A wedding reception in a field with benches made from bales of hay, bouquets made with wildflowers and caper leaves and guests dancing on the beach to the sound of the tsambouna. These are just a small taste of the experiences Anais Evripiotis has offered to couples looking to tie the knot on a Greek island. In 2014 Evripiotis founded La Fete, a company that has helped hundreds of couples from abroad turn their big days into unique gastromic and cultural experiences. As the wedding season reaches its peak, she spoke to us about the burgeoning industry of destination weddings in Greece.
When we hear about destination weddings in Greece, what comes to mind are Chinese couples getting married on Santorini. Is it primarily Asian couples who opt for these kinds of weddings?
The Chinese are the group that get the most media attention. Usually however, they don’t organize full wedding events – instead the couples come alone, or in small groups, they perform an exchange of vows somewhere with a nice view, they take an impressive photograph and then leave. We don’t take on these types of weddings because we are more interested in quality, as opposed to purely commercial experiences. We do not focus just on the photo shoot but on the whole Greek experience.
We have heard of recent weddings of foreign couples in Greece that have cost astronomical sums. Is that generally the rule?
Those weddings are rare and, when they happen, everybody hears about them. The total cost of a wedding depends on the type of services and the number of guests. For a quality wedding with 100 guests on a Greek island for a 3-day period and with full services aside from accommodation, the cost comes to about 20,000 euros.
What does a comprehensive package include?
It lasts for 3 days and includes a beach party and a boat trip on the day before, the celebration itself and events the day after. We take care of all of the graphic design, the invitations, setting up a website with all of the necessary information for guests and, of course, the planning of the wedding – arranging everything from sound and light systems and the DJ, to makeup artists and hairstylists, to transporting guests. We even arrange boats if necessary.
What is your target group?
90% of our clients are from abroad. People from Australia, New Zealand, the US, France, Spain, Italy and so on who have either never been to the island we suggest, or have very positive memories from past vacations there. They are people who appreciate the Greek aspect, combined with the good weather, the sea, the architecture that will form part of their wedding photographs, and the good food. Additionally there are many people of Greek descent living abroad who want to experience this important moment here in their family’s homeland.
What are your criteria in selecting the island?
If the couple asks for a small, virgin island which is not touristy and is relatively low-cost then we opt for destinations such as Folegandros, Anafi, or Antiparos. If they want 5 star hotels and luxury services then we suggest islands such as Mykonos, Paros, Kythnos or Santorini.
Does the religion of the couple often limit their options?
There are Catholic churches on more islands than many people think. We also arrange Jewish weddings, civil ceremonies, as well as exchanges of vows on the beach. However we also have cases of people of Greek descent living abroad who have explored their roots and have been baptized as Greek Orthodox in the US purely to be able to get married in a small church in Greece.
Are destinations weddings an important part of the tourism industry for Greece?
Destination weddings are one way to extend the tourist season on the islands. They usually take place in the low season – in the months of May, June, September and until the end of October and that is both better for those having the wedding because they pay less for services and enjoy the islands with fewer people and more comfortable temperatures, and for the local businesses who get a boost in the off season. Usually guests will stay for about a week and this is often extended. And of course every wedding with an average of 150 guests from abroad is an advert of the island to 150 potential future tourists who may wish to return to Greece for a vacation.
Wedding planning is an American tradition. In Greece it has started to develop recently and year by year it is gaining ground. What sets us apart is that we offer a product that promotes the Greek element. For instance we don’t suggest to someone who is coming to Folegandros to use imported flowers, but ceramic pots with red geraniums. We won’t suggest Scottish smoked salmon, but fresh anchovy or, if their budget is higher, lobster. We will never do something that is not in keeping with the culture of the island. We work in total cooperation with the locals and we want to support them.
Are couples who have not been to Greece before open to your suggestions?
Very much so, as long as you earn their trust. That is why we often take the step of sending them products to try. On top of that, in order to convince our clients in say, London, to order wine from a good local winery, we research where they can try the wine and send them there for a wine tasting. We do that with other Greek products as well.
The wedding dinner always has a Greek menu. We focus on the products that are produced on the islands – as a dip we often opt for fava (split pea), for main courses octopus, squid or fresh fish. Instead of modern desserts we offer local honey with almonds, or pasteli (honey and sesame seeds) wrapped in lemon leaves. The cocktails at the open bar are based on local spirits like mastiha, ouzo and tsipouro. Even the tablecloths are sourced from Greek businesses.
For a wedding on Folegandros we had been asked to gather wildflowers from around the island and thats how we had bouquets with everything from wheat to caper leaves – that is an exclusive service we can offer for small weddings. We have even arranged receptions in fields. The guests removed their high heels, took off their ties and sat on comfortable benches made from hay!
What is the latest trend in your field?
The renewal of vows. There is a new trend of organizing parties for 10-year wedding anniversaries or even for 50-year anniversaries on Greek islands. So together with the 30-year-olds who come to get married, we also have couples in their 70s who want to celebrate their anniversaries with their friends.
What memories would you like to leave them with?
Ones of Greek hospitality. The fact that they will pay for a few services and the owner will do everything to make them happy. At the weddings that take place in the squares of villages, we always lay a table for the locals, for the priest and the mayor like in the old days. In Sifnos we include a traditional band, in Anafi the last tsambouna player of the island came and played. Last year in Syros we had one magical moment where the welcome drink was offered on the beach. The musicians came and the French guests threw off their shoes and started dancing on the sand as the sun went down!