As I sunned myself beneath the Norwegian sun recently, it struck me that international festivals might actually be a cut above the rest. Hove Festival near Arendal, Norway marked my first jaunt into the joys of Festival Ryanair Roulette. I had my trepidations about trekking across Europe in the name of musical enlightenment but after booking the time off (Hove was a stonking mid week, five-day marathon, the rest was easy.

Our flights cost us peanuts, the huge cost of taking extra luggage made us downsize our festival packing and we arrived in Norway stress free and in the mood for, well… a holiday. The festival itself was set in one of the most breathtaking settings I’ve ever laid eyes on; think mountains, forests still blue ocean water and gorgeous Norwegian towns and the people were, well… hot.

The language barrier caused problems only when we let it. Most Scandinavians speak perfect English and when the beer flowed and we raised our voices, our Aussie accents attracted friends aplenty. At risk of stereotyping, did I mention our new friends were gorgeous?

On to the music; a broad mix of international bands and a brush with Jay-Z before his controversial Glastonbury headline set meant that one; we were ahead of the game and two, we discovered a myriad of new bands we wouldn’t otherwise have stumbled on (check out Norwegian Thom Hell). Highlights included Beck’s earth-moving set (lets blame the beer), Irish funnymen Flogging Molly whipping up a mosh pit full of vikings, Crystal Castle’s DJ set in the woods, The Wombats in a big pink shed, Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong, a storming sunlit set by the Kooks and metal, lots of metal. The much anticipated Opeth cancelled on the last day (we didn’t know until the very last minute… thanks to language barrier issues). Avenged Sevenfold and Dimmu Borgir more than made up for any Opeth mourning.

The festival is in its second year and there’s a lot of room for additional stages and daytime activities (check out Glasto for inspiration) but when there’s not only a festival, but a country to explore, the negatives are few and very far between.

The beer was expensive and taking alcohol into the festival grounds was strictly prohibited. This caused us some problems but meant that:
1) We actually remembered most of the acts we saw.
2) We made it back to our apartment each night.

According to the locals, “Hove is all about the camping” and after a night spent in the wilderness with some new friends and their never-ending supply of herbs, it was easy to see why. Sometimes, all it takes is a good line-up, amazing people, a viking’s boat, a campfire and a view of the ocean to make you feel like you’ve really escaped the outside world. For a Londoner, that is a rare occurance.

Even as I dragged my frazzled behind out of the forrest at 6.00am on the final day, my opinion hadn’t changed. Hove Festival has that little bit of magic that makes you want Norwegian for breakfast every morning. I’ll be back for a second serving next year; after all, I may have discovered some stonking music but the all elusive trolls remain to be seen.

Missed Hove and Glastonbury? Want your own festival fix? Here’s some tips:
Our pick of the bunch:

Take a trip:
This is a tough one… Benicassim takes the festival cake and eat it too. What could be better than Spanish beach-side sun, food, a wide variety of music and tanned bodies. Just ask headliners; Babyshambles , My Bloody Valentine and Jose Gonzalez. Sangria anyone?

Cheap festival:
If you like free ice cream Ben and Jerry’s Summer Sundae Weekender is hard to beat. It’s cheap, it’s in central London and it tastes good.

Best freebie:
You can’t beat the Rise Festival; a great anti-racism message and a free day out, all rolled into one. This year’s event happens at Finsbury Park on Sunday 13th July 2008. African music, theatre, rides and food… oh, the glorious food.

Best for dressing up:
Bestival looks set to be a sun-packed corker – and most people mention this Isle Of Wight gem when queried about their top fest. Rob Da Bank’s Bestival won the ‘Best Medium Festival’ in the 2007 UK Festival Awards and 2008’s line-up is headed by My Bloody Valentine. Aphex Twin, The Breeders, CSS, George Clinton And Funkadelic/Parliament, Gary Numan, The Human League, Pendulum, 808 State, and Foals will also be there.

Take a trip:
This is a tough one… Benicassim takes the festival cake and eat it too. What could be better than Spanish beach-side sun, food, a wide variety of music and tanned bodies. Just ask headliners; Babyshambles, My Bloody Valentine and Jose Gonzalez. Sangria anyone?

Mainstream central
If you don’t mind the more commercial festivals, V is full of mainstream headliners. Muse, Amy Winehouse, Kings Of Leon, Stereophonics, Kaiser Chiefs, The Prodigy, The Kooks, The Zutons, The Pigeon Detectives, Lenny Kravitz, Maximo Park, Ian Brown and The Chemical Brothers are all set to appear. Girls Aloud, Newton Faulkner, The Pogues, The Charlatans, The Hoosiers, Reverend And The Makers, The Feeling and Alanis Morissette will also perform. It’s like one, big live MTV video show really. Just watch your step when you leave… lthere’s usually a sea of noodles underfoot.

The little ‘uns:
In a bid to try everything, we’ll cover a festival every weekend in 2008. The small fests hold the most promise for a chilled out, eclectic smorgasbord of music and entertainment. Blissfields, Wickerman, Bloom, Beautiful Days, End Of The Road, Green Man, Secret Garden Party, Peace & Love and Uppsala Reggae Festival in Sweden are just a few. We’ll meet you by the market stall with the funky hats.

Top tip
Pry yourself away from the big headline acts, top up your beverage and meander your way through the festival grounds. The best festival moments often happen when you stumble upon a secret gig in a tiny tent, when you befriend a dreadlocked stranger on the side of a hill, spend hours trying to perfect your moves in a Burlesque tent or find love (or maybe lust) beside a mud-soaked stage. The smaller, quirkier festivals are the ones we plan to hit hard in 2008. Whatever field, park or patch of grass you choose this summer, do yourself a favour and ditch the programme. The gems you stumble upon are the ones you’ll talk about well after the festival sweat is washed out of your hair.