Feature: Easter

Easter Island in the Pacific

Easter (and hopefully reprieve from cold weather) is almost upon us. To help you make use of the extra days off we have a few Easter destinations you must visit at least once in your lifetime. If gorging yourself on chocolates is more your speed, we've put together a chocaholics dream list of (almost) guilt-free getaways. To round out the experience find out about some of the exotic Easter customs from around the world.

Easter Destinations: A Mixed Basket Of Goodies

Easter means different things to different people, so this month we've decided to look at a range of our favourite easter destinations for 2012 and to explore some alternative holiday ideas. From a trip to the Holy Land in Israel, to a four day blues and roots festival in Australia, this really is a mixed basket of goodies - but there will be something for everyone.

Israel

Royal Sepulchre in Jerusalem The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

April high-season in Israel: the weather is at its prime; the intense summer heat hasn't kicked in, but the days are still long, bright and beautiful (not that winter is what anyone would normally consider 'cold'). Tel Aviv is the first port of call and people are always blown away by the classy infusion of trendy hotels, restaurants, art galleries and resorts. That's not to mention the impressive architecture and cracking nightlife - all in a country that is famous for its ancient relics. In a nutshell, Tel Aviv is the Miami of Israel, with less pretentious people and cleaner sea water.

Jerusalem will always be the country's biggest hit when it comes to tourism though. The streets of the Old City are jam-packed with folks who are there to witness the proud buildings and the sacred Western Wall, still standing after thousands of years. There are a host of tour operators that offer packaged deals, which also cover essential day trips to the Sea Of Galilee, the Dead Sea, plus shorter journeys to the Garden of Gethsemane and Calvary. Easter, Winter, any time: Jerusalem is a special place that is well worth the visit.

New York's Easter Parade

Downtown Manhattan's 5th avenue becomes a sea of bonnets every Easter, during a parade that has been taking place since the 1870's. Thousands of people, young and old, come out in their fanciest attire and strut their stuff from from 49th to 57th street - despite the normally chilly mornings that still keep people clinging to their blankets. 2012 is a big year for tourism in the USA, and New York never fails to disappoint. The city itself dons a bonnet, as the flowers and trees get their groove back through the Spring sunshine.

For more info visit www.ny.com

Rome

The Vatican in Easter

If you had doubts as to how hard the Pope's job gets, you should see Rome during Easter Weekend; the man blesses, prays and addresses crowds for 96 hours straight. The city of Rome is flooded with people who are there to witness the 'Triduum' processions, which start on Easter Thursday and go on all weekend. St. Peter's Square and the Basilica are where a majority of the action takes place, with Easter Mass being open to the general public and very well attended by all. Churches throughout the city will be hosting celebrations though, so you will be spoiled for choice. One of the other perks is being able to do some sightseeing on Sunday and Monday, when everything is closed and all the monuments and buildings are less hectic - let's face it, Rome will never be empty.

Blues Fest, Byron Bay, Australia

When: 5 – 9 April, 2012

Byron Bay's legendary Blues Festival is an international 'Must See', boasting the sort of line-up that brings music lovers of all ages, creeds and preferences together at one, beautiful venue. Now in its 23rd year and permanently settled at the gorgeous Tyagarah Tea Tree farm, 2012 Bues Fest will be graced by Crosby, Stills and Nash, Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty, My Morning Jacket, Angelique Kidjo, John Butler Trio, Keb Mo and a huge selection of other greats. As far as an Easter celebration goes, Blues Fest is the sort of weekend experience that will blow your mind, change your life and create stories that you will be telling all your friends twenty years from now.

For more info visit www.bluesfest.com/au/

Easter Island

Moai Statues at Easter Island

Chile’s Easter Island is something of an anomaly. Happening across it on Easter Sunday 1722, a Dutch Explorer was greeted by 887 giant statues. Dated back to the 1200’s, the statues (or moai) are second only to Stonehenge or the Pyraminds - a constant source of bewilderment for the many who have attempted to understand their existence. A few theories that have been expounded include an initiative of aliens (to reveal their artistic flair?) or that they were built by islanders to house the spirits of their ancestors and were transported either by elephants or pure mind-power. Considering that the largest Moai weigh about 84 tons (that’s almost 17 adult elephants), we remain unconvinced, but nevertheless wouldn’t miss an opportunity to experience one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites.

