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Retreat at Hiawassee River Destination Wedding | Katie and Bryan’s Intimate Mountain Celebration

The Retreat at Hiawassee River is a hidden gem in Georgia, perfect for intimate weddings or a staycation. I was honored when Katie asked me to be her wedding photographer. I also had the honor of photographing two of my other college friends’ weddings. This is actually the 3rd state outside of Kentucky and Indiana where I have photographed a wedding. Later this year, I will travel to South Carolina and to an international destination wedding in Colombia. Add destination wedding photographer to my resume!

three gold wedding bands sit atop a white bridal mask

As was the case for most couples last year, Katie and Bryan planned for a smaller guest list and an outdoor wedding. Thankfully, we were all vaccinated by the time the wedding actually rolled around, and smaller weddings are SO much fun!

The pre-wedding festivities

On Friday afternoon, we checked out the venue, had the rehearsal, enjoyed a delicious dinner and had a bachelor/bachelorette celebration! When I travel as a destination wedding photographer, I arrive early to attend any pre-wedding events like the rehearsal. This way, I can see the ceremony site, lighting, and take a few additional photos before the wedding day! The ladies helped assemble “jarcuterie” for the cocktail hour while having a few drinks themselves. Later that night, both groups joined together in the Retreat Lodge, we cranked up the music and danced ALL NIGHT. Needless to say, I was extremely excited that this wedding crew had several people who knew how to dance salsa! Thankfully, we got to sleep in the next day and recover from a really fun late night.

Wedding Day: Retreat at Hiawassee River

The next day, we got to see all the intricate details that Katie had excitedly told us about come together. For me, the personal touches that a couple includes for each other and their guests are always so meaningful. Bryan and Katie shared special gifts with their parents, and there were definitely some tears shed as they did! Katie brought beautiful details like her sparkly Keds, their beautiful James Allen bands and some extra florals from Sherry.

Bridesmaids huddle around bride

The ceremony

The couple set up a Facebook group so they could livestream during the ceremony. In this group,they shared the recipes for foods and cocktails we would be eating, so people at home could “eat” with us. Their good friend Rasiel officiated, and I highly recommend having someone who knows the both of you officiate! It was such a personalized ceremony filled with inside jokes and memories from their friendship together. Bryan and Katie both included references from The Office in their vows, and they were just perfect.

Just married portraits at Lake Chatuge

After the ceremony, we did family portraits under the arch, decorated by Sherry Donnelly, my new favorite destination florist! We also took advantage of the beautiful creek next to us for some couple portraits before heading to Lake Chatuge. This beautiful lake was the perfect backdrop for just married portraits. 

Reception at Hiawassee River

Later, we headed back to the reception to enjoy a truly amazing evening. At this point, I felt like I knew everyone at the wedding. Katie and Bryan have a wonderful circle of family and friends, and that’s who you want at your wedding. 

While COVID made it so that weddings needed to be smaller, it never felt like anything was “missing”. There was so much love and emotion the whole weekend, and it was so special to be part of that. If you’re planning a smaller wedding, know that it will be perfect if you put love into the details like these two did!

¡Que vivan los Arriete! Congrats to the newlyweds!

Vendor credits:

Photography: Frames + Letters Photography

Venue: Retreat at Hiawassee River

Coordinator: Lesley Smith

Florist: Sherry Donnelly of Gertie Mae’s Floral Studio

Hair and makeup: Emily Komornik

Officiant: Rasiel García Carranza

Catering: Jim’s Smokin’ Que (rehearsal); Brother’s (reception); Epic (brunch)

Rings: James Allen

More about destination wedding photography

Looking for a destination wedding photographer? Click here for more helpful planning info for destination weddings and elopements.

Johanna Hribal is an adventurous wedding and senior photographer serving fun-loving people in Louisville, Kentucky, Southern Indiana and beyond. Find out more about engagements, weddings or elopement photography here or senior portraits here. Fill out a contact form below to get in touch about your upcoming event!

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