Marching bands, vivid street celebrations, flower-filled mountain strolls and church services of both solemn contemplation and eternal optimism. And all with the promise of delicious food and springtime joy.
From Corfu and Paxoi, down to Lefkada, Ithaca and Kefalonia, and of course Zakynthos to the south, Greece’s Ionian Islands come into their own each Easter, when the country’s most important celebration unfolds with colour and individuality.
Marching to their own drummer
This year, Orthodox Easter falls on May 1, with spring in full swing. What better a setting, therefore, to experience the sounds and sights of no fewer than 27 marching bands that parade each year across almost all the islands of the Ionian?
Without a doubt, pride of place is reserved for Corfu, whose 19 bands give the island a unique musical identity.
The procession of the epitaph, a signature event of Good Friday to commemorate the Passion of Christ throughout Greece, is made all the more memorable by three Corfiot philharmonic bands accompanying parades.
The island’s oldest and most renowned band performs Albinoni’s Adagio while the Blue Band supplies Verdi’s Marcia Funebre and the Orange Band Mariani’s Suentura. Mournful, yes, but also furnished with blessings of springtime, with seasonal flowers gathered to adorn the epitaph.
Saturday dawns with the promise of full Easter celebrations just a day away.
Or sooner if you’re on Corfu. At 11am, the island’s main square and surrounding streets is the place to be as painted pots – some filled with water for extra acoustics – are thrown with aplomb from balconies.
The botides of Corfu, as the pots are known, possibly date to the Venetians who once ruled the island and ritually threw out old belongings to usher in the new year with optimism.
One way or another, don’t forget to take away a piece of crockery for your own piece of good luck.
Nature at its best
Across the islands, the irreversible turning of the year towards summer is all the optimism most of us need. And May in the Ionian is the perfect month to enjoy the outdoors.
Across Ithaca, Zakynthos and Kefalonia, island strolls come into their own in the unfolding spring landscapes. Indeed, on Lefkada alone there are no fewer than 24 marked footpaths that traverse the island’s rich flora.
Too many to choose between, perhaps, so suggestions are the path through the verdant Dimosari Gorge, which ends at an impressive waterfall, and Melissa Gorge, dotted with wooden bridges and traditional watermills – the remnants of 64 such mills that once existed in the early 19th century.
Onwards on our springtime jaunt sees us climb to the mountainous landscape of Kefalonia where Mt Ainos is preserved as a National Park and offers numerous walks, including that which crosses a forest of fir trees to reach the island’s highest peak, Mega Soro.
Continuing towards the Zoodochou Pigis Monastery you’ll reach the feeding ground of the wild horses of Mt Ainos, the legacy of the herds once bred by the islanders and, since the Second World War, left to breed in the wild.
One last ritual
By now you will be well and truly ravished by greek traditions. Easter in Greece promises to satisfy your every culinary desire, from the Lenten fare of the Holy Week right up to the feast of Easter Sunday.
But there’s still time for one last ritual to complete the experience: the first swim of the summer. Every island offers its secluded nooks and crannies perfect for that divine moment you take your first swim of the year. Perhaps nowhere would be more iconic than Zakynthos’s Navagio beach.
But we’ll leave the final choice to you.