Destination Wedding: By the Sea, with Style

By Christie Matheson | Boston Weddings |

For Lauren and Edward Raffoni, it had to be Newport.


THIS BEAUTIFUL LITTLE CITY ABOUT 30 MILES SOUTH of Providence, a summer playground that’s rich in history and elegance, was exactly where the
Boston-based Raffonis wanted their destination wedding to be. “We’ve both spent many summers there with friends, and when we want to get away, that’s where we go,” Lauren says. They love it, she explains, because of the feeling they get there and nowhere else: “Edward always says as soon as he gets to Newport, a sense of calm comes over him.”

They wanted to share this relaxing vacation destination—and its array of fun activities (sailing the harbor, hiking the Cliff Walk, ogling the mansions of the Gilded Age)—with their wedding guests. Doing so, however, required some patience.

“We had to have a long engagement,” Lauren says, “because places in Newport book up so far in advance.” That’s especially true for prime wedding season—from late May to September—when places get booked 18 months (and more) ahead. For anyone who dreams of a summer wedding in Newport, Lauren and the wedding-planning pros we quizzed offer this key piece of advice: “Book early!”

Spot-Check

IT’S PRACTICALLY NEVER TOO SOON TO CHOOSE locations for your Newport wedding events. Think about how many guests you’ll have and the vibe you want for your celebration. While you can have a wedding of just about any size, from an intimate families-only gathering to a sprawling affair for 500 or more, most Newport reception sites—think lavish mansions, dramatic pavilions and exquisite hotels—have a certain air of grandeur.

Historic Newport “cottages” such as Astors’ Beechwood Mansion (401-846-3772, astorsbeechwood.com) and Rosecliff (401-847-1000, newportmansions.org) are ideal venues if you seek a fairy-tale wedding that smacks of a bygone era—Beechwood even comes complete with a gilded ballroom. Somewhat more low-key, but still in the dramatic-mansion genre, is OceanCliff Hotel (401-848-0795, newportexperience.com), where “the view is ridiculous,” says Kate Parker, owner of Kate Parker Weddings in Somersworth, New Hampshire. “It also has old-world charm, and you get great access to the spaces in the house.”

For smaller weddings, it’s tough to beat the luxury of The Chanler at Cliff Walk (401-847-1300, thechanler.com) , which Parker calls “one of my favorite spots.” This award-winning hotel opened in 2003 in a restored mansion at one end of the Cliff Walk, and if you’re planning on 125 or fewer guests, it’s the perfect location for an over-the-top, unforgettable experience.

Belle Mer (401-841-0330, bellemernewport.com) was the site of the Raffonis’ reception, which kicked off at 6:30 on a beautiful August evening. “Sunset started during our cocktail hour,” Lauren says. “It was so beautiful.” Located on Newport’s Goat Island at the former site of the Newport Regatta Club, Belle Mer offers water views from almost every angle and a more contemporary (though still classic) aesthetic than other Newport locations. “We love working at Belle Mer,” Parker says, “because we’re modern, clean-line designers, and having a white-based place is phenomenal. There’s a little LA style there.” Lauren adored the look of her event as well as the service, which she describes as “unbelievable.”

Reserving early also is important for rehearsal dinner venues, vendors such as florists and photographers, spas and salons—and especially rooms for wedding guests. “Brides should reserve blocks of rooms for guests,” says Alexis Eliopoulos O’Mara, owner of Unique Weddings by Alexis in Boston. “And guests should call early for their rooms. They should keep in mind that many places require a minimum two- or three-night stay.” Be aware that many Newport churches won’t hold weddings for non-parishioners, so that’s another topic to research right away—or opt to have your ceremony and reception at the same place, which is possible at most major Newport venues.

Nautical Notes

WHILE A NEWPORT WEDDING WILL certainly be elegant, it can play off the more lighthearted elements of an ocean-adjacent location to beautiful effect. For wedding colors, think about playful beachy brights, or watery blues and yellows—the Raffonis used those colors, and the bridesmaids’ flowers were blue hydrangeas and pale yellow roses. Or, for something a bit bolder, “crisp navy blue accents, maybe with a punch of lime, orange or hot pink,” says Parker.

Incorporate seaside themes into your wedding stationery—the Raffonis used a starfish motif on their save-the-date cards; seashells, sailboats or anything nautical also would be charming. Consider making welcome bags or baskets for your guests and including something beach-worthy (flip-flops or a towel, perhaps?), a custom-labeled bottle of wine from Newport Vineyards and “maps of Newport and a gift certificate to a great local restaurant,” O’Mara says. Add cookies in fun shapes for an extra treat—Lauren tucked starfish-shaped cookies into goodie bags for her out-of-town guests, made by her wedding-cake bakery, Middletown, Rhode Island-based Cappuccinos Bakery • Café, which also does lighthouses, lobsters, sea horses, fish and more.

Fun and Games

WHEN GUESTS SPEND A FEW DAYS IN Newport, the wedding is the main attraction—but there are plenty of other things that make a two- or three-night stay worthwhile. Water lovers can take advantage of the area’s beautiful beaches, rent kayaks from Kayak Newport, schedule a sail with America’s Cup Charters or take a sailing lesson from Sail Newport. Culture buffs should tour at least one Newport mansion and see the Museum of Yachting to get a taste of Newport’s seafaring history; tennis fans will love the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Downtown Newport is filled with charming boutiques and cafes, and is a lovely place for your guests to spend an afternoon (and a little money). O’Mara recommends visiting Fort Adams, the historic military stronghold that operated from 1824 until 1950.

Arrange your rehearsal dinner—or a welcome dinner for all of your out-of-town guests—at a waterfront restaurant such as 22 Bowen’s Wine Bar & Grille or The Black Pearl, or host a clambake on the beach or on a boat to kick off your festivities in true Newport style.