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Flying bells and giant omelettes: Eight ways the French celebrate Easter

Food, drink, family gatherings and egg hunts all feature at Easter in France - plus some more unusual traditions.

Flying bells and giant omelettes: Eight ways the French celebrate Easter
The Bessieres giant Easter omelette. Photo: AFP

Easter is of course a religious holiday marking the resurrection of Jesus, and many of France’s traditions during Pâques stem from old Catholic customs. 

Like many other historically Catholic countries, France is a big fan of Easter. All around the country, you’ll see shopfronts and bakeries decorated with chocolate rabbits, chickens, bells, and other signs of spring. 

The Easter Bunny isn’t quite as popular as he/she is in the UK or US, but the lapin de pâques or the lievre (hare) de pâques does make an appearance, especially in the east of the country, where traditionally he brought eggs to children at Easter.

Many other delightful and sometimes bizarre traditions mark the holiday in France. Here are a few of them.

Flying bells

Traditionally it is the cloches volantes, or “flying bells” that have brought treats for children.

READ ALSO How to have a traditional French Easter

French Catholic tradition says that on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter), all church bells in France sprout wings and fly down to the Vatican to be blessed by the Pope.

So no church bells ring between Friday and Easter Sunday morning, to commemorate the death of Jesus (and because they’re all in Rome, obviously).

After their getaway to Italy, the bells return to France laden with goodies for well-behaved children — namely chocolate eggs. And then during the church services of Easter Sunday, the bells go crazy once again in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. 

A 15,000-egg omelette

It’s not everyday that you see an omelette large enough to feed an army. But in the town of Bessières in south west France, they certainly don’t do omelette half measures.

Every year on Easter Monday, around 10,000 people gather to make a giant omelette, made with 15,000 fresh eggs, a four-metre pan, 40 cooks, and extra long stirrers.

This rather bizarre tradition is in recognition of when Napoleon Bonaparte and his army once spent the night near the town. After eating (and evidently very much enjoying) an omelette made by a local innkeeper, Napoleon ordered the townspeople to gather all the eggs in the village to make a gigantic omelette for his army to eat the next day. 

Crucifixion reenactments

This religious ceremony on the island of Corsica entails a reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The evening begins with a candlelit procession through the town, led by a “penitent” wearing a hooded robe and a heavy cross and chain.

He completes a nearly two-kilometre tour of the city, during which he must fall three times during this journey, as Christ did.

The penitent’s identity is a mystery to everyone except the priest, and each year there is a long list of volunteers hoping to be chosen for the honour.

Egg battles

Although France loves its chocolate eggs, there are some traditional Easter games that involve the real kind. An old Easter custom in France is to hold an egg-rolling competition, in which raw eggs are rolled down a gentle slope.

The surviving egg is dubbed the “victory egg”, symbolising the stone being rolled away from the tomb of Christ.

Another Easter egg game consists of children tossing raw eggs into the air. The first to break his or her egg is a loser and must give some candy to another child. Although in some versions of the game, there is no such tragic penalty. 

Chasse aux oeufs

Children in many countries hunt for eggs on Easter Sunday, but some lucky little ones get to hunt for their treats in the gardens of a French castle. One of the most famous chasses aux oeufs in France takes place at the Chateaux Vaux le Vicomte near Paris.

As well as a huge number of chocolate eggs hidden around the gardens, one lucky hunter will find a one-meter tall chocolate sculpture. To mix things up, this tasty sculpture is not of a bunny or an egg as you might think, but instead a squirrel.

Alsatian Easter markets

In the eastern region of Alsace, they take Easter celebrations a step further with lively Easter markets and events.

In a region also famous for its expansive Christmas Markets, cities like Colmar celebrate the holiday and the beginning of spring with live music, art exhibitions, and sales of local artisan and gastronomic products. 

Chocolate art

France has some world-famous chocolatiers, and they certainly don’t hold back at Easter.

If you’re lucky enough to be in France at this time of year, keep an eye out in the chocolate shops for their magnificent creations. You’ll see beautifully detailed sculptures of eggs, fish, chickens, rabbits, and more. They’re almost too beautiful too eat… almost. 

Working on Good Friday

One Easter perk the French don’t have is a free day on Good Friday.

Workers in most other Christian nations don’t have to work on this day, which marks the crucifixion and death of Jesus. But even though the French still have plenty of other public holidays to mark Christian religious events, Good Friday is not one of them.

The exception is the lucky residents of Alsace, the only French people who get to stay home this day.

READ ALSO Why is Good Friday not a holiday in (most of) France? 

But, Easter Monday is a public holiday, so make the most of it. 

By Katie Warren

READER INSIGHTS

Readers reveal: The best beaches and coastal resorts in France

The Local asked readers for their top tips for places to visit along the French coast and we were overwhelmed with suggestions for beautiful beaches, off-the-beaten-track villages and lively resorts.

Readers reveal: The best beaches and coastal resorts in France

The Local has been seeking out France’s best coastline in recent weeks, after a disagreement on an episode of our Talking France podcast where Editor Emma Pearson defended La Vendée as home to the best (and most underrated) coastline in the country, while journalist Genevieve Mansfield fought for Brittany. 

