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If you're wanting to know how to choose the perfect location for your mountain elopement, I'm happy to let you know, you’re in the right place! I've put together this guide to help narrow down what matters most to you during your mountain-top elopement. Once you start digging into the steps below, you should have a much clearer picture of what your day is going to look like. Let’s get started!
Step 1: Choose an Area or Region to Elope in
One of the first steps to choosing the right location for your mountain elopement is deciding what specific area or region you want to elope in. This portion is an important cornerstone to building your elopement experience. It will also help you make travel accommodations sooner rather than later.
Some helpful questions to ask yourself when you are nailing down an area include:
What types of scenery do you imagine eloping in?
Is there a place you know of that already offers that? The Italian Dolomites are known for their striking rock formations and craggy spires. The Swiss Alps are famous for their massive peaks with glaciers tumbling down the cliff sides. Austria also has glaciers and sparkling blue alpine lakes that reflect perfectly on a calm day. In Germany’s Bavarian Alps, you’ll find rocky mountains and rolling green alpine meadows full of cows and sheep peacefully grazing. Whether you imagine yourself scaling a mountain, twirling like Maria in a meadow, or paddling comfortably along a lake, the European Alps offer something for everyone.
What country should I elope in?
Do you have a preference for the country you elope in? Are there certain cultures you love? Do you want to be in a familiar environment on your elopement day, or to try something totally different? Do you want to have the legal ceremony on the same day as your elopement, or do them separately? If you want to legally get married the same day, what countries will allow you to do this? What are the requirements?
How important of a role do you want food to play in your elopement day? For example, the Bavarian Alps are famous for their beer. A brewery tour could be up your alley. Maybe you and your partner’s first date was at an Italian restaurant, so you’d love to get some traditional Italian pizza and pasta for your wedding meal. For wine connoisseurs, parts of the French Alps have amazing vineyards you can stay at.
Planning an Elopement Budget
What is your budget? Some countries are more expensive to travel through than others, and at the beginning of your elopement planning, setting clear expectations will help mitigate any stress throughout the planning process. For example, Switzerland is known for being one of the most expensive countries in the world, while Italy can be more budget-friendly. It’s also worth noting in this section that if you are traveling from the US, accommodations in Europe can be quite different (smaller beds, smaller rooms, there may not be air conditioning, etc.). Start searching early for overnight accommodations that meet your needs and the level of comfort you want on your elopement day.
Step 2: Decide Whether or Not You Want to Include Friends and Family in Your Ceremony
When it comes to your mountain top elopement, whether or not you want to include friends and family is a decision completely yours and your partner’s to make. If you decide to have more than just the two of you though, there will be some additional logistics to work out.
These logistics may include:
- Finding a location large enough for your group
- Will guests be required to hike at all?
- What transportation will be possible for your group to get to the location? Will there be enough parking spaces at the trailhead for everyone?
- Do you want to live stream your ceremony? Can you get internet access from your elopement location?
- Do you want to hold two ceremonies? One for friends and family at a spot easily accessible, and one in your dream location that’s private.
Typically, if you're eloping with guests you'll need to rent a small venue (especially if you want chairs or other structures set up).
Step 3: Choose How Much Time You Want to Dedicate to Getting to Your Location
After you’ve chosen what country or region you’d like to elope in, it’s time to begin digging deeper into what your day is going to look like. Namely, how much of your elopement do you want to dedicate to reaching your ceremony or portrait location? Are you planning an epic, multi-day adventure with lots of time to explore? One option popular in Europe could be a multi-day hut-to-hut that takes you over mountain passes and between blue lakes deep in the mountains. Do you want an all-day hiking elopement? Or are you looking for a few hours of coverage that highlights your vows and portraits as a newly-married couple? Believe it or not, you don’t even have to settle for just one location. If there are two spots you just absolutely love, there are ways to plan your mountain elopement timeline so you can experience both. For some, the activity of the day is getting to the perfect ceremony and portrait spot. For others, the ceremony may be part of a number of other activities that take place throughout their elopement celebration. As you think about all of this, just remember that it’s about what matters most to you as a couple.
