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You tried to get off the beaten track only to discover that the 'alternative' route is congested by fellow lonely planet disciples looking for the same authentic experience... Perhaps it's time to consult an alternative guidebook! Our new column will lead you to truly special sites, only a weekend away. We want to show you places that are everything but an all-inclusive trip on a charter flight to Ibiza. Let's find instead those few remaining precious spots in Europe

  1. Where you can't buy a coke.

  2. Which you can't reach by plane.

  3. But from where you can still see the stars at night.

If you are somebody who enjoys going to festivals just to drink litres of beer and passively listen to some music, you can skip this article. However, if you are willing to combine these two activities with rolling on top of strangers while giving them a massage, baking your own wholegrain bread and experimenting with some ancient Balkan martial arts, please continue reading. I bet you will enjoy learning more about Beglika festival and my adventures there.

dancing_on_the_lake
Photo: beglika
There is no place that can't become a dancefloor.

When my friend Mimi suggested going to an eco-festival in the Rodopi mountains, Bulgaria, I was a bit sceptical as I expected it to be a massive gathering of hippies. But I was soon proved wrong. Yanina Taneva, one of the organisers of the festival, explains that Beglika actually has very little to do with smoking tons of marijuana, recklessly practicing the art of free love and endlessly discussing your previous incarnations. The idea for an eco-fest in the mountains came from a group of mountain biking enthusiasts who wanted to show the local population that cutting down the century-old forest should not be their only source of income. By organising the first edition of Beglika they wanted to prove that eco-tourism could also be a source of sustainable profits with a less detrimental impact on the nature around.

nature_beglika
Photo: beglika
These campers hopefully have a lantern at night, otherwise their way from the festival area to the tent might end up being very wet.

Speaking of the nature around Beglika, there is only one word to describe it: breathtaking. The combination of century-old conifers, a clear blue sky and almost crystal water from the nearby dams makes even the biggest nature cynic stand in awe. However, this unique location (1500 metres up in the Rodopi Mountains) makes Beglika no easy jaunt on public transport. Luckily, last year the organisers of the festival arranged buses leaving during the festival days from Sofia and going straight up to the mountains. Yet these buses required pre-registration via e-mail, which did not work out in our case and my friends and I had to apply our best negotiation techniques to convince the bus driver to take us on board nevertheless.

Deep massage

After overcoming the logistical challenges surrounding Beglika, the next test was putting up our tents. For a city girl like me, this proved to be quite an arduous task but was followed by delicious satisfaction upon completion. After the hard work, it was time to start enjoying the festival. The first thing which immediately attracted my attention was a workshop about Indian beauty. I not only learnt a lot about the secrets of applying kajal eye-make up but also how to wrap a Sari around my body (and yes, it is as difficult as it looks). Another workshop which captured my interest, was on "Deep massage."  Quite different from traditional massage classes, this one stimulated the participants to lie on top of each other and roll up and down, which is a great way to meet new people in a very extraordinary way. These are only two examples representing the wide and colourful variety of workshops which Beglika offers, varying from building straw houses to mastering the martial art of Tai chi.

party_crowd
Photo: beglika
Balkan Beats make the crowd dance!

The culinary aspect of this festival should not be neglected either. It was impossible to find a Burger King or a Coke but there were plenty of delicious traditional organic dishes offered such as "kachamak" (similar to Italian polenta), which was made from cornflour boiled and stirred for a long time, butter, lots of cheese and pepper. To keep the festival as nature-friendly as possible, the visitors were encouraged to wash their plates after eating and return them to the food tents. The food leftovers were used to produce biomass, which in turn was used as fuel.

And then, at night...

Yet without a doubt the most exciting part of the festival started at night when the temperature dropped from 30 degrees to around 0. The main headliners were bands such as the German KosmoKoslowski, the Romanian PopaShapka and the Bulgarian Nasekomix. Even though these names are not very popular, they do play great Balkan beats, ethno jazz, hip-hop and electro, which make everybody dance and jump happily (also as a way to keep each other warm). After few hours of partying, it was time for me to face my last challenge - finding my tent in the pitch black night. Even with the help of a flashlight, the 30-minute walk from the festival area to the campsite was rather scary. Luckily, I managed to find mine without entering the tent of any strangers and I crawled into my sleeping bag with a freezing nose and a warm feeling in my heart. 

yoga_workshop
Photo: beglika
We are not sure, but this could be group yoga? Or perhaps the preparation for 'Deep Massage'?

So if you happen to be somewhere in the Balkans in August and you want to attend a festival where the visitor is seen as a contributor and not as mere consumer and where nature is celebrated and not destroyed, Beglika is a perfect match for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teaser Photo: beglika



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