Meadows in the Mountains, set in the heart of the Rhodopian Mountains, is a truly magical and unique festival. Featuring unsigned acts and DJs that provide the soundtrack to the most surreal adventure you’ll ever have, dancing your feathers and sequins off at 8 in the morning as the sunrises over you and your 700 new best friends.
Admittedly, it’s no easy feat to make it to the festival itself, taking some committed travel planning, however the 5 hour coach journey from Sofia is entirely worthwhile and something you won’t even recall by the end of the trip. Sofia itself is well worth taking a visit to either side of the festival. It is a fantastic city with its quirky bars, outrageously cheap drinks and beautiful buildings. I would recommend going on a walking tour and getting to know some of the city’s fascinating history, from its ancient ruins to its communist reign, the layered city offers plenty to explore.
Upon finally arriving in the tiny village of Smolyan, aka the middle of nowhere where the festival is located, it is slightly overwhelming. Watched by the bemused locals who seem rather bewildered at being infiltrated by an influx of Technicolor ravers, the pressure to buy a cowbell and don a bindi might be a bit much (DON’T DO IT – what happens in Bulgaria doesn’t necessarily stay in Bulgaria), but don’t panic – magic awaits you.
But first things first, do you stay in the mountains? Instead of camping, my friends and I decided to stay in the house of one of the locals which you can do so for as little as £10 a night. We got a taxi (you can buy a £15 wristband for an unlimited taxi service which takes you to and from the village and festival. You also get a bizarre and itchy horse-drawn cart ride to the festival site itself, but you end up usually walking most of the way) and we arrived at our chosen house Zorka’s, where a sweet Bulgarian lady met us – she didn’t speak a word of English, we didn’t speak any Bulgarian, so we felt a bit like we were infiltrating her lovely home. We guiltily arrived back each morning 9am, leaving our muddy shoes outside the door. One day we woke up around 4pm to find she had cleaned our muddy shoes for us! The guilt couldn’t have felt worse, and we tried our very best to communicate our Thanks (We love you Zorka!) So apart from the horrendous shame of being the worst houseguests imaginable, if you can live with yourself disrupting the life of an adorable Bulgarian lady (she gave us roses from her garden as we left), then I recommend staying in a house as you get a comfy bed, clean shower and toilet. Although we may have been luckier than some, as we heard a horror story of someone’s shower being a *refurbished* pigsty.
Camping also seemed to have its perks, as you’re right next to the festival site which saves you the trek up the mountain as there weren’t always taxis when you needed them. However when you did manage to grab one they were absolutely hilarious – I had a Drive moment being driven up the windy road to the mountaintop at full speed to the taxi driver’s techno music and his built-in blue neon lights, and it was pretty much the best feeling ever.
When we finally got to the festival itself (if you think this build-up is long, it’s merely to give you a sense of the arduous journey it was to get there) we were blown away by the beautiful landscape. It surpassed all expectations, and was absolutely breath-taking. The site itself contains many hidden treasures: The Happy Place was our favourite– a secret hideaway with haystacks, a mermaid rock, silks and scarfs and fairylights draped around it, the perfect secret place to hide from the thunderstorms and watch the fog clear over the mountaintops. Although the storms hindered the dancing in the afternoon, a sense of community was made as people hid under the tents and drank mugs of hot chai til the sky cleared, or lazed in the hammocks hidden away deep in the forest.
I would have to say this festival is completely unlike any other with its wholly uncommercial approach, and with only 700 people it couldn’t be further away with the festivals we’re so used to in England. The food was home-cooked and delicious, the drinks were insanely cheap (£3 for a gin and tonic, £1.65 for a glass of wine). But the very best thing about the festival was the people there. As it takes a sort of adventurous spirit to make it to the mountaintop, the people I met, coming from all corners of the world, where amongst the friendliest I have ever met – you couldn’t say hello without someone offering you a massage or sticking a row of gemstones to your face.
I haven’t even mentioned the main part of what most people go to festivals for – the music! Although music isn’t the main feature of this festival, the DJs and unsigned acts from a wide range of genres, from house to hip-hop from folk to jazz provide the perfect soundtrack to dance from sunrise to sunset and back again. Watching the sunrise over the mountains in a state of happy delirium is something that will remain in my memory forever, especially with this song playing in the background.
Meadows in the Mountains is the best festival I have been, and probably will ever go to – that is until I make the 15 hour journey to get back there next year. Everything that sets it apart from your average festival is exactly what makes it so much more special. I couldn’t recommend this festival more, and whatever it required in effort, is certainly more than made up in reward. It’s an extraordinary experience that will stay with you, so make sure next year you’ve booked your dodgy WhizzAir flight, are prepared to ransack a sweet Bulgarian lady’s house, and are ready lose your mind and find friends in the beautiful Meadows in the Mountains.
Earlybird tickets this year were £65 and Standard were £100. Flights were as cheap as £120 (and we booked late) and hostels in Sofia are a mere £5 a night (Hostel Mostel was absolutely amazing). Overall, it was worth every penny and every minute of travel!