Things to consider when you are choosing how much time you want to dedicate to getting to your ceremony location:
- How important is privacy and seclusion to you? Easy-access spots are often busier. If you don’t want to dedicate an entire day getting to your mountain-top ceremony, there are still other ways to find privacy, such as going to a drive-up location at sunrise or sunset, or even chartering a helicopter. Helicopter rides get you to spots in a matter of minutes that can otherwise take hours to hike to, or be inaccessible otherwise.
- For hiking elopements, I recommend allotting one hour of time per mile hiked. Trails that are paved or very flat may need less time. On the flip side, steep trails with significant elevation gain may take slightly longer and will be dealt with on a case by case basis and the ability level of the group. I recommend the general timeline of one hour per mile hiked so that you have a chance to really soak up your elopement day. I believe it’s important to not feel rushed to catch a sunrise or sunset, get ready, or just merely have time to explore. After all, it’s your wedding. If you want to know more about planning a hiking elopement in the alps, I have an in-depth guide here.
- Speaking of time, do you enjoy mornings or are you more of a night owl? Some locations are better suited for sunrise or sunset. If you have to get up at two in the morning to reach a location, do you still want to go to that particular spot? Or do you love the idea of starting your day before the sun is up, and then spending the late afternoon unwinding, napping, and finishing off the night with a delicious dinner. Maybe you imagine spending your elopement morning snuggled in a warm bed, making pancakes for breakfast, and then setting out for a sunset adventure. What time of you day you choose to elope matters, just like the amount of time you want to spend getting to your mountain elopement destination.
Step 4: Decide What Time of Year and Season You Want to Elope In
By this point in the process of choosing your perfect mountain elopement location, you may have a pretty good idea of what types of scenery you want to see and maybe even some activities you want to incorporate into your day. That will make this step much easier. It’s time to decide what time of year and season you want to elope in.
As a general rule of thumb, here are a few things to know about the best time of year to elope in the Alps:
How early or late winter will arrive can really vary from year to year. December is more often than not too early in the year to guarantee snow in the valleys. While ski resorts in high-alpine locations throughout Austria and Switzerland regularly open up in October and stay open until May or later, the majority of ski resorts open mid-to-late December and close sometime in mid-March to the beginning of April. By mid-January, the lower valleys of the Alps normally have a nice coat of snow. If you aren’t a skier, there are still awesome winter elopement activities you can participate in, such as ice skating on a frozen lake, or hiking and then sledding down long groomed runs that are popular in the area. While snow can’t be guaranteed, January to March are generally the best months to catch a white winter wonderland.
Spring is one of the trickiest seasons in the Alps to time, and I generally don’t recommend the months of March, April, or early May for an elopement unless you still plan on skiing. The weather can be unpredictable, snow still covers the high-mountain passes, and other areas may be slushy one day and dry the next. If you’re looking for more mild temperatures, flowers, and hints of snow still gracing the mountain tops, June is actually your ideal month. June also is a shoulder season, making it less crowded before summer kicks off. By June, most places are accessible again, and you aren’t as limited to what mountain elopement location to choose from.
Summer. It’s unreal in the Alps. The days are long, warm, and sunny. The nights are mild. By July, wildflowers are in full bloom on every mountain, and they will stick around through August. The snow has melted from the glaciers; you can see their blue color glimmering in the sunlight. While I love every season, there’s something absolutely magical about the summertime. July and August are the ideal months for stargazing, swimming, hiking, and just about any other activity that doesn’t require snow. The one major thing to consider about summer is that it’s busy. Many people living in Europe take their month-long holidays in July and August, so it’s important to plan appropriately for this. Parking can be more difficult and there are some locations that are basically inaccessible due to the crowds. If you dream of a summer wedding, I'd highly recommend avoiding any Instagram famous locations (more than I usually do) so that you can have a peaceful, stress-free mountain elopement experience. One other challenge of summer is afternoon thunderstorms, making sunrise elopements more often than not the ideal time to tie the knot. Backup locations are also essential in making sure you can have a safe day in case of inclement weather predictions.
