This year’s edition proved the Belgian fantasy fair can compete with its bigger counterparts in the Netherlands.

Elftopia Deinze Belgium
Steampunk enthusiasts at Elftopia in Deinze, Belgium, August 12, 2018 (Hilde Heyvaert)

It was already the third edition of Elftopia, but this was undoubtedly the one where the Belgian fantasy fair confirmed that it can compete with the big fantasy fairs of the Netherlands, most notably Elfia.

When we went last Sunday, we were absolutely astonished at just how far this event has come in such a short time. Their program is amazingly varied and in many ways focused on audience participation, with various workshops, contests, Disney karaoke, and so on, to be found on the grounds of Ooidonk Castle.

The roaming entertainment was fun and often interactive, such as the ork encampment, the mermaids which regularly swam in the castle moat and the faun family that wandered the grounds, amplifying the fantasy atmosphere.

Of course, there was a large steampunk camp by the Belgian group Steam Nation, where you could admire many steampunk creations, get steampunk home décor ideas and see cool steampunk fashion.

The great thing about Steam Nation is that they’re not carbon copies of Victoriana steampunks and definitely have their own style, which is not only very representative of steampunk but also very inspiring.

Because of the presence of a steampunk camp, there were also plenty of other steampunks roaming the grounds, in various styles. Special kudos to those who braved the hot weather in full Victoriana gear!

Of course, a steampunk camp means steampunk vendors, a steady fare at events like these.

Sadly, most things sold were your standard Neo-Victorian garb that seems to have become a sort of steampunk uniform through the years, as well as other accessories you’d expect, such as top hats, goggles and pocket watches. But if you browsed stalls persistently enough, you could find some original gems (although nothing of the calibre of Propcorn, sadly).

(Of course, if you like this style of steampunk, that is 100 percent OK. There is nothing wrong with it. It’s just that there’s more to steampunk fashion and that’s not something that’s always very visible.)

To keep the event interesting for everyone, not just the fantasy buffs, they had also invited fandom groups such as the Belgian Whovians U.N.I.T.E.D, a cosplay organization, a Harry Potter fan community and fun things such as the Church of the Pink Ooze and a big Beatles Yellow Submarine that was home to a non-stop party.

Purists will complain that these things have no place at a fantasy fair, but I feel they — as well as the opportunity to do some fandom shopping and find LARP and fantasy items to buy — added to the event and made it a lot more fun for everyone, kids and adults.

Plus, the fantasy and pop-culture elements were very well balanced.

I also liked that the stage had a good range of bands and performances, such as the body-paint presentation. It was a nice touch that they brought the models out on the grounds afterward, so that people who didn’t get a good view on stage still had the opportunity to see them or take a photo.

Food-wise, they had the usual junk food on offer but also healthier options, ranging from falafel to Asian foods.

Because the grounds are quite large, they had made sure to put drink stalls on both ends, meaning you didn’t have to walk quite the distance to get some drinks if you got thirsty in the summer heat. There were also plenty of spaces to sit, aside from the grass.

My only complaints are the fact that the table areas were all out in the blistering sun. Adding some parasols would have been a good thing. And the portable potty toilets were just nasty by Sunday afternoon. Sure, they were free, but I think most visitors would have been willing to pay for a clean toilet and some toilet paper.

You could visit Ooidonk Castle itself, even on a guided tour, for an additional €7. Which is cheaper than their usual €9 entry price. We didn’t go in this time, but we saw quite a few people take advantage of the occasion.

The organisation definitely had a very firm hand on the proceedings. There was a constant of crew on the grounds, available for questions, assistance and, if needed be, to make sure there were no cases of creepy photographers with complete disregard of their would-be subjects or free-hugs sign carriers only out to cop a feel. Which definitely contributed to the fun atmosphere of the event.

Even though it was crowded, you could still move around easily because of how everything was organized and set up.

Considering just how much this event has changed — for the better — in one edition, I really look forward to seeing what they’ll come up with next year. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be amazing!

Click here for more Elftopia photos!

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