My passport proves that a month ago, I was in Puglia, Italy at Engage16! Europe. I need proof because honestly, it feels like a dream. A once-in-a-lifetime dream spanning a series of days that I realize, as I did in the moment, were some of the best days of my life.
I know… I know… I sound ridiculously dramatic. But… really… it was like living in a parallel universe for a few days and I am just still in awe that I got to be a part of it.
When I close my eyes, I can still picture the buttery sunlight peering through the olive and pomegranate-dotted trees. I can smell the wild rosemary and hear the near-mesmerizing swishing sounds of the REALLY tall canes of bamboo-like grass that lined the maze of pebble stone walkways at the recently dubbed #1 luxury resort in the world*, Borgo Egnazia, in Puglia, Italy.
I want to transport myself back there, back to the place where I spent a magical week ‘engaging’ with some of the most talented event professionals in the luxury wedding industry. If I were Dorothy, and had a pair of red glittery shoes, I'd be there RIGHT NOW.
I'm ALMOST back to "normal." Almost back to accepting the (very) harsh culinary realities of North American life which include the fact that burrata cheese isn’t served with every meal, and that "Prego" here references a jar of mass-manufactured pasta sauce that doesn’t taste anything like the fresh tomato sauce in Italy. But, I digress. ;)
Let’s talk about Engage! 16 Europe and what brought me to this Puglian paradise, shall we? If you’re in the wedding or event industry and you DO NOT live under a rock, you already KNOW this is the pre-eminent (ok, the ONLY!) conference in the world that brings together the movers and shakers and creative influencers of our generation in the wedding and event world, and always in five-star style. For the first time in the history of Engage, the event headed overseas to Europe. Timing-wise, this makes total sense as we ALL know we're living in a global world. From an attendee/speaker perspective it was amazing to meet new friends from around the world and learn about what is happening outside the US and Canada. :) Keeping it real folks - it's a BIG BIG BIG world out there and it's time we all started thinking like this business-wise!
This time, my conference name-tag sported eleven ‘bling balls’ (lovingly known in the Engage alma mater as a sparkly notation of how many Engage conferences you’ve attended). I’ve been ridiculously blessed to have been a speaker at each one I’ve been invited to, and even more blessed to be counting down the days to the next Engage, coming up in less than a week (what!?!?!) at Engage!16 Sea Island in Georgia.
Over the years, the Engage community has honestly become an extension of my family. Being a part of Engage has changed my life in countless and very REAL measurable ways (one day I will reveal just how much it has changed my day to day life!) and the crazy thing is, each and every event has been authentically different and always unforgettable. Every Engage is totally unique and yet dependably awesome.
Engage is a blessing. I, like so many of my colleagues around the world, need to profusely thank the team at Engaging Concepts, Rebecca Grinnals and Kathryn Arce for creating and continuing the Engage Summits. There are certain people in the world that set standards of excellence and these two brilliant women are in that rare group. I’m immeasurably humbled and grateful to now have them as my dear friends and confidantes (and a support system on days when it feels hard to be an entrepreneur.) They constantly push the boundaries of experiential event planning… creating fully immersive experiences for their attendees. Always different. Always new. Always FUN! Anyone who really knows R + K (and consequently loves them) will tell you they are connectors and mentors at heart. They're kind, humble, dedicated and smart women who take sincere gratification in seeing new collaborations, business ideas, friendships and big ideas take hold as a result of their HUGE efforts. #BecauseofEngage <that's now a real hashtag!>
KUDOS and HUGE RESPECT to photographer Betsi Ewing and her all-star team of go-getter photographers who covered this Engage with the utmost awesomeness! The images she and her team captured are a true essence of the event… she captured light-filled detail-upon-detail and all of the spirit-filled goodness. Way to go Betsi and team! You worked so hard (I saw you everywhere, even though you were barely noticeable!) and the results are phenomenal. Such a pleasure to share your pics.
I HAVE TO PAUSE here to properly mention the owner of Borgo Egnazia, Aldo Melpignano and interior designer aka my new style hero and GENIUS MASTERMIND Pino Brescia. These men need to be commended for creating a resort... an experience... a haven... that is the epitome of luxury and yet the definition of restraint all at once. Sound like an oxymoron? Yes. But, that’s Borgo. Minimalist but plentiful. Clean-lined but organic. Old-world but entirely modern. Borgo could be defined as sprawling in overall scale, yet it's filled with intimate corners everywhere. Borgo Egnazia is proof that rustic CAN be luxe. I’ve never been to a resort like this and I don’t think another exists that could match it.
Outside the main building, the 'village' leaves no detail overlooked. Weathered doors appear to have been there for years and little architectural details can be found everywhere on property. Borgo Egnazia is so realistic and vast, there are real streets and winding roads that feel authentically Roman.
I *REALLY* want to give a huge shout out to the weddings team (aka my new girl/style maven crushes) Marcella Cecere and Claudia Farina Valaori. They crafted a series of sensory moments that left us all breathless. Truly. (They also actually design and create their own clothes with a cool factor that is impossible to capture in words!) Kudos also to the overall design and decor genius of the event, Event Designer Daniela Vecchio and florist Giuseppe Armenise of www.botlea.it. The overall event design and decor and attention to sensory details from START to FINISH was incomparable. It’s no wonder that Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel chose to host their wedding here and why Madonna has recently been spotted hanging out in one of the Borgo Villas on a girls vacay!
