It doesn’t get any better for the bride looking for a classic, old-world venue for her wedding day. When we recently visited the historic Villa Marco Polo Inn, located in Victoria’s Rockland neighbourhood, we had to share this find with brides in The Ring. We absolutely love this spectacular Inn with its Italian Renaissance architecture and magnificent gardens. The perfect site for a romantic, intimate wedding! While touring this five-star, elegant property, thoughts of turn-of-the-century celebrations or the days of Great Gatsby’s galas come to mind.
As you walk into the Heritage mansion, you’ll see that you can host your entire wedding at the Inn, making it possible for your closest family and friends to stay with you as the wedding of your dreams unfolds over a few days. Liam Morton and Eliza Livingston, owners, have created an exquisite atmosphere to bring that dream to a reality. “We offer a romantic backdrop to the union of two families, and the beginning of another.”
Possibly the best wedding present EVER…
The Georgian mansion was commissioned in 1923 by Major Fred Nation as a wedding present for his daughter, Helen Nation and her future husband, Roland Brackman Ker. They raised children and enjoyed grandchildren in the gracious residence. Owners Liam Morton and Eliza Livingston took over Villa Marco Polo in 2003, and turned the lovely home into the Villa Marco Polo Inn that is raved about worldwide.
Since it’s inception, the Villa Marco Polo has been the recipient of accolades from many sources. London’s Conde’ Nast Johansen named the named the Villa Marco Polo as their premium Vancouver Island property when they added Canada to the rosters in 2004. This stunning property was one of ten finalists in Most-Excellent Inn USA & Canada for 2010 and 2011, and in 2011 received the Excellence in Hospitality Award from the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association. A-5 Star Canada Select Property, the Villa Marco Polo, has consistently been awarded Best Places to Kiss status, and receives rave reviews from guests around the world!
Villa Marco Polo Inn is endorsed by Karen Brown Travel Guides, Select Registry Distinguished Inns, and Frommer’s Travel Guides. Liam comments, “Having studied at BCIT in Hospitality and Tourism, and worked for Relais & Chateaux properties, managing banquets, weddings, and other events, the high point in my professional career has been my participation in the creation and management of this stunning inn.
When it comes to weddings at the Villa, the same impeccable standards are set in motion by coordinators and staff. “Against the backdrop of the elegant Villa Marco Polo, we stage an unforgettable event. Our seamless coordination allows our guests, especially our brides and grooms, to focus on each other, and on their special day. We take great care in helping them plan the event of their dreams!”
The grand tour
To reach the Villa, you drive into the historical Rockland quarter of Victoria, filled with distinguished heritage homes. It’s hard to believe that you are just minutes from downtown and the Inner Harbour. The house is Tuscan in design, with a rich opulent feeling, yet grounded and comfortable. It combines the grace and style of another era with the comforts and luxuries of modern life. The apricot gold exterior will catch your eye as you park in the secluded brick driveway and take in the luxuriant growth of rhododendrons, azaleas, Garry oaks, beech trees, dogwood and evergreens. Whatever the season, the gardens are glorious! You are greeted by a welcoming staff member, who ushers you through the front door and into a lovely entry hall.
Looking around, you can understand why the mansion was named the Villa Marco Polo Inn, as the interior design evokes images from various countries along the Silk Road. You will actually feel as if you are in Tuscany or Umbria at times. The bedrooms, the Silk Road Suite, the Zanzibar Suite, the Persia Suite and the Alexandria Suite, feature double soaker tubs and separate tiled showers, romantic fireplaces, desks, private telephones, iPod docks with pre-loaded iPods, wireless internet, hardwood floors with Persian carpets, and premium king beds with fine linens. Fresh flowers fill the rooms, which are tastefully decorated with antiques and fine art from the proprietors’ family collections. In the afternoon, guests can enjoy tea and Amerone della Valpolicella, either in the tranquil gardens, or in front of the fire in the wood-paneled library.
Overlooking the Italianate gardens, the view from the back of the house is nothing short of spectacular. The centerpiece of these private, fabulous gardens is the reflecting pool with fountains. Brides often choose to float gardenias or roses in the pool, or surround it with glowing candles. The Wedding Ring found this spot to be so incredibly beautiful that we featured it in our debut Vancouver Island wedding magazine.
