Naked Oddessy II – Naturist Europe 2016

We are fortunate people! We discovered naturism at a young age, and now we are empty-nesters with enough discretionary income to explore the planet in the best possible way – naked.

In 2013, we were lucky enough to live in Europe for a year and took advantage of that to make a three-month journey across Europe with the intention of visiting as many naked places as we could manage. You can read a little about that here, but we’re at it again. I have business in France this summer, so I’ll need to wear clothes for a few weeks, but for the rest of the summer, we’re going to do all we can to live in the now and the naked. Our itinerary…

Therme Erding is always our preferred first port of call when traveling to Europe. It’s a short drive from the Munich airport, and by the time you’ve soaked, sweated, and slumbered in their comfy lounges, the jet-lag thing seems like a non-issue. We’ll stop here twice on this trip – on our way into Europe, and again on our way out. I’ve referred to Therme Erding several times in my blog over the years, in several different contexts. Not a naturist place by definition, but if you want to spend the day with a bunch of naked people, well, I guess it is.

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Beach at Ile du Levant

 

 

We have visited Ile du Levant at least a half-dozen times now and stayed at several hotels on the island. By now, there’s no question – our lodging of choice is Heliotel near the plaza at the top of the hill. It takes at least a couple visits to the Golden Island to figure out what that’s all about, and in fact, having done some reading on the topic, the “about it all” has changed quite a lot over the decades. But today, it is mostly a tranquil little island virtually unnoticed by the rest of the world. Perfunctory rules tell you where you can and cannot be naked, but nobody seems to pay them much mind – in either direction. Naked and clothed people just going about their business in anticipation of another stunning sunset on the Cote d’Azur. This year, we’ll be there for a long weekend with novice naturist friends. Talk about throwing them in the deep end…

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Shopping nude, because you can!

Then I have to work for a few weeks before we make our way to Barcelona to catch the ferry to Mallorca. While we regard the place with a sense of circumspect, we will stay overnight at Hotel Eve in the renowned (infamous?) Cap d’Agde. I think this will be our third visit to this theme park of human deviant behavior (harsh… I know… but really, humans walking humans in studded collars? C’mon!) since we have a day to kill en route, and indeed, there is something alluring about having the freedom to go banking or grocery shopping in the nude. Our last experience (maybe ten years ago) at Hotel Eve was very pleasant. A quiet oasis in a metropolis of bizarre.

 

We are counting the days until our arrival at Skinny Dippers resort on Mallorca. Neither cheap, nor easy to book – we reserved last summer – this appears to be one of the premier naturist boutique hotels in the world. Pictures could very well be deceiving, but I doubt it. And apparently, Mallorca boasts some stunning naturist beaches as well. We are prepared to reveal our findings related to all things Naked Mallorca. Stay tuned.

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Mallorca naturist retreat

From Mallorca, we take a ferry to Sardinia (just a stopover) to Corsica. Again, this will be our third or fourth visit to Corsica, but our first visit to naturist resort Bagherra located on the East coast of Corsica, about 2 hours south of Bastia. Our previous stays were at Riva Bella, and another complex called Piana Verde which is no longer naturist. And we’ve made day visits to U-Furu (Lovely!) and La Chiappa, each of which are charming in their own right. But it seems Bagherra has the best accommodations on offer at this point, so we’ll give it a try. One thing for sure – they have a good webmaster.

 

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Corsica

With the desire of finding blindingly sunny days, we chose to end our sojourn in Greece, but as it turns out, getting from Corsica to Greece on a car ferry takes some doing – in this case, making our way across the rather naturist-unfriendly country of Italy to the Adriatic Sea. There are a few naturist places to be found, but the one not far from the port in Tuscany called Locanda di Terramare; a smallish inn that appears to blend simple Tuscan elegance with the freedom to be nude. Just two nights there, but it looks like a great stopover.

 

Locanda 2Given its perfect climate, there are amazingly few sanctioned naked places in Greece, though the one that has emerged as our personal favorite is Vritomartis on the southern coast of Crete. This will be our third visit to this stunning resort perched on the cliffs over the deep blue sea. A fabulous bonus is that they organize amazing day trips including naturist boat excursions and even a naturist trek through a remote gorge. This year, we hope to take the day trip to Gavdos – the most southerly point in Europe – a small island that has long been a safe haven for hippie types and other naked folk.

 

As we head back north, we plan to spend a few days at the Fig Leaf Villas back on the mainland west of Athens. This will be our final stop on our naturist explorations of summer 2016, positioning us for a boat trip back up to Venice which will position us for our return to Munich and a few more hours at… you guessed it – Therme Erding.

Hiking at Vritomartis

Nude hiking on Crete

In short, we have invested a lot of time and effort in seeking out the best naked places in the world. An endeavor not only intended to serve our own naturist desires, but to help people find places they would otherwise miss. Naturism is a niche market at best. If a few thoughtful blog posts can help keep these stunning places thriving, then it’s worth all the effort. Hard work, but somebody’s gotta do it.

 

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Vritomartis

 

 

 

 

 

A Half-Million Naked Germans Can’t be Wrong!

It’s a lazy Sunday morning and I was looking for something interesting to read when I came across this thread on the Young Naturists America (YNA) page about their ongoing efforts (and to date, some recent successes) in normalizing coed nudity in an urban spa setting, where people can hang out for a few hours of relaxed, social interaction… without clothes!

