After years of dreaming about it, and many months of intense planning and preparation, we have finally set off on our naturist odyssey, with our first stop at the legendary birthplace of French naturism, Ile du Levant. A remote little island off the Cote d’Azur, roughly 45 minutes by ferry from the seaside resort town of Le Lavandou (about half-way between Toulon and St. Tropez).
It is difficult to imagine a more idyllic place than this, with stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea from nearly every window, and only a half-dozen or so motorized vehicles in the entire village of Heliopolis. There are a handful of hotels, several very nice restaurants, innumerable self-catering houses and apartments, and amazingly enough, private residences where apparently some people find the conditions suitable for year-round living; difficult to fathom what it must be like here in January with sleety rain and temperatures near freezing.
But in the summer, it’s mostly blazingly sunny days and deep blue skies; most definitely conducive to dawn-to-dusk nudity, which is allowed throughout the entire village except for right at the port or in the center square of the village. Seemingly naturist nirvana! But before you go out and buy a condo here, (or even venture out on a daytrip) you might want to consider a few peculiarities about the place.
First of all, how’s your French? Mine isn’t very good, but “Je parle un peu le français!” Already put to the test many times over, but most memorably in the boulangerie on the village place that also makes sandwiches and pizzas to “take away.” After an awkward verbal exchange, I realized that pizzas can only be had in the evening, and with two hours notice. Similarly awkward conversations would occur this day at the jewelry boutique and the little ‘catch-all market’ that is essentially a mini-Walmart, but with only one of each item you might have forgotten on the mainland before embarking upon the boat to naked wonderland. It took more vocabulary than I possess for the cashier to explain to me that I could have the naturist magazine I had chosen “as a gift – un cadeaux,” since it was from last year and who would want to pay good money for that?
Our room on the island is at Heliotel. We stayed here once before, back six or seven years ago, but the weather was blisteringly hot that summer, and our room had neither air conditioning nor a fan. Today, Heliotel is run by Paul and Vincent. Paul seems to be in charge of all things hospitality (and speaks beautiful English), and Vincent is apparently the culinary genius that is the lifeline to the lovely little restaurant with an amazing sea view! Most importantly, the rooms all have air conditioning now, which is partly about managing the heat, but more about managing the mosquitos, which tend to come out with a vengeance at sunset. Naked and mosquitos are a poor recipe for anything short of annoyance and grief!
The other peculiar thing about Ile du Levant is figuring out when and where you can be naked. You would think that would be pretty simple and straightforward in the birthplace of European naturism, but as it turns out, it’s all a bit hit and miss. In fact, it’s surprising how many people wear clothing on Ile du Levant, as it is actually only required in a few very specific places: in the port where the ferry arrives, in the town center which is essentially a small area of perhaps 100 square meters, and very particular places, such as the outside veranda of our hotel restaurant at dinner time. (But you can have breakfast and lunch au natural on the terrace near the pool!) Normally, you could simply default, “We’ll do what the locals do.” But we didn’t travel 4000 miles to walk around a naturist village wearing shorts and a sarong. By and large, that is what the locals do! But alas, just when you think you’re the only naked person on the island, you meet up with an entourage of naked French people swimming in the sea, or walking back from the beach. So we exercise the right (and rather expensive privilege) to be naked whenever possible. Seems that even when somebody breaks the rules, by say… being naked in view of the port, nobody much cares. But it’s all very confusing if you’re a naked American trying to do the right thing amidst the locals.
Tonight we’ll eat at a favorite restaurant we have visited on past expeditions to the island. New owners and a new name but excellent reviews on Trip Advisor, so we are eager to see what’s on offer. A long morning walk along the sea, an afternoon of snoozing naked in the sun, and the current prospect of a fine French meal and a bottle of red wine.
C’est une bonne vie!