Getting married — to quote a well-worn phrase — just ain’t what it used to be. Not all that long ago, many brides exchanged vows with their grooms after walking down the aisle of the local church, organ music swelling in the background. Today, couples are pledging to love, honor, and cherish each other on a sandy beach, among the gravestones in a cemetery, in the stands at Yankee Stadium — even while sky-diving. Along with its laundry list of historic properties and bucolic farms, the Valley offers several uncommon sites — from an 18th-century barn to a replica of a Norman castle — where you can begin your life of wedded bliss.
Paul Spencer is in love with his old Dutch barn in Ancramdale. Madly in love. “I have the privilege to have a cathedral in my backyard,” he says. “We don’t realize quite how unique our Dutch heritage is. This is a medieval structure; it very much shares the same DNA with the medieval cathedrals of Europe.”
Luckily for Spencer, quite a few brides and grooms seem to be in love with his barn, too. And even better, they are willing to fork over upwards of $10,000 for the privilege of declaring their own love beneath the historic planks of wood. “The weddings were kind of accidental,” says Spencer, whose amusing tale of finding this structure (part of what he calls “his barn-sized mid-life crisis”), disassembling it, and moving it to his property can be found on the barn’s website.
“It’s a lot of work,” he adds, noting that he gets involved in each celebration and has to make sure that everything is working properly, that tents are set up in the right place, etc. This copywriter-turned-barn-geek also provides referrals for caterers, tent suppliers, port-a-potty companies, and other vendors.
Spencer says that most people opt to have the ceremony outside the barn; since the space only holds about 100 diners, many people also rent a tent that they pitch out back. While all types of brides and grooms have gotten hitched on his property, Spencer notes that professionals in their early 30s make up the typical couple. “It seems like everybody is from Brooklyn,” he notes. And the fact that his barn is located within two hours of Manhattan is — of course — a plus.
Getting married in a barn is “a vision that a lot of people just have in their head — I’m not sure where they got it,” he says. “At one wedding, I was out picking up horse manure with a fork and I can hear these two old Jewish couples — they’re unsteadily walking across the grass — and one of them was saying, ‘Why would somebody get married in a place like this?’ And the other one replies, ‘I guess it’s the thing with the kids now.’ They obviously saw no logic in it. But this has been going on for a while now.”
105 Simons Rd, Ancramdale
Captain John “Duke” Panzella loves a good wedding. In fact, he’ll happily bump a scheduled cruise on the River Rose, his 100-foot paddle-wheel boat that is docked in Newburgh, if a couple wants to tie the knot on the river. “I do about 15 weddings a year,” says Panzella, who has seen it all during his time at the helm: “Young couples who don’t want to be sitting in a square room somewhere; second marriages where they are looking for something different and more intimate. Now, we’re booking a few gay weddings, too.”
The boat holds up to 150 guests, although Panzella will do a wedding for as few as 25 people. He offers full catering services — “everything from Cheerios and milk up to white-glove service” — with a popular beef, chicken, and fish buffet. Other services — like an open bar and music — are extra. While couples are welcome to bring in their own vendors, Panzella’s crew can “handle everything, up to and including decorating the boat,” he says. “Often, the bride and groom don’t want to be bothered. They just want to come on the boat and party.” To that end, there are two bars, two dance floors, and “everybody always has a blast. It is the uniqueness of the boat. It’s an authentic Mississippi casino boat. You can even go and smoke cigars on the upper deck.”
The bridal couple can determine the boat’s route (dependent, of course, on weather, river traffic, and other factors) for the four-hour cruise. “We favor the southern route,” says Panzella. “From Newburgh down to West Point is one of the most beautiful parts of the entire river. It’s full of history, too.”
Seasickness and bad weather are not problems, according to the captain, because the River Rose is extremely stable and the large banquet room is heated. Who needs the Love Boat with all this intimate customer service? Well, there is one thing that Panzella can’t do for the happy couple. “I can’t marry anybody. I don’t have that authority,” he says. Yet he’s more than happy to hire someone who can.
