Several perspectives on naturist Croatia, from the clothing optional beaches near Hvar, to the expansive naturist resorts of Istria
See our other post about Naturism in Croatia
Several perspectives on naturist Croatia, from the clothing optional beaches near Hvar, to the expansive naturist resorts of Istria
See our other post about Naturism in Croatia
This is a bit off track of my typical blog posts, but I think this is truly a timely and worthy cause!
I have referenced the Young Naturists of America (YNA) several times in my blog as a group of body-positive people known for bold action beyond words in their efforts to promote family-oriented naturism in the United States. To the extent, that they are trying fervently to sustain a naturist friendly business in central New Jersey, but at the moment, it’s rough going…
You can read about the current situation here.
I intend to make a contribution, and encourage those who’ve been following my blog to do the same! Their work has been the most encouraging efforts I’ve seen on behalf of US naturism in a long, long time! Win or lose, they need our support in fighting the good fight!
– Naturist Dan
POST SCRIPT (April 2015): Sadly, the Terlam Spa project didn’t make, and I did make a smallish contribution. No regrets on my part! The YNA is still alive and kicking, sponsoring truly unique events in the Metropolitan NY area. I applaud them for forging forward in their campaign for body positive social nudity!
Should you be foolish enough to pick an argument with an acquaintance at a cocktail party about the birth time and place of European naturism, you’re likely to find three viable contenders in the final round for this illustrious title; Germany, France, and… CROATIA! The last of which, by the way, owes much of its naturist reputation to its proximity to Germany, but I’ll get to that in a while.
Regulars on my blog are already well acquainted with my infatuation with French naturism, and the various resorts that have come to define our own personal sense of family naturist nirvana. But as I kept digging deeper into the adverts and propaganda directed at those suffering from chronic-sun-addiction-disorder, names like Koversada and Valalta kept resurfacing in naturist guides and pre-Google-era web searches! Strangely enough, I had a vague awareness of this eastern European phenomena, as my first trip to Europe was in 1985 when I was in college; a trip that included a wide swing through (what was then) Yugoslavia, which generated a fair number of wise-cracks on the bus, “Hey, we should go to the beach and see the naked Germans!”
At twenty-two years of age, I had not yet ‘come out’ as a naturist, but at the time, I thought the whole thing sounded pretty intriguing. Given our two-day stopover in Zagreb, I hadn’t the vaguest idea as to where we were in relation to the nearest naturist beach or nudist resort. Turns out that beach would have been at least four hours away, on the Istrian peninsula on the Adriatic Sea.
Before I continue, I should proclaim that with this post, I am making a decisive departure from the documentary style of our Naturist Odyssey across Europe that I had intended to post – blow-by-blow – last summer as we actually forged our way some 10,000 kilometers from Spain to Greece. (You can read about that here.) My journalistic ambitions were thwarted by poor Internet connections and a limited skill-set in navigating the blogosphere, so I finally gave up. That’s a particularly important point, as I have decided to use this post to encapsulate five different visits to naturist Croatia over a period of the last ten years, amalgamating trip reports from 2005, 2008, 2011, 2012, and 2013. The consequence is a series dated photos and details that may well be lacking in the realm of immediacy and accuracy, but my desire here is to capture the prevailing sense and atmosphere of naturism in Croatia.
That said, during the 2013 Naturist Odyssey, we made an early departure from Origan Village (in the foothills above Nice) with the objective of blasting straight across the admittedly prudish region of northern Italy (more about that in a future post) to reach naked Croatia by nightfall at the end of the day. Remarkably, our mission was accomplished, despite an aggravating, bumper-to-bumper, final approach down the narrow highway that leads to Istria, where 90% of Croatian naturist activity takes place. This particular time, our destination was the naturist apartment complex at Koversada; a sprawling property self-proclaimed as the largest naturist resort in all of Europe!
This would be our second visit to Koversada, our fourth visit to Istria, and in all, our fifth visit to Croatia. At the risk of being redundant and/or patronizing, it is worth reiterating the fact that Croatia is a part of former Yugoslavia, which was a ‘nation’ created in the wake of WWII, held together for nearly four decades with bailing wire, a charismatic dictator, and a good deal of imagination when it came to creating reasonably attractive seaside resorts with little in the way of external (or internal) capital investment. As one might imagine, the result of all this can be found in hotels and seaside apartment complexes that are… almost… luxurious! Things have improved, significantly, since our first visit in 2005, but suffice it to say, if you’re accustomed to traveling in Western Europe, once in Croatia, you will know that you’re in Eastern Europe.
