France and Canada have both laid claims to their own Riviera, spawning luxury holiday resorts in the former and a dance music movement in the latter that has sent ripples round the world. Albania doesn’t immediately spring to mind as another of these destinations, but hidden away to the east of Italy sits a pristine coastline largely untouched by tourism and music.
The launch of Kala this year is set to change that, marking Albania’s first international music festival. With a tightly curated and inventive lineup, sparingly spread across a secluded setting during a week-long programme, it’s an exciting new offering for Europe’s festival circuit. Still hiding behind the veil of its debut edition, we spoke to its directors to find out more about the festival’s origins and take a long round the site.
Kala 2018 runs 20th-27th June. Tickets, flights and accommodation are available from their website.
A Short Introduction To Kala
How did idea for Kala first come about?
The plan to launch a summer festival has been in the pipeline for a few years now. We have spent the past two years exploring different locations and Albania was proposed to us by a friend who has moved there recently. We immediately fell in love with the spot and knew it was just right for bringing something fresh and exciting to the festival market. We wanted somewhere people could be free to do what they wanted, away from the rigid confines of normal life. Kala offers the perfect opportunity for guests to be the first to experience a festival in Albania.
Europe’s not short of dance festivals, so what made you think this was a project worth pursuing?
We believe Kala reaches beyond a traditional festival experience as it is also offering the chance to experience an unexplored summer destination, which is very rare these days. There are great festivals in Europe but many people are looking for new experiences. This can be seen with festivals launching further and further afield. We feel lucky to have found a stunning location like Albania, which is within such a short distance. Being able to offer people a chance to be the first to experience a music festival in Albania was definitely worth pursuing and will make the past years of hard work worth it.
You’ve been keeping the location a little under wraps so far. Could you tell us a bit more about where Kala’s taking place and what made you choose?
Kala takes place in Dhërmi, a coastal village on the Albanian Riviera located between the cities of Sarandë and Vlorë. When it comes to travel, there are few mysteries left in Europe and the Albanian coastline is pretty much the last short-haul European sunspot that hasn’t become a beach-holiday stalwart. Dhërmi is the most beautiful spot on the riviera and a true hidden gem.
What’s been your approach to programming the festival?
As Moodymann famously said, there are only two categories of music: the good stuff and that other stuff. Kala’s lineup spans a wide range of genuinely good music, from obscure selectors to contemporary icons, from living legends to rising stars, from funk and soul to disco and techno. We simply booked the artists we wanted to hear by the beach, without genre or profile limitations.
Have the Albanian tourist board been supportive of the festival?
They have been nothing short of amazing. They cannot wait to show off their amazing country to the world and they see Kala as a great way to start this. Loads of other countries in the Balkans have had their tourism kickstarted by festivals, so it is a tried and tested path, and one they are fully on board with.
For anyone unfamiliar with Albania but looking to try something new, why is this part of Europe worth visiting?
The Albanian Riviera is an unspoiled, naturally stunning setting with turquoise waters, sandy beaches and a rich archaeological and cultural heritage. It is more interesting and scenic than surrounding countries, and surely one of the most unique places in Europe. Kala 2018 is going to be Albania’s first ever international music festival, we are very excited to be able to introduce this amazing part of the world to a wider audience. The scenery, the food and the people are simply amazing and we believe they deserve more international recognition. A quick look at the travel forums will give you a glimpse of how impressed people are after their first visit, often coming back for more.
What are you most excited about for this first Kala?
The first events are always special. There is a never-to-be-repeated atmosphere of freedom, discovery and adventure. That one of a kind shared feeling of uniqueness is priceless, and we are very excited to be able to share it with a very special group of people.
And what are your long term plans with the festival?
We would like to give more people the opportunity to combine music and vacation on this special place but without impacting the nature and the surroundings. We are currently working with the local businesses and the Albanian government on a sustainability plan to make sure we are able to continue organising the event for years to come.
Could you give us a brief tour of each stage at the festival.
First we have Empire, a sprawling throwback to vintage open air clubbing with bars, day beds and its own private beach that will host the main headliners.
A few steps away following the coastline will get you to Splendour Beach Bar, the perfect spot for soundtracked seaside cocktails, locally sourced BBQd fish and seafood, sunbathing and dancing.
Next up is The Cove, an intimate beach cove that will host acts from from sunset until sunrise.
The Yacht Club is a cosy late night spot on a raised yacht-like terrace nesting above the water edge, flanked by two small private beaches.
A 10 minute boat trip away is Gjipe, a secluded beach forest at the end of a canyon fenced by impressive 30m cliffs, beach caves and crystal clear water.
Usually at festivals, the travel is a bit of a chore you figure out as an afterthought, but you’re making it an important part of the festival experience. Care to explain more?
The initial thought would be flying to Tirana, which is the capital of Albania and the only port of entry for air travelers to the country, but not many airlines fly to Tirana and the airport is a 4-hour drive away through long winding mountainous roads.
The southern part of Albania, where the festival takes place, is really close to the Greek island of Corfu, which enjoys much lower flight prices and an easier, more picturesque journey to Kala. It means guests will land in Corfu and then board a boat and the nearby port, which takes them across to the Albanian Coast. It is then just a short shuttle bus to the festival site. The Boat element really offers something different and gives guests a relaxing experience coming in to the country.
How will accommodation work for this first Kala?
This is one of the best parts of our festival experience and one we are very proud of. Exotic beach huts or luxury hotels overlooking the Ionian Sea are definitely not the average festival accommodation! All our accommodation packages include festival wristband. We work with different local providers to be able to offer a wide range of quality accommodation at accessible prices. For example 3-night hotel + wristband start at only £162 and 7-night hotel + wristband at £235.
Are there any other extra touches you’re working on that will make Kala stand out from other festivals in Europe?
Kala is more than a festival experience. The festival programming is designed to give days to party, relax and explore the incredible surroundings. Besides the music events, we also offer a roster of fun-filled activities and wellbeing content, from yoga and beach massages to kayaking, snorkelling, paragliding and day excursions to explore the natural wonders of the Albanian Riviera.
On the last few days of the festival there will be excursions such as rafting in the Osumi Canyons which takes guests along an incredible river surrounded by mountainous cliffs. We also offer a paragliding experience from the mountains overlooking the festival where you land directly onto the beach next to the festival sites. We hope that guests take these opportunities to really experience the beauty of the country.
Another interesting, probably exclusive, feature is our residents party. We have selected a small group of amazing DJs that we love and have asked them to take over to a hidden beach called Gjipe which is only accessible by boat. Jan Schulte, John Gómez, Bjørn Torske, Nick The Record, Jenifa Mayanja and Brian Not Brian will play on rotation over the weekend. You can simply come and get lost in the groove, no running order needed! The party at Gjipe will be one that guests will remember for years to come! /stw/