Review: Garden Festival

With the washout of a summer, and many UK festivals postponed or cancelled altogether, we jumped at the opportunity to leave trenchfoot firmly in the British mud and take our chances with a festival in Croatia. The week long Garden Festival near Tisno, Croatia is the perfect  way to forget the Isle of Wight horror stories, and indulge in some sunshine, swimming, al fresco eating, cheap beers, boat parties and even, if you get up in time, some decent DJs. Our photos ended up looking half like a fashion shoot, just because it’s that kind of beautiful place.

The promoters, booking out an entire family campsite for the event, know that this is a holiday more than a festival, making it as easy as possible to enjoy. On site, accommodation numbers  are low and bookable in advance only. There are cheap rooms in neighbouring Tisno, but the vibe here seems to be book a dorm room with mates, or go for the upmarket camping option, stay up all night, swim first thing in the morning, then sleep the day away on the beach on a lilo in the sheltered cove or in your air con rooms. The party, like many dance music festivals, doesn’t even get going until at least 10 pm, with many of the DJs playing sets to entirely empty stages, but it’s so sunny and chilled that no-one seems to mind.

The second of two main stages is right on the water’s edge; a private beach accessible only by the festival goers and the city banker muscle boys who turned up on yachts anchored just off the edge of the beach, presumably to perfect their gym bodies and light cigars off of your hard earned £20 notes. The campsite, an even and good natured split of those in their late 30s and upwards and a younger crowd who start drinking on the EasyJet flight out and were still squeezing in vodka to their tanned and tired bodies on the return flight, just adds to the happy vibe. You could spend the entire week in the sea and on one of the many bean bags dotted around in the shade onsite and come away feeling you’d had an amazing time. Some DJs definitely played, the music was definitely good but in a brilliant way they seemed to soundtrack a private party than provide a festival line up.

The campsite is beautiful, with fig and olive trees, and even the shower blocks clean all week. The cheap camp kitchen pizza is thin, perfectly good and tasty and your wallet doesn’t take the beating that it would in the UK; even the cocktail stalls are fairly priced. It’s so hot by 7 am in the morning that staying in your own tent isn’t an option and the noise of the cicadas is far too much, but the site is surrounded by a shady, rocky beach with sunbathing areas and swimming in water that is crystal clear, clean and as still as a lake.

Festivals often involve a trauma getting through the day, until the big acts pile on stage in the evening; the site, the sun and general good feeling of the crowd make Garden Festival a breeze – it’s fun all day long and, if you manage to find the right hook up, it’s good all night too. There are warnings of undercover police all over the site, but this didn’t seem to stop the loved up crowd.

Go whilst this festival is still small, fun and intimate, or pick any one of the many festivals in Croatia this summer – this country rocks: the people are friendly, the beer is cheaper than water, taxis are cost effective and the locals all speak English or German in that good natured way that makes you feel woefully inadequate as a Brit abroad.  Sometimes it takes a year to build up the motivation to attend a UK festival again, but with Garden Festival we’d do it again next week if it was on.

Words and pictures by Kevin Mason.