Many factors go into what makes a great festival great. There are the acts playing of course, the facilities, the people you go with, the location. With Garden Festival, held in the grounds of a hotel in the Croatian holiday village of Petrcane, it’s the location that is everything.
Sure, if you just want dance in the sun you can go to Ibiza or any number of other places, but nothing really compares to this small but well equipped little village in a country that, perhaps accurately, sells itself as "the Mediterranean like it used to be".
The Croatian coast, this area around Zadar included, is simply beautiful. It’s touristy enough for you to be able to get pretty much all the supplies you might want and not have to worry too much about not speaking the native language. Yet, equally, it isn’t over-developed and retains a ‘paradise’ like atmosphere.
When you’re sitting on the beach with some old skool tunes playing behind you, a couple of smiling dancers keeping the rhythm going and a lot of sunbathers just lounging about, all the many problems of today’s world slowly drift away.
It’s hot, but you can just jump in the water at pretty much any point. Mind the sea urchins though, DiS had to learn the hard way (It’s like getting lots of tiny wood splinters in your foot). Swimming in the morning in the beautiful blue Adriatic is also the best hangover cure ever invented bar none.
Don’t worry though, it isn’t all boring bliss. As soon as it gets dark the party really starts. There’s a main stage in the courtyard, complete with a paddling pool in the middle that makes it better than any foam party. Then there’s the ‘beach stage’ a raised podium over the sands which, despite not having the biggest DJs, was where the best atmosphere was often at to be found as the merry splashed in the water and swung from overhanging trees.
The killer aspect of Garden though, is the boat parties. DiS had some advice from previous attendees to buy some boat party tickets in advance, and not to miss out. They were not wrong.
Our first party on the ‘Argonaut’, renamed ‘Argonaughty’ for the proceedings, is ‘Electric Mind’ featuring Dolan Bergin, Yam Who? and Ilija Rudman.
Onboard, things are subdued for a while. It’s ridiculously hot and the boat takes a while to leave dock. There’s also a terrible queue for the bar, caused by the ‘Funny Money’ system that the festival employs. You have to exchange you Croatian Kuna for receipts which you then take to the bar staff. Unfortunately, whether on the boat or the festival site, there are not enough cash takers – the organisers have had a lot of thieving go on in the past apparently – and this all makes for a very slow and frustrating system.
The solution, though, is to buy a lot of drinks at once. Which people do and, as the boat picks up speed and cruises swiftly up the coast in the brilliant sunshine, everything changes. With the waves lapping at the sides and the music kicking off, tops are removed, people get up and start dancing on benches, stand on the prow or grab onto the mast.
The party gets bigger and bigger to the point DiS can’t actually believe that this is all actually happening. The nearest thing we can equate it to is like being in the video to ‘Rio’ by Duran Duran, except without the Brummies in dodgy suits.
The beats and the sun and the party go on for hours, no one wants it to stop, but there’s another party waiting to board, and at 6:00pm everyone tumbles back onto the dock having experienced something that is genuinely ecstatically mind-blowing. There is no matching it. It was even worth the queue for the bar.
There are various accommodation options in Petrcane; hotels, guest houses, apartments and camping, though you should book early to get the best. The same goes for flights, there aren’t many and they fill up quickly. But even if you have to travel quite some distance to get the festival from wherever your flight lands, the scenery is likely to be beautiful and the times good.
DiS opted for traditional camping. There are two sites in the village. Both well appointed. ‘Autocamp Punica’ was ours, a little further from the festival site, but still a nice twelve-minute walk and right next to where you get onboard the boat parties. There are half-decent facilities and Maria, the owner, is lovely. It’s also the cheapest option. That said, it gets very hot very quickly of a morning, and there a lot of very funky looking (but harmless) insects knocking about, so if you’re very into your creature comforts, another option might be best.
Dancing carries on long into the night on all three days. The action in the arena is added to by the boat parties that leave at 2pm and 6pm every day, while Late-nighters can also carry on till 5am in the original 1970s Barberella’s Discothèque in the hotel. though that’ll cost ya extra.
Daytimes are usually spent either on boat parties, chilling or dancing to a few tunes on the beach. It’s all bliss, and it’s only when the music really begins to kick off that you feel inclined to do anything at all beyond just being there. It’s so blissful we almost considered not telling people ‘The Beach’ style lest it all be ruined. But we’re informed that after expanding the capacity of the festival to 3,000 people last year, this year they’ve put it back down to 2,000 to retain the intimate atmosphere and that’s the way they plan to keep it.
This year Garden is operating over two weekends to cope with its popularity, though this did have an effect on the line up. It looks like in order to drum up interest in the second weekend, that they got most of the big names.
Highlights of our weekend though, included Faze Action, whose disco-dominated set also featured a live band and a brilliant vocalist who we meet again later when she does an impromptu performance on the Argonaughty, and Norman Jay, who plays a great mix of quality tunes and crowd pleasers.
But, to be honest, it really doesn’t matter who’s playing. The music is good. The sun is high. The waters are blue. The people are cool and the boat is leaving for another party in an hour. Who the fuck needs Tiesto? Garden Festival is an amazing event for festival lovers, dance lovers and beach lovers. As the festival expands to have an event every weekend of the summer, we have no hesitation in recommending that you find the event best suited to your tastes and get the next flight to Croatia. Just don’t tell anyone else.