John Bensalhia guides you through the places to be and events to attend this Easter...
Italians pride themselves in their delicious Easter menus, and this year, you're spoilt for choice. There are countless restaurants and bars offering top-flight Easter menus. For example, the Hotel Brunelleschi in Florence is serving up a delicious Easter lunch. The menu includes thyme-breaded lamb chops, guinea fowl ravioli and beef pave glazed with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. On the subject of wine, the hotel's maître has come up with some suitable choices to accompany the menu including Rosso di Montepulciano Sabazio, Nobile Di Montepulciano La Braccesca and Prosecco Valdo.
Rome's Doney Restaurant is another good place to try with a mouth-watering Easter Sunday brunch menu. The cream of Rome's traditional dishes will be on offer as well as a live cooking show by chef James Foglieni.
Easter brunch at Irene Firenze is also another unmissable gourmet experience. The Easter menu offers a superb selection for everyone to enjoy. Starters include Tuscan cold cuts, salads and Pasqualina pie.
What else have we got on the menu here? Well, if you're a fish or pasta fan, you're in for a treat. A special fish crudo is lined up, while the pasta dishes include lasagne with chianina meat sauce and a fantastic spaghetti dish. Also available are roasted lamb and meatballs in tomato sauce as well as an appetising dessert buffet that includes a traditional Easter Colomba cake with vanilla ice cream.
The traditional Colomba cake in Italy
Meanwhile, an extensive Easter mini-break at Fattoria Lavacchio will be a foodie's idea of heaven. This three-night stay at the organic farm house in the Chianti hills from 14th to 17th April 2017 will include the sumptuous Easter lunch, a guided tour of the estate's cellars and vineyards (plus wine tasting) and egg hunting for all the family on Easter Sunday morning.
If by some miracle you still have room for more food on the Easter Monday, then your best bet is to head off to the local park for a home-prepared picnic. The Pasquetta picnic tradition is a good opportunity to enjoy a day out with family and friends, relaxing over a tasty spread of food and drink.
What you bring is up to you, although eggs tend to play a big part in the hamper. Both sweet and sour takes on the traditional egg are welcome at the picnic, whether chocolate eggs (a big favourite for the kids) or hard-boiled eggs. Eggy ingredient foods such as omelettes or frittata are also popular choices.
EGG, IT WILL COME BACK TO YOU
Where do we start? There are so many egg-related festivals taking place all over Italy. Sampling the local egg-related customs and traditional events are both memorable and enjoyable.
Typical Easter display in Italy. Photo by: Georgette Jupe-Pradier
There's the traditional Easter egg to enjoy, a particular favourite of kids and chocoholics. But if anyone in the family is a chocoholic, then you won't go wrong with the Easter chocolate party at Riccione. The greatest chocolatiers and artisans will be coming to the pedestrian areas of Dante, Gramsci and Viali Ceccarini where there will be some wonderful chocolate-themed sculptures and workshops for the kids, and no doubt many an Easter Egg! The event spans Friday 14th to Monday 17th April and there will also be a spectacular firework festival on the beach on the Saturday. Entry is free!
For the good old-fashioned hard-boiled egg, then Sagra E Palio Dell'Uovo is an old favourite. This traditional boiled egg beating festival is a popular one with both the locals of Tredozio and visitors. Heralded by a historical parade, the four districts of the town will compete in eggy contests that include egg throwing, egg hunting in a giant haystack and an old version of baseball that uses eggs instead of balls!
A common pastime in the Easter season is that of egg painting. This year, you can see the results of the best locally painted eggs in Baschi's Ovo Pinto Museum. The museum plays host to countless painted eggs which have been imaginatively decorated in all kinds of colours and patterns.
A special competition is devised to find the best decorated eggs from professional and amateur painters. As long as it's an eggshell, it doesn't matter where it comes from – the winners will be rewarded with a cash prize and a place in the museum. Visitors to the museum can see the winning shells between the Easter season and the early part of May.
Take your pick from the many traditional events marking Easter. The Sardinian region of Alghero celebrates Holy Week, which commences on the Holy Tuesday. Two days later, the statue of Christ is taken from the Church of La Misericordia to the Cathedral of St Mary's. Once there, the statue is raised to the centre of the cathedral's altar, and following this, the Brotherhood of Misericordia stand vigil for the rest of the night. Next day, the statue is removed from the cross, and on Easter Sunday, two processions are held for the respective statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary.
One of the longest religious events in Italy is that of the Procession of the Mysteries which lasts for a day from Good Friday. This event takes place in Trapani, Sicily – the Mysteri, or Mysteries, in this case are 20 floats that bear collective statues. Together, these Mysteri recall the events of the Passion and Crucifixion, with crowds coming to see these start and end at the Church of Del Purgatorio.
In Florence, on Easter Sunday, a tradition that dates back to an event in 1096 is marked in the form of Scoppio Del Carro – Explosion Of The Cart. The story goes that Pazzino di Ranieri de' Pazzi, a Florentine knight received the reward of some fragments of the Holy Sepulchre of Christ in return for planting the banner of the Holy Cross on Jerusalem’s battlements. When the knight came back to Florence, these were used to ignite the sacred fire on the Easter Saturday. Following this, the sacred fire would be taken by cart through the Florentine streets. The tradition continues to this day, where in modern times, the cart is ignited by a rocket in the shape of a dove. It's quite the sight when the wagon ignites, a flame that's further boosted by fireworks loaded onto the cart.
One of the key places to be for Easter is Rome. These include the Good Friday procession that leads from the Colosseum to Palatine Hill and Papal Mass in St Peter's Basilica. The Basilica is also the location for Easter Saturday's Easter Eve Mass. Next day sees two events in St Peter's Square: Easter Mass with the Pope and the Urbi et Orbi blessing. More details here.
WHAT TO AVOID?
This is a more contentious one. An occasion not to be missed for some people may not be other peoples' cup of tea.
For example, if you're not big on the hustle and bustle of crowds, then a large-scale event such as the St Peter's Square Easter Mass may not be for you. This kind of event attracts many visitors who wish to celebrate Easter in the traditional way, but if you're uncomfortable around great swathes of people, it's not a choice way to spend your Easter Sunday. Same with the many processions – spectacular to look at, but again, the more crowd-phobic may not get so much out of these kinds of event.
On the subject of crowds, be aware that public transport will be busier than usual. Because of the visitors and tourists keen to experience the Italian Easter events, more people will be catching buses and trains. The other factor in this is that normally, the timetables will be altered at holiday time, with less frequent times than usual.
Plus, if you're coming to Italy from another country, the key thing to avoid is a 'No room at the inn' scenario. You may be coming here on a spontaneous, see-where-the-day-takes-you visit, but because of the greater numbers, the hotels and B&Bs are likely to be fully booked. Which could leave you with a more expensive place to stay or even nothing at all. So make sure you've booked yourself a decent base ahead of your Easter break.
Whatever you choose, have a very Happy Easter!