Naked Swimming And Skimming Stones At Croatia's Garden Festival

Sick of the rain and mud at your typical British Festival? Fancy something a bit different? Something cool, laid back and friendly? Why not try The Garden Festival, Croatia...
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An interesting fact about Croatia is that they have adopted a national slogan, which is "You may not have realised this, but we're very lovely people indeed". Ok, they haven't, I made that up, however it SHOULD be their national slogan. As I've found out over the previous two years, Croatian's are unfailingly hospitable, welcoming, courteous and polite, and they don't do bad seafood, either.

I've recently read James Brown's excellent piece about the Fiberfib festival at Benacassim in Spain, inspired by this, I'd like to share my thoughts and experiences from a gathering that is very much at the other end of the festival scale, namely, The Garden Festival, a 2000 person strong boutique offering of all things soulful and shining in the world of house, soul, disco, funk and anything else the DJ's decide that fits the moment.

The festival takes place in the garden of hotel Pinija, which is located at the end of a peninsular in the village of Petrcane, about a fifteen minute drive from the stunningly picturesque city of Zadar. The village and coastline that surrounds Petrcane can only be described as idyllic, the clear blue Adriatic arcs around the foreshore, lapping at the small sea wall and complementing the historical architecture, much of which dates from the tenth century. The village also has numerous relatively low cost, welcoming restaurants - I recommend Marco Polo - that serve local seafood and often have a strong Italian influence, reflecting the history of the Dalmatian coast. There is no on-site camping at the festival, however there are many accommodation options in Petrcane ranging from the 4* Pinija, where the festival takes place, to local home-stay rooms, villas, apartments and camp-sites. Accommodation is available to suit all tastes and budgets.

Ok, so you've fallen in love with the setting, but if you go to the Garden, you go to party, a lot. It is in this respect the festival delivers massively. During the day soulful summer tunes sing out like a soothing lullaby across the festival site while people mill around, sunbathing, swimming, drinking and dancing on the terrace of the Tiki bar next to the Adriatic. As evening approaches the music begins to get louder and the terrace fills up to bursting, 19 year old Croat and Italian girls in bikinis dancing alongside ageing British DJ's and club promoters, the festival attracts a diverse crowd from across Europe, we even meet two Bulgarian girls that have driven ten hours from Sofia to be there. Commitment.

During the day soulful summer tunes sing out like a soothing lullaby across the festival site while people mill around, sunbathing, swimming, drinking and dancing on the terrace of the Tiki bar next to the Adriatic.

As night falls the festival brings out the bigger name DJ's and live acts, the likes of Norman Jay, Mr Scruff, James Holroyd, Fila Brazilia, Crazy P, Larry Heard and Robert Owens grace the festival and keep the party going till 6 am, or later, if you can handle it. Not that the festival concentrates solely on big name DJ's, there is also a focus on working with some of the UK's coolest and longest running club nights, who fly in their residents to play sets at the stages, clubs and festival boat parties, you can expect to see and quite possibly end up drinking with the guys from London's "Faith", headed up by former Boy's Own stalwart Terry Farley alongside Stuart Patterson and celebrated veteran Dave Jarvis;  Manchester's much lauded El Diablo's, promoted by Neil Scott and Steve Johnson make a regular appearance, as do other well established UK club nights like Glasgow's Sub Club and Nottingham's Basement Boogaloo.

Last year, I was more than a little star struck when I found myself in conversation with Chali 2na, orignally from Jurassic 5, who was there with his Breakestra project. The festival is small and intimate, it allows the punters and acts to mingle as one, I've not been to any other festival where this happens. and it gives the place a real community feel.

As you may expect at such an event, naughty stuff is available, at a hugely inflated price of course, and if you are the sort that likes to dabble in such things, be very aware that undercover police patrol the festival and arrests ARE made.

So what was the party like? Well, here is my version of events of 24 hours at the festival:

1000 am - We're in the minibus from Split airport to Petrcane, it's going to be a two hour drive and we're all excited, my mate Claire cracks open a bottle of Morgan's spiced and it's passed around the bus. Oh dear.

1230-1400 - We arrive on site and check into hotel Pinija, the Morgan's spiced has long since disappeared and we're on the excellent local lager, Karlovacko.

