An Elegant Destination Wedding in Spain's Picturesque Basque Country

When Christopher Van Es and Zachary Huey met in February 2013 through the running club "Front Runners," there was some debate over who was chasing who—literally! “Suffice it to say we bonded over our mutual competitiveness, shared employment working for former President Barack Obama, and a common love for exploration and adventure," Chris says.

About five years later, Chris proposed to Zach at the Palacio de Cristal in Retiro Park in Madrid. “Zach had previously lived in the city, and we’d been back together several times,” Chris says. “I selected the location to symbolically bridge the past with the present and future.” 

For their wedding, the Washington, D.C.-based couple returned to Spain, ultimately planning a destination wedding that highlighted the local cuisine, stunning views, and historical character of the coastal city of San Sebastián. Read on for all the details from Chris and Zach's celebration in the Basque Country of Spain, as planned by 20 Eventos and photographed by Dos Mas En La Mesa.

“When we decided on having a destination wedding, we wanted a location that was meaningful to us as a couple and would hopefully be special for family and guests," Chris says. "San Sebastián fulfilled both wishes. The mountains, the city, and the sea make one of the most beautiful panoramas you can find, and the Basque Country brings deep, rich, old local character and some of the best food traditions in the world.” 

Zach and Chris both donned bespoke tuxedos and bowties by Raja Fashions. Zach's jacket featured a shawl collar, while Chris's was made with a peak lapel.

The men got ready together. Zach wore the watch Chris had given him as an engagement gift and family cufflinks. 

“One benefit of hosting a wedding in a location more rural than our home in Washington, D.C. was the ability to take a more relaxed pace,” Chris says. “While there were challenges in planning an event across an ocean, we were excited knowing we were bringing our dearest friends and family to one of our favorite places for what we hoped would be a trip we would all never forget.”

Prior to the ceremony, the couple explored their destination location, even posing for a few photos in a rain shower!

The ceremony was held at The Palacio de Miramar. “It formerly served as a summer holiday home for the Spanish royal family, and since 1972, has been open for public events," says Chris. "Sitting above Playa de la Concha beach, the cottage overlooks the bay from which Hemingway wrote in The Sun Also Rises."

The couple counts arriving at the wedding venue as a highlight of the day. “Standing at the door and seeing the ambiance and beauty Leire and her team at 20 Eventos created for the first time was amazing," Chris says. "The perfection in every detail of the room, combined with all the smiling faces from our loved ones, went well beyond anything we could have imagined.” 

The grooms were both escorted up the aisle by their parents as a string quartet performed Cavalleria Rusticana, Intermezzo by Pietro Mascagni.

“We used modified vows from the Episcopal Church,” says Chris of their ceremony, which was officiated by his father. Readings included Love Sonnet 17 by Pablo Neruda, a selection from Song of the Open Road by Walt Whitman and John 15:9-12. After their first kiss, the newlyweds recessed down the aisle to “Here Comes the Sun,” by The Beatles. 

One of the best parts of the wedding weekend? “Hearing stories about how friends and family connected with San Sebastián,” says Chris. “We could feel the energy among our guests and delighted in hearing their stories about how they made their way to Spain, were stunned by the beauty of the city, explored the Basque region on their own, and planned to continue their vacations after the wedding. Feeling like they understood why we chose the location we did and the traits that made this place meaningful and unique was very special.” 

Following the ceremony, the newlyweds hopped in a special getaway car (a 1957 Mercedes Benz!) to join their 70 guests at Mirador de Ulía restaurant.

Once there, cocktail hour was held in the lush gardens. “It was one of the first restaurants we visited during our first trip to San Sebastián to celebrate Chris’ birthday,” says Zach. Guests enjoyed pinxtos, jamon, and glasses of cava as a live band, the Chicken Farmers, performed on the restaurant’s outdoor patio. 

After taking in the scenic view, guests moved inside for dinner. “The dining room is carved out along a narrow windy road and perched on the side of Monte Ulía," Chris says of the unique venue. "On a sunny day, views from the patio stretch over miles of coastline, the bay, and Old Town of San Sebastián and into layers of Basque mountains nearby.”

Guests found their tables via a seating cart displayed against a wall of eucalyptus, ferns, and other greenery.

The event décor was inspired by the wedding location. “We focused on bringing the natural colors of the Basque Country into all our event spaces,” says Chris. "At both our ceremony and reception, we mixed lush greenery (on the fireplace that served as an altar, along the aisle, as dinner table settings) with understated candlelight and natural sunlight." Tabletops were accented with wooden chargers, colored goblets, and tall taper candles to further this look.

Guests enjoyed a multi-course meal featuring dishes such as flower squid and ox sirloin with bacon and potatoes terrine. 

In lieu of a traditional wedding cake, the couple served the restaurant's signature puff pastry cakes after dinner. At midnight, they served more treats, including cupcakes, cookies, grilled cheese, more jamon, and other comfort foods.

Following dinner, the grooms shared a first dance to “The Wonder of You,” as performed by the Villagers, and also shared a dance with their mothers to “In My Life,” by The Beatles. One of their favorite moments of the day came at sunset. “Throughout much of the day, rain and clouds persisted, but as we all sat down for dinner, rays from the setting sun burst on to the Atlantic,” Chris recalls. “They slowly crept towards the coast, then across the beach and finally blanketed the city in a dramatic light that was pure magic.” 

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