Meditating womanThe article spawned a lengthy and somewhat argumentative banter amidst readers who challenged the business model, the legalities, and even the likelihood that such a place could ever exist in the United States, suggesting that even if it did, it would fall to the immediate infestation of male voyeurs looking for a cheap thrill. The debate has meandered on while the young entrepreneurs at YNA have quietly gone about creating such a place at a New Jersey health club, if only during limited hours on a weekly basis. A brilliant move in the spirit of “I’m going to build it while you tell me why it can’t be done.”

What I simply don’t understand is how we, – and I’m trying to avoid nationalist-driven superlatives here – such a well educated, well traveled, and by comparison, well moneyed population, who live in the land of the free and the brave, can be so incredibly closed minded when it comes to anything that has to do with social nudity, while our European counterparts are floating happily about in a sea of inter-generational nakedness that feels about as deviant as a day at the minor-league ballpark!

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Therme Erding

Take Therme Erding near Munich, for example, which is about the most compelling reason I can think of to begin any European journey with a good long soak, given it’s convenient location near the Franz Joseph (MUC) International Airport. It is from this article in an international business magazine that I have derived the title of this blog post, noting that in 2007 they expanded operations in the clothing optional Sauna World to handle a daily capacity of over 1500 visitors per day, 364 days per year. One might say, “Well yeah, but how often do they hit capacity?” Having visited at least eight or ten times now, each time on a different day of the week, at various times during the year, it appears that it’s just about every day! Try and find two empty lounge chairs after 11:00 am on any morning is like looking for a parking space at the mall on December 23rd. (Click here for yet another perspective on this theme park for grownups; a particularly animated review from a British perspective.)

Under the banner of ‘what’s possible?’ you might want to take a look at one of their promotional videos, or even dig around on their website for a while. But it’s pretty easy to let an entire day slip by floating in the lazy river, sweating away your stress in a themed sauna, reading or taking a nap in one of the atmospheric quiet rooms, or simply socializing over a naked Erdinger Weissbeer at the swim-up bar, under the shade of real palm trees and a protective glass dome that brings Tahiti to Bavaria every day of the year.

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Sauna von Egmond

It would be impressive if this were the only place in Europe where one is afforded a day of clothing optional recreation, but in fact, these mega spas can be found throughout northern Europe, each one seeking out a distinctive marketing edge congruent with the region, and the people who are drawn there. (Some are only clothing optional on certain days of the week, while others only allow swimsuits during designated hours.) Consider the Ludwigsfelde Therme near Berlin, seemingly the flagship of the Kristall Therme chain, but with extended hours that cater mostly to those who wish to bathe textilfrei (or Naked!). Or Mediterana near Cologne, where the pools are a bit more on the tepid side, but the specialty here is a pervasive sense of Zen. My favorite ‘attraction’ is a large room where everyone sits on a tiled bench around the perimeter, feet immersed over the calves in warm water, while a mesmerizing fire draws your attention away from the other naked onlookers.

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Sauna von Egmond

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the Netherlands share Germany’s gloomy climate that the naked spa culture is alive and thriving there as well. To date, we have only managed to find our way to two Dutch spas, but Elysium near Rotterdam apparently set the bar years ago for what many of the newer places in Germany seek to emulate today, where my favorite space is something like an IMAX theater where cinematic images of nature and wildlife are cast in 360 degrees around the room, but the seating consists of tile recliners submerged in a warm pool. Or how about the quirky Sauna von Egmond on a side street in Haarlem – smallish by comparison, but reminiscent of Gene Wilder’s imagined private quarters at the Wonka Chocolate Factory, with a surrealist décor, a deliciously warm pool, several dry saunas to help one thaw from the winter chill, and a particularly intimate reading room with a fireplace equipped with huge leather couches, where regulars curl up to read the Sunday paper over a cup of tea.

Mediterana

Mediterana

Interestingly enough, I don’t believe any of these places consider themselves a part of the commercial naturist industry such as the huge resorts in Spain, France, or Croatia; nor is their marketing strategy aimed at people who identify themselves as naturists! In fact, for those who are accustomed to visiting naturist places, it takes a bit of effort and patience to fully grasp the culture of nudity at the spa, where in fact, each and every spa seems to have it’s own unique culture. It’s typically a delicately choreographed dance between one’s robe, a bath towel, and nakedness. Where each is acceptable and/or appropriate varies from place to place, sometimes day to day. And it makes sense when you think about it. These are not places that cater to people who insist on being naked. These are places that market to people who aren’t afraid to be naked.

YNAI have much admiration for the good people at YNA who are working so diligently to encourage a similar ideology in the New York metropolitan area, and having lived much of my life on the west coast, I know there are similar places where such environments have survived within a successful business model. We were once regulars at a little place called Frogs in Marin County, which apparently embraces a very similar ethos to the Common Ground Cooperative in Portland, Oregon. And, in fact, the interesting nuance of the aforementioned business article about Therme Erding is that they, the owners and investors, were responding to an evolving market as well. One that supersedes that more traditional spa culture in Germany with famous bathhouses in places like Baden-Baden or Wiesbaden; each of which still exist, but are seemingly spending most of their energy catering to American tourists who take a once-in-a-life time dare to get bare, while the new super-spas in Munich, Stuttgart, and Berlin are pulling in another half-million customers a year – few of them naturists – all of them naked.

