On The Road
Where To Stay At This Summer’s Best Festivals
Hedonism meets comfort at our favourite field days
Splendour in the Grass, Byron Bay. Photograph by Stills In Time. Courtesy of Splendour in the Grass
Once upon a time, the choice of summer festivals looked like a Pantone chart for squalorific browns. Should you go and get muddy watching Placebo in Rock Werchter? Get grubby hopping over the fence in Pilton or perhaps hose down your tent to attend Phoenix Festival? Wherever Phoenix Festival was held.
That was then. Since Napster launched a scud missile at the record industry’s bottom line, the festival business has become a trans-global smorgasbord of music-watching experiences. You can now have the time of your life anywhere from polo clubs in the Californian desert to car parks in Barcelona. And, of course, muddy fields in Somerset.
And you don’t have to camp. That’s not to denigrate the utility of a two-man tent pitched within stage-diving distance of the Other Stage. But now you can land at a festival site by helicopter and stay in a wood-heated tepee with its own postcode. Or at one of the planet’s best hotels nearby. The only thing that’s certain is the hedonism.
With that in mind, the MR PORTER team have created a guide to the best festivals and where to stay (in comfort) when you get there.
Primavera Sound, Barcelona, Spain
Tame Impala at Primavera Sound, 2013. Photograph by Mr Dani Cantó. Photograph courtesy of Primavera Sound. Below: photograph courtesy of Soho House
31 May to 4 June
Even Glastonbury tends to wrap up most of its stages by the time the sun starts coming up. For Barcelona’s best festival, set on the beachfront at the Catalan city’s Parc del Fòrum, things are still in full swing. Handy if you’re keen on spending the day recovering at the beach – or if you want to continue in one of the city’s clubs. This year, the headliners are brilliant and brilliantly eclectic – Mr Frank Ocean, The xx, Ms Grace Jones, Bon Iver, Arcade Fire and… Slayer and Aphex Twin. The rest of the bill is stuffed with bands cool enough to satisfy even the most fastidious indie lover. Plus, hundreds of DJs staying late. And no tents. Salud to that!
Where to stay: Soho House Barcelona
The Soho House group’s Catalan outpost is by far the best option for anyone visiting the festival, or indeed, Barcelona. It is a delight of deep comfort and mild hedonism. And you don’t need to be a member to stay in this 57-room venue in the city’s Gothic Quarter, which opened in late 2016.
This was the third Soho House to open outside the UK and North America, after Berlin and Istanbul. As well as the now expected accoutrements such as the Cowshed spa (where you can have your sins massaged away with a Barcelona Signature Treatment), a branch of the Italian restaurant Cecconi’s and a fully equipped gym, there are plenty of Catalan touches. Much of the furniture has been sourced from local antiques shops or made nearby. The carved-wood bed ends and wrought-iron chairs on the terrace say welcome to the bario. It has international comfort and local flair.
There’s also a 30-seat cinema if you need a break from the sun and, just across the Plaça del Duc de Medinaceli, there are branches of Soho House’s Chicken Shop and Dirty Burger, which aren’t open quite long enough for you to pop in on your way back from the festival, but may sate your cravings at some point during the weekend.
In other words, Soho House, and especially its beautiful roof-top pool, provides exactly the kind of home from home one needs after an all-nighter in a car park in the company of Aphex Twin.
What to wear
Glastonbury Festival, Somerset, UK
Photograph by Mr Jason Bryant. Courtesy of Glastonbury. Below: The Pop-Up Hotel Bell Tent. Photograph by Latitude Photography. Courtesy of The Pop-Up Hotel
21 to 25 June
Mr Michael Eavis keeps hinting that Glastonbury might not last for ever – indeed, next year the festival is having its quinquennial fallow year – so if you’ve not yet made it to the Pilton Hilton, then beg, steal or borrow to get a ticket.
The cliché about Glastonbury is that it doesn’t matter who’s headlining. But there’s a reason that cliché became one – it’s true. You don’t need to watch Foo Fighters and Mr Ed Sheeran to have a good time. In fact, the opposite might be true. Head up to the southeast corner of the site to beat the queues for The NYC Downlow, for the coolest gay disco this side of Frome, or trek right up to the very, very highest point of Worthy Farm – the Crow’s Nest, run by folks from some of the UK’s best indie labels – for secret sets by bands and DJs with a view to remember. If you want to stay at the main stages, you could do worse than The xx, Mr Barry Gibb, Chic, The Avalanches and Major Lazer.
