So this is our fourth visit to Ile du Levant.
Our first time was in 2004. A day visit as it was. Out on the first ferry, back on the last ferry. It was all very confusing, and a bit overwhelming, but just intriguing enough to make us want to come back.
On our second visit in 2006, we would stay at Heliotel, having made arrangements with a woman named Lucie who secured our reservation, but our command of French and her command of English ran out shortly beyond that exchange. We had a good stay, but didn’t know how to ask for a fan to cool down our room and rescue us from the mosquitoes.
Our third stay was in 2010 at the Hotel La Brise Marine, near the crest of the western end of Ile du Levant. We brought our two young adult daughters with us for an intended three-night stay, but bailed after the second night, succumbing to the heat and the malicious mosquitoes, while picking up on an uncomfortable (at least!) libertine vibe going on about the place. Not sure if that’s always the feel about the place or whether we just had bad timing, but we left feeling a bit discouraged, but not so much so that we wouldn’t try it again…
This time, we’re back at Heliotel, where the new owners have brought a new sense of panache to the place, along with air conditioning and new bedding! All around, I’m guessing it’s the best stay on the island. I would consider a self-catering apartment, but probably not in July or August when the nights are, more often than not, humid and still. (Which, of course, takes us back to the pesky mosquitoes!)
I know I belabored this point a good bit in my last post, but I still find the most intriguing (and in this case, intriguing = confusing) attribute of this little naturist island to be the naturism itself. Having visited several naturist resort type places in France, as well as making attempts to negotiate the French naturist forums like VivreNu, there is clearly a sense of urgency, or a least esprit de corps, embedded in the French naturist movement. Resorts like La Jenny and Bélézy have mounted serious marketing campaigns to discourage holiday-makers who are seeking a “clothing-optional” vacation. “If you want to come here, we want you to be naked… and LIKE it!” Over the years, we’ve even seen signs go up on the property of such places that essentially say, “You’re at a naturist place – take your clothes off!”
But here on Ile du Levant, such rigorous pomp and circumstance seems too militant; obsessively diligent, peut-être.” Having just returned from a fabulous lunch at La Palmeraie, I am still puzzled by the fact that we were the only ones dining completely au natural on the Terrasse Naturiste. Our lack of attire did not even draw a second glance from the server or the other patrons, and indeed, the older man at the next table was wearing le minimum of the G-string variety, which I find one step beyond peculiar as compared to naked.
It occurs to me also that I may simply be acting overtly American even taking note of such things. There is a competitive edge inherent in people from the US that causes them to seek out the maximum result from every effort. Climb the highest mountain. Run the longest marathon. Get the best job. Ride the biggest Harley. Go to the nakedest place! It could simply be, sometimes, that getting naked is more of a bother than wearing clothes, so why bother?
That said, of our four visits spanning nearly ten years to this little Mediterranean paradise, we have seen more naked people representing a broader demographic than on any previous visit, including several younger (under 40) couples and families with small children. And the ‘naked when you feel like it rule’ seems to be the governing principal, whether that be a restaurant server who wears short, short shorts, or another who wears no pants at all. Expecting the unexpected has become our main expectation for visiting this place, which makes it all just alluring enough to make us want to do it again… and again.
It is worth reiterating that the other thing that sets Ile du Levant apart from some of the other French naturist places we’ve visited is how very, well… FRENCH it is! Having a few important phrases in the language has been helpful for sure, but we met a guy from the Midwest yesterday who had no French at all, and he seemed to be doing just fine. For the most part, people are friendly and laid-back here, in a Bohemian sort of way. Even if you don’t have a single word in common, somehow you’ll figure out how to order a sandwich and a pichet de vin rouge. A couple glasses of wine, and the realization that you’re talking to your server while completely naked, will either put an end to your anxiety, or send you over the edge.
Bon appétit et vivre nu!