1400-1500 - A nice plate of grilled sardines and some calimari at a local restaurant, free shots of local Rakia are handed around at the end. I'm starting to feel like I've had a drink.

1500-1700 - We head towards the festival, on the way we meet two acquaintances in their late forties that clearly are still going from the night previously, they tell us that after the festival ended at 6am they found a techno party in the woods somewhere, they have no idea where it was, one of them signs off with "I'm way too old for this fucking shite"." We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing." That's George Bernard Shaw by the way, not me.

1700 - 1900 - It is still around 30 degrees and the drinks are really starting to fly down now, bottles of prosecco, lager, shots of rakia, you name it, I'm on it. I find myself chatting away to Steve from Fila Brazilia, a couple of the Faith DJ's and other assorted funsters. Already I've lost the friends I came with. I decide I don't care.

1900 - 2200 - After a quick sojourn back to my room for refreshments, I get changed into some evening wear and we're right into it, the festival is buzzing as the light fades, the music is cranked up, the booze is still flowing, everyone is dancing and I've found my friends again. The night is looking up!

2200-0000 - I'm hideously pissed but still on the move and as James Holroyd drops Rockers Hi Fi's "Push Push" the crowd go ecstatic, it's a proper hands in the air moment, the kind of scene clubbers of a certain age get emotional and wistful about., It reminded me of various well worn anecdotes like "back in 1991 man, we had these doves right and it was all Millwall and Chelsea in this club and they're all like, hugging each other....."

Much better than fighting.

A guy dancing next to me with eyes like flying saucers grabs me round the shoulders and drools "As soon as I land back in England, the first thing I'm doing is booking this fucker again for next year!".

I can't help but agree.

I get back to my room and climb into bed. Two minutes later my room mate Adam bounds in and demands that we go drinking at a small beach-front bar.

0000 - 0003 - I notice my thumb is dislocated, I've no idea how long I've been carrying the injury or how it occurred. I pop it back in. I feel no pain.

0003 - 0430 - I enter Barbarella's, the on site nightclub, I'm properly on one at this point and for large parts of the morning lose myself totally in the music. I don't know who is playing, I don't know where my friends are. I have varied conversations ranging from the lofty and intellectual, such as the reasons teachers are protesting about their pensions to, "aren't squirrels funny" and, the Garden Festival goers stock in trade line - "I'm definitely coming back next year".


0435 - 0600 - I get back to my room and climb into bed. Two minutes later my room mate Adam bounds in and demands that we go drinking at a small beach-front bar. We get down there and immediately befriend other similarly intoxicated party people, the Jagermeister begins to flow and stories are being traded, the guys are trying to out-do one another with what they view as their hilarious, swashbuckling tales of gallantry and cunning on the European stage.  Even though there is a haze of booze and tiredness, some arrogance and competition, it really doesn't matter, everyone is having a great time! It looks as if more than a few people won't be going back to their rooms alone this morning.

0600 - 0630 - I am naked in the sea, swimming in a floundering manner and scraping my knees on rocks whilst Adam and a couple we've met take it in turns to point and laugh at my genitals.

0700 - 0900 - Adam and I discover a mixed group of scousers on the rocks next to the festival site, they are drinking rakia and skimming stones into the perfectly calm sea. All around is peaceful and the early morning sunrise gives the bay a hue of pink and luminescent blue, or is that the rakia? In any case, we befriend the scousers, carelessly chat and laugh for a while and talk about the great time we've had.

And it has been a great time.

At around 9am, I can hardly keep my eyes open and head back to the hotel for what proves to be just two hours of sleep, before tackling the next four days at the festival. A lovely way to spend 24 hours.

If next year, 2012, a year without Glastonbury, you decide you wish to try something different, something cool, European, inclusive, unpretentious, laid back and friendly, and providing that you yourself are cool, laid back, inclusive, unpretentious and friendly, why not head to Croatia?

If I've convinced you, I'll see you on the terrace of the Tiki bar, 1600 sharp, Dave Jarvis, Terry Farley or Stuart Patterson will most likely be playing, I'll be dancing in the sun next to the 21 year old Serbian girl wearing the bikini and the sailors hat, and, if your buying.... I'll have a Babycham.

"What's that? You are a nurse you say, I don't suppose you could take a look at this thumb?"

I look forward to meeting you.

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