While they were dating at James Madison University, Kelly and Wesley Smith of Chesterfield enjoyed many hours hiking together in the Blue Ridge Mountains. When the time came to plan their wedding, the two knew exactly where they wanted to say their "I do's" — at their old hiking haunt.
"We Googled ‘Blue Ridge Mountain weddings' and found Montfair Resort Farm," Kelly Smith says.
The eco-friendly farm (434-823-5202 or montfairresortfarm.com), located nine miles north of Crozet, offers six simple, cozy cabins as well as a recreation hall with a fireplace and a deck overlooking the farm's large lake. Most couples hold their wedding in Montfair's expansive field because of its 360-degree, panoramic view of the mountains.
Montfair fit the Smiths' vision for their nuptials: a weekend destination wedding that would provide not only the ceremony and reception site but also lodging for the couple and their guests. "We wanted a place where we felt comfortable and could relax," says Smith, whose entire bridal party stayed on-site. "We didn't want anything stuffy like a hotel."
The Smiths used the lodge for their rehearsal dinner, reception and a large post-wedding breakfast. After the rehearsal dinner, they headed to a scheduled bonfire at the lake. The weekend proved to be a bonding experience for the couple's families. "Our two dads sat down and talked around the bonfire," Smith says. "At our reception, we had a family-style dinner, where everyone passed bowls of food around. We all sat and chatted."
Montfair hosted 21 weddings in 2008, and 18 of the parties booked the cottages for their weekend events, says Leora Sheridan Vincenti, who operates the resort. She notes that "people from all over the country" book the resort.
Wedding couples also have discovered Church Point Manor (757-460-2657 or churchpointmanor.com), a stately, historic bed-and-breakfast filled with European and American antiques in Virginia Beach. The 1860s brick farmhouse has 13 guest rooms, all with private baths and working fireplaces. The adjacent carriage house holds a two-room suite. The 15-acre property also includes a pool and tennis courts.
Most couples book the entire house for their weekend wedding, opting to exchange their vows on the front lawn. Most come from Richmond, Northern Virginia, Washington, Philadelphia, New York City and New Jersey. "We have even had groups from Greece, Switzerland and Belgium," says Finis Craft II, executive director and events coordinator. "The trend now is to have a destination wedding."
Craft believes the economy may play a role in the popularity of weekend wedding packages. Couples may find that renting the entire property at Church Point costs less than renting another venue and paying for guests' hotel rooms. "Once you rent the space here," Craft adds, "no one else can come onto the property except your guests."
Economic interests figured into the wedding planning of Richmond resident Sonia Marfatia-Goode and her husband, who first considered getting married on a beach in Mexico. Instead, they married on Aug. 23, 2008, at Historic Mankin Mansion (804-737-7773 or historicmankinmansion.com), a 7,000-square-foot homestead in eastern Henrico. "We realized that the wedding in Mexico wouldn't be cost-effective," Goode says. "We chose Historic Mankin Mansion not only because the grounds were beautiful but also because it was cost-effective."
Marfatia-Goode, who had both a Hindu and Christian ceremony, had talked with several wedding venues in the Richmond area and found their quotes higher than Mankin's. "A lot of it was unbelievable," she says, noting that many did not allow outside caterers. That was important to Marfatia-Goode because she wanted to serve authentic Indian food at her reception. "Mankin allowed us to use outside vendors. There were no restrictions."
Another factor in her decision: Convenience. Many of Marfatia-Goode's family members lived out of town. "It helped ease things because we were on-site," she says. "The wedding planner worked closely with us. She took care of us."
Owners Paula and Martin Ramirez renovated Mankin with wedding weekends in mind. The property, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, can host 250 people for the wedding and reception, and 22 for the entire weekend.
To accommodate overflow guests, Ramirez has arrangements with other hotels in the area to provide corporate rates. "We shuttle them back and forth," she says.
In addition to wedding and reception facilities, Mankin also has a downstairs game room complete with a pool table and poker room, where men in the wedding party can relax before and after the ceremony.
Ramirez estimates that 99 percent of the weddings on the property are weekend events. "About 30 percent are weddings of people from out of state," she adds. "The rest are from Richmond and the Washington, D.C., area."
Brides enjoy the weekend soirees because they don't have to worry about last-minute details. "Weddings should be calm, relaxed family reunions," Ramirez says. "This gives them the time to relax. Everything is preplanned. That takes a lot of the pressure off. All they have to do is go through the motions."
Brides who are married at Clifton Inn (434-971-1800 or cliftoninn.net) in Charlottesville can choose from a variety of fun services during the weekend. "All the girls in the wedding party, for example, can participate in a cooking class with the chef," says Brigitte Belanger, director of sales and marketing. "They can have a private Zumba class or massages. They can tour nearby wineries in a limo. The possibilities are endless."
Clifton Inn was built in 1899 by Thomas Jefferson's son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph. It features 18 elegant guest rooms in the main house and adjoining cottages. Couples can choose to hold their rehearsal dinner at the pool, in the wine cellar or on the veranda of the 100-acre site. Ceremonies are held on the croquet lawn.
If a bride and groom are working within a budget, they can book one night instead of two. "We have a lot of smaller-scale weddings where they stay only one night," says Crystal Whitaker, Clifton's meeting and event coordinator. "We cater to the bride and groom and their families."
Belanger believes the word is spreading when it comes to destination weddings. "This is an experience that is unique," she says. "The inn is their playground. They can fish, walk the trails, play tennis or swim in the pool."
Couples, she has found, become more creative when they aren't rushed. "At one of our pre-rehearsal dinners the couple had a treasure hunt that became a family-building activity," Belanger says. "It was a clever way to [get to know] one another."
Whether you want to treasure-hunt or simply kick back with family and friends before saying "I do," you're sure to find a weekend wedding destination in Virginia.