What does a young German woman do when she and her English boyfriend decide to get married in a civil ceremony in Rome? She hits the computer to research the world of weddings on-line. The amount of information available on the internet about weddings is overwhelming, with excellent sites including www.coolwhite.com and www.theknot.com taking you through every step of the process, from proposal to honeymoon. There are handy hints on traditions, checklists, calendars, literally thousands of wedding dresses, lists of venues and catering services. Sites such as www.brautissimo.de and www.allafollia.it, German and Italian respectively, provide similar information, but are less developed than their British and American counterparts. Foreign websites are of limited practical use in Italy, but they are a good starting point if you know nothing about weddings and have to take into account cultural traditions of other countries.

The next stop is the city council website www.comune.roma.it to find out how to go about the paperwork. There are two registry offices to choose from in Rome: the Sala Rossa at the Campidoglio and the deconsecrated church at the Complesso Vignola Mattei in Via Valle delle Camene opposite the Baths of Caracalla. The website gives all the information that foreigners or residents need for a civil wedding, including the necessary documentation and the cost (free for residents; 154.94 on weekdays and 258.23 on weekends for non-residents).

Onwards to the embassies, which have to issue a certificato di nulla osta, the certificate of no impediment to marriage, for both the bride and the groom. The German paperwork is done in the place of residence prior to Rome at this point a certain amount of delegation to family in Germany is useful. The German authorities need the brides birth certificate (10 registration) and the grooms birth certificate (47 for a notarised translation into German), and then they issue the nulla osta (or Ehefhigkeitszeugnis, as it is tongue-twistingly known in German) for a final 15.

The British embassy can provide everything in Rome. The first step is swearing an affidavit stating that there are no known obstacles to the marriage (59), in order for the bans to be posted for three weeks at the embassy. At the end of this period you have to present your birth certificate and you will then be issued the certificate of no impediment.

The rest is in the hands of the general registry office in Rome, the anagrafe in Via Petroselli, where the queues for wedding paperwork are virtually non-existent. It is here that you go for the giuramento, an oath that allows the bans to be posted under the porticoes of Piazza del Campidoglio. But not before adorning your hard-earned certificati di nulla osta with two bolli, or duty stamps. Obtaining these particular bolli, 5.50 each, is the most difficult step in the entire proceedings. When they were needed none of the post offices had them and the only tobacconist in the historic centre to stock them was in Via S. Bartolomeo de Vaccinari off Via Arenula. Once franked, the bans are posted and you can make an appointment for the wedding. At the Campidoglio Saturdays are fairly free, but Sundays can be booked up nearly six months in advance. The total fixed cost for a civil marriage in Rome is 147.50 for residents and 405.73 for non-residents.

After the bureaucracy, the next headache is the wedding gown. Cross-border dress hunting throws up some interesting discoveries. The selection in Italy is the most conservative and expensive. In Germany, boutiques have the most innovative styles it is not unusual to have a bride not in white. In England, you can find the best value for money, with many department stores offering limited edition designer dresses at accessible prices.

From then on, its plain sailing. A beautiful venue and excellent caterer are found for dinner and celebrations. Nerves tingle when a shortage of posta prioritaria stamps and the threat of post office strikes suddenly jeopardise the distribution of the carefully thought-out, multilingual invitations. Replies are rewarded with e-mails outlining hotels in various price ranges. An exhausting schedule of weekend hops between the three countries ensures that the bride and groom have met most of each others family before the actual day.

Silke Buhr

If you are planning to get married in Italy you may want to consider hiring a wedding coordinator. What can they do that you cant do on your own? Maybe nothing, if you have an abundance of patience, have the time to wade through the maze of documentation, are proficient in Italian, and want a very simple ceremony. Otherwise, hiring the services of a professional wedding planner could save you costly mistakes and allow you to enjoy the time before your big day without numerous headaches along the way.

Wedding coordinators provide one-stop shopping, which is certainly convenient. The bride and groom make their preferences known and then leave it to the professional, who has the experience and relationships with proven vendors to make the arrangements.

The types of services requested are as individual as the couples themselves. Some want only a simple civil ceremony while others may choose a wedding at St Peters basilica or a spectacular view in Tuscany. While basic documentation is required for all weddings, the paperwork can vary, depending on where the couple is from and where they wish to marry. For instance, the procedural requirements for the municipal hall in Rome are different from those for the municipal hall in Florence. Some of this information is readily available on embassy websites if you are game enough to tackle it yourself, but it can get confusing if you arent familiar with the terms and how to proceed at the local level.

Italian Gabriella Lojacono started www.wedding-in-rome.com in 1997. She plans weddings not only in Rome, but in Venice, Florence, Capri and on the Neapolitan coast as well, and handles all the paperwork herself because it has to be accurate.

American Sandra Maffey, owner of Vista Weddings and Events, has planned an upcoming wedding for 150 people at a private castle just outside Rome. The festivities include a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel, walking tours, a wine tasting for the bride and her girl friends and a post-wedding brunch on a private terrace overlooking the Pantheon. Other treats are custom-designed wedding favours, packaged hotel room gifts and fruit baskets for out-of-town guests, a personalised wedding programme and a newsletter outlining the events for the wedding weekend with customised maps and restaurant suggestions. A wedding of this calibre could cost as much as 150,000.

Some requests made of the wedding coordinator require not only resourcefulness but also creativity. For one wedding, which took place in Cortona, Tuscany, Maffey was asked by a friend of the groom to arrange some type of special entertainment for the couple as a wedding gift. To suit the mediaeval surroundings, Maffey decided to organise a performance of sbandieratori (mediaeval flag performers) in the towns main square. To the great surprise of the couple and their guests, 25 performers were waiting for them when they came out of the municipal hall, playing trumpets and drums and performing with their oversized flags.

What does service like this cost? Couples who approach Vista Weddings and Events complete a questionnaire and have an initial telephone conversation with Maffey (this may last as long as an hour) before an estimate is provided, which includes the wedding coordinators flat fee. Based on what services the couple has requested, the coordination fee runs from 2,000 to 5,000, tax excluded. Lojacono will quote two fees, one for preparing the paperwork and the other for all other services. She declined to disclose her fees.

All of the clients of Vista Weddings and Events and www.wedding-in-rome.com are foreigners, with the majority from the US, but several come from England, Ireland, Australia and Canada. Italians have not yet begun to use wedding coordinators as they still rely heavily on family members to help with plans.

Martha Miller

Gabriella Lojacono, tel. 064390678, 348/5174184, www.wedding-in-rome.com. Vista Weddings and Events, Sandra Maffey, tel. 06789016, 347/7737655, www.vistaweddings.com.