Stop saying Croatia is dead
The festi line-ups are far better than Glastonbury’s
There is fear in certain circles that Croatia could become the new Zante.
It’s a beautiful land of £1.50 pints, boat parties on the Adriatic and some of the best festivals in the world. But some purists complain that it’s ending up like an eastern European stag do destination: offering cheap package holidays, superclubs, Carling and vomit on the sand. Others complain it’s been dubbed “the new Ibiza” – partly fuelled by a series of promoters who have quit the Balearic clubland and moved to Croatia. But Ibiza isn’t over either. And yeah, Saga holidays for the over 50s do a holiday to Dubrovnik, but they always have done.
Crucially, all the (superior) criticism implies that popularity is a bad thing. Fetishising things because they’re “undiscovered” is rather tedious. People are too keen to call things “over” when they mean “well-liked”.
Get over it and follow the party. “We’ve been going for five years and are now in our fifth season,” explains Mikey Gill, who runs festival package site Croatia Wave, and was on the crest of that wave in the early 2010s. “We’re doubling year to year.”
This is why.
It used be a small scene. Now it’s a bigger scene
“A lot of people went to Croatia back in the day when it was a bit of a Wild West,” Mikey says. “It was harder to confidently organise your travel and accommodation.” Now, it’s better catered for travellers – which you’ll appreciate when you’re three days into a week-long festival.
Formerly, there were the smaller boutique festivals – Garden, the grandfather of Croatian festivals, Electric Elephant, and the larger ones like Outlook, Hideout and Soundwave. Now there’s more variety. “Since [the early days] there’s been an explosion of more and more opening up. Some are quite catered for house music heads, some for people who are more into hip hop,” Mikey adds.
It hasn’t even blown up properly yet
You’ve probably seen an advert for Soundwave on the tube, but the guys who know seem to think it’s still got a way to go until it peaks. “I don’t think the real explosion has happened yet. Maybe it’s happening right now or it’s going to get bigger this summer. I think Croatia has been consistently bubbling over time, but it’s been getting more media attention recently. The launch of Ultra Europe in 2013 was a big thing for the festival scene. That takes over 100,000 guests and it was definitely a landmark.”
Last year, a group of promoters even bought their own island in order to create an “idyllic party location”. “Our vision is to regenerate the island and turn it into a truly unique concept,” says Sound Channel’s Dan Blackledge, one of the team that bought Obonjan for an undisclosed sum, “combining art and music, wellness, sustainable living and amazing food and drink.”
But it’s still relatively cheap
Some cities are cheaper than others. Expect to pay less in the north than than you would in a place like Dubrovnik or Split where it’s more touristy. Many people expected prices to go up after Croatia joined the EU in 2013, but Mikey insists they haven’t. “The Kuna is very much in sync with the Euro, but they still are using their own currency,” he said. “Joining the EU has had no effect on prices. One myth is that the Brits coming over have had a huge effect on tourism, which it hasn’t.”
“Some of the flights get more expensive during the season as the bigger festivals are oversubscribed – but I think it will get cheaper as more airlines run flights to Croatia.”
It’s a pretty country, and we haven’t ruined that yet
It’s a country of natural beauty. Mikey recommends Krka, a national park (situated slightly inland in a place called Sibenik). “It’s honestly one of the most beautiful natural sites in the world. If you’re winding down after a festival there’s no better place to go and wash away the sins. You can swim near the waterfalls.” His other top picks are the boat trips to the Kornati Islands, and another national park called Plitvic. Prettier than Krka but you can’t swim there.
Festivals have better acts
When you buy a ticket to Glastonbury, a lot of the fee goes to paying a big headliner like Coldplay. And nobody wants to see Coldplay. This year, grime is big: Stormzy, Section Boyz and Kano are playing at Outlook. Hideout has Skepta, but also Jamie XX, EZ, Dusky and Jackmaster. “I like my soulful house,” said Mikey. “For me Suncebeat is a real top pick. More of a boutique festival. Black Coffee, DJ Jazzy Jeff. Hideout has a massive lineup – that’s on a party island called Pag. Good for DJs”. Hip hop fans should go to Fresh Island.
Everyone’s talking about it, but that’s not a bad thing.