Ciao Bella…

As you may have heard through the grapevine The Secret Retreat Workshops have been an incredible success and hugely exciting and magical for everyone involved.  If you haven’t already seen it then please do take a moment to look at our workshop videos from previous years (created by the super-talented Laura Jane Dale & Charlotte Brownridge).  These videos will give you a valuable insight into what you might expect for future workshops.  Our sights are now focused on continuing and growing our annual adventure in Italy and we would love you to be a part of it. We adore Castellabate and Andrea, Lucy and Claire have all shot destination weddings here and are simply thrilled at the thought of returning again for another few days of sun-soaked fun, sharing and learning.  We are already making exciting plans for our 2018 adventure.  Full details will be released in the next couple of months but if you are interested in pre-registering (you will receive the information and a chance to book before the official release) then contact us via the form at the bottom of this page, send a message through our Facebook page or email us at

We are incredibly lucky that Mandy from Saddleworth Shindigs is travelling to Italy to join us again.  Our styling secret weapon… we have all worked with her on weddings and which have been featured on blogs such as Rock N Roll Bride, Whimsical Wonderland Weddings and Boho and she is tasked with preparing our gorgeous couples (and they are !) ready for your cameras.  Be prepared to be wowed!!   We can’t wait to hear what she has in store for this year! We will spend time at the hotel, working together through every single aspect of our business from the very first contact right through each and every step of the process.  We will help you to create a business that fits you perfectly … not a one size fits all …but something as unique as you are. Prepare to be inspired …prepare to inspire others.   We fly back to Castellabate on the Cilento coast in September and we simply can not wait for you to join us.


 a presto … insieme possiamo ispirare

When we first dreamed of our workshop (you can be pretty sure wine was involved…sigh… the magnificent catalyst of dreamers)  we all knew instantly where we were heading…it could only be Santa Maria… Just us.  A group of like minded women.  Italy.  Our cameras and a shared determination to create something beautiful …a heady combination like no other…guaranteed to be uplifting and inspiring for every one of us from start to finish.  That is exactly what we would love to share with you.  A full wedding…from shooting through to the “business” …from the very first contact with your couple …to handing over the album and kissing them goodbye. We aim for you to leave for home at the end of an amazing jam packed stay in Italy with a full “knock em dead” destination portfolio, and a brain full to bursting with ideas to take your business to the next level, a deeper knowledge of not only your business but of yourself and a fabulous new group of lifelong friends.

…it didn’t feel too much like a workshop at all; it was more like an amazing week away in a beautiful corner of Italy with a group of gorgeous women, eating gorgeous food, soaking up the gorgeous sun and spending time doing what we love – taking photos and learning a whole lot along the way…. Samantha

…I have come away with some amazing portfolio pictures, a long list of actions to improve my business and a network of incredible friends.  It’s impossible to quantify what happens when you spend a few uninterrupted days concentrating on yourself and your business in the company of some incredibly talented women… Amanda

…Santa Maria is beautiful, the food was glorious, the shoots were beautiful and the workshops were interesting, informative, thought provoking and inspiring. My to-do list is quite something to behold.  I’ve cried happy tears, laughed until my tummy hurt… Cat

…The shoots that were arranged were incredible, we couldn’t have asked for better couples and locations. The styling was beautiful & it’s so exciting to see the different ideas and styles that everyone has. I felt like a kid in a candy shop, everywhere you looked there was something beautiful to photograph… Jess

The Location…

Castellabate on the Cilento coast is our destination… a stunning undiscovered gem.  Our host is Julie from the incredible My Secret Italy…based in Santa Maria di Castellabate for six months of every year… she has been creating weddings in this beautiful corner of Italy for over ten years and has help us to put together a retreat like no other. 

We will be staying at a small family run hotel, situated on the waterfront and adjacent to the pretty little harbour of San Marco.  The hotel offers all the modern luxuries and comforts to make your stay relaxing and enjoyable, including a gloriously inviting swimming pool!  You will be wonderfully pampered by a handful of the friendliest staff you could ever wish to meet.  All meals will be included as well as accommodation and transfers (subject to date/timings see FAQ’s for more details) from Naples airport, with surprises along the way that will blow your socks off!

About us

The Secret Retreat was born out of our desire to design a workshop that would be precisely the one that we ourselves, as photographers would want to attend.  From that first idea sprang the inspiration and passion to create something truly different, something that offered more than just technical assistance or model shoots.  This dream of ours is about making your business a beautiful reflection of yourself, creating something that inspires you and your dream clients.

andreafAndrea Ellison

Andrea found herself as a fledgling photographer the day her Dad died and she inherited his precious cameras and album upon album of carefully chronicled family photographs. With a burning desire to carry on where he left off capturing future memories for her family she picked up his camera and started shooting.  Self taught, she is now an International Wedding photographer with 5 years experience and 100+ weddings all over the UK and abroad under her belt. Regularly featured on countless top wedding blogs and magazines, her quirky creative style and calm unflappable nature has found her work in high demand. A passionate people-person and The Ultimate Queen of the work life balance she now selects only 25 weddings a year to shoot and is fully booked up to two years in advance… When she isn’t shooting weddings she can be found, normally camera still in hand, happily married with 3 awesome kids. Did her Dad know what he was doing when he left her his legacy?…  she likes to think so