For those adventurers who hanker for action, the island has three volcanoes, which are great for hiking, crystal clear waters that make for perfect scuba diving, and incredible surfing - a superb combination of age-old mysticism and nature at its finest. Easter Island might be the most remote, inhabited island on earth, but we’d travel the world to get there.

Chocolate Tours During Easter

The Easter Bunny’s annual visit is one of the most highly anticipated days on the calendar. Just the word 'Easter' has a Pavlovian affect on little ones, who spend most of the last few weeks of March asking their parents the same thing every day: "When's he coming again?" The funny thing is how that anticipation still lingers in adults, long after we've gotten the bad news about everyone's favourite bunny not being real. Chocolate remains everyone's favourite legal drug of choice and this month in commemoration of our childhood memories, we're looking at the best chocolate tours in the UK.

Cadbury World’s Easter Extravaganza, Birmingham

Cadbury World's Easter Extravaganza

Cadbury World, ‘Where Chocolate Comes To Life’, is hosting a fortnight of family fun this Easter, starting on 31 March and going on until 15 April. It’s a sensory extravaganza from the start. As you walk through the front door the smell of sweet, warm chocolate hits you like a stiff breeze. All fourteen zones that make up Cadbury World will be going full steam ahead, giving everyone a tour of the UK’s most iconic chocolate factory. The demonstration zone is an opportunity to see the Cadbury’s chocolatiers at work, and also gives kids a chance to try writing their names in liquid chocolate.

On top of all this, there will be jugglers, ventriloquists, puppet shows and magicians on selected dates, making it one of the wildest family-friendly chocolate celebrations in the UK. Diane Mitchell, Marketing Manager at Cadbury World, said: “Easter is definitely one of the chocolatiest times of the year and with our egg-citing line-up of entertainers and activities there’s no better place to bring your family this Easter. As the home of the nation’s favourite confectionery, the only difficulty will be resisting all of the delicious limited edition goodies available in our Cadbury World shop!”

For more information and dates, log on to www.cadburyworld.co.uk

Best For Adults: Chocolate Ecstasy Tours

Prepare to be very impressed. Not that reviews will tell you everything there is to know about a tour operator, but a quick search for Chocolate Ecstasy Tours will definitely give you a peek at the sort of reactions Jennifer Earle generates with her chocolate tours of London. Jennifer and her team of chocolate boffins will bowl you over, by taking you to the finest distributors of chocolate in the city, keeping you entertained and educated all the way through – not to mention blissfully happy with the sampling. From the history of chocolate in the UK to the latest varieties and trends, Chocolate Ecstasy Tours will take your through the highs and lows of chocolate in society today.

"Chocolate Ecstasy Tours was born out of passion for chocolate, for London and for making people happy. The best way I knew (and still know) how to make people happier is to give them wonderful chocolate. I love introducing people to the beautiful chocolate boutiques in London and taking them down streets of London that even residents may never have walked down, or looked at closely before, and revealing some of its history." - Jennifer Earle

For more info visit www.chocolateecstasytours.com and watch Jennifer Earle answer questions about chocolate below.

The Chocolate House, Blackburn

Susie Bristow started off making fudge for lucky friends and family members more than 25 years ago. Today the Chocolate House stands as a testament to her continued work, passion and enjoyment as a chocolatier. Anyone who has received something from the Chocolate House will probably break out in song when it comes to describing how delicious their truffle, fudge or chocolate Harley is. A group tour to this beautiful 'factory' will show you just how it's made, give you a chance to sample the latest treats and their signature hot chocolate (that will literally change your life) and to meet the face behind the deliciousness. “I have always loved working with chocolate (who wouldnt!),” Bristow says on her homepage. “It seemed natural to include a demonstration of the art of chocolate making to groups of customers as part of their visit experience to my shop. The group demonstrations are now a very popular customer request!”

