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★★★☆☆

“We got married in Italy during September this year,...”

Written on: 28/10/2009 by da77enj (2 reviews written)

We got married in Italy during September this year, having booked a Topflight Italian wedding package through Thomas Cooke in Belfast. We stayed at the Bella Italia Hotel in Peschiera on Lake Garda along with 25 friends and family including our 14 month old son. The wedding took place in Torri del Benaco, about 45 mins away.

The hotel Bella Italia is one part of a very large site which also includes a campsite, apartments and caravans. The Bella Italia complex is a wonderful place. It is located on the side of the lake and we loved the relaxed and family orientated atmosphere.

The hotel staff led by manageress Tina, were very pleasant and helpful and we enjoyed our stay very much. The breakfast area was very pleasant and the food was of a high standard. Bikes and kayaks etc were available to borrow free of charge. The only negative comment I could make about the hotel is that the rooms in the older of the two hotel buildings are not of the same standard as those in the new building. They are clean and well equipped but the main drawback is that they do not have balconies.

The wedding itself was organised by local agents Arena Touriste SRL of Bardolino. The wedding co-ordinator Serena met us shortly after arrival. Serena was very helpful and nothing was too much trouble. She drove us up to Torri del Benaco to see the castle where we were to get married and organised everything.

We were able to save a fair amount of money by booking the bus for our guests ourselves (Thomas Cooke / Topflight quoted 1200 Euro, we paid 300 Euro). We also made a considerable saving by booking the wedding meal ourselves (in the restaurant on site at the Bella Italia Hotel). Max went out of his way to decorate the restaurant and to ensure that we had a great night.

The wedding itself was perfect. The ceremony was conducted by the mayor in the lemon grove at the side of the castle with Serena translating. The wedding was quite relaxed and much less formal than a wedding at home in the UK. The photo's looked great. The photographer booked by Arena as part of our package was excellent.

Before travelling to Italy the Topflight wedding co-ordinator had been very helpful. All had went very well until the day after the wedding. While we were packing to return home, a representative from Arena Touriste arrived at our hotel and explained that Topflight had not paid the full balance of the wedding cost, saying that we were to pay the difference.

They requested payment of an additional 525 Euro and said it was essential that this was paid before we left the resort.

I immediately contacted the Topflight wedding co-ordinator in Dublin. She said that the additional payment was to cover "Civil Costs" that were not included in our contract with them. She said that this was normal and should have been made clear in the T&C's of our contract with Thomas Cooke. As i had up to this point found her to be trustworthy and as i was led to believe that this payment was essential to ensure the validity of our marriage, I felt i had no choice but to make this payment and did so using my credit card.

Later that day I was contacted again by Arena Touriste. They expressed that they were suspicious and upset that we were asked to make an additional payment, as Topflight would normally cover this cost in full. After further investigation it became apparent that the Topflight rep had lied and that there were no "additional civil costs".

On returning home we reviewed the T&C's of our contract and discussed with Thomas Cooke. Thomas Cooke agreed that all costs should have been covered in our package.

Prior to the wedding there had been some confusion over what was included in the Topflight package which had been agreed on a "price match" basis against a Crystal wedding package. The main area of disagreement was over the inclusion of a harpist at the ceremony. Topflight agreed to honour this as per our original agreement. On arrival at the hotel one of our guests was unhappy with their room (in the old hotel building). After speaking with Topflight they again agreed to move her to a more suitable room at no cost.

I can only assume that Topflight had incurred additional costs for the harpist and the room change and rather than being open, tried to recoup their costs in a dishonest fashion. We felt cheated and bitterly disappointed.

We lodged a complaint with Thomas Cooke who said they would investigate the matter. Five weeks later we have still received no explanation and seem no closer to having our money returned. Having consulted trading standards they advise that if we are not satisfied with our response from Thomas Cooke that our next step should be to consult ABTA who provide an arbitration service. I expect that this will be a drawn out process.

We will never deal with Topflight, or Thomas Cooke for that matter, again. We would however strongly recommend Lake Garda, The Bella Italia and Arena Touriste SRL. If you are thinking of a wedding on Lake Garda you could perhaps try contacting Arena direct.