Pumpkin spice anyone? Okay, kidding. The fall season, like spring, is short and can bring many different types of weather. If you’re thinking about an elopement in the Fall because you want the colors, mid-October is your best chance to experience that. September is normally still somewhat summer-y, but may bring the occasional cold spell and first snows. When choosing a fall mountain elopement spot, snow definitely shouldn’t be ruled out, so keep this in mind as you start planning what will or won’t be accessible, or what you want your backup location to be. If it’s not snowing, fall in the alps can be quite rainy in some regions (especially Germany), so I’d recommend areas like Dolomites in Italy or Engadin, Switzerland, which tend to have sunnier, drier weather. The Dolomites are especially famous for their larch trees that turn gold in autumn. October is also a shoulder season, meaning many cable cars, restaurants, and hotels close for a short break before winter. While this can be a downside for some, it also means that more popular locations have calmed down for a time.
Step 5: Choose Your Mode of Mountain Transportation
It’s time to get excited (if you aren’t already beyond stoked). The Alps are huge, and you’ve already answered some of the biggest questions there are when it comes to nailing down your perfect mountain elopement location. You know the area you want to visit, what time of year you’re going, who will be in attendance, and how much of your day you want to dedicate to your ceremony and portrait location. Now, what mode of transportation looks, feels, and sounds the most “you” as a couple on your epic elopement day? I’ll share a few options below to get you thinking.
Hiking is one of the most obvious ways to get to your adventure elopement location. Hiking also has a lot of benefits. Namely, it allows you to get away from people and experience a place in solitude. There are very few location restraints if you can hike 4-6 miles to a spot! For many couples, it’s an activity that bonds them and a way to connect and really soak up the day.
Not huge into hiking? No problem! Some locations in the Alps have everything you could want for a mountain elopement, without ever venturing too far from the car. High mountain passes throughout Italy and Switzerland offer a wide variety of landscapes that “wow” without all the walking. Going at sunrise or sunset also helps offset the crowds and allows for an intimate wedding experience.
It’s one of the easiest and most popular ways to get around the mountains in Europe. They run throughout the winter and summer, normally closing for a short break during the spring and fall seasons. What I love about cable cars is they can whisk you high into the mountains in a matter of minutes, while hiking to the same spot may take hours. Some couples may also opt to combine hiking with a cable car. This allows you to save your lungs on the trail up, but hang out in a spot long after the crowds have gone down for the night. Then you can hike down with the stars above and headlamps lighting the path ahead.
Have you ever dreamed of seeing the Matterhorn? Look no further than the Gornergrat train, which stops at multiple places in the summer and winter looking out at the iconic peak. It’s the perfect destination for year-round elopements, made possible by train. While there aren’t many places I'd recommend taking a train as your elopement day transportation, this place, as well as the Jungfrau train running from Interlaken, Switzerland are two places it’s more than worth it.
Fancy a snowy mountain elopement? Consider hiring a snowmobile guide to access some of the more popular locations, sans crowds during the winter season. Tre Cime Lavaredo in the Dolomites is just one of the many places that offer services like these.
Helicopters. One of the most incredible ways to go somewhere really different is by helicopter. Imagine being transported to your own private meadow, overlooking a glacier, and having the entire place to yourselves. Helicopter elopements allow you and your partner to see and experience an area in a way nothing else can. Switzerland is one of the best places to consider opting for a helicopter elopement.
Step 6: Get the Appropriate Permission to Elope at Your Dream Spot
As a Leave No Trace Aware Photographer, I believe that one of the most important things I can do to be good stewards of the places I work is to preserve your elopement location, so it can be enjoyed for years to come. One aspect of this is that I strive to abide by all the laws and regulations related to the area you choose to get married in. While the mountains are open for all to enjoy, some plots of land may be owned privately by a ski resort, cable car company, a mountain hut, farmer, etc., and require permission to elope on. Before finalizing a location choice, it’s important to get the appropriate permission to hold your elopement where you want it. This is something I can assist and guide you through during the planning process.
Whew! That was a lot of information to take in! But you’ve done it. By now, you should have a clear understanding of what’s most important to you during your mountain elopement. Whether it’s the scenery, privacy, or having a place to enjoy with friends and family, you know what you want. From here, you can begin pinpointing your exact mountain-top wedding location. When it comes to finding the exact location for your mountain elopement, I recommend choosing an elopement photographer that has the location scouting experience to guide you through the process.