A Roman Holiday: how to do Easter in the Eternal City

Dubliner, travel writer and inveterate globetrotter Pamela McCourt Francescone fell in love with a Roman on a visit to the city in her twenties and has lived there ever since. Here’s her guide to Easter in the Papal HQ

My Rome started years ago as an escape from a wet Dublin summer, which became a great job at the Rome Daily American newspaper – and finally home, when I met the Italian of my dreams. This city captures you with its beauty, dolce vita lifestyle and history – right in front of your eyes at the Coliseum and St Peter’s, and at the same time so delicately engraved on every stone that you begin to wonder how you can live without it.

Rituals and saints

Easter in Rome is an exciting mix of sacred and profane, starting with the Pope’s ‘Way of the Cross’ in the Colosseum on the Friday night before Easter Sunday on 20th April. An easy way to take part in this is to stay in the Relais & Chateaux Palazzo Manfredi, which has rooms overlooking the Colosseum. The highlight is the Pope’s blessing in St Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday morning. This year, thanks to the popularity of Pope Francis, and the fact that two former popes will be made saints the following Sunday, the throngs are likely to be humongous.

History on the table

The profane kicks in with food, of course, topping the bill. To escape the crush in town, head for the 2,000-year-old Appian Way. Stroll along the old chariot tracks and admire the massive tomb of Caecilia Metella, whose husband, Marcus Crassus, was the richest Roman of all time. In the historic L’Archeologia at N°139, enjoy Easter specialties like Abbacchio Brodettato, oven-braised lamb in a creamy egg and lemon sauce and Bignè di Pasqua, deep-fried choux pastries filled with ricotta, custard and whipped cream.

Chic shopping and decadent treats

The little streets around the Spanish Steps are packed with interesting shops like Ricami Veronica, Via Frattina 106, where linens, baby bibs and aprons are personalised with names and messages. Giuseppe Rossi at Jaja Camiceria, Via Belsiana 7a, makes hand-sewn bespoke shirts in the finest cottons and silks. Customers get fittings within 24 hours and the shirts can be mailed worldwide. Tartufi and Friends, Via Borgognona 4a, is a chic truffle lounge. Italy’s prized black and white truffles are shaved over pastas, main courses and desserts in the intimate dining room and feature in their take-away gourmet sandwiches, condiments and sauces.  On Via del Babuino, stop at 150a for a coffee in the Museo Canova Tadolini – be prepared to be dazzled  – or sip a cocktail in the secret garden of Rocco Forte’s Hotel de Russie, a home-away-from-home for the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

Art and artichokes

In Rome, the street scene tempts the eye as much as the work of Italy’s Old Masters. Admire the three, breathtaking Caravaggios in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi and, just across the road, visit the city’s most colourful open-air market, the Campo de’ Fiori, where the fruit and vegetables are the choicest in the city. Cross the Tiber to the Ghetto for Rome’s famous artichokes, which are at their succulent best – deep-fried with a crisp outer layer – at Piperno, Via Monte Dè Cenci 9.

Fresh air and rustic fare

On Easter Monday families pack up picnic baskets – actually five-course meals – and head for the countryside. Drive up to the Roman Hills and take a look at Castel Gandolfo’s palazzo where the Pope relaxes in summer. In nearby Ariccia, stop at a street stall and buy sliced porchetta, slow-roasted suckling pig, and thickly-cut crusty casareccio bread. Sit down in a fraschetteria, an informal restaurant with paper tablecloths, buy a carafe of local Frascati white wine, open the brown-paper-wrapped fragrant porchetta and enjoy a meal fit for a king.

Photo © Age Fotostock/Alamy

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