houghton-festival

As the first signs of spring burst through, suddenly we cast our thoughts forward. We dream of what’s destined to come: lingering, hazy days and hedonistic, balmy nights, sun-kissed, freckled skin and spellbinding stints in the great outdoors. As life beneath the earth stirs, so too does our desire to be among it, and so come summer we leap feet first into festival season, bound to dance beneath a starry sky and lose ourselves to a parallel universe. These days, we’re inundated with festivals suitable for every whim and fancy but a chosen few still rest on the cusp of magic. Here, we handpick the best of them.

1. Meadows in the Mountains, Bulgaria  (7-10 June)

A three-day festival for around 1,700 people set in the Rhodope Mountains, Meadows in the Mountains is a festival suited only to those who really want to be there. Unlike other festivals, you’re not chasing the lineup but instead appreciating whatever materialises in front of you. Travel by bus up a steep incline to the main festival site – a wooden village of stages and stalls scattered through the trees with sweeping views of the valley below. At night, flit between the main stage and sunrise stage where DJs play the perfect electro soundtrack. Come sunrise, gather around the sunrise stage at around 5AM, at watch as the the sun slowly begins to creep over the mountaintops.

2. Kala, Albania (20-27 June)

Little is known about the location of this brand-new festival, aside from the fact it’s being held at an exquisite beach location south of Dhermi. It’s here that sapphire waters gently lap ivory-hued sands, and lush mountain forests loom in the distance, waiting serenely to be explored. The music promises to be equally as enchanting, with a mish-mash of disco-touting guests including The Black Madonna and Todd Terje set to appear. Make time for the local food too; it’s a delectable melting pot of Italian, Turkish and Greek cuisine.

3. Love International, Croatia (27 June – 4 July)

A magical mystery force of music, glitter and feel-good vibes in abundance, Love International stands head and shoulders above similar Croatian compatriots. Set amid a gorgeous private bay that’s hugged by the crystal-clear Adriatic, languid beachside days are mandatory and dancing zealously into the night is a must. Come sunrise, the mood mellows as an acoustic stage emerges beneath the pine trees to help lull you off to sleep and on the final day revellers are ferried to a secret island for swimming, barbecuing and as much merry-making as can be mustered.

4. Secret Solstice, Iceland (21-24 June)

A celebration that swirls around the Northern Hemisphere’s midsummer marker, Secret Solstice takes place near Reykjavik during 96 hours of continuous heavenly sunlight. Gigs take place in a host of otherworldly locations, with a 5,200-year-old lava tunnel and Europe’s second-largest glacier converted into stages. Spa treatments and the opportunity to explore the country’s striking natural landscape are available, not to mention performances from some of the biggest names in international rock, hip-hop and dance. Sensory overload guaranteed.

5. Worldwide Festival, France (30 June – 7 July)

A project born as a result of Gilles Peterson’s ever-curious mind, Worldwide hosts one of the most eclectic musical line-ups on the planet. Located in Sète, a seaside town on the south-eastern coast of France, by day you bounce to tunes alongside the Riviera; by night you wiggle and jiggle in the Thèatre de la Mer. Highlights this year include the annual spirited street party and a goosebump-inducing live set from Four Tet. There’s also a midweek day off to refuel.

6. Houghton, Norfolk (9-12 August)

After its inaugural outing last summer, praise was heaped on Houghton, with many citing it as the UK’s best new festival. A 24-hour schedule of staggeringly good electronic music proved this wasn’t hyperbole, as did its location within a thousand acres of Norfolk countryside. The almost flawless music programming saw ambient mornings move seamlessly into wild, madcap nights. Throw in some thought-provoking art and morning yoga and you’ve something truly extraordinary on your hands.

7. Green Man, Wales (16-19 August)

Set among the lush evergreen hills of the Brecon Beacons, Green Man is a favourite among eco-conscious festival-goers who only want to leave an ephemeral mark; thanks to its promise to keep waste and plastic usage to a minimum – even glitter is only permitted here if it’s biodegradable. But it’s the tried and tested alchemy of music, literature, comedy and performing arts that combine to create a bewitching web of wonder. Be sure to linger over performances by Fleet Foxes and John Talabot.

8. Festival No.6, North Wales (6-9 September)

Taking place in the kitsch little tourist village of Portmeirion in North Wales, at Festival No. 6 a Mediterranean-inspired, pastel-coloured fantasyland becomes your playground. Add Friendly Fires, Jessie Ware, and the Welsh Male Voice Choir to your must-see list, warm up in a wood-fired hot tub, laugh your way through stand-up comedy and roam among woodland until you stumble across the dog’s graveyard and historic dancing tree. Captivating whimsy backed up by substance.

9. Nova Batida, Portugal (14-15 September)

Sending us on a more metropolitan tip, Nova Batida is situated among the beguiling cobbled alleyways and centuries-old ruins of Lisbon – providing plenty of excuse to soak up the city’s rich, tapestried culture while you’re there. The gigs themselves will be housed at LX Factory, a sprawling converted space consisting of courtyards, roof terraces and bars, and Village Underground Lisboa, which was once a tram terminus. There’ll be a slew of nooks and crannies to get lost in, just be sure to emerge in time to see Connie Constance whose silky, soulful tones will leave you mesmerised.

10. Oasis, Morocco (14-16 September)

Now in its fourth year, Oasis takes place in a luxury location just outside the dusty bustle of Marrakech. With the majestic Atlas Mountains as its backdrop and traditional Moroccan values at its core, this festival resonates beauty on every level. Come to drink bubbles beneath a melting sky, sample culinary delicacies in secluded enclaves and for aural pleasure in the form of the finest electronic underground sounds around. Top it all off with an African sunset and you’ll head home floating on air.

11. Lake of Stars, Malawi (28-30 September)

This year celebrating its 15th anniversary, Lake of Stars returns to the shores of Africa’s third-largest lake on a mission to drench festival-goers in a deluge of vibrant colour, liquid movement and raucous live music. One of the continent’s leading cultural gatherings, here you’re catapulted through a vortex accompanied by an harmonious soundscape that represents the pulse of a nation, in one of the most dreamy settings imaginable. Life-affirming stuff.

12. UVA, Ronda, Spain

The love child of Moody Collective and Morning Fever, this 500-capacity music and visual arts festival which made its debut in 2017 was “made for friends by friends” and beckons guests to frolic in the foothills of the Descalzos Viejos (“old barefoot mountains”) for three days of sun-soaked hedonism.

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