A sculptured wrought iron wedding arbour is located under an ancient spreading Garry oak tree on the west end of the lower garden. The upper garden has patio and seating areas, and a stone table where brides and grooms celebrate their unions, cut their wedding cakes, sip champagne, and savour the moments of their wedding day. Jim and Ana Elliot, who married Oct. 2, 2010, found this area compelling. “Our biggest reason for choosing the Villa Marco Polo Inn as our wedding location was the sheer beauty of the venue.”
When we asked Liam what he felt brought bridal couples to the Villa, his answer was, the Villa! “Primarily, it’s the property – the Villa Marco Polo, in all its elegance: the Italian renaissance architecture, the antique furnishings and art from all over the world, the splendid gardens with reflecting pool and fountains. If the fit is right, it’s an “Aha moment” for the bride and groom. For many, it has been an arduous search, yet when they walk through the Villa’s portals, they breathe a sigh of relief, and turn to each other with expressions of joy and relief- the most wonderful match has been made.”
Sian and Lindsey, married Aug. 22, 2011, experienced exactly this. “We both wanted a venue that offered something different than the “typical” banquet hall wedding. As it was to be a destination wedding for most of our family and friends, we knew that our guest list would be quite small. An intimate setting was a must, and we narrowed our search down to venues with outdoor facilities. As soon as I discovered the beautiful Marco Polo Villa on a web search, I eliminated all of the other locations we had been considering. The Villa and the gardens were exactly what we had dreamed of! It was an added bonus that we could reserve all of the suites, and have the Inn to ourselves for the entire wedding weekend!”
Wondering what to do with your family and guests while you are preparing for your wedding day? Innkeepers Liam and Danusia, as well as their talented staff, will arrange fine dining experiences for your guests, as well as activities such as whale watching, sailing, paddling, golfing, and touring local vineyards and the Gulf Islands. Spa treatments and esthetician services can be scheduled in the Villa’s Penthouse Spa Hamaam on the romantic top floor of the Villa, overlooking the Olympic Mountains and the Juan de Fuca Strait. It is a short and pleasant walk to the historic Craigdarroch Castle, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and the beautiful park-like gardens of Government House.
Grace and style
What keeps the Villa staff enthusiastic about weddings when they have already received so many accolades? “Weddings, like theatre, require creativity, attention to detail, an exquisite sense of timing, an adept ability to improvise, and an intense passion for the work. And like the array of people that work behind the scenes to present a flawless production on stage, we work behind the scenes as well, to produce the ultimate romantic event for our brides and grooms stepping through the matrimonial rite of passage. And each passage, each ritual, each celebration is unique, tailored specifically for each individual bride.”
“That zest for creativity, discovering the details that will make a certain event a singular one, keeps us eager to begin the day, to respond to the next call from a bride, to compose menus to suit specific requests, to confer with our favourite florists to find the perfect colours and blooms for an upcoming wedding. Each event assumes its own particular style with the assistance of our experienced and professional wedding co-coordinators and staff.”
Villa Marco Polo Inn offers ceremonies as well as receptions for the intimate wedding, which can be held in the house or in the gardens. For an inside weddings, a grand staircase lends itself to a graceful entry by the bridal party, and a number of elegant backdrops may be used for the ceremony itself. Garden events are held under tents, which span the gardens, and create a lovely effect as candles float in the fountains which form the centre of the reception area.
Sina and Lindsey, married August 22, 2011, really appreciated the beauty. “The Italian garden is beautiful by day and night, rain or shine (we experienced it all!). The lush greens of the garden looked stunning against the Villa’s warm gold exterior. The reflection pond in the centre gave it an old, European feeling. During the ceremony, the raindrops on the pond were breathtaking. At night, we had candles everywhere (around the pond, in the trees, on the tables). It was so romantic to dine by candle light, with the Villa lit up behind us. We felt like we were at an elegant dinner party in Europe. The setting was a dream.”
The Villa Marco Polo offers the guarantee that every bride planning a garden wedding is looking for – a Plan B for rain! The event coordinators make sure that every contingency is looked after, which bride, Lindsey, particularly appreciated! “Sina and I planned for sun during our garden wedding, but found the option of being able to use the Villa for guests to warm up/dry off, if needed, very appealing. It ended up POURING that morning so the house provided a comfortable shelter for all of us before the ceremony.”