Where to stay: The Pop-Up Hotel
Another cliché that has stuck to Glastonbury is the mud. And, again, it’s not just stuck because mud is sticky. Hardy festival-goers may claim that anything less than camping next to the long drops in the Dairy Ground is an affront to the gods of the stone circle (est. 1990), but, frankly, the only benefit of not showering for four days is the large amount of personal space you’re likely to be afforded for the legends slot on Sunday afternoon.
Unless you can get the chopper out to Babington House – and, let’s face it, you’re not Jay Z – you should head to the Pop-Up Hotel near Gate D, one of several luxe options around the outskirts of the site. Here, glamping meets the boutique hotel experience with Airstream caravans, yurts and an array of tents. Plus, the kind of facilities you’d carve out a kidney for in a tent: fresh towels, hot showers, proper loos, a pamper lounge and, most importantly, somewhere to charge your iPhone so you can take a selfie in front of Ms Katy Perry on the big screen.
What to wear
Photographs courtesy of Obonjan
23 June to 2 September
A Croatian private island, straw parasols, transcendental meditation and a line-up that takes 10 weeks to complete, Obonjan is less a festival than a pop-in lifestyle retreat. And possibly the only event this or any summer that will combine the yearning house sounds of Hercules and Love Affair with the German national football team’s yoga teacher.
Created by some of the team behind Croatia’s Unknown and Hideout festivals, Obonjan, which launched last year, has transformed a small island off the coast of Šibenik into a curious all-summer-long experience that focuses as much on health and knowledge as it does on raving to Horsemeat Disco. The Financial Times dubbed last year’s festival-goers “24-hour Pilates people”. Quite. Various artists and speakers perform/talk across the 10 weeks, while from 6 to 9 July, Croatia’s beloved Electric Elephant decamps from its previous home to bring the entire festival to Obonjan.
Where to stay: Camp Hox
Unless you have a speedboat moored in the Adriatic, chances are you won’t want to leave Obonjan for the night. The good news is, you won’t have to. There’s a range of accommodation, including bell tents designed by The Hoxton and fully furnished forest lodges (the small sleeps one to two and the large sleeps two to four), which have their own terrace, air conditioning and ensuites.
What to wear
Lollapalooza, Chicago, US
Photograph by Mr Charles Reagan Hackleman. Courtesy of Lollapalooza, Chicago. Below: Photograph by Mr Adrian Gaut. Courtesy of Freehand Chicago
3 to 6 August
Founded by Jane’s Addiction frontman Mr Perry Farrell in 1991, Lollapalooza turned into something of a long goodbye, touring the US for 15 years, including a memorable stint in Springfield, before settling in Chicago’s Grant Park, where Mr Barack Obama celebrated his presidential victory in 2008. (The band is still going, too.) This year’s edition features a local hero, the brilliant Chance The Rapper, who was recently in the headlines for donating $1m to local public schools. He’s joined by The Killers, Arcade Fire, The xx (them again), Muse, Lorde and a Windy City-busting bill of stars.
Where to stay: Freehand Chicago
The 217-room Freehand, which opened a couple of years ago in the former Tokyo Hotel building, has that art-school chic that we at MR PORTER like. It is laid-back but high style, with a bar that is pleasingly dimly lit, which you can retreat to so no one can see the dark bags under your eyes after a night at the festival, and a lounge area that seems to have been entirely constructed from cushions and woollen throws. Rooms come in all shapes and sizes, but all are long on mid-century furniture, Zeppelin-sized beds and decent mini bars, for when you need a top. You’ll be blown away by this Windy City outpost.
What to wear
Flow Festival, Helsinki, Finland
Photograph by Mr Samuli Pentti. Courtesy of Flow Festival. Below: Hotel Lilla Roberts. Photograph courtesy of Small Luxury Hotels of the World
11 to 13 August
It’s not just bone structure and fish suppers that the Scandinavians get right – their festivals are worth the flight, too. Now in its 13th year, Flow has become a destination for some of the planet’s most intriguing artists. It's held to the northeast of Helsinki’s old centre and, this year, Mr Frank Ocean, The xx, Ms Lana Del Ray and Aphex Twin lead the way in a setting dominated by gas holders and pylons. The food is almost as good as the music, with 40 venues offering sustainable ingredients, seasonal food, craft beer and a not so traditional champagne bar.
Where to stay: Hotel Lilla Roberts
Finland’s beautiful capital doesn’t need a music festival as an excuse to visit, but while you’re there… The Lilla Roberts is located in the city’s design district and is totally in keeping with its environs, from the Art Deco signage to the wicker armchairs in the lobby.
