Travel: Garden Festival, Croatia

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When our weather starts to take a turn for the chilly, it’s impossible not to look longingly at the approaching Northern summer. One of the most desirable festival destinations in Europe is undoubtedly Croatia’s Garden Festival, hosted in the 900-year-old village of Petrcane.

Since its inception, the soundtrack of the festival has always been in harmony with the pristine surrounds. A wide of spectrum of DJs and live acts come together to play and be merry on the beach, with boats parties happening twice daily around the main action.

In July 2011, the party is going ‘back to its roots’. The likes of Crazy P, Art Department and Tensnake are appearing live, along with an embarrassment of DJ riches including Appleblim, Soul Clap, Larry Heard, Motor City Drum Ensemble and Greg Wilson. That smattering of names should give you a feel for the Garden vibe.

We spoke to organiser Eddie O’Callaghan about how Garden has become one of the world’s most desirable festivals – even for dance music devotees all the way on the other side of the world.

Tell us about what inspired you to get the first Garden Festival off the ground.
It’s a great story and something which helps make the whole Garden Festival and Garden Petrcane site story unique. Nick and Charlotte Colgan moved to Zadar with their family in 2004 to open what was Croatia’s first outdoor lounge bar, The Garden Zadar. With a stunning location on the ancient city walls overlooking the harbour and great music supplied by many old friends from the UK’s dance music underground, it proved an instant success.

Encouraged by the reactions of all who came and fell in love with the region, Nick began looking for a spot to hold a boutique festival, and had soon stumbled across an amazing beachfront site on a pine tree covered peninsula in the nearby village of Petrcane. With the help of old friends Eddie and Gail O’Callaghan, who had also recently moved to Dalmatia, they set about renovating the fabulous ‘70s built venue ready for the first Garden Festival in 2006. Since then the festival has grown each year and the site also hosts other events from outside promoters during the summer.

What have been some of your favourite moments in the festival’s history?
That’s an impossible one to answer! So many great live shows, DJ sets, boat parties and sunsets. Rather than try and condense it into three memories, it would be more representative to describe an average day so here goes…

Wake up, shower at your apartment in the village, walk along the seafront and have breakfast at one of the restaurants and cafes along the promenade, and then, feeling refreshed, stroll over to the festival site. Music starts at the beachfront Tiki bar at 12-noon, with relaxed and eclectic tunes to start with, ideal for lazing around the beach and soaking up the sunshine. Take a refreshing dip in the warm azure sea or choose a cocktail; both of which will chase away your hangover and put you in the mood to groove.

The tunes will gradually lift in tempo throughout the day so get dancing away in the sunshine or even in the sea – the Tiki Bar actually just right into the Adriatic and you can dance with the water splashing around your ankles. When you get hungry after all that dancing, there will be delicious freshly cooked food on site or you can nip back to one of the great seafood restaurants in the village.

The infamous Argonaughty Boat Parties set sail twice daily and are not to be missed, four hours afloat with a dynamite soundtrack and a backdrop of sunset over the islands. When night falls the dancefloors really start to rock. World-class DJs at the seafront and amazing live acts on the main stage keep everything jumping till 1am, when we chill things down outside so you can relax and chat under the stars, or for the hardened party people it’s in to the Discotheque for the full on club experience till dawn.

This year looks to be enormous! What are you most looking forward to?
There’s so much on offer that it’s almost impossible to choose! Certainly Odyssey will be amazing on the main stage, along with Incarnations, Crazy P, Different Drummer and Electric Wire Hustle – they are from New Zealand so quite close to where you guys are from. On the DJ tip, you are really spoilt for choice… am really looking forward to Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap; Larry Heard will be amazing. Each and every year the regulars always do so well too – Ole Smokey knows the dance floor like no other, Greg Wilson is a Garden friend and regular…

It’s quite a mission to visit Croatia from Australia. What makes TGF so unique that we should fly around the world to party with you?
It’s always fantastic when people come from as far afield as Australia, having made such an enormous effort we have found that they are so energised and up for everything that they bring a special buzz along with them. Each year we are finding more and more people are coming from further afield to our little slice of paradise.

We think that you will find the range of possibilities open to you is what make the Garden Festival so unique and sets it apart from the UK festival experience.

During the course of a single day you can relax in the sun, swim in crystal clear waters, set sail on the famous boat parties, watch world class acts on the main stage and party until dawn in the nightclub. Also the beautiful old village of Petrcane, being only minutes from the music stages, really becomes part of the festival site. Most people stay in the village so it gives the genuine feeling of a holiday experience with an extraordinary party going on just moments away.

Find out more about the Garden Festival at its website, and if you’re planning a last-minute trip, 6-13 July are the dates!