more. Your team were all amazing and the whole thing was a tightly run ship in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Thanks for all your help.

    

DAY 1 — Family dinner

It started small, but as numbers increased the rehearsal dinner went from the Chateau dining room to a black and silver themed, black-tie dinner, in the smaller reception room.  Stylist Jen and her team transformed the room from simple barn to classy dining room with a vintage gramophone, baby grand piano and champagne bar.  The party went on all night.

                                

DAY 2 — Welcome Dinner

The idea for the welcome dinner came to John and me over a glass of wine in the local bar, on their site visit.  John’s dad worked for a racing newspaper and horse racing was a passion of John’s.  He talked about an idea of having a jockey race and so the Malliac Steeplechase was born.

Hosted in the large barn, the tables were set around a parade ring complete with artificial grass, winning post and jump.  During dinner, the sweepstake was run and the jockeys were presented to the guests.

                

DAY 3 – Wedding Day

Classic white and green was the scheme of the day.  Guests were greeted on arrival to gin and tonic ice pops served from a vintage bicycle.  They then made their way to a corner of the garden that had been transformed into a beautiful ceremony area for their religious wedding blessing.

  

The afternoon reception took place under the shade of the mature trees and around the rose arbour of the park garden.

 

 

Before sitting for their meal, the guests gathered on the circular lawn for the big race…

Three laps of the lawn, jumping over cognac barrels, before a dash down the finishing straight.  A commentary was given by John’s dad and it was an eventful race! There were falls, run-outs and even a disqualification.

The gastronomic meal was followed by the presentation of a fantastic vegan chocolate cake made especially at Jasemin’s request.

                   

DAY 4—Departure brunch

After three days of festivities, it was time to say goodbye with a casual lunchtime buffet and a dip in the pool.

               

Congratulations Jasemin & John.

Photography by: Celine Chhuon

 

 

Afternoon tea then off to the market…

We are delighted to say that we were recommended to Stacey and Ben.

Stacey came with some ideas already for their special day: ‘We come to this region regularly and want to show our friends what we love about it. Our idea is to have an afternoon tea and then go to the local night market’, she said.

And so their dream day was born…

The venue was the very special Chateau de Saint Paul, with its private chapel, beautiful on-site accommodation and two courtyards.

Its layout and rustic feel gave the intimate and relaxed setting that Stacey and Ben were looking for in their wedding venue.

The colour was yellow—beautiful for a summer’s day in June. Sunflowers captured the joy of the day and the essence of the French countryside.

                    

The style was vintage and our in-house wedding stylist, Jen and her team, worked with Stacey’s own purchases and creations to create the perfect feel.

Old suitcases, family photos, vintage bicycles and tea sets all came together with country garden flowers to create a charming and intimate atmosphere.

Following a conversation about shade, I suggested an umbrella ceiling and Jen created a beautiful sun-shade from coloured umbrellas and complimented Stacey’s purchases with draping and jute table runners to soften the look.

Fresh lemonade on arrival was followed by an intimate wedding blessing in the private chapel.

The taste of France was dotted throughout the day including an accordion serenade as the couple and guests left the chapel to enjoy a glass of champagne.

The afternoon tea wedding menu served both French and English savouries and sweets.

Pimms was served in teapots and vintage teacups.

Tea closed with a presentation of macaroons rather than a wedding cake.

Then guests relaxed in deckchairs on the lawns, listening to jazz.

As the afternoon came to a close, guests collected their personalised picnic baskets before boarding the coach.

The happy couple headed off in an old Citroen 2CV to join their guests at the local night market for dinner and dancing.

Congratulations, Stacey and Ben!

Photos French Wedding Company and Tim Fox

Candice and Carl Part Two – Wedding Planning

In the second part of this 3 part series, Candice and Carl continue to tell, in their own words, how, having found their venue, French Wedding Company managed their wedding planning process.

 

“Laura helped us make the arrangements with the venue owners and with the translation of the contracts. It was at this point it dawned on us that although both of us could parle un petit peu de francais, we would definitely need some help with the rest of the organisation, as how would we cope with contract negotiations and finding suppliers in the French countryside from the UK? We always thought of a wedding planner as indulgent and reserved for celebrities and those with money. We were pleasantly surprised by the cost of having Laura as wedding planner, which made our decision easy and in retrospect I am not sure how we would have got everything done without her.

From the point that we decided to use French Wedding Company as our wedding planners things became so much easier.  Laura met with us in the UK before we went out for a 2nd visit to France to understand the unique and personal twists we wanted to add to our day, building up a wedding portfolio of things we liked from other weddings, magazines and our own ideas, guiding us through the practicalities and keeping us on track when our focus got side-tracked on minute details.