The building – with a curious past life as both a power and police station – reopened after a spruce-up by Finnish designer Mr Jaakko Puro in 2015. It’s since become a key stop for Helsinki cocktail quaffers. Bar Lilla E serves seasonal Nordic-inspired cocktails on a menu that changes quarterly. Meanwhile, Krug Roba, the stunning curved restaurant, serves locally sourced Scandi treats such as fried cod with scallop and mussel sauce. The coffee’s not bad either. And once you’re rejuvenated – the Design Museum and Helsinki Observatory are a matter of minutes away, as are some of Finland’s finest design shops.
What to wear
Nos Alive, Lisbon, Portugal
Photograph courtesy of Nos Alive. Below: Hotel Bairro Alto. Photograph courtesy of Leading Hotels of the World
6 to 8 July
Now in its 11th year, Nos has really got into its stride. And what a stride. The line-up is a genre-crossing bonanza – The Weeknd, Depeche Mode, The xx and Warpaint are all playing. And if that’s not enough, the site is 15 minutes from the beach – allowing lots of surfing before the bands start at 3pm – and five minutes from downtown Lisbon, which has the finest pastéis de belém (custard tarts) anywhere in Portugal, which should be reason enough itself for shelling out the €59 (£50) for a day ticket.
Where to stay: Hotel Bairro Alto
Hotel Bairro Alto sits on the fringes of Lison’s Bairro Alto neighbourhood. With its chocolate-box cobbled streets and lively bars, it is the perfect place to retreat to when the bands finish (we suggest a south-facing room if you want to get some sleep). It is built in the Grand Period style, but the inside is modern with service that is never anything but slick. Rooms are spacious and the beds perfect for collapsing into after a night on your feet. There is a decent restaurant downstairs, so if you can’t face the outside world, you can still eat like a Braganza prince.
What to wear
Lowlands, Biddinghuizen, Netherlands
Photograph by Mr Bart Heemskerk. Courtesy of Lowlands Festival. Below: Gllamcamp. Photograph courtesy of CampSolutions
18 to 20 August
Set next to the Walibi theme park about an hour out of Amsterdam, Lowlands has been a fixture of the European festival scene since the early 1990s. The modern Lowlands, like the Isle of Wight Festival, is itself a revival of a famous 1960s show, A Flight to Lowlands Paradise, which was headlined by Pink Floyd in 1968. There’s no Floyd this year, but there is another act still going since the late 1960s – Mr Iggy Pop. He’s helped by a veritable invasion force of British indie acts: Elbow, Alt-J, Bastille and London Grammar, plus some hip-hop energy from Migos and Skepta. And if that’s not enough excitement, simply pop next door for a ride on the Goliath rollercoaster.
Where to stay: Gllamcamp
It’s not just Worthy Farm that has encouraged a secondary economy in pre-pitched tents and fluffy white towels within the immediate environs of a major festival. Gllamcamp (even if you don’t speak Dutch, you can probably work it out) offers a range of options, from simple pre-pitched tents (you may have 99 other problems, but a pitch won’t be one) to the full luxury of tepees and bell tents. You can even hire a fridge to keep those tins of Amstel cool. Other Dutch lagers are available.
What to wear
Splendour In The Grass, North Byron Parklands, Australia
Photograph by Ms Savannah van der Niet. Courtesy of Splendour in the Grass. Below: Photograph courtesy of Halcyon House
21 to 23 July
This Australian festival started in 2001, filling a gap in the country’s winter festival season (at 19ºC, winter is relative). Having established itself in Byron Bay, an hour south of the Gold Coast, it moved to its present site at the stunning North Byron Parklands in 2013. With a scramble for tickets similar to Glastonbury, those who are lucky enough to get their hands on some will find a mixture of art, craft, workshops, market stalls, yoga, dance and fusion food, this year set to music by Queens of the Stone Age, a rejuvenated LCD Soundsystem and, of course, The xx, who will probably be getting there solely on air miles at this point.
Stay: Halcyon House
This stretch of coast isn’t exactly short of nice places to stay if you want to avoid the Splendour crowds. But this place is on another level. Halcyon House, a one-time seaside motel turned 21-room luxury boutique hotel in Cabarita Beach, sits just atop the sands of this patch of the Pacific that’s so beloved by surfers. You can book private surf lessons or borrow a bike for free. If that sounds like hard work, there’s also a gelato cart next to the pool.
Former Noma chef Mr Ben Devlin runs the kitchen at the hotel’s Paper Daisy restaurant. Local reviewers have deemed it a triumph and the food sounds like it’s worth heading back north from the festival site for. Chopped broccolini in a sesame cream dressing, scattered with seeds and peanuts and served with fresh white bean curd and oyster salt, anyone? Beats a festival burger.