There is a popular saying that you will hear throughout Italy:
‘Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi’.
Christmas with the family, Easter with whoever you please.
…and indeed, the Easter weekend is usually dedicated to nature walks, BBQs, picnics and day trips to visit antique towns or places of interest, rigorously to be enjoyed in the company of friends!
Easter is a wonderful time to explore the fantastic region of Sicily.
Why? ….Read on and you will discover the many magical reasons as to why Sicily is so special at this time of year.
The Spring Equinox
Spring in Sicily starts a little earlier than it does in northern Italy and although the nights can still be a little chilly during the day the sun is strong and generously warming.
The countryside is dotted with large fields filled with colourful wildflowers. It is the time the deliciously intoxicating zagara; citrus blossoms.
The perfect time to enjoy the inner land of Sicily, the countryside and natural reserves such as Pantalica, Cava Grande or Cava Ispica, the Laghetti of Marinello, Vendicari or the Zingaro Nature Reserve, to name just a few.
It is also a fabulous time to organise a hike to visit Mount Etna’s central crater, hunt for Tholos in the Nebrodi Mountains or even a walk up the Madonie Mountains to meet a local cheese maker.
Please be warned though to take warm clothing as although there may be a sunny day and pleasant temperature at sea level, there will often still be snow on the peaks and if there is a bit of a breeze it can certainly get chilly, if not freezing!
Let us not forget the isles of Sicily. Maybe not for bathing in the sea [although sunbathing could be a possibility] but certainly to enjoy the less crowded walking paths and lazy afternoon aperitivi in the piazzas of the small port towns.
A walking weekend to discover the Eolian or Egadi Islands. Marettimo on Sicily’s West coast that offers some of the most spectacular walking paths.
Last but undoubtedly not least, this is an exciting time to visit the numerous wineries that can be found in all corners of this Island region.
Seeing vines awaken from their Winter hibernation is a joyous site for wine lovers, there is also much work to be done in the vineyard to prepare the vines for the new season, another reason why it is such an interesting moment.
Sicily takes Easter very seriously and all over the island, in large towns and tiny villages alike, processions weave their way through narrow streets, central thoroughfares and piazzas until finally they arrive at the local church or cathedral.
However, it is Western Sicily that offers one of the most renowned religious manifestations of devotion. The “Mysteries” of Trapani on Good Friday, in which the townsmen carry statues through the streets. Each statue represents one of the stations of the cross and are all made by the various local guilds. Thousands of Sicilians line the streets awaiting the arrival of the Virgin Mary “in search” of her son.
Erice, Marsala and Busetto Palizzolo have evocative processions on Good Friday. The celebrations in Erice are similar to those in Trapani, with statues being carried through the town, while at Busetto Palizzolo, there is a wonderful, costumed recreation of the Stations of the Cross.
Local dishes are a big part of the Sicilian experience at any time of the year and Easter is no exception!
Any Sicilian will tell you that the best time to enjoy ricotta is in the spring and it is the protagonist of many dolci pasquali.
The Cassata Palermitana, I feel, needs no introduction however it has some lesser-known cousins that are certainly worth a bite or two…
The Cassata Ragusana a little tart filled with ricotta spiced with cinnamon and the Iblean Nfigghiulata, which looks a little bit like a pie but filled with sweeten ricotta and cinnamon.
As is known lambs are the symbol of Easter for various reasons, most importantly from Christianity and the new testament.
It is very common for lamb to be served as the main meal on Easter day however there is another old age tradition hailing from Favara, dating back to the late 800s.
Favara is a town inland from Agrigento, internationally known for its contemporary art installations at the Farm Cultural Park and more locally known for its Agnello Pasquale or Pecura, a lamb sculptured by hand from pasta reale [a dense paste made from almonds and pistachios, similar to marzipan].
Favara has a dedicated sagra each easter, celebrating not only the pecorella but the many other sweets made with almond and pistachio pasta.
Ancient traditions, handed down from generation to generation, are the leitmotiv of Easter rituals. Just as in the small town of San Fratello, in Messina province, tucked away above the northern coast at the foot of the Nebrodi Mountains, where one of Italy’s most antique festivities is held: the festival of the Jews.
This curious festival involves the Jewish men (and possibly also the women) of the town dressing in garish red and yellow outfits, their faces covered with red masks. The men follow the typical Easter procession while blowing trumpets, at times rather inharmoniously. What may seem like a disturbance to the celebration is actually part of the festivities, and now, as in the past has been embraced into the catholic ritual.
Could we celebrate Easter without eggs? I think not!
Of course, there are many delicious chocolate Easter eggs to be found in Sicily, adorned with pistachio, filled with pistachio cream or created from the famous Modica chocolate.
However, there is an Easter egg biscuit that I find simply delightful!
Pupi cu l’ova pasquali, also known as cuddure Siciliani, come in many forms, shapes and fantasies.
They are made with a shortcrust pasty and literally moulded around or shaped to embrace a hardboiled egg!
These are just a few of the many wonderful things that Sicily offers during its Pasqua. I hope to have inspired you to visit this extraordinary island filled with antique traditions, glorious natural and manmade monuments and delicious gastronomic treats.