Designing your villa wedding
The Villa started out as a local venue for local weddings, but word spread and this unique property quickly became an international destination wedding venue. For the event coordinators at Villa Marco Polo Inn, the key is putting together a day that will represent the couple’s sensibilities and style. “Spending time with the bride and groom, listening, discovering who they are, what their day looks like to them, how we can complement it, connecting the different wedding professionals, helps us design their day. Discussing the budget openly, and working with it, helps the couple to prioritize and make critical decisions regarding their event.”
Upon meeting with Eliza or Liam, who both serve as wedding/event coordinators for the Inn, a bridal couple will enjoy over 30 years collective experience in planning and coordinating weddings and events. The Villa has a limited list of preferred caterers, florists, photographers, and musicians with whom they have worked extensively over the years. They discuss the unique style and tone of each event with selected wedding professionals and then, after consultations with the bride and groom, Villa personnel engage the services required, essentially offering a built-in wedding planner!
The wedding coordinating is a real draw for busy local brides and destination brides alike. “Brides quickly realize that we can assist with absolutely everything, thereby removing many of the details that can seem overwhelming as they prepare for the big day. The actual coordinating begins, once all of the suppliers, purveyors, rental companies, and caterers have been selected. Then we begin building a menu and a time line for the wedding day. Numerous emails, phone calls and additional on site visits are schedule as necessary.”
Caroline was delighted with the idea of being free from dealing with the details. “Liam and Danusia arranged everything, including: rental chairs, caterers, and wines. I trusted them with these details, and could rest easy knowing there was not much that I had to do to plan for the wedding.”
Jim and Anna appreciated the suggestions that were made to them. “We both really liked having the option of holding our ceremony in the Villa’s beautiful garden, and having their help in planning our event- they offered to be in direct contact with vendors and to arrange for things like music, flowers, catering, etc. We also liked their suggestion of the signature champagne cocktail for guests to toast at the end of the ceremony.”
And Sina and Lindsey loved the confidence they were able to feel in Villa’s coordinators, which was very important to them as a destination wedding couple. “We weren’t able to visit Victoria for a couple of months so I had my fingers crossed that the Marco Polo Villa was as gorgeous in person as it was online. Danusia and I were in constant contact during that time. She was prompt and very helpful. In Febuary, Sina and I made the trip to Victoria. As soon as we walked into the house, Sina and I were in love. Liam and Danusia were very welcoming. After talking with them, we knew we would be taken care of, as they were both so knowledgeable and organized. They had numerous contacts for us (florist, cakes, decoration ideas,etc). It was very re-assuring to be in their care.”
Bride, Melissa Fedak, felt the same way. “I am so happy that we will look back on our wedding and have memories of the Villa. We could not have had a more perfect day and feel that they played a huge part in it. I truly feel that we had our fairy tale wedding there. A large part of that was due to the staff taking the stress out of the entire weekend.”
Romance on the wedding day
One of the wonderful aspects of the Villa Marco Polo Inn is that you have the house to yourselves, so to speak. Bride, Lindsey, described the effect this had on her wedding day. “We loved that we were able to reserve all of the rooms in the Villa (4) so we could have the place to ourselves. This worked out wonderfully for my bridesmaids and I, as we were able to have a relaxing morning on the day of the wedding. After a delicious breakfast prepared for us, our hair/makeup team arrived on location to get us all ready. It was unbelievably stress-free. Later that night, our guests mingled in the garden and inside of the Villa. We didn’t have the pressure to have to leave by a certain time and our guests loved that.”
The attention to detail for the special day starts in the gardens. Bride , Caroline, described them as being, “lush, green, fresh, fragrant, elegant, classic, Victorian, private, romantic, and quiet!” And, of course, this is a photographers dream. Lindsey loved that for her photos. “Also, the gorgeous rooms and décor provided a beautiful setting for our “getting ready” photos, and the Villa Marco Polo grounds had many unique opportunities for portraits. In the end, our photograph collection was stylistically very well co-ordinated (colors, themes, décor, etc) because so many “events” (getting ready, ceremony, reception) that occurred took place at the Villa Marco Polo.”
Jim and Anna couldn’t have been happier with their Villa experience. “We had a wonderful experience working with all the staff at the Villa. I cannot emphasize how wonderful they were - very warm and friendly as well as extremely helpful in putting us into contact with other vendors (for flowers, music, catering, cakes, justice of the peace etc.), and all their affiliated vendors were superb!”