Elysium near Rotterdam

I am well acquainted with the prevailing arguments about prudery and paranoia in America, but it occurs to me that not everyone in Europe is eager to drop their worries with their clothes as well. In fact, only a mere half-million per year in metropolitan Bavaria!  Maybe what America is really lacking is a bit of imagination and a new marketing plan!

One-hundred Naked Places… FRANCE!

100 places to get naked before you die

PART THREE: FRANCE

France is special!

To us, France is synonymous with family naturism.  It all began back in the early 90s when we were 20-something, had three small children, and had decided that we’d like them to grow up feeling comfortable in their own skin.  (A luxury we had not been afforded during our own adolescence or early adulthood.)  We had just begun exploring naturism for ourselves, but every time we sought out a place where it might be appropriate to take the kids along, we would stumble into a bizarre, sexual undercurrent, or – and I’m truly reticent to say this – a retirement community.

I began corresponding with a guy named Don, who was married to a French woman, who had been raised with the tradition of naturist vacations.  Don simply called it out… “I understand what you’re looking for, and you’re not going to find it on American soil.  You need to take your family to France!”

We were a double income, no discretionary spending, family of five.  Taking the kids to France for a naturist vacation was simply out of the question.  But in 1997, my wife and I scraped together enough money (and goodwill from the grandparents to watch the kids) to escape to France for two weeks, during which time we explored the famous Côte d’Azur (French Riviera), stopped by for a day visit to the legendary Cap d’Agde, and spent four nights at a naturist village called La Jenny.

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On the La Jenny beach

La Jenny was exactly that place we had imagined.  By the time we got home, I had lost contact with my cyber-friend Don, and I never had the opportunity to say, “Thanks for the tip – you were spot on!”

But in the meantime, we have been back to La Jenny about a dozen times; several times with young children, and more recently, with those same children who are now adults.  And, in fact, it turns out that La Jenny is a particularly fine and well established reflection of the naturist ideal in France.  Naturism is facing challenges in France as well; the greatest of which is preserving naturist ideals in an era when Europe has fallen victim to the perils of American culture and the prudery that comes with!  But we have yet to find so many options for recreation sans clothing as we have found in France.  An thus, this list – ever evolving – serves as the centerpiece of the 100 best places to get naked before you die.


The list for France… in alpha order

Last updated: 19 October 2016
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Aphrodite Village, Port Leucate

Southern France near Narbonne

Took an apartment here for a week back in 2007 and had a very nice stay there in a well appointed apartment near a sprawling naturist beach. The place is a bit remote, and our teenage kids were a bit lonely in that, at least during our stay, most of the other inhabitants of the village were older, and sans enfants.
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Bagheera

Corsica

We were looking for a new option on the long naturist beach near Aleria on the east coast of Corsica. This turned out to be a quirky, but excellent option. Our apartment had been recently remodeled, and faced the sea, albeit through the scrubby brush in that cover the dunes over the beach. A few peculiar rules about not being nude near the restaurant – and in fact, it seemed many staying there to the option to stay clothed. But the beach is amazing, with several naturist resorts nearby. A great place for a family naturist vacation.
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Belezy

Provence

Perhaps the largest naturist resort in Provence, nicely situated near the village of Bédoin, amidst the old Roman ruins and famous landmarks.  We stayed in one of the small apartments, (Our unit was in need of some attention, but I think that was the exception) and came to make some good friends who have invited us back for day visits over the years.  I think this place would be closer to our top shelf had our accommodations been a bit nicer during our initial stay.
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Bonnieu Plage

near Marseille

Have only had a chance to visit this beach once, early in the season when it wasn’t quite as warm outside as it looked!  The beach is in something of a desolate location, essentially in the shadow of a huge power plant; not nearly as attractive as SO many non-naturist beaches in the region.  But the French Federation for Naturism (FFN) has successfully lobbied to make this an official naturist beach where a naturist license is required for admission.  I’m guessing this has made this an excellent location for family naturism during high season, free of some of the typical hassles that have become the norm at other public naturist beaches.
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On the jetty near Cap d’Adge

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Cap d’Agde – Quartier Naturisme

near Montpellier

Where does one begin in describing what is perhaps the world’s most famous naturist place, though just what that means is open to wide interpretation.  Whatever you might be looking for, (and for many, exactly what you are not looking for!) can be found at Cap d’Adge.  We have visited twice, the second time staying for a couple nights at Hotel Eve (listed below).  With so many naturist options in France, we simply found ourselves asking, “Why?”  All a matter of preference!
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CHM Monta Camping Naturiste

Côte d’Argent, South Atlantic

Known to most by the historical name, Montalivet, this expansive naturist site on the Gironde peninsula (west and north of Bordeaux) seems to have an important role in the evolution of French naturism.  It is also the site where most of the Jock Sturges photographs were taken, which epitomize the art form of naturist photography.  A quick glance at the CHM Monta website suggests a lot of recent improvements, including a water park and new chalets. And naturist friends have sent me raves about the place that make us want to stop in and check it out in the near future.
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Domaine de la Sabliere

Provence

Inspired by a day visit years ago, we spent a week here in July of 2013.  I had always been intrigued by the story of this family-owned resort on the steep walls of the Cèze river gorge.  We had a good stay, in a simple chalet near the top of the mountain.  The campsites under the trees near the river are particularly peaceful, and the pool complex is laid out in the middle of the resort as a central meeting point for the whole community.  Many opportunities for swimming and canoeing in the river as well.   A beautiful place.   You can find our more detailed report on La Sabliere here.
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Morning explorations on Ile du Levant