To settle the debate, The Local asked its readers to share their favourite place to go on France’s shores, and the results are in, along with exclusive recommendations:

Brittany wins

Almost half (48 percent) of those who responded to The Local’s survey about the best part of France’s coastline voted for Brittany. 

Where to go

Several people recommended the Morbihan département.

Angela Moore, said her favourite part of this area was the islet between Vannes and Lorient, which is home to romanesque chapel and the Etel river oyster, a delicacy in the area. 

Others chose the Morbihan for its “lovely little coves, wonderful beaches and seafood,” as well as for boat rides in the gulf. Meanwhile, some pointed out Carnac, as a spot to visit, as the town is known for its prehistoric standing stones.

Some preferred travelling further north in Brittany, and they recommended the Finistère départment.

Rebecca Brite, who lives in Paris’ 18th arrondissement, said she loves this part of France for the overall atmosphere. Her top recommendation was to “Go all the way to the Baie des Trépassés and stay at the old, traditional hotel-restaurant of the same name. Pretend you’re in the legendary kingdom of Ys, swallowed up by the sea on this very site.”

The other part of Brittany that came highly recommended was the Emerald Coast (Côtes d’Armor) – specifically the Côte de Granit Rose.

The Mediterranean coastline

The Mediterranean remained a very popular vacation spot for readers of The Local, with almost a third of respondents claiming it as their favourite part of the French coastline. From sailing to cliffs and architecture, the Mediterranean had a bit of everything according to The Local’s readers.

Cassis and the Calanques were among of the most popular responses for where to go and what to see in this part of France.

One respondent, Gini Kramer, said she loves this part of France because “There’s nothing like climbing pure white limestone cliffs rising right out of the sea. The hiking is spectacular too.”

Some counselled more lively parts of the riviera, like the old port in Marseille, while others suggested the quieter locations.

David Sheriton said he likes to go to the beaches of Narbonne: “It’s a gentle slope into the sea so great for the (grand)children.” He said that the area does have a “few bars and restaurants” but that it does not “attract the party crowds.” 

In terms of beautiful villages, Èze came recommended for being home to “the most breathtaking views of the French coastline,” according to reader Gregg Kasner.

Toward Montpellier, Dr Lindsay Burstall said that La Grande Motte was worth visiting, for its “coherent 60’s architecture.” Burstall proposed having “a chilled pression au bord de la mer while watching the world go by…”

Meanwhile, three readers listed locations near Perpignan, and all encouraged visiting the area’s “pre-historic sites.”

Sally Bostley responded that her favourite spots were “between Canet-Plage and Saint-Cyprien-Plage” and she advised visiting “Collioure, Banyuls with the aquarium, Perpignan, nearby prehistoric sites, Safari Park, Prehistory Park.”

Other parts of the coastline

Though these locations may have received less votes overall, they still stood out in the minds of The Local readers:

Normandy did not receive as many votes as its neighbour Brittany, but it is still home to unique attractions worth visiting. The WWII landing beaches “plages de débarquement” came highly recommended, along with cathedrals and abbeys in the region, like Coutances in the northern Manche département.

Reed Porter, who lives in Annecy, likes to go to Êtretat when he visits Normandy. He had several recommendations, starting with “les falaises!” These are the dramatic cliffs overlooking the ocean.

Porter also suggested visitors of Êtretat head to “the glass stone beach” and the “old town” for its architecture. If you get hungry, there are “oysters everywhere all the time.”

Basque country was also highlighted for its proximity to the Pyrenées mountains. Maggie Parkinson said this was the best part of France’s coastline for her because of “The long views to the Pyrénées, the pine forests, the soft, fresh quality of the air, the many moods and colours of the sea – gently lapping aquamarine waves to thunderous, crashing black rollers churning foam onto the shore.”

A huge fan of the area, Parkinson had several recommendations ranging from cuisine to “cycling the many paths through the tranquil pines, visiting Bayonne, the Basque Country and the Pyrénées or northern Spain (for wonderful pintxos).”

She said that she loves to “[chill] on the endless, wide sandy beaches or [rest] on a hammock in the park” or “[catch] a local choir sporting blue or red foulards singing their hearts out to traditional or rock tunes.”

Similar reasons were listed in favour of Corsica as France’s best coastline, as it is also home to tall mountains with beautiful views over the water.

If you are looking to visit Corsica, Paul Griffiths recommends “having a good road map” and then “just [driving] quietly along the coast and over the mountains.” He said that this is “all easily doable in a day” and along the way you can “find beautiful beaches, lovely towns with good restaurants – especially Maccinaggion and Centuri – to enjoy one day after another.”

Finally, the preferred coastline location for The Local’s France Editor, Emma Pearson, also got some support by readers, with one calling La Vendée an “unpretentious” and “accessible” place for a vacation.

Respondent Anthony Scott said that “Les Sables d’Olonne and Luçon both epitomise the spirit of Vendée.” He enjoys the “inland serenity and historic sites, beautiful beaches and inviting seashores” as well as “traditional appetising meals.” He also noted that the area is “not too expensive.”

READ ALSO Brittany v Vendée – which is the best French coastline?

Many thanks to everyone who answered our survey, we couldn’t include all your recommendations, but feel free to leave suggestions in the comments below.

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