70 Front St, Newburgh
Bard College seemed to be the ideal place for Adam Brown and Jessica Anzelone to hold their nuptials. After all, they met on the campus when Jess was an undergraduate (Adam was living in nearby Germantown) and they got engaged in a particularly picturesque spot there on a snowy afternoon in 2008. “The campus has always been a really big part of our relationship,” says Brown. Still, the couple was surprised when the folks at Bard called them back and said, “We have an idea — we don’t know if you’ll go for it.”
Luckily, they did.
Bard officials wanted to try having a wedding at the Spiegeltent — the elaborate hand-hewn pavilion that is constructed each summer for Bard’s celebrated SummerScape performing arts festival. “We were their guinea pigs, which was really exciting,” says Brown. There was one hitch, though — it was only available for one day that summer. “That left us just more than two months to plan our whole wedding,” says Jess.
“Also, it was sight unseen, which was a little scary. But we just went for it.”
Although it was a tad nerve-wracking when the Spiegeltent was still under construction the day before their June 2008 ceremony, the couple was captivated by the circular space. “The pictures didn’t do it justice,” says Anzelone. “It was so ornate.” At approximately 4,500 square feet with a capacity of 250 people, the interior of the Spiegeltent, which comes each year from Belgium, features hardwood floors, stained glass windows, carved wood-and-mirror booths, a tented ceiling, and 2,000-plus mirrors. “We really didn’t need to decorate much at all,” Anzelone notes.
Newlyweds Jessica Anzelone and Adam Brown pose on the campus grounds
The couple said the circular space created a warm atmosphere. “It’s like you’re really surrounded by all your loved ones,” says Anzelone. “There were three tables on the floor where we sat with our families and closest friends, but all around the edge of the tent were these small tables arranged in a really intimate way. People felt like they could really catch up with everyone. The rest of the floor was for dancing.”
Anzelone, who donned a Selia Yang gown, admits that she was initially nervous about using Chartwells, Bard’s on-campus catering service. “I went to school there and the food wasn’t so great,” she says. “But the food for the wedding was fantastic, and they went out of their way to make us happy.” A chocolate raspberry wedding cake was delivered from The Alternative Baker in Rosendale.
The 6 p.m. ceremony was held outdoors behind the Manor House, with views of both Robert Perless’s enormous rotating Stargon sculpture and the Catskill Mountains. “The contrast of the natural beauty juxtaposed with the [ultra-modern] Gehry [performing arts center] and the Spiegeltent was really interesting,” says Brown. “People kept telling us how much they enjoyed spending time in the Spiegeltent.”
Nowadays, the pair, who live in Manhattan and have a son together, get back to Bard “each season,” says Anzelone. As for Spiegeltent itself? “It’s an enchanting space. There is such good energy in there. And it was really fun to go back there the first time and to try to remember where all of our guests were sitting.”
30 Campus Rd, Annandale-On-Hudson
Hunter Mountain is a favorite Hudson Valley destination for skiing, snowboarding, and — with its awesome panoramic views, as well as full-service banquet and lodging facilities — a popular place to tie the knot, too.
Adding to the blissfulness is that couples have a choice. They can opt to hold the ceremony on the mountain’s summit, then toss a dance-the-night-away reception at The Kaatskill Mountain Club, the resort’s beautiful banquet space. Or, if they’d rather gaze at Hunter Mountain than ascend it, they can stay indoors at Kaatskill for the entire event. The hall has space for 350 guests and floor-to-ceiling views of the slopes. “I’d say about eighty percent of our weddings happen on the summit,” says Wedding Coordinator Debbie Reilly.
Guests and members of wedding parties often rave that the 12-minute chair-lift ride to the summit is (dare we say it) one of the high points of the day. (And guests who are skittish about heights, are older, or have mobility issues aren’t left out — they can be driven up to the summit by staff members.) “If a couple has, say, 150 or 200 wedding guests, it can take about 40 minutes to get everyone up there. It’s really fun,” Reilly says. The deck on the 3,200-foot summit offers a fantastic centerpiece spot for the nuptials.
With gorgeous spring greenery, refreshing summer breezes, and breathtaking fall foliage, those seasons are tops for Hunter weddings. But some hardy couples do brave winter weather on the slopes, Reilly says.