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Domaine Laborde

Dordogne Valley

A very sweet little resort run by a Netherlander couple near the Dordogne Valley, one of the most remarkable regions in all of France.  The location is remote, but we enjoyed exploring the local villages and wineries of the Bergerac region during our stay.  The simple chalets provide a viable option if you are seeking naturist accommodations while exploring the Dordogne.
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Domaine Naturiste Arnaoutchat

Côte d’Argent, South Atlantic

Have been reading about this place for years, and have always been intrigued by the indoor-outdoor pool complex, as the weather can be unpredictable on the south Atlantic even at the height of summer.  Perhaps we can manage a day visit this summer (2014). It is known as one of the four big naturist resorts on the Côte d’Argent on the west coast of southern France.  Well situated for a day trip to the northern coast of Spain.
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Euronat

Côte d’Argent, South Atlantic

I’m thinking Euronat is the largest (in terms of capacity) of the four major naturist resorts on the south Atlantic coast of France.  We made a day visit years ago during a stay at La Jenny.  Many options for camping, and various possibilities for rented chalets, and we were drawn to the little village square with all the amenities one could hope for.   As we didn’t have overnight accommodations, there was an extra fee to use the pool complex, which was set off a bit from the central part of the village.  That, along the sheer expanse of the place, resulted in a different ambiance than we’ve enjoyed at some other naturist centers, but we know that for many, the place is Eden in perfection.

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Heliotel, Ile du Levant

Côte d’Azur – South of France

Our first stay at Heliotel was in 2006, and then again in 2013 when the property was under new management.  Given the amenities, the attentive management team, and the location, it is difficult to imagine there is a better option to be had on this naturist island off the Côte d’Azur of Provence.  Recent renovations included the installation of air conditioning units, which is a serious upgrade given the still air and abundance of mosquitoes on hot summer nights.  It you want to do it right on Ile du Levant, this is the place!  You can read our trip report from 2013 here.
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Hotel Eve – Cap d’Agde

near Montpellier

If you read my previous review of the naturist village known as Cap d’Agde, you already know we have mixed feelings about the naked city of France, but that said, we had a very nice visit (many years ago) at Hotel Eve.  The rooms were simple and small, but the ambiance was quiet and peaceful in a town that is renowned for its party atmosphere.  They have a new website now, and a bit more competition, so things could have changed in recent years, but our stay was very pleasant.
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On La Jenny beach

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La Brise Marine Hotel, Ile du Levant

Côte d’Azur – South of France

We have only stayed once at La Brise Marine Hotel, in 2011 with our two young adult daughters.  Had I been a bit more meticulous in reading reviews and such, I would have learned before our arrival that the property has something of a reputation among the “libertines.”  (Look it up!)  While that activity was fairly subtle during our stay, it was certainly noticeable; and that, along with the mosquito infestation caused us to forfeit the last night of our stay at our own cost.  Maybe we simply fell victim to bad timing, but in this case…  no.

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La Chiappa Naturist Village

Corsica

A stunning location on the southern end of Corsica, with simple bungalows and many options for camping.  There have been several upgrades since our last visit in 2006, but even then, we thought it was a wonderful resort in a perfect location, with a beautiful seaside pool and opportunities for beach-combing au natural.  Seems to me to be the best option for naturism on Corsica as of this writing.

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La Jenny Naturist Resort

Côte d’Argent – South Atlantic

For many years, La Jenny has been our ‘gold standard’ for family naturism.  (See our most recent trip report here.)  As with all the Atlantic coast resorts, the main variable is the weather, as an entire week in the middle of July can disintegrate into monsoon season, at which point, the otherwise comfortable chalets begin feeling a bit cramped.  That said, we love the ambiance in the village, at the pool, and the various options for self-catering cabins in the pine forest near the sea.  Were it not for La Jenny, I suspect our children (now adults) would have dismissed the virtues of naturism long ago!  Merci beaucoup, La Jenny!

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La Layet Plage

Côte d’Azur – South of France

Have only visited once quite a few years ago, but of all the naturist beaches we’ve visited within driving distance of central Provence, this one gets our vote!  Convivial crowd, sandy beach, and as I recall, even a small concession to cater to the local naturists.
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Natural beauty at U-Furu

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Le Bau Rouge

Côte d’Azur – South of France

This was our first stop during one of our exploratory expeditions of naturist France in 2004.  We arrived late in the day, feeling a bit vulnerable in this remote location while two other male naturists lingered nearby.  That said, it is a remarkable spot for a picnic on the Calanques between Toulon and Marseille.  Probably better not to go alone…
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Le Couderc Naturiste Camping

Dordogne

Another naturist option near the Dordogne that has been on my list for a long time, but we’ve never quite made our way there!  Their website suggests a warm, family environment, and there are several options for self-catering rentals.  We will eventually add this to our “been there, done that” list, if only for its proximity to the Dordogne.
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La Gecko, Ile du Levant

Côte d’Azur – South of France

Enjoyed a excellent naked lunch on their veranda one day, which led us back to inquire for a brief stay in one of their simple – but air-conditioned (!) – rooms.  That, along with the small pool are necessities in the heat of the Levantine summers. Our room was very small, but more than adequate for our needs, with a small fridge and some basic utensils.  It was also evident they had redone the bathroom in recent years.  The whole place has a decidedly rustic feel, but it is an excellent option for the price.  And again, we thought the restaurant was worth a return visit simply on it’s own merit.
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Exploring near La Chiappa in Corsica

