World Travel

Bugger it, let's join a commune

David Wilson
'Rainbow family' members - AAP
Right on
"The Grand may rank as the world's most undesirable alternative-living spot, which is ironic considering it was once regarded as the most exquisite hotel in Africa."
David Wilson

Scattered across the world are neighbourhoods full of like-minded rebels enjoying a more simplistic way of life, shorn of many of the stresses and trappings of the regular 21st-century world. And in these global economic times, the temptation to throw it all in and join a commune is stronger than ever — for some, anyway.

But are these places as good as they're cracked up to be? And do the commune-dwellers really live like one big happy/hippy family? See for yourself. Everyone's welcome to pop their head in, and who knows — you may never leave ...

Christiania, Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen's centre is so pretty you suspect it provided much of the inspiration for Hans Christian Andersen's fantastical fairytales.

Christiania is a 15-minute walk away, but it's hard to believe this gritty, rough-round-the-edges enclave is even in the same city. In some ways it's not. At its entrance, a sign warns: "You are now leaving the European Union."

It's been a bone of contention for the Danish Government since yoga-loving squatters formed Christiania in 1971. It's now home to around 1000 bohemians who refuse to pay tax and adopt a carefree drug policy, although increasingly regular police visits have dampened the "indie" vibe somewhat.

El Bolson, Lake District, Argentina

Down the road from swish Swiss-flavoured ski resort town Bariloche, El Bolson is a funky little village blessed with stunning natural beauty — and a very swinging '60s-type atmosphere.

In 1984, it declared itself an "ecological township" and a non-nuclear zone, but it prides itself on being South America's prime "cosmic energy centre".

Complementing its mountains, rivers, lakes and creeks are an assortment of art galleries, handicraft shops and stalls manned by hippies selling luscious fruit, organic grub and cool jewellery.

Rather bizarrely, El Bolsonites claim their village is a mecca for UFO sightings. It's open to debate whether this has anything to do with the fact that it's a huge hop growing area and a mass producer of mind-bending home brew.

Metelkova, Ljubljana, Slovenia

It seems some places don't consider themselves a bona fide alternative-living commune without a good dose of graffiti. Metelkova is absolutely caked in the stuff, with its grungy shack-houses, bars and clubs plastered in a kaleidoscope of colourful art.

Built on former military barracks, the Slovenian authorities are deadset on smashing this snug, fun-loving neighbourhood to smithereens so they can replace it with brand-spanking-new apartments.

The only building safe from the threat of demolition is the Celica, an old prison that's been transformed into an art gallery hostel where backpackers flock to spend a night or two behind bars.

Grand Hotel, Beira, Mozambique

The Grand may rank as the world's most undesirable alternative-living spot, which is ironic considering it was once regarded as the most exquisite hotel in Africa.

The dramatic change in fortunes came about following the end of Portuguese colonial rule in the late '70s. During the resulting civil war, the hotel was raided and used as a refugee camp.

These days nearly 2000 squatters are crammed inside the old luxurious walls. Room service is no longer available, nor for that matter is running water or electricity.

Virtually everything of value has been looted, including its marble and bathroom tiles, sinks and bathtubs. And the former pool bar is used as a giant urinal. Tempted?

Uzupis, Vilnius, Lithuania

Declared an independent republic in 1998, Uzupis is a picturesque suburb of Vilnius, where locals have their own president, national anthem, a flag for each season and the Dalai Lama as an honorary citizen.

On April 1 each year, mock border guards stamp visitors' passports, but the most absurd thing about this place is its constitution, which has 41 points of varying madness, including giving inhabitants the right to cry and the right to be idle.

The Lithuanian authorities take a fairly relaxed attitude towards Uzupis — a sharp contrast to the heavy-handed nature of previous overlords. You suspect Hitler and Stalin wouldn't have been quite so liberal.

Nimbin, New South Wales, Australia

Nimbin's credibility has taken a hit in recent years with the daily influx of stoner tour groups and some claim Bellingen, on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, is now a more authentic bohemian bet.

But first-time visitors to Nimbin are still likely to smile when they see old grannies selling hash cakes on the streets, the Hemp Embassy (which promotes the benefits of cannabis) and reams and reams of clichéd psychedelic fare.

This sleepy NSW hinterland town began its descent into a left-field rustic paradise in 1973 when rebellious students staged the Aquarius Alternative Lifestyle Festival. Many never left, and today Nimbin has its own Big Thing: a giant joint.

User comments
We all live different lifestyles so if people want to exist in communes so be it. As long as they don't me to join they can go for there life.Definately not my lifestyle.
I think that if all the cities in the world were like this we wouldn't have global warming, so I would be happy to live in a Hippy Town.
This is such stereotypical over-exaggerated story content. I don't live in a commune, but I am sure there are many that function well, and support all its members in a healthy, positive way. Like any part of society, there are bad areas, however they don't represent all aspects.
I am an active 51yr old Grandmother. I work a full time job. I pay my taxed & bills and I dream every single day of becoming a member of a community like the one Happy Hippy has decribed. Where do I find the membership form? I have so much that I can offer, & there is so much I want to learn. Please Happy Hippy, pass on the info, so I too can become a Happy Hippy.
I used to live near Bellingen when I was a kid, it was georgus! I loved going into town. beautiful surroundings and best markets, relaxed and you can wear what ever you want and never be judged. I remember seeing people on the streets with rats on their shoulders as pets (creepy but what ever), and people walking down the street in petty coasts and pjs. They have they best jewllery and clothes. ever wondered why a hippys never complain its hot? Its cause of the materials they wear, not crap overseas cheap materials, but materials like hemp, cheeesecloth. Im not a hippy per say but love the atmosphere and clothes and more people should realise it and support them!! Nimbin is much the same I went there for Mardi Grass, it was free and relaxed. Communes dont mean u have to live with out water and power but as long as ur at peace with who you are and where you are. get away from the city and noise for a while, enjoy the peace and listen to nature, ull be suprised, makes a great getaway.
There is no need to immerse yourself in a commune with others. There are lots of tiny towns who are crying out for people to live there. Leave the high-rise behind, get yourself a small cottage in a country town and get involved in permaculture. Peace at last!
I agree with Happy Hippy, communes would be a great place to live and they are not like the picture that has been painted in this story. What a nice change it would be to leave this over-populated, polluted city behind and live with people who actually care about the enviroment and easy living. Leave the never-ending treadmill of stress in the city and join a commune!!
Oh come on this is a load of crap - you've really painted a ridiculous picture of what commune living is all about. Your article caters to the conservative view of what commune life supposedly is - a bunch of anarchists who thwart the law in good law abiding citizens faces. Yes drug crazed whacko places exist but there are many communes where people happily co-exist and co-operate with one another for a peaceful existance. For example in Bellingen and the surrounding areas there are 25 communes and with them come a plethora of options. Drug dens for example but they are not the norm. I lived on one in the area where there were 20 families on over 600 acres in stunning rainforest. We all acted as the custodians of the place and looked after the environment. We had monthly working bees where we would remove weeds from the forest, built a community shed, planted a communal fruit orchard etc. Why not write a real article detailing what responsible people do on communes?