Long established as a destination for sun-chasing music lovers, Croatia has seen its festival scene go from strength to strength. Now the tiny private island of Obonjan is aiming to attract a whole new audience by hosting its own luxurious brand of festival, dedicating the entire summer to the arts, live music, ecology and well-being.
The breathtakingly gorgeous island will welcome “artists, astronomers, dancers, healers, musicians, chefs and DJs to breathe even more life into it,” say the organisers. “Basically, we want to have a lot of fun on a beautiful island while developing new ways of living, working and playing that will help shape the future of our planet.”
Located just six kilometres off the coast of Šibenik, Obonjan (pronounced O-bon-yan) became known as the Isle of Youth when it was taken over by the Scout Movement in 1972, but it has been untouched since 2008. During this dormant period, its sole inhabitant was caretaker Mirko and his dog. That was until last year, when British event companies Sound Channel and Oto, and Croatian travel companies Gratisus and CMT, signed a 45-year lease with the aim of reviving Obonjan as a “curated island destination,” offering a wide range of creative and holistic pursuits to its visitors. And this summer, the revival begins.
A green, sustainable way of life will be the focus of the Obonjan experience, maintaining and improving the health of the island’s marine and wildlife as well as that of its guests.
Advisers from Cornwall’s famed Eden Project are on hand to guide the creative planning and development of the land, ensuring that the buildings are low-impact, forward-thinking and environmentally sensitive, while Croatian architect Una Barac’s designs use locally sourced and recycled materials.
This environmental sensitivity is reflected in the island’s eco-chic lodgings. From luxuriously appointed canvas tents to safari-inspired forest lodges, bedrooms are decked out with custom-made beds, ambient lighting, high-quality linens and beautiful furniture. Comfortably hosting up to 800 guests at a time, the accommodations nestle among the pines, facing out to spectacular views of the Adriatic.
World-class cuisine is offered across the island from five different outlets, with an extensive menu created by Obonjan’s head chef, Sam Letteri. His locally sourced, sustainable menus will change daily according to the availability of fresh fish and organic fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices and will include dishes such as wood-fired pizzas, pastas, nourishing salads and grilled seafood. “It’s a chef’s dream to have such extraordinary produce on your doorstep,” says Letteri. “I still can’t get used to the abundance of fresh fish, vegetables and carefully reared meat that Croatia provides.”
Photographs by Mike Cooper, Dray Van Beck.
Keeping the balance between good food and good health, a host of fitness activities is available across the island. Deep in the Obonjan woods, the Wellbeing Centre run by Lily Lawson O’Neil of London’s The Well Garden is the spot for peaceful retreat. With a sauna and steam rooms, hot tubs, meditation and yoga platforms, treatment rooms and a juice bar, guests will be able to relax and revive after a late night. Those feeling more active can explore the local region with excursions to nearby national parks such as Krka and Kornati, or they can kayak and paddleboard around the island’s turquoise shallows. A concierge team is on hand with plenty of recommendations. Emerging and established artists from Croatia and all over the world will exhibit permanent and temporary installations. Each week, new artists and creators will be brought on board to enhance Obonjan’s natural beauty through art and light displays, turning the 136-acre olive- and pine tree-covered island into an evolving open gallery. Drawing attention to life under the sea and suggesting an ancient figure, Cecilia Gregory’s installation is the first piece in Obonjan’s underwater sculpture garden.
And then there’s the music. Obonjan promises lots of it. The island’s vast stone amphitheatre will feature a music programme that will see world-class hip-hop, funk and soul; electronica, house and techno acts; as well as international bands, DJs and musicians such as Roy Ayers, DJ Shadow, Dilated, Gigi Masin, Matthew Herbert, Saul Williams, Lindstrom, Talaboman and Poliça. Elsewhere, DJs will play poolside throughout the day, and Obonjan’s resident 25-piece orchestra – playing everything from Beethoven to Bowie – will be on hand for impromptu gigs.
If guests are in need of further entertainment, venues around the island will offer an array of thought-provoking experiences. These include talks by global thought leaders as well as workshops on a range of topics from astronomy to lucid dreaming, allowing visitors to explore their interests, partaking in activities as they please.
With a simple ethos of “party, relax and explore in equal measure,” Obonjan taps into the trend of balanced living that promotes a cleaner, greener festival experience.
Flora Drummond-Smith is a London-based writer.
Obonjan is open from 28 July–6 September. For more information, visit: www.otokobonjan.com