My favourite Slovenian festival!
Floating castle is an international Slovenian folk/ethno music and theatre festival, organised at the initiative of Matija Solce, a Slovenian musician and puppet master. It’s called a site-specific festival, because it is centred around the renovated 10th century Snežnik castle and its two small lakes, which give the festival its name, and yes, there is a floating stage. I once read an official description that the festival is meant to be an interactive theatrical space, but if you want a more mundane explanation, I usually just say that it’s an epic creative chaos worth experiencing (in fact, our local TV has me saying that on camera from this year’s edition of the festival – massive facepalm).
Musicians, artists, improvisational theatre groups, storytellers, acrobats and jugglers, puppeteers, dancers and performers of all sorts come from all over the world to co-create the festival. They actually arrive a couple of weeks earlier, because the festival serves as an ending to a world music camp with workshops and masterclasses. All productions and art installations are then presented at the festival, along with other concerts and performances.
Every year the participating musicians also form the Etno Histeria World Music Orchestra and tour around Slovenia before the festival. It’s a giant temporary orchestra of about 50-80 people from different countries, where each person teaches the others a song from their cultural heritage over the course of a few days, all by ear, with no notes or previous separate rehearsals. Here’s a short video I made from their 2020 concert in Ljubljana, although the orchestra is usually much larger (coronavirus messed up a lot of things this year).
The Floating castle festival is held for 2 days in August since 2011 and the visitors can camp nearby overnight. Every year there is a specific theme, so the whole area is full of custom-built art installations: from labyrinths, planes, giant jellyfish, lights and random small details, to visual projections and sound installations. My personal favourite are always the giant puppets. So far I’ve seen bears, fish and a magnificent chicken.
There are normally several performances happening at once at different venues around the castle and even in the nearby villages, around 150 altogether over the course of the whole festival. Although there is an official programme, it is a bit chaotic as everything except the main concerts tends to shift a bit depending on the weather conditions and the punctuality of the performers. There are often extra impromptu things happening at unoccupied spots if people decide to have a jam session, and even the acrobatic/theatrical groups practising or fooling around are a show in itself.
The best thing to do as a visitor is to just go with the flow – the whole festival is one giant performance and you are a part of it. Follow the sounds of interesting music or criers advertising their next performance, or just wander around the festival site and stop wherever you want. It often pays off to follow the stream of people who look like they know where they’re going, particularly if you’re like me and always lose the programme list. Over the past few festivals I’ve been a part of an improvised balloon instrument jam parade, rode on top of an old fire engine and listened to Siberian throat singing in the backyard of a farm house, so expect the unexpected and go with it! 🙂
It’s a bit hard to describe the essence of what Floating castle is actually like, so I’ve resorted to the old adage that a picture says a 1000 words and compiled a gallery from the 2017, 2018 and 2020 editions of Floating castle. Obviously the 2020 edition was a bit different (they had people with wooden sticks dressed as old grandmas to poke us and remind us of social distancing!), smaller and with no camping, so I was only there for one day. The signature good vibes were still there, however, and I’m truly glad that the organisers decided to go for it despite the circumstances. Thank you!
Now, imagine the August summer heat, chill music and a beer in your hand while you scroll through these:
Can you feel it? I hope this gave you a bit of a feel of the Floating castle festival vibes. If you are ever in Slovenia at the right time, I absolutely recommend you visit if you are the least bit interested in ethno music and chill vibes!
Know before you go: Basically anyone with a performative act can apply for the festival, but they all do it at their own costs, as the performers only get food and a camping spot. You can also volunteer and help with the festival organisation, although I personally prefer to pay for my ticket and financially support the whole project. The ticket is about 20 euros per day and there are also some stalls with food and handcrafts, but make sure to bring cash with you. Most of the programme is family friendly and there are also special kids shows during the day.
Don’t expect too much in terms of camping facilities, although there are usually some basic showers, drinking water and portable toilets. There is also plenty of parking space, as arriving by public transport is a bit tricky. You’d need to walk quite a lot from the last bus stop, so I’d recommend arranging a ride through the festival Facebook page or hitchhiking on the way with the other visitors who took the bus.
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