Our first venture in 2005 included a mid-June visit to Valalta, near the Lim Fjord on the Istrian Penninsula, where you can see Koversada on the facing shore. I have recounted elsewhere in these pages the deep affections my children held for a place called La Jenny in the southwest of France, but to put it bluntly, the weather on the Cote d’Argent (southwest France) can be unpredictable at best. Seasoned travelers in the know suggested that we would have a better chance at winning the New York lottery than experiencing a rainy day on the Adriatic, so we took the bait, and as it happened, had a week of postcard-perfect weather in this Croatian naturist resort during the summer of 2005.
By this time, our kids were in their late teens, and I have vivid recollections of our youngest daughter trying to recreate the French naturist experience at the dance party near the Valalta pool. “A+ for effort,” but it simply wasn’t the same. Of course not, we were 1000 kilometers, and a million miles away from France. Sadly, that was the last time our entire family embarked on a naturist adventure to Europe. It wasn’t bad – it just wasn’t French!
But wait! Before you dismiss Croatia as a viable family naturist destination, I need to mention the calm, warm-water inlets, the deep blue skies, and the local eateries with lamb or roast pig on the spit; or the fact that especially in the northern region, almost any beach is a naturist beach! While traditionally Catholic Croatians aren’t so keen on naked sunbathing, they are quick to realize the value of the tourist revenue to be had from the good (naked) people of nearby Italy and Germany.
That, along with the weather, was enough to inspire us to venture back to Croatia four more times, with a penchant for more adventurous explorations to the islands of Rab and Hvar, the historical cities of Dubrovnik and Split, and two additional visits to the Istrian peninsula, with extended stays in the lovely, remodeled apartments at naturist Koversada that afford the luxuries of modern living (thinking dishwashers and air conditioning here) along with a stunning view of the Adriatic Sea.
To date, we have stayed once at Valalta (2005), twice at Koversada (2012 and 2013), made a day visit to a third major resort called Solaris (2012), and have worked our way down through the Dalmatian Islands with stops on the island of Rab (supposedly the birthplace of Croatian naturism), the large island of Hvar (including the lovely little naturist islet of Jerolim), and even paid a visit to a small naturist beach on an island near Dubrovnik, which as it turns out, proved to illustrate a very important point…
Croatia is a stunningly beautiful region! In fact, I dare say, with the dissolution of the Yugoslavian state, the Croatians ended up with the lion’s share of magnificent beachfront property! But typical tourist Croatia – Dubrovnik, Split, and Hvar – is a significant distance from the “bazillion naked Germans” Croatia, where you may, indeed, find Europe’s largest naturist resorts with loads of naked Europeans during the months of July and August. But all those naked people are a long day or two of travel from Hvar and Dubrovnik.
In fact, one of the most startling moments during our journey down the Adriatic coast was our visit to the island of Rab, renowned for her remote and exquisitely beautiful naturist beaches. We set out one day on foot to find said beaches when finally, upon discovery, overheated and dehydrated, I doffed my shorts underneath the sign that indicated we were on an FKK (naturist) beach. I waded out into the tranquil shallows, only to realize that I was the only naked guy on the entire beach! Nobody seemed to care, but I had clearly failed the ‘blend in with the locals’ test. Never had I been so cognizant of the fact that guidebooks, even naturist guidebooks, are outdated the day they are printed! Naturism may have been allowed on this beach, but it most certainly wasn’t the common practice on the day of our visit.
Once this post is up, I will go to work on a new photo gallery that should provide a good sense of naturist life in Croatia. We will go back one day, but as it turns out, the Adriatic weather can be temperamental as well as we have learned that Croatia is not a slam-dunk guarantee for uninterrupted sunshine. But swimming in the Adriatic is hard to beat, and for those who enjoy exploring the rocky coastline, there are an infinite number of places where jumping naked into the sea is completely acceptable.
In the meantime, the Istrian peninsula remains the principal naturist region, near the quasi-Italian villages of Rovinj and Poreč. Friends tell me Valalta is reaching out to make naturism more relevant to the modern naturist, which I take to mean they are updating accommodations and working to create dining and entertainment options that will keep your tourist dollars in the resort. I would rent our sweet little apartment at Koversada again in a heartbeat, as a naked afternoon at the fish restaurant on the adjoining naturist island there constitutes an indescribably delicious slice of nirvana. And even though we have only made a perfunctory visit to Solaris, I would stay there without hesitation as well – a smaller resort with newer apartments, and a great little pool area overlooking the sea. Given that these incredible naturist places are roughly a six-hour drive south from Munich, (ironically, much closer than driving from Dubrovnik!) it seems you could hardly go wrong if your main objectives are sun, swimming, and the sensuality that is a nakation.
In my humble opinion, there are two Croatias; one that caters to westerners who are willing and able to pay the price to stay in five-star hotels, and another that is a bit more earthy, where people go to lay out on innumerable and expansive rocky slabs for an all-over tan. We are quite enamored with each, but have come to realize that you can’t do it all in a week!
