3 years, 8 months ago
Do you ‘do’ Easter? It might seem like a strange question. But we’re prepared to bet it’s one many people wish they’d asked over the years. Particularly when they’ve assumed countries like Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Italy – home to a fair number of natural-born celebrants – might be the very places to visit for the most moveable of all moveable feasts. ‘Assume Nothing’ should be the Easter travelling motto. Santiago de Compostela and Seville might have processions and pageantry for Semana Santa, but stray a little out of town in Spain and expect just about everything else to be closed shutters and one lazy, mean-looking dog loping down a main street. Apart from Dublin, and possibly Cork, Ireland is technically sound asleep for the occasion. Portugal’s pretty much the same with the exception of Lisbon, Porto and Braga. And Italy isn’t entirely closed, but The Vatican City takes a lot of the heat, and going slow elsewhere isn’t unusual. So we can highly recommend a pilgrimage to one of the great Easter cities. And for a mix of sacred, secular, spring celebration, ancient custom and plenty of ceremony here are a few other places to think about in and around March 25th this year (that’s Good Friday, for the less ecclesiastically expert).
Easter works chocolate like the world’s supply of cocoa was about to dry up. So it’s not much of shock to learn Brussels is a popular city break this time of year. The legendary chocolatiers on Grand Place and Grand Sablon are in overdrive and their fabulous creations are definitely not just for kids. Apart from the public holidays (Sunday and Monday) the city’s lively as ever – use the days off for a picnic in Parc du Cinquantenaire or visit Église Notre-Dame du Sablon on Easter Sunday for the traditional service and soaring stained glass windows. Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts has several temporary exhibitions in March including ‘From Floris to Rubens’ Old Master Drawings and Andres Serrano ‘Uncensored Photographs’. The new Musée Fin-de-Siècle more than makes up for so many of Brussels’ incredible Art Nouveau buildings being privately owned. A tiny early spring lull almost guarantees a table at one of the excellent fish restaurants in the city’s pretty and very popular Ste. Catherine Quarter. If you want to shop – as long as your heart isn’t set on Easter Sunday and Monday – March is great for flea markets, vintage markets and new spring collections in stores all round Grand Place. And the weather’s pleasant and mild, so only perfect for sitting outside in the sun and enjoying Belgium’s other famous export, beer.
The Geneva Motor Show might be over by late March but the city has plenty of other distractions in and around Easter. Unlike the rest of Europe, Carnival Season starts early in Switzerland and keeps on going right through until the Carnaval Vénetien d’Yvoire at the end of May. So you may need a sedate Lake Geneva cruise on Easter Sunday (one of the prettiest city traditions) to wind down from the wild parades, processions, markets, fairs and all out party atmosphere in the lead up to March 25th and beyond. Exhilarating Carnaval d’Annemasse is the annual prelude to Easter just half an hour from Geneva city centre. And Carnaval de Bussigny is just as spectacular from April 1st to 3rd in nearby Lausanne. Geneva itself is almost impossibly pretty in early spring and in the mood to celebrate everything from movies to food, opera, theatre and art. The city’s ‘Chocolate Festival’ is on March 12th and 13th. The annual ‘Festival Voix de Fète’ and ‘Geneva International Jewish Film Festival’ fills the middle of the month. And, apart from being bookended by carnival brilliance, Easter Weekend itself is good for getting out on the Lake and enjoying the city’s gorgeous parks and gardens.
Easter is when to visit the fabulous Bollenstreek in The Netherlands. This 20km ‘flower strip’ stretches from Haarlem to Leiden during tulip season and the weather in late March makes cycling from Amsterdam along its length an unforgettable spring experience. If you just want to wander the fields without a bike, there are Bollenstreek bus and train services all day, every day right through until the end of May. And Amsterdam is gloriously colourful and exciting for Easter and particularly good for kids with celebrations and events all over the city, even on Easter Sunday and Monday – ‘Pancake Cruises’ on the city’s canals are a fantastic Sunday tradition.
Germany’s long and rowdy season of Spring Fairs kicks off on March 26th with the Nuremberg Folk Festival. Second only in size to Stuttgart’s Frühlingsfest in May, this is two weeks of food, funfairs, beer, wine, music and quaintly curious traditions on the edge of Dutzendteich Lake and spilling into almost every other part of the city. Germany takes four days’ holiday over Easter and this is the event 10s of 1000s head for in celebration.
Happy Easter wherever you’re rolling eggs, eating chocolate or enjoying the sunshine this year.