For music festivalgoers seeking guaranteed sun, Croatia has become something of a mecca over the last few years: the number of festivals has more than doubled since 2010, with over 20 to choose from in 2016.
But this summer, the scene takes another giant leap forward as previously uninhabited Obonjan (pronounced O-bon-yan), is revived as a “curated island destination”, with a two-month-long creative programme of music, talks, art, health and workshops kicking off in July.
Co-founder Dan Blackledge (who started Croatia’s Hideout and Unknownfestivals) said: “Festivals do a good job of keeping people happy for a few days, but this is much more. It’s an evolution of the festival idea with all the things you love in one place in a beautiful natural setting. There’s an emphasis on wellbeing and ecology, and we want to encourage a real feeling of community – people can stay for as long as they like. I don’t want to say it’s the first of its kind, but I haven’t come across anything quite like it.”
The 136-acre island, 6km off Šibenik on the Adriatic coast – once used by the scout movement and uninhabited for a decade – has been leased for 45 years by British event company Sound Channel, Croatian travel companies Gratiosus and CMT, and promotions and events firm Otok Ltd. There are plans to open it as a year-round resort.
Advisers from Cornwall’s Eden Project are on board to ensure development is low-impact, while architect Una Barac used local and recycled materials in her designs. Accommodation for up to 800 guests is in safari-style tents and eco-lodges among the olive and pine trees.
This year’s musical line-up includes Roy Ayers, DJ Shadow and a 20-piece orchestra playing in the stone amphitheatre. Astronomy workshops, talks on everything from marine biology to learning from nature, an evolving underwater sculpture park, outdoor and indoor film screenings, and diving and kayaking are among the long list of activities, while food at five different eateries is all local and often organic. There’s a big focus on wellbeing with daily yoga classes, meditation, outdoor hot tubs and spa, curated by Lily Lawson-O’Neil, founder of London’s The Well Garden.
With interest in creative and wellness breaks growing (demand has soared lately, according to operators GoLearnTo and Vidados), Obonjan is tapping into the latest holiday trends.
“More people want a healthy holiday, but often retreats are holier than thou,” said Lawson-O’Neil. “People still want to have fun and, on Obonjan, guests can live it up a little but still leave feeling rejuvenated. It’s like a festival and retreat combined.”
With UK tourist numbers to Croatia up 13% last year (and up 99% since 2010), the island perhaps offers yet another reason to visit.
Obonjan opens on 18 July to 10 September, with prices from €74pp a night, including accommodation and entertainment.