Bride Elizabeth Slutzky and her attendants ride the ski lift to Hunter Mountain’s summit for her wedding ceremony
One pair — both avid skiers — planned a summit ceremony in winter, she says. “The plan [was} to have a ceremony on the summit the first thing in the morning. Then [we arranged] it so the bride and groom make the first run of the day down the mountain, before the slope officially opens. They [enjoyed] a day of skiing with family and friends; then everyone [gathered] for a reception in the evening.”
In warm weather, some couples choose to hold their ceremony adjacent to the slopes, in a cozy pine grove beside the Mountain Club, often followed by pre-reception drinks and hors d’oeuvres on the nearby patio.
Many brides and grooms make the wedding a weekend-long event. That way, they and their guests can truly relax, Reilly says. The resort’s 100-room slopeside hotel features everything from studios to one, two, and three-bedroom suites, plus lavish penthouse accommodations. There’s also a year-round, heated indoor/outdoor pool, full kitchen, fireplace, full-service spa, fitness center, two hot tubs, and more.
“Often, a wedding party will have the rehearsal dinner here at the resort,” Reilly says. The wedding and reception take place the next day, followed by an overnight stay. The weekend then wraps up with a farewell breakfast for guests before they head home.
When it comes to helping couples plan their big day, the Hunter wedding team shuns the cookie-cutter approach. They specialize in fashioning a tailor-made event for each bride and groom, Reilly says.
Slutzky and her betrothed, Matthew Cahill, enjoy a private moment on the mountain
“People like to incorporate their own style into the wedding and reception. Some are high-end, others are more modest.” With the current economy, smaller weddings are more popular. “There are not as many 300-person events,” she notes.
Social trends and cultural heritage often shape the weddings, too. Reilly notes an upswing in the number of ceremonies at the venue for same-sex couples as of late. Reilly also describes a memorable multicultural wedding: “The bride is Hindu and her groom is of Irish heritage. She wants to have a traditional Hindu ceremony on top of the mountain, and they’ll also combine foods and other traditions. And her husband-to-be is in the military, so they’ll include that aspect, too.”
One especially memorable romantic event held at Hunter wasn’t even a wedding — it was a one-of-a-kind proposal, Reilly says. In February 2008, avid Hunter skiers Bijou Summers and Gabby Feliu headed to the slopes for what Bijou thought would be just a great day of skiing with friends.
While the two rode up the mountain on a ski lift, Bijou noticed some of their friends riding by in other lifts, holding up signs. One sign read, “Bijou please.” Friends on another lift chair held another sign, “Prepare to,” while the third sign read, “Say yes.”
After the couple reached the summit, Gabby unzipped his ski garb — revealing a suit and tie underneath — and pulled out flowers and a diamond ring. As Bijou excitedly yelled “Yes!” to the proposal, a violinist and trumpeter appeared and began playing, and friends pelted them with confetti. (The whole fairy tale got help from TV’s Inside Edition, which filmed the scene.)
But that wasn’t all. Hunter Mountain employees then invited the duo to climb aboard a big mountain-rescue sled, which staff members pulled down the mountain, carrying the happy, hugging couple. When they arrived at the base, the lovebirds were whisked off in a horse-drawn sleigh. Sigh, romance.
64 Klein Ave, Hunter
For brides whose wedding fantasies fall in line with those of Kate, Pippa, and Meghan Markle, there just so happens to be a Hudson River castle for you. With four stone turrets, crenelated walls, and a block tower rising 75 feet — making it the highest point in Westchester County — Tarrytown’s Castle on the Hudson may be a tough-to-top backdrop for wedding photos.
Built between 1897 and 1910 by a Civil War general’s son, the castle was designated a historic landmark in 1981. The interior features a ballroom wing housing a great hall with marble foyer, Tiffany-style window, and hand-carved woodwork. The hall can seat up to 150 guests with catering handled on-site. With 31 guest rooms, many invitees can spend the night and pretend they’re royalty, too.
Additional perks include more than 10 acres of manicured lawns, a life-size playable chess board, a lawn bowling court, and just one wedding held at a time — to maintain that aristocratic touch.
400 Benedict Ave, Tarrytown