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Mas de la Balma

near Perpignan

Just a short distance from the Spanish border near Perpignan, this looks like a great place for a naked walk in the woods, or skinny-dipping in the nearby waterfalls.  They are only open during the summer months, and I think the options are limited beyond camping, but it looks like a beautiful place.
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MessidOr

Provence

A naturist campground located about half way between Avignon and Aix-en-Provence.  During our visit in June, they had a lot of campers from the Netherdlands, mostly in caravans, along with a few in rented “mobile home type” chalets.  There’s a fairly new clubhouse with a restaurant and a bar that had a very pleasant vibe.  The pool area is showing age, that would give the term rustic a run for it’s money.  But if you’re looking for a naturist place to stay in the heart of Provence, you could hardly do better.  Location, location, location!  It’s worth noting that it’s a family run place, and we felt immediately welcome and at ease, despite my marginal ability in speaking French.

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Origan Village Naturiste

Côte d’Azur – South of France

We have stayed twice at Origan Village; once in 2004, then again in 2013.  We think it’s a remarkable place, with various options for lodging, and a stunning naturist trail that provides a morning workout, walking naked along the mountain ridges of the lower Alps above Nice.  The restaurant and pool complex are lovely as well.  You can find our additional musings from our experience at Origan Village here.
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Oz’Inn, Cap d’Agde

near Montpellier

Apparently, it’s quite difficult to find the space and resources to open a naturist hotel in the famous French village of Cap d’Agde.  And it’s at least as difficult to determine what clientele a particular hotel is catering to!  This appears to be a luxury property (priced accordingly) in a village where there are few options available for less than a week at a time.  Given the price, I don’t know that we’ll ever get there, but the website is intriguing, nonetheless.
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Palieter Camping Naturiste

Normandy

We were determined to be naturists while exploring Normandy, which predictably enough – even in June – proved to be something of a lost cause as the weather was rainy and cold during our stay, and we opted for the protection of textile living during our stay at Palieter.  At the time, around 2006, the site was run by a Netherlander family.  They were incredibly welcoming, and most apologetic about the fact that in the north of France, it rains…  a lot!
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Plage des Grottes, Ile du Levant

Côte d’Azur – South of France

A small beach that is a bit removed from the neighboring village on Ile du Levant.  Ironically, you can walk from the village without clothing, and once past the port, you are “required” to be naked on the path to the beach, but you have to cover up as you cross the port as you might be seen by somebody on the ferry bound for the next island.  The beach is small, and a bit rocky, but peaceful and lovely.  Not worth a trip to the island for the beach by itself, but if you stay a couple nights and enjoy the local cuisine, it’s well worth the trouble!
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Walking the trail above Origan Village

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Residence L’escapade, Ile du Levant

Côte d’Azur – South of France

We have walked past L’escapade many times.  It appears to be a simple place with a nice pool, and reasonably priced.  Their website is not so accommodating for those who don’t speak French, but given the price, the location, and the pool, it seems like a good risk.  We will eventually get there one day.
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Riva Bella Naturiste

Corsica

Riva Bella is something of an anomaly in the France4Naturisme consortium.  We stayed there in 2006, in a small beach-side cabin with a water heater only a bit larger than a beer can, and an indoor/outdoor kitchen that sometimes felt luxurious, and at other times, felt like an expensive alternative to camping.  The beach connects to several other naturist properties, providing the opportunity for long, naked walks in the surf.  But it all feels a bit rustic and remote, even for a naturist resort on a remote Mediterranean island.
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Freedom on Ile du Levant

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Tahiti Plage

Corsica

As far as I can tell, there are only two ways to get to Tahiti Plage; rent a boat, or go to La Chiappa Naturist Resort, drop your clothes, and walk the thirty minute seaside path to the idyllic little beach with turquoise waters. We found a great mix of people there, including textiles – but nobody seemed to mind the others. The water was gorgeous, calm, and clear, and the near by snack bar was great for lunch – though they did require a minimal amount of clothing. If I lived on Corsica, I’d be there every weekend!

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U-Furu espace naturel préservé

Corsica

We have been to U-Furu twice; both times, for day visits.  There are little stone cottages available to rent (in addition to camping) which seem to be quite well appointed, but given the location, I don’t know that I would spend a week there.  But the best part of U-Furu is the trail that leads up a small gorge with a series of significant waterfalls – depending, of course, on recent rainfall and runoff.  Our first visit there was absolutely magical, which generated several of the photos for this blog.  It’s off the beaten track, but well worth the journey if you enjoy naturism in a truly natural setting!

As in the previous two installments of the 100 Places project, I offer once more….

OUR UNAPOLOGETIC AND CANDID GUIDE TO 100 NAKED PLACES

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= been there, and we’re dying to go back!

Illustration+of+the+sun+with+clouds= an interesting place, but not on our top shelf

Raincould= been there, bought the postcard, but it’s just not our thing!

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= On our list to get there someday before we die

GALLERY: Naturism in France, Volume ONE

GALLERY: Naturism in France, Volume TWO

SEE ALSO:

Naked Places in North America

Naked Places in Africa, Asia, and Australia

 COMING SOON: Naked Places in the Caribbean and Naked Places (everywhere else) in Europe

 

Bright Blue Skies at Vera Playa!

