Last year was my third year at the magical Meadows in the Mountains festival – and as always it was a highlight in my festival calendar! I was truly unplugged in 2017 (well apart from the laptop I was working on most of the day and the radio I had plugged in my ear)… a defunct phone and a lost camera battery meant I had to actually look at everything through my eyes! This means that all photos in this post unless otherwise labelled (like the one above by Zoe!) are by the wonderful Aron Klein.
Though I’m not returning to the mountain this year (swapping it for Download instead, ha! \m/) I’ve been getting a lot of requests for advice from friends who are making the journey for the first time this year so I thought I’d put together this post! Read on for some background info about Meadows and the things I think make it unlike any festival you will have ever been to… as well as my ultimate survival guide.
Those Festival Facts
When? Second weekend of June, Friday – Monday.
Where? Literally on top of a mountain in a village called Polkovnic Serafimovo in in the Rhodope mountains in Bulgaria.
Who? It was around 2000 people last year but I believe it’s growing for 2018. Hipster meets hippie, techno meets herbal tea, Meadows attracts a worldwide crowd – trendy but laid back!
Obvious disclaimer; I have worked for Meadows for the last few years! However I no longer work for them & all of this is my own honest opinion…!
Three reasons that Meadows in the Mountains festival is unlike any other European Festival…
They’re not just plonking themselves into an area of natural beauty with no thought to the consequences – Meadows have taken what it means to be a conscious festival to the next stage. Yeah it’s undoubtedly hedonism on another level (with pretty much 24 hour music programming) but it’s hedonism that gives a crap! Here are the reasons that Meadows is unlike any festival I’ve ever been to…
1 : Their special relationship with the locals
If you went to Polkovnik Serafimovo you would understand how important this is – it’s a village in the middle of nowhere steeped in tradition and history, it really feels like going back in time. You can even choose to stay in the local’s own stone houses with their little terracotta roofs perches on the edge of the hillside usually only accessible through a little pathway through the grass…
Last year the local choir came and sung some traditional Bulgarian songs at the opening of the festival – it was so special and probably one of my top Meadows moments ever, we all danced together at the end and it was magical…
2 : The setting
If you’ve seen anything about Meadows before it’s probably been a photo of one of the mind-blowing sunrises… as you can imagine they’re even better in reality. They’re probably the focal point of each day with everyone staying up all night at the sunrise stage and gathering on the side of the platforms to watch the sun as it creeps out from behind the mountain over the top of the clouds on the other side of the valley.
The incredibly beautiful site build itself is something I always rave about to other people who work in festivals… As Meadows is on a permanent site everything that is built the year before can stay until the next year and be added to and improved upon. So everything is locally sourced wood!
As well as all the infrastructure, fencing (no heras in sight!), toilets (often better than ones in the village) and stages there are also some really incredible sculptures like the amazing dragon built by the Denture Disco crew. It is 100% the the most beautiful festival I’ve ever been to and the natural site is just wonderfully enhanced by any additions they’ve chosen to add… Which leads me neatly on to how well they treat the area…
3 : Their values
Meadows has some serious eco credentials. As well as a completely plastic free site (yep that means no cable ties!!?), compostable loos and reusable cups the only option for drinks – they are also raising money via a crowd funder to plant a forest in Nepal with which they hope to offset the carbon produced by the festival!
My top tips if you’re thinking about travelling to Meadows in The Mountains…
I’m not quite a Meadows veteran having only done the past 3 (of 8 I believe) but I have seen it grow from 500 to 2000 people! Quite a few people have been asking for advice so I’ve compiled my top tips from my previous experiences at Meadows in the Mountains….
How to get to Meadows in the Mountains:
Flights from the UK are dirt cheap if you get in there early – most flights tend to be with Bulgarian budget airline Whizz air – make sure you watch out for their baggage restrictions when you book!
Thursday 7th – Tuesday 12th from London to Sofia is currently £88 on Skyscanner but obvs you can shop about with dates and locations – I got a £50 return this time of year a few years ago.
I’ve flown from both London and Bristol straight to Sofia in previous festivals and taken both the official festival transfer, public transport and driven to the festival site.
You can book the festival’s official shuttle from either Sofia or Plovdiv airports which are both cities in Bulgaria. A more adventurous option would be to get the local coach from Sofia to Smolyan, this is much cheaper but you will have to find your own way to Polkovnik Serafimovo which might not be so simple (the year we did this involved getting in the back of a red post office van with only one door bungee corded on and sitting on top of all the poles of a geodome and then having a huge burst tyre on the side of the road… & that was staff privileges!) Additionally people often rent a car from the airport as it’s surprisingly inexpensive!
