Easter is on its way and this year is one of those rare occasions when all arms of the Christian church celebrate on the same weekend. Here’s our choice of the best places to see Easter in Europe
Hunt for the Holy Grail
León, the northern Spanish city, has always played a significant role in European Christianity thanks to it being a key stop on The Way of St James pilgrimage route. That role is about to become huge, thanks to recent claims that the Holy Grail has been found in one of its churches. In an explosive new book, two historians from León University have identified an ancient goblet in the city’s San Isidro basilica as the legendary Holy Grail. According to parchments found by the book’s authors, Muslims took the prized relic from Jerusalem to Cairo, where it was later given as a peace offering to Fernando, a powerful local Christian Spanish king.
Stay: The local parador – one of Spain’s historic hotels – has a half-price off for those looking to see the chalice. Originally built in the 16th century by the Spanish king Ferdinand the Catholic as headquarters for the Military Order of St James, prices start from €298 for two nights’ half-board for two people.
See keytel.co.uk and spain.info
Lourdes, on the edge of the Hautes-Pyrenees, is the second most visited city in France after Paris and one of the most visited religious sites in the world. Easter sees torchlit processions as pilgrims meditate the prayer of the Rosary and for the younger, an Easter egg hunt at the top of Pic du Jer which overlooks the town and is topped by a large cross.
Stay: The Grand Hotel Moderne is a grand hotel that is closes to the town’s famous grotto. Double rooms start from €110 per night, room only.
See www.grandhotelmoderne.com and uk.rendezvousenfrance.com
Greek Orthodox Easter tends to coincide with Easter in Protestant and Catholic Europe about once every four years – and given this year is one of them, it’s an ideal time to visit. Every church in the country hosts evocative church services on Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday and many towns and villages have specialist events. Our favourites are the balloon festival in Leonidio on the Peloponnese, where hundreds of handmade balloon-lanterns light the sky on Holy Saturday and the clay pot crashing in Corfu. On Holy Saturday morning, people throw the pots, full of water, from their balconies to the floor below as bells peal out from the local church.
Stay: Hatzipanayiotis a beautiful boutique hotel in an old stone mansion. Rooms start from £60 per night, B&B. On Corfu, the Marbella Beach is a luxury all-inclusive resort right on the beach with doubles from £85 per night.
See hatzipanayiotis.gr, marbella.gr and visitgreece.gr
Hear magnificent music in Moscow
Easter is mainly a family event in Russia aside from the elaborate Russian Orthodox services held throughout the week, especially on Holy Saturday when the service goes through most of the night. In Moscow, this offers the chance to spend time in some of the world’s most iconic churches, including those in the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square. The end of Easter also sees the start of the Moscow Easter Festival, a festival of classical music, choral music, chamber music, and bell music.
Stay: The Kempinski Baltschug hotel is a 5* with great views of the Kremlin from most of its rooms. Doubles start from £201, B&B.
See easterfestival.ru and kempinski.com
Hear the Pope in Rome
Settimana Santa or Holy Week is naturally a special time to be in Rome thanks to the chance to see the Vatican and attend mass held by the Pope. Events start on Palm Sunday with a free mass in Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City – get there early and prepare to queue. There are further masses on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Good Friday’s Stations of the Cross or Via Crucis parade is also pretty special. A huge cross with burning torches lights the sky as a procession passes each station – placed at the Colosseum in 1744 by Pope Benedict XIV.
Stay: The 5* Gran Melia hotel is the closest to The Vatican. British Airways has two nights’ B&B at the hotel from £449 per person, including flights.
See ba.com and italiantouristboard.co.uk
Spain’s southern province of Alicante goes to town over the Easter week with colourful parades throughout Semana Santa. Highlights include a Holy Wednesday procession and the Holy Thursday ‘paso de la Santa Cena’, where a sculpture is carried through the streets in a huge parade. In the town of Orihuela, Easter celebrations date to the 16th century and include the Good Friday El Silencio procession that attracts 10,000 people. The procession passes through the Old Town with the night sky only illuminated by the lanterns of those taking part.
Stay: Asia Gardens is a family resort 30 minutes from the city. Six nights’ B&B over Easter for a family of four is from £3244 for two adults and one child. Price includes flights from the UK.
See chiclocations.com and spain.info
Visitors from around the world flock to Florence for Easter thanks to the fiery Explosion of the Cart procession. On Easter Sunday, the Scoppio del Carro sees a 17th century float pulled around the streets by two white oxon before a host of fireworks explode from it. The parade is in honour of the Florentine knight Pazzino, who was the first man to plant the banner of the cross at the battle of Jerusalem in the first Crusade of 1096.
Stay: The Hotel Helvetia & Bristol, right in front of the Palazzo Strozzi in the heart of Florence is one of the most luxurious hotels in the city. An Easter celebration package includes B&B accommodation, a welcome cocktail and a special Easter cake. Double rooms start from €350 per night.
See ba.com and italiantouristboard.co.uk and royaldemeure.com
See Easter in Seville
Semana Santa de Sevilla is one of Spain’s most important religious festivals. Parades throughout the week are organised by religious brotherhoods who dress in penitential robes for the occasion. Floats carry lifelike wooden sculptures of the Passion with the most important being on Holy Thursday when they march through the night until dawn on Good Friday.
Stay: Casa de Carmona is a restored XVIth Century Renaissance Palace that is now a 33-room boutique hotel. Doubles start from £79 per night, B&B.
See casadecarmona.com and spain.info
Combine religion and fun in Istanbul
While Istanbul is predominantly Muslim, there is a plurality of religions in the city, which is also home to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, effectively the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church. There are 110 active churches here – including Gregorian Armenian, Catholic Armenian, Protestant Armenian, Roman Catholic and Bulgarian Orthodox – meaning there are plenty of opportunities to attend mass but given the Turkish people do not celebrate, bars and restaurants are open as normal.
Stay: The Triada Hotel is a beautiful boutique hotel, a stone’s throw from the Greek Orthodox Hagia Triada church. Doubles start from €120 per night, B&B.
See www.triada.com.tr and www.gototurkey.co.uk
Go local in Dubrovnik
The Croatian coastal city, overlooking the Adriatic is not only one of Europe’s prettiest places to see in Easter but also one of its most religious. Celebrations include a ceremonious procession of the Cross on Good Friday and gift giving including coloured eggs, plaited palm leaves, olive twigs and a special Easter cake called pinca.
Stay: The 5* Bellevue Hotel has beautiful views over the city’s old town from a cliff-top position. British Airwyas has three nights’ B&B including flights from £439 per person.
See ba.com, tzdubrovnik.hr and croatia.hr
Looking to stay at home? Check out our Top 10 places to see Easter in the UK.
Did we miss your favourite? Let us know in the comments below.