Hit Festival in the Model Forest Istria

Hit Festival in the Model Forest Istria

by Ana Fornažar, Model Forest Istria

A second edition of the Festival of Forest and Forest Fruits was held in Model Forest Istria on the sunny Sunday of 19th November. After last year's edition the Festival was named a “Hit Festival” as it was visited by around 2000 visitors from all the Region of Istria and neighboring city of Rijeka.

In preparation of this year's festival, organizers were obliged to come out with a much better edition due to the expected number of visitors but even their own intentions to create a magnificent “forest gathering”. The chosen venue for this year's event is the village of Brest, in the mountain area of Cicarija that is the most remote and the lowest inhabited zone of the Istrian Region. Brest is famous for the hiking trails to Zbevnica hill that all start from the village and attract numerous mountain climbers.

All the area traditionally lived from livestock breeding and forestry, but today only few farms have remained and one small enterprise for wood processing. Most of the inhabitants moved to bigger cities and the population is constantly decreasing. The idea for the festival to be right there came from the long-term goals of the Model Forest, which is to revive that area with new social, economic and tourist activities. A projects’ intention is to bring life and people back to the Cicarija mountain zone. So in the organization of the festival are involved inhabitants and the local community; associations, crafts and a local government.

Model Forest Istria and a co-organizer Municipality of Lanisce started a preparation of the manifestation with uncertainty as to whether this year's event will also attract so many visitors. On Sunday morning, when everything was ready to start at 10 am, the first visitors were hikers coming for the lecture "Basics of Mountaineering" given by the Istrian Mountaineering Association. At 11 am passionate mountain climbers started their “Ascent to Zbevnica – a guided hiking tour” by Mountaineering Society "Cicarija" that gathered around 100 participants.

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Around noon, when rivers of people were flowing to the Festival we were sure that our event is again a huge success and has become famous around the region and wider. When the crowd reached its peak, there were once again more than 2000 people moving around the area looking for the activities the festival has to offer.

In the big tent, at the Forest Fair were presented crafts and arts, handmade stuff produced of wood, cosmetics of forest herbs, then food based on wild herbs, honey and other products inspired by nature and forest resources. On the fair one could have the forest tastes through traditional drinks and cakes made of forests' fruits and chestnuts. This year's edition was a bit challenging as a wooden bridge had to be built to connect the different venues of the festival.  Bridge is bringing you from the gastronomic space that offered traditional Istrian cuisine as well as vegetarian dishes to the meadow across where various activities took place. A meadow as the central spot of the event was offering a seating space around a remarkable bonfire where musical sessions on percussion, guitar and a violin were played during the afternoon.

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A Forest Portal, a six meter high sculpture made of branches and a straw, constructed by land artist Nikola Faller, became a photo shooting spot and a playground for all. Nikola was giving a workshop of making small sculptures out of forest materials where different decorations were created by families and numerous children visiting our festival.

Children can find many contents at our festival; an artist Elsa Eliv was giving a sensorial workshop “Forest colors” where she combined music, touch, movement and painting into the holistic "forest experience". For the workshops of the association for environmental education “Drijade” there was great interest. They held workshops “All the charms of autumn” based on sensory-exploratory games in the forest, for younger and older children. In the family workshop “Traces of wilderness” held by biologist Marta Blazevic (Astra Divina) adults and children were gone exploring forest and its fruits and animal traces. Interpretative walk “The hidden life of the forest” offered by Vida Ungar (Bora Fora) brings participants to take a walk through the rustling autumn forest and "talk" to its seemingly silent inhabitants. Have you ever wondered what the trees in the forest are talking about?

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Festival of Forests offers workshops for adults as well. Already famous Forest Bathing Walks, with their origins in the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, were given by certified guide Darko Vukelic who was with us even last year. A Forest Bathing is a process of therapeutic relaxation whereby spending time in a forest and arousing a sensory engagement we connect with nature on a deeper level. He was guiding more than 60 people in his two guided walks of “bathing of senses in the forest”. Ulla Antolos was giving a workshop “The Council of Forest Beings” that originates in deep ecology circles. The aim of the workshop is to get closer to forest beings and enter a dialogue with forest through creative work. Such experience should encourage active change that results from empathetic experience of encountering the forest.

In the building of the old school in the village of Brest, several interesting lectures and presentations by members of the Model Forest of Istria were held. Authorized mushroom picker Josip Simić-Marino prepared "Mushrooms of our region - interactive lecture" and a mushroom exhibition where he answered various questions about this valuable forest product. Model Forest members prepared a kettle of freshly picked mushrooms for the visitors of the festival, as well as large pots of hot tea made from forest herbs and fruits. We had guest also from other parts of Croatia; biologist and educator Marta Blazevic was talking about "The benefits of a healthy forest" while permaculture designer Damir Seler about "Forest Garden" and how respecting the laws of nature and the mechanisms of the ecosystem will result in healthy plants, regular harvest and less need for maintenance. Festival did not lack a cultural program. By the bonfire and a sip of mulled wine a storyteller Aleksandar Bancic (Kantuôn Cakuluôn) was performing Istrian folk stories in which the forest and forest creatures play a major role.

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The cool autumn day was already approaching dusk, so one still reached for warm tea or mulled wine served in the Festival cup. We produced a Festival cup to protect the environment and reduce waste. People could buy the cup, use it during the day, wash it in our installed "cup wash" then bring it back or take it home as a souvenir. Saving it for the next year.

The final warm hug with the night coming was a fire show for the closure of the second festival edition. The Forest Portal, a huge sculpture has become a lighting giant, a fire. An artist Nikola Faller was playing with the fire in his acting performance with the musical accompaniment of the Balkalar trio producing ethnic and ambient sounds. Festival ended with a Balkalar band concert playing famous Balkan songs and music inspired by nature, in front of the dancing crowd. The winter night in the mountain became a big celebration of light and music, soaked in homemade brandies made of forest fruits.

The slogan of the festival "Let's connect with ourselves, with others and with the forest" has now been realized through a day-long event that connects all generations, all tastes and interests, but also creates an unbreakable connection with nature, with the forest.