I flew in a few days early to assist with some fun things behind-the-scenes. I was VERY lucky to room with my fellow "Team Engage" cohorts and dear friends Trisha Hay, Paige Chenault, and Maura Buck-Scarmack. We had a villa... and um, it was THE MOST AMAZING VILLA I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY TRAVELS. BEYOND. BEYOND. BEYOND. I walked in and felt like I had seriously won the life lottery! :)
Alright. So, let's start talking about the actual conference! :) Day 1 unfolded beautifully. Attendees were greeted at registration by my friends Maura (left) and Susan Moynihan (right). This is where everyone was given their "Passaporto" (Engage itinerary/handbook), and O-Bag (amazing giftbag filled with awesomeness, see below).
A HUGE shout to my wonderful friends and design geniuses Trisha Hay and Vanessa Kreckel who BOTH always create magic with design elements at Engage. Trisha is the brand designer and on-site show director. She is constantly evolving the Engage logo/overall brand standards. I adore her design aesthetic. Vanessa Kreckel of Two Paper Dolls creates all of the event stationery and the Engage website. Cannot forget the brilliance of my friends Heather and Susan of award-winning Gifts for The Good Life who create the branded gifting and accessories in the gift bags (and many of the fun giveaways and surprises throughout the event.
Next up on Day 1 of the conference were the Welcome Sessions. Rebecca and Kath welcomed us all... and the learning and inspiration began. We heard from leading event designers Colin Cowie and David Beahm, motivational speaker Simon Bailey and my dear friend (and elite event planner extraordinaire), Sarah Haywood.
The break was, um, extraordinary. I repeat, EXTRAORDINARY. Such a visual feast and a tasty feast too.
After the welcome sessions, we had a welcome party, dubbed "FESTA DEL BORGO" that started as the sun set in the main courtyard of the resort. THERE ARE NO WORDS THAT WILL EVER ADEQUATELY DESCRIBE THIS EVENING. I felt like I was in a dream. The night was pure perfection. The decor was sooooo perfect. Once again, the most simple objects were presented in repetition and abundance, creating luxury of sense. Brilliant. Artisans in the piazza from Compagnia Stabile Di Alberobello were on hand creating authentic takeaways. Perfection.
Surrounding the courtyard were these incredible food stations. Pulled mozzarella (by the yard!) and bbq meats roasting in fresh herbs. Live music, wine, fireworks, dancing... it was all surreal. All this, and it was only DAY ONE.
I always, always, always, enjoy hearing from world-renowned sales coach and training mentor to the hospitality industry, Cindy Novotny. She delivers every time. My dear friend Marcy Blum also delivered an incredible presentation.
The "Seaside Lunch" was in a league of it's own. If you have ever dreamt about finding yourself on a movie set, circa 1960s Italy... you would be in awe of The Seaside Lunch. It was pure, unfiltered vintage Italy at it's best. Not to mention, I was certain Sophia Loren was going to make an appearance. We were given the choice of getting to the seaside spot by way of vintage bikes or by golf cart. I chose golf cart bc I was wearing a dress. But, wow. Just wow. The pictures show it better than words ever could. I want to mention the entertainment. Throughout the whole week, the entertainment was second-to-none, thanks to Josh Friedman of US-based entertainment company extraordinaire Elan Artists. Elan's group of dancers/performers/singers/artists/musicians were so expertly interwoven into every aspect of the event and truly were integral reasons as to why the event was so perfect. Thank you Josh and team. So incredible. (Not to mention their outfits!) ;)
After lunch, we were lucky enough to experience what the Borgo Egnazia team calls "Nowhere Else" Experiences. These are signature, authentic Italian experiences produced by Indigenus - a company that puts together these incredible outings. I was SOOOOO lucky to be a part of the vintage car tour - a scenic drive through old Italian roads to the picturesque town of Alberobello.
Day two was rounded out with a series of wonderful, intimate 'dine around' dinners. This is something that Engage is known for. Speakers host small, intimate tables for 8-12 people at various restaurants or locations. It's a great chance to meet new friends and enjoy a wonderful meal together. I thoroughly enjoyed hosting a group of phenomenal people... met some great new friends. Then, after dinner everyone regrouped back at the main building where we enjoyed another great night of fun with the signature Engage dessert party. As if that wasn't enough, a fun surprise in the pool (synchronized swimmers!!!!!!!!) brought the magical night to a close. Incredible.
It's insanely crazy that there is still more to share. Day three began with the "Breakout Sessions" where attendees could choose from one of several speakers to listen to. I am very grateful to have been asked to share my thoughts on global trends and influencers. I'm giving the same presentation in a few days at Engage! Sea Island. I shared the top ten people in the world that have nothing to do with weddings that influence the world of weddings. :) So fun!
After the breakouts, we were whisked away to a real OLIVE GROVE for a wonderful lunch. This was another magical afternoon. Another 'pinch me' moment. See below!
We had a free afternoon on day three to explore, relax, etc. I took a little trip to the seaside with a few of my fav friends, and then we all headed back to the resort for a wonderful gala.