After reading about it for years, we finally made it to Vera Playa on the Andalusia Coast of Spain. I’ll admit it, I had my doubts, assuming that this may well be the Spanish equivalent of Cap d’Agde, the (in)famous “naked city” in the South of France that, in my humble opinion, falls far short of Europe’s best naturist destination.

Turns out that Vera Playa is almost nothing like Cap d’Adge, except for the fact that it is a stand-alone municipality where you can walk down the neighborhood streets in your birthday suit, and to most of the locals, it will seem like business as usual. That is, unless you walk all the way across town and go into the grocery store. Seems that will turn a few heads, and most likely, get you thrown out of the market. (A significant difference from Cap d’Agde where the boundaries of the naked world are well delineated by a gate that separates the quartier naturiste.) No such boundary exists in Vera Playa, where the edges are growing increasingly blurry as the textile world encroaches with new condominiums and commercial centers.

Hotel Vera Playa

Hotel Vera Playa

There is an excellent on-line community dedicated to Vera Playa, with an extensive forum, and a vast array of resources, the most useful of which is a map of the beach and the adjacent residential communities. They have color-coded the map (and apparently updated it as things have continued to evolve) to indicate where nudity is expected, and where it is forbidden, while delineating those confusing areas where I think you can probably be naked and nobody will care.

Nudist beach in front of Vera Playa Club

Nudist beach in front of Vera Playa Club

We stayed in the only full service hotel in the village – the Vera Playa Club – operated as part of a large chain of resort hotels in Spain, and marketed as the only fully naturist hotel in all of Spain. It seems there are places on Mallorca and the Canary Islands that could challenge that statement, but to be sure, there is nothing else on this scale. The place has a Disneyesque air about it, (Thinking older Port Orleans resort Disney, not crazy big water park Disney) including a big amoeba-shaped pool with a couple of modest water slides, and a forest of palm trees to assist with the pacing of your exposure to the intense sunlight of the southern Mediterranean. Nudity is required in the pool area, (and it appeared to be 100% compliance during our stay, except for a few children in swimsuits), but nudity is not allowed in any public area of the hotel after 8:00 pm. Hard-core naturists have been ranting about this for years, but I suspect this policy solves a lot more problems than it creates for a seaside resort hotel with 250 rooms.

Followers of my blog probably know that I rely rather heavily upon (and contribute frequently to) Trip Advisor, acknowledging that while you can’t please all the people all of the time, it’s good to know where to set the bar on the anticipation scale before you get your hopes up. Vera Playa Club has taken a few hits in recent years as the place just celebrated its 25th year, and according to a few self-proclaimed ‘knowledgeable sources’ out there on the web, even though this hotel is only open from April to October, they run at the lowest capacity of any of the Senator Playa Hotels. This statistic was not evidenced during our stay, as nearly every lounge chair was filled around the pool during this particular weekend in late May. In any event, complaints about peeling paint and worn loungers are sad, but true, though I will note in the same breath that they were painting one of the main corridors during our visit. Is it a top flight, four-star hotel like a Hyatt Resort on Maui? Not even close. Is it one of the fancier naturist “resorts” we’ve ever been to, with a nice pool complex and most of the cushy hotel amenities you expect at a beach hotel? You bet! For the record, having read the recent reviews, I was pleasantly surprised by the amenities and condition of the place. My wife – while really enjoying the place, had only my filtered reports for setting her preconceptions, and thus, gave it lower marks on the luxury scale than I.  I confess, I was clearly intoxicated from the over-abundance of sunshine and palm trees!

View from the hotel

View from the hotel

Acknowledging once again that our stay was on the shoulder season, at an excellent rate including breakfast, one couldn’t help but notice that the median age of the guests left us feeling like one of the young couples at the party; a sensation we don’t enjoy very often nowadays since our children have all graduated from college. There were a few young families, and couples in the 30-something arena, but they were by far the minority. But given that it’s another month until European schools let out for vacation, we were surprised to see any families at all.

What was remarkable, however, was to see so many aging naturists, some with significant disabilities, navigating stairways, tiles floors, and other pool area obstacles that can be hazardous to the young and nimbly athletic. In fact, it was heartening to think that this is a place where I could be very comfortable twenty-five years from now, meaning I’ve scarcely hit the midpoint of my naturist life! I met one British woman who had traveled extensively though naturist France with her husband, but now that she is alone, she simply makes a bee-line to Vera Playa. (Easily accomplished with several options for non-stop flights from the UK to nearby Almeria.)  An important step in my own naturist journey is my growing appreciation of the inherent beauty of aging. One’s skin tells a lifetime of stories.

Walking past the condo developments

Walking past the condo developments

Of course, there is much more to Vera Playa than just this hotel. In fact, to read the banter out there on the web, the hotel is merely a distraction to the very heart and soul of the place. With a fair number of year round residents, many of the surrounding condominiums are owned as vacation homes; rented out when not occupied by the owners. On this particular sunny Sunday afternoon, the beach attracted a good crowd, with a more balanced demographic, including several young families with children. We developed a particular fondness for the Cota Zero beach bar, the rustic little shack right in the middle of the playa nudista. Good bar food, friendly employees, cold beer, and endless entertainment in the people-watching department were all on tap here. No shirt? No pants? No problem! We didn’t bother to check out the other eateries on the beach with naked clients, but even during shoulder season, it seems there are more than a few choices.

Meandering toward Cota Zero - our beach bar of choice!

Meandering toward Cota Zero – our beach bar of choice!

