Pei Pei Chan and Christian Mirabella of Washington, D.C., are an international couple with a passion for travel. So what better way to celebrate than with a romantic destination wedding—in a 12th-century Italian castle, to boot? On June 22, 2012, the couple tied the knot in the groom's small island hometown of Siracusa, Sicily.
"I'm Chinese-American, and he's Italian," Pei Pei says. "We wanted an international wedding, and Sicily is so romantic. We got married at the Cathedral of Siracusa, the most important church in the city. The reception was at Azienda Agricola Pupillo, a vineyard owned by Christian's friends, which has a castle on the grounds."
To honor the globe-trotting couple, the bride's cousin designed their invitations to look like boarding passes; they also featured a wedding logo that combined the Chinese character for "love" with a trinacria, the symbol of Sicily.
"There were a lot of dresses I loved, but none of them worked for a grand cathedral. Then I tried on this beautiful blush-and-nude Vera Wang ball gown. The coloring complemented my skin tone—it just stood out," says the bride. "I loved how light it felt, even though it was a ball gown."
The bridesmaids (pictured with Pei Pei and her mom) wore Amsale dresses of their own choosing in slate blue. "I picked soft, romantic colors to complement the location—a white church set against a blue sky," says the bride. They carried soft-pink and white flowers to complement the bride's own romantic bridal bouquet.
Despite the town's uneven terrain and centuries-old stone streets, Pei Pei walked to the ceremony in jewel-encrusted Christian Dior stilettos.
The ring bearer, Emanuele, and flower girl, Federica, headed toward the church with their father.
Pei Pei, her dad, and her friend (and hairstylist) Rachel Reyes got ready to enter the cathedral. The bride says of a memorable moment during the wedding: "My father cried during our father-daughter dance. He told me I made him cry twice in one day."
The Cathedral of Siracusa was built around the columns of an ancient Greek temple to Athena. "Without a doubt, it was the perfect place for our ceremony," Pei Pei says. To make sure the American guests understand the homily, Father Tito Marino asked Christian to summarize it in English. The ceremony arrangements contained hydrangeas, orchids, phalaenopsis, viburnum opulus, roses, and lisianthus.
The just-married couple took a walk before heading to the ancient castle for their reception. "We got married in a grand Italian cathedral and had a reception at a castle," says the bride. "What more could a girl ask for?"
At the cocktail hour, guests were treated to wine, granitas, and a stunning view of Azienda Agricola Pupillo's vineyards.
Pei Pei says her only regret about the wedding is "That my appetite wasn't bigger! For the cocktail hour, there were about ten stations of Sicilian delicacies, but I didn't even see some of them because I was so busy. This was a meal that I'd been salivating and dreaming about, so I couldn't believe I woke up the next morning hungry!"
Set between the castle and the wine rooms where Pupillo's vintages are stored, each of the two long tables held more than 100 people.
The menu card—which described a four-course Sicilian feast of panzotti, fusilli, red snapper, and flan of vegetables—was adorned with a sprig of fresh sage. The newlyweds sat at the head of the table, taking it all in. "It was wonderful to see friends and family from all over the world on our special day—including two friends who live in Afghanistan!" says the bride.
The angel cake was pure Sicilian, with fresh wild strawberries and tiers encrusted with pistachios. There were also 30—yes, 30—different Italian desserts on the buffet, from cannoli and cassata to profiteroles and sugared almonds. The couple gave each guest a bottle of the vineyard's moscato (labeled with their wedding logo) as a favor.
Christian and Pei Pei's first dance was to the Blue Danube waltz, by Johann Strauss.
As she reflects on her wedding, Pei Pei's number-one tip for brides is to "Stay organized! It was no small feat to plan a destination wedding, especially with the language barrier. The reward was hearing from all our guests about what an amazing time they had!"
Ceremony Venue: Cathedral of Siracusa, Siracusa, Italy || Reception Venue: Azienda Agricola Pupillo || Bride's Wedding Dress: Vera Wang || Bride's Shoes: Christian Dior || Groom's Suit: Pal Zileri || Bridesmaids' Dresses: Amsale || Flower Girl Dress: Pedrini; 011-39-0931-441-757 || Ring Bearer Outfit: Bimbus || Florist: Verdechiara; 011-39-0931-46-2371 || Caterer: Navarria || Stationery: Modified Concepts || Rentals: Navarria || Entertainment: Quartetto Eurialo || Photography: Kate Headley