Another option which Meadows are pushing this year is to get the train! Sounds like it would be a lush adventure – eco friendly and a wonderful way to really see Europe. In fact – the first 10 people to book a train ticket from where they live to the 2018 festival will receive a free festival ticket – how cool is that!?
On arrival you’ll need to check in at the HQ in the middle of the village and from there you can buy a wristband for the shuttle bus which takes you most of the way up the mountain – bear in mind you’ll need to walk the last bit as the terrain gets pretty rough so don’t bring more than you can carry!
What to pack & what to wear to Meadows in the Mountains
Be prepared & get ready to rough it! This is not a bougie boutique festival for festival princesses, definitely bear in mind that it is literally at the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere.
Bring sensible waterproof shoes, you’ll be stumbling around in the dark on mountainous terrain! I know I harp on about my Blundstones all the time but I originally bought them for Meadows and there’s nothing better for me. Waterproof, comfortable and great for stumbling around in the dark… wear fresh trainers at your peril.
I’d say that Meadows is probably one of the best-dressed festivals I’ve ever been to, everyone looks like a goddess! With the weather, the key is layering and having waterproof options as generally the weather is very changeable – due to it being on the top of a mountain! Don’t be fooled by the hot sun in the daytime as it can drop a lot at night… but then be prepared for it rising again at sunrise, the early morning is when people tend to get the most sunburnt!
The wonderfully curated ‘Mummar Mountain‘ market is one of the best I’ve seen at a festival so if you’re lacking in festival finery you’ll be able to stock up in biodegradable glitter, handmade headpieces and vintage Bulgarian garms aplenty here!
Where to stay in Polkovnic Serafimovo…
The best bet for that authentic Bulgarian experience is to stay with the locals in one of their houses but as the festival has grown I believe this accommodation sells out pretty speedy now!
However if you choose to camp up on the festival site you are a lot closer to the action which is handy as it can be a bit of a pain in the ass getting up the mountain.
Either bring your own tent or save yourself from the extra weight and treat yourself to one of the pretty cool glamping options which include bell tents and ‘tentsiles’ which are suspended between trees!?
Eating & drinking at Meadows in the Mountains
Get your Levs out for the lads! (lev is the currency – you can change it in the UK or just withdraw it from ATMS) There are no ATMs on site so stock up before you get there! Generally, everything in Bulgaria is markedly cheaper than in the UK though so you can definitely budget a lot less than you would for other European festival adventures.
Local Aldi (or Lidls? Can’t remember!) is a great bet for stocking up on snacks and booze and very reasonably priced but remember you can’t bring any of it into the actual festival site
I will say that food-wise Bulgarian is not my favourite cuisine and I didn’t find it particularly easy as a vegetarian – vegans beware! The food on site is pretty varied though with yummy stone-baked pizzas and healthy breakfasts and stuff.
You can also walk into the village where various people have turned their houses into cafes for the weekend and treat yourself to a bargain breakkie for only a couple of quid as well as lush food at The Pink House which is right in the centre.
Bring a reusable water bottle as well to keep yaself hydrated – there are none for sale on site as it is totally plastic free! There are little metal meadows cups you can buy for all your booze and a great keepsake… I loved seeing them carabinered onto people’s bumbags for the rest of summer like a badge of honour!
Booze on site is great, reasonably priced and varied. Treat yourself to a bottle (or three) of champagne at the bar in the woods or head up to the yummy cocktail bar near the main stage.
What to do!?
Like all of the best festivals Meadows in the Mountains is great wonderful because you can really choose what kind of experience you want to take away from it. There are definitely two extremes or you can choose to go somewhere in between: get up early for that fresh mountain air, grab your self a bowl of muesli and get involved in some early morning yoga…Or stay up for 3 days straight raving!
If you don’t want to do the latter I would suggest bringing some ear plugs – another great thing about Meadows’ location is some humungous sound systems and a real lack of sound restrictions….
Music-wise the live programming is incredible and so varied! The dance music is a bit heavy / techno-y for my taste but sometimes you’re treated to a bit of disco in the woods which is always a breath of fresh air and occasionally the faintest whiff of DnB which with always go down a storm in my books… (Commix who’s on the bill again this year was an absolute highlight last year!)
It’s not really about the music though! It’s about climbing in the tree houses, getting involved in workshops all over the site, meeting new people, rolling down the hill at the sunrise stage and generally having a lush time.
What should I do after Meadows in the Mountains?
Every year there’s an after party at a nearby hotel with a spa which is a pretty surreal experience – the Orpheus pool party includes a night’s stay in the hotel and breakfast but is a lot less relaxing than it sounds! A lot of people choose turn it into a holiday afterwards too, it’s pretty close to Greece if you fancy a beach holiday and I’ve always enjoyed spending a few days in Sofia too.
If you’re going this year I hope you have the most amazing time! Get your tickets & find out more here x
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