- Instead of spending the usual Easter weekend stuffing yourself full of chocolate, why not use the holiday to jump in your Hyundai and travel to one of Europe’s most spectacular celebrations.
As you may well have guessed from the rows of bunny, chick and egg-shaped chocolate treats lining the aisles of your local supermarket, Easter is almost here. The long weekend offers a great chance to kick back and catch up with friends and family (and enjoy all that delicious chocolate!).
However, across Europe some amazing Easter celebrations take place every year, each one offering a truly festive taste of the region’s local customs and traditions. Here are four within easy road-trip distance that you need to experience.
A dramatic spectacle that dates back some 500 years, the Italian city of Florence marks Easter Sunday with the Scoppio del Carro (‘The Explosion of the Cart’). Crowds line the streets to watch a 30-foot tall antique cart, accompanied by 150 soldiers, musicians and revellers costumed in 15th century dress, make its way from Porta al Prato to the Piazza del Duomo ahead of the evening’s events.
Those events are guaranteed to begin with a bang, as the cart is packed with fireworks and attached to a wire that stretches all the way to the altar inside the Duomo. As soon as the final ‘Glorrria!’ from Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ has been sung to celebrate Easter Mass, the archbishop lights a fuse inside a mechanical dove connected to the wire, which then ‘flies’ through the church and ignites the fireworks, sparking a 20-minute display that is hoped will herald a plentiful harvest and good business for the rest of the year.
Easter Week, also known as Holy Week, is an important event in the calendar throughout the Spanish-speaking world, but the celebrations that take place in Seville are amongst the most lavish you can find. Thousands of revellers flock to the city to witness the daily processions of brass bands and candlelit floats draped in artwork and carrying life-size tableaux depicting the Easter story.
From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, Seville becomes an Instagram photographer’s delight, with the floats carried a 60,000-strong hooded army comprising 70 church brotherhoods, known in Spain as the cofradías. In a city whose beauty is bathed in sunshine for much of the year, it truly a sight to behold.
Despite only being a small market town in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Lourdes is the second most-visited tourist destination in France, and one of the most-attended religious sites in the world. Around six million visitors come every year from all over the world, drawn by its status as a place of international Catholic pilgrimage whose importance ranks behind only the Vatican and the Holy Land.
It is therefore no surprise that many of them arrive during Easter, when thousands of pilgrims take to the streets at night to form a dazzling torchlit procession, reciting their Rosary prayers as they wind their way through the town en masse. For families with children, Lourdes holds an Easter Egg hunt at the top of Pic du Jer, the summit that overlooks the town (which, thankfully, can be easily reached by way of its funicular railway).
As well as religious services across the Easter weekend, the Greek town of Leonidio celebrates by quite literally lighting up the sky on Holy Saturday. Following a centuries-old tradition, its residents mark the day by releasing hundreds of lanterns into the air above them, in addition to the many burning effigies of Judas that illuminate the streets below.
This unique spectacle is thought to have begun in the 1700s, when sailors who had witnessed similar Asian traditions of releasing lanterns into the air returned and incorporated it into their own ritual marking the Resurrection. And true to form for Greek celebrations and smashed crockery, it is also tradition for Leonidians to throw clay pots full of water from their balconies, supposedly crashing to the ground in synchronicity with local church bells that welcome in Easter Sunday.