French Wedding Company styling moodboard France lavender sage white eclectic
French Wedding Company Styling Moodboard

 

The second trip to France allowed us to re-visit the venue and work with Laura on the walk through of the day. By this point Laura had already helped us to find a celebrant to do the ceremony and sourced a caterer, florist and hairdresser for us to meet with during our visit. We met with all the suppliers and Candice had a run through of hair and make-up before the all-important big day. The food tasting afternoon with our amazing caterer Fabrice, left us no doubt as to who would cater our event and also fuller than one of his delicious crème patisserie profiteroles. My only regret was not to get a taxi there to sample more of the splendid wine that accompanied the food!

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Tasting with Chef Fabrice

wedding menu tasting canapes finesse cuisine caterer france Dorodgne
Sample canapes and a glass of sparkly

wedding planning weekend menu tasting starter confirt of aubergine finesse cuisine catering Dordogne
Stuffed confit d’aubergine starter

wedding canapes finesse cuisine catering menu tasting Dordogne planning weekend
Scallops and with cured bacon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With four months to go Laura helped us finalise the details with our suppliers; the florist, the celebrant, waiting staff, the Music (PA and Speakers), decorations and catering and tableware. Planning a wedding from another country can make you feel a bit isolated and out of the loop, but it really helped to have a single contact who knew what you wanted and who knew how things work in France, working behind the scenes when things sometimes seemed to be going slower than we expected, or prompting us when we needed to make decisions and get things booked.

The online planning tool used by French Wedding Company helped us keep track of what we had to do, decisions to make and view options Laura and the team had sourced for us, and track spending against our budget. It really helped that everything was in one place.”

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Supplier meetings with Laura at French Wedding Company

Read Part One – Venue Search

Part Three – Our Wedding Day, follows shortly

See their wedding story book – to follow at the end of their blog series

An Indian Wedding in a French Chateau


Tina and Pranay were living busy lives in the US and India. Having already booked the fabulous Chateau de la Bourlie as their venue, and unable to see it beforehand, they contacted us to help bring their three-day celebration to fruition…. We only met in person the day before their wedding.

Here’s what they said:

“First I cannot thank you enough for the beautiful wedding you put together. I didn’t think that a bride would get to have everything she could dream of – but you showed me otherwise. You made my weekend absolutely perfect – I cannot think of a single thing I would change. And please tell me the secret to predicting the weather because that was phenomenal. Your communications and customer service was impeccable.

I have been a business professional for a long time. I have seen factories put up from foundation to machinery – I always thought I was very strong in execution. But you taught me a lot about both details and execution. I respect you tremendously for your capabilities. Probably my favourite thing about the wedding was the way you were always trying to surprise me in addition to surprising my guests. That was very sweet.

I wish you all the luck with the French Wedding Company and I shall always remember you for making my wedding a true fairytale.”

Tina

Family had travelled from across the globe for this special occasion and Tina and Pranay wanted three days of celebration reflecting three cultures: American, Indian and French.

The main colour scheme for the wedding weekend was to be pale pink and white.

 

DAY 1—WELCOME PICNIC

The brief was for a casual pre-wedding picnic in the field, with lanterns and lighting garlands in the trees.

Guests were greeted from the coach and handed individual picnic boxes.

They dined sitting on picnic blankets laid out under the trees, with views over the surrounding countryside… and watched the sunset.

 

DAY 2—INDIAN WEDDING CEREMONY, FRENCH WEDDING BREAKFAST

The Hindu wedding ceremonies took place in the grounds of the chateau, including the Swagatam and Madhuperk, before the groom and bride, made their way to the Mandap.

 

Stylist Jen, and her team created a stunning Mandap draped in white and finished with a frame of white and pink roses with matching tiebacks and hanging chandelier.  This was set at the top of a white carpet aisle, lined with tall flower plinths and candelabra, whilst white drapes hung above.

The traditional Hindu marriage ceremonies took place in this glorious setting amidst the avenue of plane trees and centennial yew trees.

 

Cocktails followed in the venue’s rose garden before dinner was announced in the main reception room.

The beautiful floral decoration was carried through from the gardens and paired with ambient candlelight and pink uplight to create an intimate and warm setting.


A French wedding breakfast menu and dessert buffet awaited the couple and their guests.

 

Day 3—INDIAN BUFFET LUNCH

The wedding guests returned to the venue on the final day for a traditional Indian buffet provided by a local Indian caterer. The reception room was turned into a brightly coloured dining room with ceiling lanterns and decorations from India.

Tina, Pranay and guests were entertained by family members performing traditional dance.

 

 

Congratulations Tina and Pranay!

Photos by Peter Antoine Photography

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