Surrounded by their close friends and family in a beautiful olive garden, the happy couple Courtney Hansen and Jay Hartington said “I do” on 10 July 2018 in Taormina, Italy. Four days of festivities allowed the newlyweds and their guests to not only relax by the beach, but experience a taste of the Sicilian region during their extravagant destination wedding. As the couple dined and danced their way to the altar, the setting truly could not have been more romantic with backdrops of the rolling countryside, Ionian Sea and charming town complete with cobblestone paths and local well-wishers. The former host of popular television show Overhaulin’ on TLC, Courtney’s love of cars inspired a scenic ride in a vintage Fiat after the ceremony. The rest of the details evoked Italian traditions as well as details to match Courtney and Jay’s exact tastes.
We were so pleased to speak with Courtney about their Taormina wedding and her advice for brides!
We would love to know where you two first met?
I grew up in Minnesota, but moved to Naples, Florida to attend school. Jay is actually from Naples, but surprisingly we didn’t initially meet there. We met at a wedding in Napa in 2013 when I was newly single. It was really love at first sight…not only physical, but a spiritual connection as well. It was chemistry! After that, I asked around and it turned out that we had all the same friends.
What is your proposal story?
Jay had planned to propose in New Orleans, but there was a hurricane which is why we went to Miami. I actually had to divert my flight plans from California to get there. He ended up proposing at Soho House Miami where we had our first date. We celebrated with mimosas and I maybe had a shot of tequila because I love tequila! It was perfect.
Tell me a little bit about why you chose a destination wedding and why Taormina?
We chose to have a destination wedding because Jay and I both wanted to have a more intimate setting with about 150 of our closest friends and family. If we had planned our wedding in the States, it would have been ten times as big. We considered a lot of places and didn’t quite find one that worked until Taormina. Jay had been there before as he lived in Italy for a year, and when we finally went together, we both knew it was the place. Located on the coast of the Ionian Sea, Taormina is romantic, not very commercial and really charming. Many of our guests had never been there before, which was exciting for them. We really wanted an intimate vibe where everyone would be in one place and not spread out.
Was it challenging to plan from far away?
Honestly, it was difficult. I hired amazing wedding planners from Rome and did everything from pictures and research. In the end, we pulled it off and it was pretty much exactly as I had planned it.
We would love to hear about the wedding itself. Could you share the details?
Jay and I really wanted to give a taste of everything in the region, so we asked guests to come for four days to experience as much as possible and give them a holiday, too. Our home base was the gorgeous Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo. The first night, we hosted dinner at Ristorante Baronessa, a stunning rooftop restaurant overlooking the water that recently hosted the G7. They have the most incredible fresh fish and pasta dishes as well as a live pianist and a completely enchanting atmosphere.
Our rehearsal dinner was an hour away from the hotel in Parco Statella. We made it come alive like Dolce and Gabbana in the countryside, arranging a really long gorgeous imperial table. It is a classic Italian tradition to do agriturismo dinners, and guests said that this dinner was a highlight of the trip.
Our ceremony was in the garden of the hotel surrounded by olive trees. We had dinner and dancing there before taking a ride through the town in the Fiat. We then went to a club called Morgana to party the night away! The next day, we had a fresh, delicious brunch on the beach at La Plage.
What unique elements or DIY details did you include?
I tried to get creative with every part of the process, so every detail was carefully designed to highlight local traditions as well as our own tastes. For example, we purchased some of the famous ceramic heads of Sicily and took photos of these to use as the overlay of the menu. We then tied these to the menu with beautiful ribbon. We incorporated a lot of Italian lace as well as fonts and colours that were indicative of the area. Another fun idea that we’d recommend is having local wine in the guests’ rooms with quotes about love and wine. The guests loved this!
What were your favourite moments from your wedding?
Without a doubt, my favourite moment was the ride through town after the ceremony. It was absolutely the most magical surreal moment. The car was beeping and everyone was waving and sharing their congratulations.
Your sweet daughter, Holland was your flower girl. I’m sure that was incredibly special having her there. What do you think she thought of the big day?
I think she was overwhelmed by it and that she was nervous to get to the end of the aisle. All along, Jay and I had told her that it was her wedding, too and just before the ceremony she looked down the aisle and said, “I don’t want to get married!” and dumped the rose petals. Prior to the ceremony, I also told Holland, “If you just do this and take these pictures and drop the rose petals, I will buy you any toy you want.” Halfway through the ceremony, she looked at us and yelled, “I know what I want—Captain America!” It was too funny.
Both of your wedding looks were beautiful and I’d love to discuss them!
I’m very interested in fashion and I think I looked at literally every single wedding gown in the world. The only dress that really resonated with me with this Marchesa gown that was so dolce vita, reflecting Italy and romance. I didn’t even have a second choice. It was romantic and perfect for an Italian garden.
Your second look was a Naeem Khan Jumpsuit, which looked absolutely stunning on you. Why did you go with a jumpsuit?
This is my favorite piece I’ve ever owned. It is drop dead off the charts. During dessert, I slipped away to put it on and it was absolutely unique and perfect for dancing. I’ll definitely wear it again, possibly for Jay’s mother’s birthday party and also on the red carpet.
What advice do you have for brides creating a destination wedding on a budget?
I would say to always negotiate everything. Figure out the cost of buying things at home vs. the cost of buying overseas. For example, it was much less expensive to do menus in the United States and then carry them over with me. The lace and ribbons we also brought from the states because we got a good deal on them. Use the local elements where that makes more sense, like with the Italian wine. Get creative with the details!
What are your favourite gift ideas for the bridal party?
I think useful gifts are always a great idea. My bridesmaids wore silver and rose gold and because I knew they would be walking a lot, I gave them silver and rose gold Havainas sandals to change into.
Is there any other advice you would like to give to brides?
Three pieces of advice: First, eat! Eat, eat, eat, it’s so important to remember to eat and make sure you have some carbs and drink lots of water. Second, be in the moment. Really savour every moment and think, “Here I am in this magical dream.” Finally, stay with the groom as much as possible. Do not divide and conquer to talk to all the guests. Stay connected because ultimately this is your big day and you want to celebrate together.