For bride, Melissa, the answer to the perfect venue is simple. “If you want your wedding to run perfectly, and be perfect....have it at the Villa. The house and people are amazing, and your day will be too.”
While sitting in the Villa, one can imagine the days when staff would silently anticipate every need. Some things haven’t changed here! Villa Marco Polo staff is well known for their ability to quietly provide everything a bride and groom have requested. And they pride themselves on flexibility, being open to accommodating special requests and needs of the wedding couple and their guests.
Bride, Anna, was full of praise, “I believe that the Villa not only offers the most beautiful venue in the city, it also offers the best service bar none! I have never had such great service or met such genuinely warm, wonderful people as the staff at the Villa Marco Polo Inn.”
One of the wonderful experiences available at the Villa are the sumptuous, gourmet breakfasts featuring locally grown produce are served in the formal paneled dining room overlooking the garden, or in the sun-drenched Italian Orangerie. The relaxing breakfast can be followed by the gift opening, packing up all the personal items, and a very special farewell to the newlyweds, their friends and family. It is a great way to end a wonderful time at the Villa Marco Polo Inn.
Jim and Anna loved the time together with their guests. “The family breakfast we had the morning after the wedding was exquisite and a truly memorable experience for all.”
A few of our favourite things...
• The photo opportunities, just as bride, Caroline, did. “I have two pictures of our guests (in pairs, or other combinations), on a stone bench that was perfectly framed by lush vines. The pictures turned out absolutely perfect. They created amazing keepsakes – a reminder of our wedding and of the locale for all our guests. Many of these pictures have ended up in very prominent places in our guests’ homes.”
• How famous the Villa is! NUMEROUS media articles have been written extolling the Villa’s virtues!
• The popular mojitos! “Liam made the most amazing Mojitos to “toast” our wedding ceremony. This was a modern and cool twist on the traditional champagne, and our guests loved the cool drink on the hot day. The fresh taste completely complemented the lush and fragrant backyard.” – Caroline, bride
• We at the Ring love the Villa’s ability to deal with last minute plans. We tested this ourselves by giving them two days to plan an event – and they did it with no fuss and were ready and waiting when the TV cameras arrived. Impressive!
• How great this venue is, even in the face of less than perfect wedding weather. It’s not often that bridal couples mention this as a plus. Bride, Lindsey, who ran into rain on her wedding day told the Ring, “Strangely, my favourite memory of the day ended up being… the rain!”
• Lindsey continued her rainy story, “The gardens looked even more lush and romantic, and the sea of umbrellas made a unique background in all of the photos. The soaked VMP staff was on top of everything, including wiping water off stairs and chairs, re-lighting all of the wet candles, etc. I will never forget the laughter, the excitement, and the beauty of that rainy day. We wouldn’t have changed a thing. Not even the weather!”
• Weddings aren’t the only thing that the Villa excels at! Check out the wonderful romantic weekends available for at www.villamarcopolo.com!
Villa Marco Polo Inn is an upscale option for couples with a sophisticated wedding in mind. That being said, couples who have married at the Villa all agree that it is worth the cost! Bride Caroline stated, “We perceived real value for the price we paid.”
Bride, Lindsey, put it best. “From our initial email correspondence, Danusia came up with a cost estimate. It turned out to be very accurate! Sina and I were impressed. Liam and Danusia worked their magic to keep us within our budget. They emailed/called us frequently to keep us informed, and to let us know if there were any changes that would affect our total cost. Sina and I felt that the prices definitely matched the value we received. The VMP was worth every penny!”
For an outdoor wedding with roughly 80 people, the average bride and groom spend an average of $18,000 - $25,000. This includes the venue rental on the day of the wedding, full occupancy (4 suites + 1 room) for two nights (10 guests) and the Villa’s gourmet breakfasts, co-ordination fee, rentals (chairs, tables, cutlery, glassware, napkins, linens, etc.), staff, marquis style tent rentals, hors d'oeuvres and three course dinner (cocktail menu available as well), some alcoholic beverages, and taxes. Gratuities are an additional 15%.
Details, details, details:
• A $1,500.00 non-refundable deposit books your wedding date at Villa Marco Polo.
• The wedding steam recommends booking six to eight months ahead, if you are flexible with date.
Contacting the Villa Marco Polo Inn