For more information and dates, log on to www.chocolateuk.com

The Chocolate Factory, Swansea

The Chocolate Factory offer a tour of their premises that puts you in the picture: you'll learn exactly how its made, where it comes from and all the steps that cocoa beans go through before they becomes the delicious chocolates you'll be grabbing for at the end. The organisers do an incredible job of threading the big picture of chocolate making into a fun tour that kids will love and parents will find interesting. All tours are available by booking only, so be sure to check out their website for information about times and contact details. We've heard rumours of Ooompa Loompa's, but you'll have to visit to see if it's true.

"You will get to see a real working chocolate factory in action, smell delicious chocolate being melted in our giant chocolate kettles, and get to taste all the different types of chocolate we provide. Uncover the secrets to making great chocolate and many other tricks of the trade from chocolate bar manufacture to creating a hollow Easter egg. And, of course, there’ll be plenty of samples to eat during your visit." - www.thechocfactory.co.uk

Easter Celebrations Across The World

If Easter has become just a few extra days off for you, maybe it's time to spice it up by trying out these weird and wonderful customs from around the world. Better yet, make sure you visit these places during Easter to experience strange but refreshingly new customs.

Russia: Fabergé Eggs

The common Easter egg is the ersatz version of the Fabergé egg - a work of art much prized amongst collectors. The original authentic Fabergé eggs were made by the House of Fabergé between 1885 and 1917; what makes them so highly sought after is the fact that there are only 50 known to have been made, with about 42 still in circulation (and by that we mean safely locked away in a museum or a multimillion pound private collection). The eggs were commisioned by the last two tsars for their wives and made by the jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé.

The egg to the right is the Rose Trelis Egg, No. 33, made in 1907 to commemorate the birth of Alexei Nicholaievich and came with a portrait of the young tsarevich (son of a tsar). It's made with gold, green and pink enamel, diamonds and satin lining. At the time of its making, it cost the princely sum of 8500 roubles; today it would cost a small fortune to buy, so rather get that special someone in your life a chocolate easter egg and thank your luck stars you're not married to a tsarina.

Bermuda: Flying Kites

The laidback people of Bermuda have a typically island-style take on Easter, with the leisurely activity of kite flying raised to a custom on Good Friday. Visit any of the island beaches during Easter and you'll be competing with kites for some sunshine. Easter kites are usually hexagonal in shape and range in size from the small to the really large (really bothersome when you're trying to get a tan). Some stay up all day. Legend has it that kites were first flown on Good Friday to represent the ascent of Christ. A fun way to pass the Easter weekend is to build your own kite with your kids. Visit Activity TV and watch their video below to build yourself a kite for Easter.

Spain: Semana Santa

Semana Santa in Spain

Semana Santa is celebrated during the last week of Lent in Spain and throughout Latin America. The festival is most well known for the hooded garbs - known as capirote (see right) - that are worn by certain brotherhoods during processions (this has religious roots and is unrelated to the similar garb worn by the Ku Klux Klan in the US). For women, the headgear of choice is a mantilla made of black lace and used to cover the hair. The most visited procession in Spain is the Sevilla, where processions are organised by age-old religious brotherhoods (called hermandades and cofradías) with stricly observed customs and order. Each day of the Holy Week brings new garbs and new customs for visitors to observe. As a spectator, you are expected to clap when an image (either of Christ or of the Virgin Mary) is raised and once the image has passed, respectful silence is expected of observers - the experience is at once otherwordly and spellbinding - you'll soon find yourself attending every procession you can. It's best to plan a visit to Seville well in advance as the city is overbooked during the Holy Week or if you're short on time, find a smaller town to experience this uniquely Spanish Easter experience.

Czech Republic: Pomlázka

Easter time in the Czech Republic sees pussywillow bushes stripped of their twigs for a quaint pagan custom that involves making braided whips - not for corporal punishment, but for 'whipping' loved ones into health. Czech boys make colourful braided whips to playfully (and lightly) whip girls to give them health and youth - hence the name Pomlázka meaning to 'make younger.' These days you're more likely to find a Pomlázka being sold at a streetside shop and girls whipping boys in turn.

Last Updated: April 2012

Gugulethu Hlekwayo

Gugulethu Hlekwayo

A timid traveller, but a traveller none the less; Gugulethu is in his element lost and without a map - preferably with a companion willing to listen to his tall tales. He's our resident expert on the best muffins in town.