From Scottish castles to Moroccan oases: Big-ticket wedding travel is back
If there was a theme to Michael Matthews and Alex Oechsel’s relationship, it was long distance.
A resident physician, Matthews is from eastern Kentucky. A wedding videographer, Oechsel was based in Indiana. They met on Tinder in 2015.
“Our relationship was set across many different cities because of Michael’s residency training,” Oechsel, 26, said. “We were in Florida at one point, then he went to California. We lived five hours away from each other. It was a lot of driving back and forth.”
But even before their eventual engagement, the couple knew that they wanted their wedding to be anything but downhome.
“Because Alex works in wedding videography, she’s very aware of the really awesome, amazing weddings people have,” Matthews, 31, said. “In 2015, it was still somewhat novel to have, you know, a real, serious relationship coming from a dating app. Our relationship was a little different, so we wanted our wedding to be a little different, too.”
For them, only one kind of wedding venue would do: a castle.
In June, after years of planning, an engagement in 2020, plus the pandemic, Alex and Michael finally said “I do” at Turin Castle, a 10-room, private five-star resort within the walls of a 16,500-square-foot, 17th-century stone fortress, two hours north of Edinburgh on Scotland’s east coast. “It’s just the romance of it,” said Matthews. “You become king and queen for a day. It’s a fairytale.”
“I’m a fan of the ‘Outlander’ series, so that may have been a bit of an influence,” added Oechsel. “But we also wanted to honor our families in a special way and take them on a week-long trip.”
Their ceremony, attended by 16 close family members, included bagpipes and a handfasting ritual organized by the castle’s owner and operator Yvonne Corbett.
“The night before our wedding, Yvonne told us about the history of the quaich ritual, a sort of cup or bowl with two handles that leaders would share to demonstrate peace between the clans,” said Oeschsel. “So we kind of incorporated that into our ceremony.”
Corbett says that all of her weddings are fully bespoke experiences so that no two are ever the same — although she does keep half a mile of red carpet handy for everybody. While the sky’s-the-limit approach to her weddings makes it hard to give a starting price, this year’s Oscars gave us a hint. Prices for the castle are upon application — note that a three-night stay was included in the 2022 celebrity gift bag and claimed to be worth about $50,000.
But while Alex and Michael’s dream wedding went off without a hitch — thanks to Corbett’s hands-on help organizing everything from catering to family excursions, they say — they’ll be the first to admit that planning a destination wedding in a historic venue isn’t for the faint of heart.
“We had a fair amount of calls with different people who were in charge of different castles,” said Oechsel. “We just really wanted someone who was going to help us through the experience, because we were so far away.”
Wedding planner JoAnn Gregoli, owner of Elegant Occasions, said more couples are opting to turn their weddings into extravagant vacations. But, she warns, without local expertise, weddings in dreamy historic locales can become nightmares. She recommends using a planner that knows the venue well, as well as local customs. Historic venues can come with unexpected limitations, from lighting to kitchen space.
“These days, usually with Americans, the word ‘exotic’ comes up,” Gregoli said. “That’s why places like Dubai and Marrakech have been a big trend lately.”
One of her favorite Moroccan venues is Oberoi Marrakech, which only opened in 2019, but was built in the style of a 14th-century palace set within 28 acres of Mediterranean orchards and centuries-old olive groves. Modern facilities, plus “exotic” historic charm? Bingo.
The five-star resort has 84 rooms, a massive spa and three restaurants serving both international and authentic Moroccan fare.
Ceremonies can happen anywhere on the property, but many couples choose Les Jardins des Oliviers, a grove of 3,000 olive trees; the Grand Canal, a 120-meter-long strip of shimmering water that bisects the resort, or on a majestic patio inspired by the 14th-century Medersa Ben Youssef (one of Marrakech’s most famous historic monuments). Room rates start at $865, and buying out the resort requires a two-night stay.
“You feel like you’re in a palace, bar none,” Gregoli said. “It’s the most serene place I’ve ever seen in my life. I felt at peace.”
Turkey also checks the “exotic” box for adventurous couples. In August, Six Senses Kocatas Mansions opened a new dedicated wedding venue in Istanbul. It offers all the modern perks in a historic setting in the Sariyer district on the European side of the ancient metropolis.
Invite your third cousins because in Turkey, weddings are big.
With 4,305 square feet of indoor space and 8,611 of outdoor space, the venue can accommodate up to 450 people for cocktails and 350 for seated events. It also comes with a dedicated wedding concierge, bridal hammam services, custom menus and 270-degree views of the iconic Bosphorus Strait.
Prices start at roughly $294.
But whether it’s the Middle East, North Africa or a gamble with the Scottish weather, the fundamentals are the same — it’s about creating weddings that are so interesting “people remember every detail,” Gregoli said.
For Michael and Alex, their wedding was all that and more. “It was the most magical experience and I wouldn’t have done anything differently,” said Oechsel. “I have all of those memories. I hope our children do destination weddings.”