NEWS

Couples flock to Greece for ‘Mamma Mia!’ weddings

«Where’s the ‘Mamma Mia!’ island?» asked a nice Australian tourist who had embarked on a tour of the Mediterranean’s European coasts in reference to Phyllida Lloyd’s 2008 blockbuster musical that rocketed its location, the island of Skopelos in the Northern Sporades, to international fame. The fact that we were actually on Santorini was a clear indication that there was some kind of confusion. When I explained to him that he couldn’t just hop from the Cyclades to Skopelos, the «Mamma Mia!» island paradise, he seemed very disappointed. «I thought that everything was close by,» he said, «and that the islands are interconnected.» Just before embarking on a conversation regarding Greek coastal navigation, our attention was caught by some kind of commotion: A large number of cameras that had been facing the sun, which was playing hide-and-seek behind the clouds on its way to setting, suddenly changed direction, turning their backs on one of Europe’s most celebrated sunsets. The Chinese bride was radiant as she took the arm of the groom, an equally glamorous, Western-raised Chinese man with dyed hair. As her wedding gown’s train spread across the narrow Santorini street, a swarm of Chinese photographers, tourists and cameramen seemed rather busy. Given that the sun was poised to go down shortly, the cameras turned to the «blood-drenched» sunset once again, leaving the bride alone, if only for a little while. Daily life To the Australian tourist (who was frantically taking pictures of the Chinese couple against the Cycladic bell-towered backdrop) and me, the scene seemed noteworthy; for the town of Oia, however, it was just another moment in daily life. This is because the same thing would happen the following day and the day after that. At dusk, somewhere among the bermuda-clad Americans and the stylish Italians, a Chinese couple would make their appearance, the woman wearing a wedding gown, the man sporting a white or dark suit, for what would be their Greek moment in the Chinese version of romantic luxury. After asking around and doing some research online, I realized that it’s not just Asians who dream of having a symbolic ceremony in Greece, but many Westerners as well. «’Mamma Mia!’ has played a major role in all this, especially the wedding scene at the romantic little church,» noted a friend who had dealt with this particular issue. But even well before the movie, dozens of couples coming from North and Latin America, Europe and Oceania had been photographed in their nuptial attire somewhere in Greece. «Quite often, they repeat the ceremony at a Cycladic church, an event that has a symbolic character,» he said. «In the eyes of thousands of couples, getting married in Greece is the ultimate romantic thing to do.» Various Greek and foreign travel agencies organize these ceremonies, which are complemented by a pleasant and civilized stay for the couple and their guests. The couple’s arrival in Greece (especially if they’re traveling from Asia or America) is combined with an extended stay, and this nice vacation, as a rule, means a lot of money for Greek businesses. «This is a specialized category of thematic tourism,» I was told. «The kind of tourism that is accompanied by all the peculiarities, demands and requirements that comprise every special travel category.» Fashionable The fact that Greece – especially the Aegean Sea – has become fashionable among engaged couples from numerous countries around the world shows the relative ease with which well-off Asian and Latin American citizens travel. These include citizens of countries such as India, South Korea, China, Argentina and Brazil, among others, where there is great interest in and love of Greece and where members of the affluent classes are willing to spend considerable amounts of money in order to visit the Aegean. This is evident mainly on Santorini, Myconos and other Cycladic Islands and, of course, Skopelos, which many foreigners now seek out on the map and wish to experience up close. As far as Greece is concerned, romantic weddings are one segment of its tourist image that one should not underestimate. These couples come here to spend the best holidays of their lives. And that is quite a responsibility.