You may also be interested in our other Naturist Odyssey installments:
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!
The 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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!
[Not to be confused with my post on 100 Naked Places!]
So a few weeks ago, while staying at Vera Playa, we decided to exploit a particularly lovely morning with a leisurely walk down the beach. Having done my homework before departure for this, our first visit to this famous naturist town on the Andalusia coast, (you can read that report here) I had a pretty good sense of the general layout of the authorized naturist zones, as compared to the nudity tolerated zones, well delineated on the most excellent map on the Vera Playa friends webpage where the color fades away to indicate, “You have now left naturist wonderland! Have a nice day!”
Of course, I didn’t bother to print out the map before heading off to Spain, and it seemed less than practical to lug along my MacBook as we meandered down the broad sandy shoreline, simply for the benefit of adhering to these rather arbitrary borders on this Spanish beach where the law reads that any beach can be a naturist beach, as long as you don’t offend the locals. Well! That pretty much clears things up! How far can we walk naked until we should turn around or cover up? And how do we assess the attitude of the locals as to their collective threshold for taking personal offense?
How about this for a possible guideline: As long as we can see another naked person, it’s all good!
Intellectually, that policy makes a lot of sense to me, though in practice, the margin of error related to such real-time-decision-making is incredibly wide. For starters, how does one identify “the locals,” and once having done so, how do you determine whether or not they are offended? That topless middle-aged woman reading a book on the beach – is she a local? How about that nude woman simply lying out, working on her all-over tan? Is she a local? And what about that naked guy walking the beach about 100 paces in front of us? He doesn’t seem to be offending anyone. Oh wait! He’s not naked!
As we close in to about 70 paces, we notice he’s wearing one of those little nylon bathing suits that European men seem to prefer, in a color that might be best identified as “skin tone.” And it turns out one of the nude women is, in fact, only topless, adorned by a very small piece of fabric that, even at 50 paces, has created the appearance of one who is fond of that natural look below the waist. We turned this into sort of a game, “I can tell if that person is naked at ___ (fill in the blank) paces!” Followed by discrete, observation-based research during which we each had to adhere to the golden rule of the nude beach – DON’T STARE!
Long time Vera Playa patrons might be appalled to learn that we (quite by accident!) walked all the way to Garrucha, which is most definitely beyond the delineations of the naturist zone that adjoins Vera Playa. It was a Tuesday morning in May, so there were few tourists on the beach, and you could see life running full tilt up in the city near the port. Our pace accelerated as we were eager to walk the length of the beach, but we weren’t too crazy about getting in trouble with the local authorities for indecent exposure, and even more so, we are typically very sensitive about doing anything under the banner of pushing the envelope (e.g. being naked where you’re not supposed to) as that may well lead to negative consequences for the authorized naturist area down the way. But, alas, we were able to adhere to our “naked person in sight” rule for the duration of our outing, thanks to a couple of liberated young women who had settled in for a good read not far from their mainstream hotel.
But finally, to my point! Assuming “a pace” is between two and three feet (For the purpose of this argument, we’ll stretch the truth a bit to equal “one yard.”) and most of us can easily visualize the length of a football field as a measurement of 100 yards, it turns out that it’s really quite difficult to discern whether someone is naked or not from the distance of 100 paces. In fact, in many cases, depending on the color, cut, or size of the swimwear, it can be difficult to tell if a person is naked at 50 paces, or even 25 paces if that person is fond of flesh-tone bathers. And having gone that far, I have to say that even at 25 paces, depending on juxtaposition, lighting, and I truly hate to say this… body condition, it can be very difficult to discern whether you’re looking at a topless woman, or a “well endowed” man. But alas, regardless of breast size, topless men have been socially acceptable for nearly a century now.
What I find most intriguing about this topic, however, is the nuance of just what people find offensive about public nudity in the first place, when one really needs a very keen eye to discern the degree of nakedness when that person is more than at arm’s length. I find this particularly curious in the United States, where there are only three officially recognized nude beaches in the entire country. THREE! And the recurring theme at the official and non-official nude beaches in America is the ongoing problem with gawkers – those people who feel compelled to stand along the cliffs of the California coast to gaze upon the naked people playing Frisbee on the beach below. Really? At the distance of 200 paces, can you even discern who is naked, let alone, the corresponding genders or body proportions? The more resourceful voyeurs may arrive with binoculars and telephoto lenses, but really, is it worth all that? It’s sort of the same argument of watching a football game on portable TV while you’re sitting in the stadium so you can actually see who did what on the field, but in this case, you’re not trying to identify the players, but very specific (and relatively small) body parts. So much work for so little reward!