We were a bit taken aback by a couple of clubs of a tawdry nature down the street from the hotel, especially since we arrived on a Saturday night, and the fashion show was starting early as guests were assembling for a party across the street. Once again, nothing like the outlandish displays we’ve seen in Cap d’Agde, but it did make me wonder how I would explain the promenade to my 13-year-old daughter had we come here on holiday back when she was that age. But again, I say that knowing full well that we have friends who would say, “What, you took your kids to a nudist hotel?” Simply observing what struck me as an odd juxtaposition, just a few steps from the doors of a family-oriented resort.

So now we have another favorite naturist place, though it’s a long way from the place we typically call home. As beachfront property becomes an increasingly precious commodity, I hope the Vera Playa folks can hold their ground in protecting this naturist haven from those eager to don wet, clingy nylon. As an aside, federal law in Spain dictates that any beach can be a naturist beach as long as you’re not offending the locals. For many years, this proved true anywhere in Spain, until nudity (and perhaps the accompanying less than altruistic behavior) became commonplace on the streets of Barcelona, and legislation was amended to ban nudity in that Bohemian mecca.

I can only hope that’s not the leading edge of a sharper sword. Naturism is a good fit for Spain, and the perfect attire for Playa Vera is nothing at all!

 

Making waves in the naturist pool – sexuality and naturism!

Before launching off into this post, this would be a good time to reiterate a few basic tenants of the meandering naturist’s ideological and philosophical perspectives, which I might add, speaks to that of his wife as well – who has been an enthusiastic “co-conspirator” in the campaign for family naturism and everything we believe that stands for.

We have been naturists since our mid 20s, at which time we were just starting a family and came to embrace the underlying qualities of the honesty and vulnerability of being comfortable in our own skin. Neither of us had a particularly positive body image when we were adolescents, and naturism provided an opportunity to simply be real – with ourselves and with each other. This was a great source of energy in the early years of our marriage, and something we really wanted to instill in our own children. We have always been 100% monogamous and faithful to one another, and while we have a general awareness and understanding of those who are seeking sexual alternatives (Lifestylers, if you will) we typically feel uncomfortable in places where that kind of dynamic is at play. It seems to us that the general public is quite willing to jump to the conclusion that any place that sanctions social nudity implicitly (or explicitly) invites a sexual free-for-all, which makes it very difficult to broadcast a positive message about family naturism in an era when paranoia about all dimensions of child safety is at a feverish pitch. We like to think of ourselves as “live and let live” kind of people, but at the same time, we hope that the right to take a naturist vacation won’t be legislated out of existence, simply because people are just bewildered and confused about what’s going on when the clothes come off, behind the six foot walls of the “nudist colony” down the road.

Nudist magazine 3

Post-war naturism, at its best?

It is from this perspective that my eyebrows went up while reading this excellent trip report by Felicity Jones, who has taken an assertive and enthusiastic role in her leadership of the YNA – Young Naturists America – a group of 20/30-somethings who are eager to revitalize a holistic and body-positive resurgence for the naturist cause! If you don’t know the YNA website, you should click through and explore around a bit before reading the rest of my meanderings here. You will find the writing to be intelligent and reflective of great optimism for the many healthy aspects that could easily be traced back to the original naturist movements of the post WWII era. But at the same time, Felicity and her crew seem well connected to what’s hip within their own demographic. Yoga, meditation, the Arts scene, fitness… you get the drift.

She and her friend Jordan made a tour of several naturist venues in California a few months ago, and again, I think you will find her reviews to be thoughtful and incredibly helpful to anyone who is seriously considering taking the plunge into social nudity. It was her review of Harbin Hot Springs near the Napa Valley that caught my eye. Her review collaborated with many of the inferences (or in some cases, straight out allegations) on social media sites like Trip Advisor that “thar be SEX in them dar pools!”  She is quite ‘matter of fact’ about it all, noting that Harbin Hot Springs does not advertise as a naturist place (It is, in fact, a New Age Retreat with clothing optional pools) but they do, however, have a sign in the dressing room that expressly implores, “Don’t have sex in the pool!”

Nudist magazine 2

… and even better!

I know this to be true because I have seen this sign… on many, many occasions. In fact, Harbin Hot Springs was one of our first introductions to social nudity, as we lived about an hour away when our children were young, and we would escape to Harbin now and again on a Friday night to soak away the weariness of the work week and parental stress. Today, we live three thousand miles away from Harbin, but we do return every couple of years; as a sort of homage to the years that have passed since we “learned how to get naked.” And in fact, there may indeed be amorous people in the warm pool after dark, (as Felicity has observed) and in fact, they may well be pushing the envelope under the guise of meditative breathing, but quite frankly, it’s a difficult to tell… for sure… in the darkness… when people are being discreet.

Which brings to mind another one of our favorite naked places in the world, located in the heart of Bavaria. Therme Erding bills itself as the world’s largest spa, with three distinct areas to guarantee fun for the whole family: the waterslide area (swimsuits required), the therme world (swimsuits required), and the sauna world (swimsuits forbidden!) I will eventually get around to writing a more extensive post about the spa culture in Germany, but to be sure, this place is the mother of all spas, with a huge indoor/outdoor warm pool (36°C), that includes swim-up bars inside and outside, an impressive array of water features that soothe, tickle, and massage, and a lazy river that is magical at night – when steam is rising off the water as people are floating around in perpetual motion, often with fruity drinks in their hands. You have to be at least 16 years of age to be admitted to Sauna World, and as it happens, the crowd you will find there is similar to the people you would sit with at the screening of the latest rom-com movie; a perfect date-night outing with an even distribution of people ranging from 20 years of age to … older.

