Easter comes but once a year, and whether you’re into it for the eggs, the religion or the break from work (or indeed, all three), Hg2 knows where you should be heading over the long bank holiday. And if you’re UK-based like us, remember you get the day of the royal wedding off, too, meaning you can have a whole 10-day break for only three days off work. As hardcore hedonists, we’ve done the maths. Read on for our pick of the best Easter escapes, ever.
By Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough
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Springtime in Rome is always a magical experience: the days are getting longer, the scent of blossom is in the air, and it’s almost warm enough to justify getting back on that summertime gelato wagon. Needless to say, Rome at Easter is a popular choice for tourists, with an obvious highlight being a trip to the Vatican for Easter Sunday mass at St Peter’s. For a spot of old-school Catholic drama, don’t forget Good Friday, when the pope celebrates the Via Crucis next to the Colosseum, where a huge cross with burning torches lights the sky. If you’re looking for non-religious activities, you can take advantage of the fact that most of the Italian population will be in church, making it the perfect time to visit open-air sights such as the Trevi Fountain and the Forum.
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With its legendary tulips blooming and the daffodils nodding their heads by its famous canals, Amsterdam is very much a springtime city and perfect for an Easter break. Forget low-rent hookers, mushroom-munching hippies and sweaty stags on pre-wedding jaunts: over the holidays the patisserie windows shimmer with pastel displays of Easter treats and the markets are full of Dutch flowers and traditional holiday foods for you to sample. If you’re feeling young at heart, head over to Het Groot Melkhuis (The Big Milk House) in Vondelpark, where you can sit on the veranda of this former dairy-cum-café and watch the children hunting Easter Eggs, else pop along to the legendary Eden Amsterdam American Hotel to soak up its art-nouveau grandeur while enjoying their Easter brunch, which begins with Champagne cocktails and ends with a canal cruise.
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With its combination of breathtaking scenery and understated charm, Tallinn’s increasing popularity as a travel destination is hardly surprising, and April is the perfect time to discover the city. In Estonia, Easter is celebrated not only as a church holiday but as a celebration of spring, welcoming the arrival of longer, warmer days. As you explore the city’s cobblestone streets and soaring medieval spires, make sure you make the most of the celebratory atmosphere with a trip to the tiny candlelit Chocolaterie Café, where chocolate is treated with an almost religious reverence. Their speciality is real melted chocolate, piping hot, served with a stick of cinnamon and with four flavours to choose from: classic, gorgonzola and grappa, rum and raisin, or chilli. A definite step up from your local supermarket’s half-price Easter Egg.
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As chic as ever, the Catalonian capital remains the ideal choice for a weekend away. Roman Catholicism being the main religion in Spain, Holy Week is a full-on affair, beginning with the big-ticket event on Palm Sunday, Fiesta de Ramos, which involves intricate palm-leaf sculptures adorning the churches and a big procession making its way down from Le Seu, the cathedral in the old town. Another must-see is the city’s famous Catholic church Sagrada Familia, stamped with Gaudi’s unique combination of Gothic, curvilinear and Art Nouveau styles. If it’s the more secular, commercial side of Easter that floats your boat, then Barcelona is still a great place to be, with shop windows filled with chocolate sculptures of every shape and size.
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For the most stylish getaway this Easter, Milan is just the ticket. Duomo, the world’s third largest cathedral, is a Gothic masterpiece situated in the centre of the city and the Easter Mass is a spectacle not to be missed (although be warned, it can attract crowds of up to 4,000). At this epicentre of the fashion world, looks count, so perhaps best to avoid that traditional Easter Egg splurge and the obligatory choco-pot-belly that follows – not so helpful during a visit to the trendy stores and boutiques of Quadrilatero d’oro or Corso Como. After your fashion fix, you can reward yourself with dinner at Chandelier, surrounded by its opulent décor of Swarovski crystal curtains and cherub-adorned thrones.
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New York, USA
No list of Easter city breaks would be complete without a mention of the New York Easter Parade, immortalised in the famous musical film starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. Don your top hat and tails and head over St Patrick’s Cathedral to watch the brightly-coloured bonnets bobbing down Fifth Avenue, a tradition of fascinating festive finery that dates all the way back to the Civil War. Once you’ve had your fill of row-upon-row of bejewelled, garland-strewn heads, make your way downtown to Café Balthazar on Spring Street, an oasis of sophistication and excellent grub with the air of an old-school European salon.
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Paris boasts some of the finest chocolate-makers in the world, so it’s no surprise that the Easter period is one of the busiest times of the year for the city’s premier chocolatiers. Say au revoir to the Easter Bunny – who in any case doesn’t really feature in French Easter traditions; goodies are brought to the kids courtesy of a flying bell from Rome – and bonjour to such chocolate meccas such as Fouchon, Patrick Roger and La Maison du Chocolat, all homes to some of the city’s most exquisite cocoa creations. If, for some unfathomable reason, your gastronomic predilections don’t extend to that old black magic, you can still get into the festive spirit with the special Easter menu at Coco&Co, a concept restaurant where eggs are the main event.
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Easter is a time of new life and rebirth, making Sweden the perfect destination for a spring break of relaxation and replenishment. Stockholm is home to some of the world’s best spas and health clubs, so you can take your pick; Hg2’s own recommendation would be Sturebadet, where you can indulge in a traditional Swedish massage or choose from the range of luxury spa treatments before heading over to their stunning poolside restaurant for a luxurious yet nourishing meal. Yet those of a superstitious nature should beware: according to Swedish folklore, Easter is the time when witches fly to the Devil’s earthly court at Blåkulla, where they are said to engage in all kinds of unspeakably hedonistic activities, proving once again that Old Nick really does have the best tunes…
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Prague, Czech Republic
The breathtaking, fairytale vision of Prague’s ancient squares and Gothic architecture makes it easy to see why it’s known as ‘the city of golden spires’. During the Easter period, the Prague Easter Markets (Velikonoční Trhy) can be found in the Old Town Square and are hugely popular with locals and tourists alike. Rather than filling up on market treats, save room for dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant Allegro: if the spring days are warm enough, guests can dine on the terrace with its river-level views of the Charles Bridge and Castle spectacularly lit up by night.
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Easter is the perfect time to visit Istanbul, just after the winter season but before the summer tourists descend in their swarms. Istanbul – or Constantinople, as it was once known – was the historical capital of the Byzantine Empire, the city where East meets West in an exciting melting pot of colour and light. Easter in this part of the world is a unique, culturally significant event, celebrated by both Western Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians. To discover more about the fascinating, complex history of the region, check out the Church of Christ in the Chora: a must for lovers of Byzantine art, this 14th-century former church and mosque is now a museum that in itself embodies the city’s past and present. Combine your trip with dinner at the nearby Ottoman restaurant of Asitane and a post-prandial walk along the city walls.
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