A Truly French Affair! By Ashley Wynne

I had the pleasure of being invited to my friend Johanna Stansfield’s wedding in France in June of this year. We went to university together in Montréal, Canada (which is where I still live), but we haven’t seen each other in many years so in addition to celebrating Johanna’s marriage to Thomas Fresneau, I was also looking forward to catching up with my friend!

Jo and Thom had rented a chateau in the country for the whole weekend, which was lovely because it meant that I could come a few days early to get over jet lag and help them set up. Staying in the chateau was a dream – it felt as though I was in a period film set in the 1700s with all its antique furniture and classical music that kept wafting through the walls!

The day of the wedding was completely magical! The weather was perfect and the setting was perfect for the family ceremony and reception. The meal was exquisite and Jo and Thom had made an amazing playlist for dancing that lasted until 4:30AM!

Needless to say, I decided it was my obligation to share this story, and so I have interviewed Jo for everyone to have a peek through this tale as well! Read on, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

So tell me about yourself and Thom!

I was born in France to British parents. My family moved to Arizona, USA, when I was 10 years old. I moved back to Europe to do a Masters in translation in 2009, which is when I met Thom. Thom was born in Lyon, France. He went to university in Brittany, and then moved to Grenoble for work, which is where we both met!

How did the two of you meet?

We met during a New Year’s party in a chalet in the French Alps, in a small skiing village called the Grand Bornand. The chalet is quite rustic; it has electricity and heating but no running water. We got to know each other on the morning of January the 1st while cleaning the cold, hardened cheese from the New Year’s dinner off of the pots and pans! I remember Thom telling me about his grandmother and his job. We immediately felt at ease with each other and spent hours chatting away.

Give me a little peek into the proposal!

Thom proposed to me during my birthday dinner in a gourmet restaurant in France. He was a little nervous and wasn’t able to concentrate on the menu, so decided to propose right at the beginning of dinner! It was a very romantic setting and we had a fantastic meal that we’ll never forget!

What made you decide on the wedding location?

In France you must have a family tie or some kind of connection to the place where you have your official civil ceremony. We decided to have the ceremony in the village where Thom’s father grew up and now lives, called Poncin. The rest of his family also lives nearby, so it was a practical choice in that sense. We also felt much attached to the region as we spent a lot of weekends there mountain biking, climbing and hiking.

And now about the location about itself! How would you describe it?

For the wedding reception, we chose the Chateau de Montplaisant, which is located about 30 minutes away from Poncin in a neighbouring village. It is an old family-owned castle, very well preserved, with a lush green garden at the back and surrounded by woods. The stone walls of the castle are covered with vines. It has a kitchen big enough to feed about 40 people and a beautiful dining hall with big bay windows giving onto the garden. The bedrooms are all decorated as if they were from the 17th century – with floral wallpaper and king-sized canopy beds. We felt like we should have been wearing ballroom gowns!

The ceremony looks incredible from the photographs!

We chose to have the wedding ceremony in the chateau’s garden. We were very lucky with the weather as it had been raining for days before. The sun came out just as the ceremony began! The theme for the wedding was bikes (we’re avid bikers!).

Thom’s father built and organized a little bike parade so that we could make a grand entrance! We were pulled along in a chariot by Thom’s father on a bike, followed by a host of friends riding a funny assortment of tandem bikes, unusual bike contraptions and chariots – all built by Thom’s father!

Both Thom and I love to travel and have lived in many different places. To celebrate our eclecticism, my mother concocted a cocktail made up of a variety of beverages which represented every place we had lived or travelled to. The cocktail was composed of Chartreuse (a green, plant-based liqueur made by monks in the mountains near Grenoble), Beaujolais wine from the vineyards near Lyon, cider from Brittany, Malbec wine from Argentina, tequila from Mexico, and many many more ingredients! To consummate our marriage, we both drank the cocktail from a beautifully-designed bowl made by a potter friend of my mother’s!

I heard you invested in a recycled wedding dress!

My wedding gown was actually a hand-me-down from an acquaintance! I was having trouble figuring out where I would buy my dress – Geneva is very expensive and I didn’t really know where else to shop. A friend of my mother’s suggested that we stop by to take a look at her daughter’s wedding dress. I didn’t expect much of it as I thought it would be unlikely that we would have similar tastes. I ended up loving it!

It was champagne-coloured with a short train that gave the dress an A-line shape. It had a thin tulle top layer, studded with sparkling silver beads and pearls in an elegant plant-like pattern covering much of the dress and train.

The dress was too big and needed a lot of adjustments. We quickly contacted a local seamstress to see if she could get it to fit me properly and she managed to finish the job before the end of our holiday! The daughter who originally bought the dress was very generous and offered it to me for free. We both really liked the idea of having a recycled wedding dress, and she was happy to know that it would be used again!

Finally, where will you celebrate your honeymoon?

We have decided to go to Patagonia for our honeymoon, in the southern parts of Chile and Argentina. We love spending time in the mountains and Patagonia is well known for mountain sports. We are also planning on having children soon, and want to take the opportunity to do a final holiday in the mountains on our own, before any babies arrive. We will be spending Christmas and New Years in Patagonia, which is summertime over there. We are already counting down the days!

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