       You can view Andrea’s portfolio HERE



Claire Penn

In 2008, Claire returned home from her honeymoon in Italy with an obsession for photography – she promptly sold her wedding dress and used the money to fund her first DSLR camera.  After many photographs of daily life and a successful few years of child/family photography she got talked into second shooting a number of weddings (by our very own Andrea Ellison) and decided to make the leap. Claire shot her first wedding in late 2011. Since then she has been a regional finalist twice for the coveted Best Photographer award at the Wedding Industry Awards; she can be found on Junebug Weddings’ invitation only ‘hot list’ of the World’s Best Wedding Photographers; and in November (2014) she was named by the influential US magazine Rangefinder as one of the ‘Top 30 Rising Stars of Wedding Photography’ in the world. Claire loves her job… not just a bit, we are taking borderline inappropriate public displays of affection level, head over heels in love with the job. That shows through in the images. Her aim is to capture the heart and soul of every wedding she shoots, to tell the unique story of each of her couples and to ensure that everyone is relaxed and has fun in the process.

       You can view Claire’s Portfolio HERE


Lucy Woodrow

Lucy’s passion for photography began after her children were born.  Her desire to capture honest, natural images of them soon developed into an obsession.  Lucy’s path in the photography world lead her towards portrait photography, and more specifically children’s natural light photography.  Lucy’s images have won awards and have been featured on the cover of national magazines.  Since demand for her work as a wedding photographer has increased, so has her path changed to the point where 95% of her work is now wedding photography. Lucy has recently worked as a photography trainer, instructing aspiring photographers at many workshops and styled shoots. Lucy has photographed weddings both at home in the UK and abroad with new, exciting and exotic locations in the pipeline.  She has a passion for everything wedding related but believes strongly that wedding photography should be heart-felt, honest and truly reflect the couple and their wonderful, special, unique day.

       You can view Lucy’s portfolio HERE

About the team

We feel truly blessed to be able to work alongside these talented, passionate women who add sparkle, style, passion and perfection to your stay in Italy…



Julie McKenzie

To say Julie is in love with Santa Maria and all things Italian is a bit of an understatement. Her love affair began way back in 2003 when exploring off the beaten track she stumbled across Santa Maria. A specialist travel agent at the time, organising once in a lifetime trips all over the world, Julie decided wedding planning would be perfect for her skills and enthusiasm and so in 2005 she organised and planned her first wedding in Italy and has never looked back. 
With well over 70 Italian weddings in her portfolio she has formed firm friendships with some of the best wedding suppliers in Italy. Over the last decade Julie has truly embraced all things Italian and you only have to walk through the streets to shouts of “Julie…Ciao Bella” from her italian friends to know that she has truly found her secret home from home.

Every detail of a My Secret Italy wedding is personally arranged by Julie – looking after all her couples, as well as their friends and families she shows them all the delights of Santa Maria that only the locals know…the best hidden restaurants and cafe’s and the best place to sip a cocktail as the sun goes down.

From the moment you arrive in Italy, Julie is our host, making sure you will enjoy every single second of your stay. We know she has some surprises planned… of course we cant say what. It’s a secret. But we could not be in better hands. You can view Julie’s website HERE

MandyMandy Beck

Mandy has been wedding dresser and stylist since her own wedding in 2009. After sourcing and accumulating so much for her own big day and not wanting to part with a single thing, her and her husband Chris decided to share with other wedding couples, and Saddleworth Shindings was born.

The thrill of the hunt of finding that ‘can’t live’ without item for a client, anything unusual that would look fab for a prop, meant they soon had to move their treasure trove from their garage to a beautiful old cotton mill. Mandy can tell you the story of exactly where she found every valuable (to her) piece or item and how it should be used to pretty up any venue, her attention to details is almost borderline obsessive.

Mandy’s knack of just knowing what her client wants, means they have dressed some of the prettiest, quirkiest weddings, and been lucky enough to do numerous styled shoots with some of the best wedding photographers in the business.
You can view Mandy’s website HERE

EmillieEmillie McKenzie

Emillie has been planning weddings alongside her mum Julie, since 2010. She is now lucky enough to live in Santa Maria all year round with her local boyfriend, Dario.

Having grown up in the business, Emillie is a very important part in both My Secret Italy and the Secret Retreat. Her love for the job and passion for Santa Maria have encouraged the locals to adopt her as one of their own. Emillie has flair and entrepreneurial spirit. She is fun and seems to instinctively knows what people want!

Along with Julie, Emillie will be there to help from the second you arrive until the moment you leave!


That moment when people connect … that… that’s what you want

– Andrea Ellison

Nothing ever comes close to the feeling you get when you know you got THE shot

– Claire Penn

The more I explore my creativity as a photographer, the more I attract clients who really ‘get’ me and my work and who in turn are delighted with the end results.

– Lucy Woodrow

Storytelling… for me, this is the most important part of capturing a wedding… the emotion, the laughter, the small details, the grand gestures and of course the love.

– Claire Penn

When people say ” I have the best job in the world ” and you smile to yourself and think …no you don’t … I do.

– Andrea Ellison

Never underestimate the value of what we do as wedding photographers. We are capturing and preserving the memories of the most precious day of two people’s lives. .

– Lucy Woodrow

Register You Interest For The Secret Retreat 2017…

We want your learning and sharing experience to be as enriching and engaging as possible, therefore we are keeping numbers for this course strictly limited.  The places have sold very fast each year, to guarantee a place we highly recommend registering your interest as early as possible.

Full details will be released in the next couple of months but if you are interested in pre-registering (you will receive the information as soon as it is available and get a chance to book before the official release) then get in touch via this contact form, send a message through our Facebook page or email us at