Here, also, the rules are articulated quite clearly. So clearly, in fact, that the literature actually says that kissing is good, but please do not have sex in the pools! But here again, when the sun goes down, as is the case at Harbin Hot Springs, everyone becomes a duck!   Floating calmly and peacefully enough, but below the surface…?

Therme 2

The swim-up bar at Therme-Erding

With that, I go back to Felicity’s main point in her review about Harbin Hot Springs, which was essentially, “tell people what is acceptable, and enforce your own rules so people know what to expect!” A timely and valid point that cuts to the core of the marketing mayhem that surrounds clothing-optional recreation. But what about that category one might label as “amorous, but discreet” – is that kind of behavior accepted here? And what about people with latent tendencies toward voyeurism and exhibitionism? Are they allowed too?

According to Phillip Carr-Gomm, who recently authored a book called A Brief History of Nakedness (Reaktion, 2010), it appears that pretty much every human would “FAIL” that last test related to voyeurism and exhibitionism. His research teases out the roots of naturism, or more accurately, how we have been conditioned to fear nakedness as influenced by religion, politics, and ancient pagan rituals. Turns out there are very few straight lines, even to a single or specific religion, that don’t become entangled with Greek gods, witch-hunts, and celebrations of the solstice.

But what really intrigued me was his observation that voyeurism and exhibitionism are essentially hardwired into every human being. It’s part of biology in the cause of perpetuating the human race! Most exhibitionism in today’s society actually takes place when we’re fully clothed, in an effort to say, “Hey! Look at me! Admire my human form and maybe we’ll be friends.” And, of course, an exhibitionist has nothing to show off, if there are no voyeurs looking on.

So there it is… Maybe that motto on every nudist club bulletin board that reads, “Nudity is NOT about SEX” is not – shall we say – in the true spirit of… full disclosure.  Humans are sexual.  Clothing can accentuate or diminish one’s sexual presence, and nudity can do very much the same.  Interestingly, in each case, (clothed or naked) it has much to do with one’s posture and attitude as to what he is or is not wearing.  But I think naturists are doing their own cause a disservice when denying the nakedness-sexuality correlation.  It seems people simply don’t believe that.  The advertising industry most definitely doesn’t believe that.  And I suspect many naturists don’t believe that either, but simply respect the unspoken rules for civil interaction and discretion – when they are naked, and when they are clothed.

KristallTherme

Floating in naturist nirvana…      at the Kristall Therme near Berlin.

So, as I tried to reconcile Felicity’s trip reviews with Mr. Carr-Gomm’s matter-of-fact explanation of why people have such varied and bizarre interpretations of the nakedness thing, I had an epiphany. There’s a big difference between being naked alone, and being naked with other people, even if you call yourself a naturist. Naturism (as best I can understand it) is a social phenomenon that involves seeing other naked people, and being seen by other naked people. And as in the case in any social environment, (clothed, or not) most of us spend a lot of energy trying to figure out the rules, the limits, and if you will, the prerequisites for social acceptance any time we enter a new group, naked or otherwise.

Imagine a summer BBQ on the back porch of your neighbor’s house – a party for a group of middle-aged friends who might earn the badge of frumpy when you see them at the grocery store and it’s pretty easy to say it’s not so much about the looking (voyeurism) part. (Though that spawns another rant about perceptions of beauty and aging!) But invite another dozen people from the 20/30-something age-group, and suddenly there’s a different energy about the place.

“Wow! That’s a good looking couple.”

If that couple sequesters themselves in the evening shadows for a few moments – even for quiet conversation – everyone senses the intimacy. If the party ramps up, and innuendo is crossing the threshold of typical social decorum, some may become aroused, while others are completely incensed.

“Honey, we should go home now!”

Turns out that given enough variables, naked people behave just like clothed people, except there are a finite number of places to go if you are truly comfortable socializing naked. Which also explains to me why naturism is so much more successful in Europe than in the United States.

Europe has SO many choices.

Are you a party person who likes it when things get a little edgy? Go to Cap d’Agde.

Are you going on holiday with the children, hoping your kids will take to naturist ways? Go to one of the big family resorts on the Atlantic coast.

Can you tolerate other people being a little amorous, as long as they’re being discreet, and you don’t have to worry about somebody getting amorous with you? Visit a spa in Germany.

Nakedness at the German spa

Nakedness at the German spa

When it comes down to the simple math of it all, there are more places to get naked in a single district (think county or small state in the US) in France than that in all of the United States combined.

Considering the sheer expanse and diversity of cities like New York and San Francisco, you’ll be hard pressed to find a sauna that allows coed participation like you’d find in any sizable town in Germany or Austria. When the options are so limited, we all try to make the local place into our own personal naked nirvana. Even if naked people are inherently more open-minded, I’m still pretty sure somebody at the party is going to be… uncomfortable…


If you find this topic as intriguing as I do, you might be interested in a few recent developments, like Naked Yoga in New York City or Archimedes Sauna in San Francisco which appears to be modeled after the sans-clothing saunas in Europe. You might also want to check out the aforementioned Young Naturists America and read about their efforts to have regularly scheduled naturist days at a New Jersey Health Club. Maybe there’s hope for naked America yet.

Maybe!