Croatia is rapidly losing its position as one of Europe’s undiscovered gems – and one of the reasons is the popularity of many of the annual festivals in Croatia, that are drawing more and more people to this diverse and fascinating country. With a stunning coastline of more than 1000 miles, a less well-known but equally enticing interior and some captivating cities, Croatia is deservedly becoming much more accessible to people throughout Europe.
A country that is embracing the future but also highly protective of its past, Croatia naturally has a folkloric tradition which has resulted in many small local festivals. Nationally, the most important celebrations are June 22nd, the Day of Antifascist Resistance; June 25th Croatian Statehood day; August 5th Croatian Victory day and October 8th, Croatian Independence Day. Many cities, towns and villages hold their own celebrations and parades on these occasions.
There are some important celebrations of traditional Croatian folklore – the most important of which is probably the International Folklore festival held in Zagreb every July. Winter carnivals are, however, very commonly held throughout the country and these are often strange amalgamations of religion and tradition. The International Carnival of Rijeka, for example, has many elements commemorating the resistance to Turkish invaders many centuries ago. There are parades of grotesquely masked celebrants frightening away ‘evil spirits’ as well as ‘party floats’. The city of Pag also has a particularly raucous and enjoyable parade to the town square.
It is the more international events, however, which attract most foreign visitors to festivals in Croatia. The Dubrovnik Summer Festival, first celebrated in 1949, has become a truly worldwide event. For six weeks every summer, the attractive walled city presents a varied and ambitious programme of music, opera, theatre and dance in some sublime Renaissance-Baroque surroundings, both indoor and open-air.
More modern music is thoroughly catered for by Croatian music festivals. The location for at least three of these is the small, picturesque Adriatic village of Petrcane, just a few miles away from the city of Zadar. The Like Minded Festival, during August, Soundwave and the Garden Festival (both in July) are all held in this town which is building an international party reputation. The Tiki Beach Bar and the equally well-known Barbarella´s Club host many events but the beach itself is the main site for activities. With high calibre live acts, DJs from across Europe and the highly popular Argonaut Boat parties, these festivals not only provide excellent entertainment but also offer tremendous value for money.
Zadar itself, in early August, is host to a fantastic Night of the Full Moon party on its own promenade, although the music here is much more traditionally Croatian. In a festival for food lovers as well as party goers, the whole promenade is turned into a gigantic food market, as well as boats serving from the water. You can obviously find wonderful fish and sea food – especially the mussels – as well as local rakia, figs and cheese.
Pula, a small city with some fantastically preserved Roman buildings, has the Seasplash festival each July. One of the ancient cities of Illyria, set in beautiful countryside and adjacent to a particularly tranquil stretch of the Adriatic, Pula’s reputation as a holiday destination has been added to by the presence of Seasplash. For four days, the site just outside the town is full of the sounds of dub, ska, drum and bass, reggae and hip hop as the five festival stages present premier popular music.
The city of Zagreb, as might be expected, has many festivals throughout the year, offering varied cultural experiences. One of the most unusual is the annual Urban Festival, each June. Mainly in the former industrial parts of the east of the city, this is a multimedia festival, predominantly focussing on visual and performing arts, which, every year, attracts participants not only from Europe but also from north and south America. In addition to performances and exhibitions, there are many workshops arranged during the Urban Festival.
If you’ve never yet been to Croatia, then you will discover a beautiful country that is developing its tourist infrastructure very rapidly but managing, in the main, to do so in a manner that is sympathetic with its own traditions. Many of the festivals in Croatia undoubtedly will help entice even more visitors to this historical, yet dynamically modern, country.