Perched on a coastal bluff high above Malibu, Serra Retreat is a community of Spanish Mission-style buildings that has been home to the Franciscan Friars of California for over half a century. Although this facility was once available only for retreats, the Franciscans have opened their gates to couples who wish to wed in a place of great natural and spiritual beauty. Named for Father Junipero Serra, the retreat encompasses 26 acres of pines, eucalyptus, flowering gardens and untamed wilderness. Meditative walking paths meander throughout the estate, leading the thoughtful wanderer to contemplative spots such as the Shrine of Fatima or a peaceful wooden bench overlooking the headlands. Although Serra Retreat offers any number of nooks, courtyards and gardens for ceremonies, two sites stand out as sensational: the Chapel and the Junipero Serra Gardens. If you’re leaning towards a traditional wedding, then the Serra Chapel will appeal to you. Designed in the round, with enormous windows set into every wall and blonde pine beams supporting a lofty ceiling, this hilltop sanctuary affords spectacular views of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific. Overhead, light cascades through a cupola skylight, burnishing the Mexican- tile floor. A short stroll away are the Junipero Serra Gardens, one of the most breathtaking sites we’ve seen. Here brides make their entrance via a Malibu-tile staircase, stepping out onto a grassy promontory awash in flowers and shaded by towering pines. A quaint cobbled path running around the perimeter of the point makes a perfect bridal promenade. Couples say their vows at the west end of the gardens in front of a tall crucifix and statue of Junipero Serra. Aprs ceremony, guests will naturally be drawn to the white stucco balustrade at the promontory’s edge, delighting in the dizzying 360-degree view of the eastern mountains, wooded canyons and the sea’s wide blue horizon. While it is possible to host receptions in the Junipero Serra Gardens, your best bet is to stage festivities in the Bell Garden, closer to the hub of the retreat. Featuring an iron bell and cross, potted palms and intricate iron railings, this large sunny patio overlooks a bright blooming terrace garden. Indoor receptions can be held in the Mediterranean-style Serra or Dining Rooms, both of which provide views of the ocean and gardens. What’s nice about the Serra Room (which was once the chapel in the original 1920s home) is the colorful and ornate Malibu tilework, set inside handcarved wood frames along one wall of the room.
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