Yet the hysteria and paranoia about public nudity remains at a feverish pitch, as someone may well be offended by another’s nakedness, to the point that there have been recent citations and arrests on US beaches as a result of mothers helping their 2-year-olds change into a swimsuit – in public – on the beach! Such “reckless behavior” apparently represents child endangerment. Try that as an adult, and you risk being labeled a sexual predator.
Apparently, in the minds of so many, the simple state of nudity can’t be as innocent as purported… by naturists… to be. I defer, once more, to Philip Carr-Gomm (A Brief History of Nakedness, 2010) where he quotes Pope John Paul II, “Nakedness itself is not immodest… Immodesty is present when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person, when its aim is to arouse concupiscence, [had to look that one up!] as a result of which the person is put in a position of an object for enjoyment.” As best I can tell, even the Pope thought it OK to be naked if your nakedness is devoid of the intent of personal exploitation or the desire to offend. But clarification, please! Is that from 100 paces away? 1000 paces away? Within sight of the people behind you on the beach, who decide to turn you in to the ranger for an accidental display of nipplage? How’s a naturist to know?
Those of us who take delight in simple and forthright naturist pursuits bear the burden of seeing ourselves as others see us – naked. It will be interesting to see if the people marketing the nipple bikini (pictured above) actually end up promoting the cause for positive public nudity, or simply stir up another round of hysteria as onlookers pull out the cameras and magnifying devices to discern – “Are those really your breasts, or are they just painted on?” History suggests the pendulum swings back and forth on issues like this over time, but as best I can tell, it’s been a while since the pendulum has moved in a direction that favors the naturist cause.
So much ado… about (wearing) nothing!
So, it was a year ago to the day that we set off on our “naturist odyssey” across Europe; a three month expedition that would begin on the small island of Ile du Levant, circle around to the south of Barcelona for a stay at El Templo del Sol, and following an extended stay at our naturist home base, La Jenny (from whence I am writing this post – now a year later), straight across Europe with two stops in Provence before making our way to the Adriatic coast where we would finally end up in Greece.
At least to my sensibilities, Provence is what people think of when they think of the South of France, along with the nearby Cote d’Azur and the legendary St. Tropez peninsula, which seems to have a reputation in the imagination of most Americans as the land of a thousand topless Brigitte Bardots! We made our first visit to naturist Provence in 1997, carefully tracking down secluded nude beaches with highly detailed Michelin maps in hand, finding that more often than not, the officially sanctioned nude beach was about five kilometers down the road from the stunningly beautiful beach that was clearly the more scenic destination. But alas, it turns out there are many options for total sun worship in the region, and for this journey, we had chosen two: Domaine naturiste de la Sabliere near the Roman ruins and the Ardèche gorge, and Origan Village, in the foothills of the Alps above Nice.
Ironically enough, one of the most challenging things about taking a naturist vacation in Provence is finding the balance between naked time on the terrace, and doing normal tourist things, like going to the local market, visiting ancient castles, and exploring the nearby villages to taste the wine, honey, and lavender ice cream. Unlike some of the more remote naturist destinations (take La Jenny, for example) Provence gives you a myriad of reasons to put your clothes on, and in fact, once you get home people will say, “Oh you went to Provence! Did you see … ???”
“No,” you reply, “It just seemed like too much trouble to get dressed in the morning.”
An important factor in this equation is that when Europeans go on vacation, they tend to put down roots and stay for two or three weeks, minimum! If it’s a naturist place, and the sky gets cloudy on the tenth day, that might be an excellent time to see the ruins of the local chateau with a bit of wine tasting en route. You choose a naturist resort the same way you choose a summer camp for your kids. “They have archery, horse-back riding, water aerobics, yoga classes, art lessons, and a camp orchestra – good choice!”
Such is the case at La Sabliere on the Cèze river gorge near the village of Barjac. In French naturist circles, this place seems to be an anchor of naturist ideals, family owned and operated for nearly four decades now. Set on the steep hillsides of the gorge, the areas near the river are mainly camping for tents and small trailers, with small neighborhoods up the hill sporting small portable chalets that have all the amenities of home (with the exception, perhaps, of a lot of space).
We first visited La Sabliere back in 2004 on a day trip while staying elsewhere in Provence. Having become regulars at La Jenny by that time, where there always seems to be a perpetual controversy about whether “this is a naturist place or a clothing-optional place,” we were pleased to see that nudity was much more the norm at La Sabliere, with many families with adolescent children. As in the US, family nudity has become increasingly controversial in Europe as well; a frequent topic in French naturist publications and web forums. In fact, my comment elsewhere in this blog noted that during this visit (2013), most of the kids swimming in the river were wearing swimsuits; an observation that stirred up quite a few pointed replies on a French naturist forum, in that publishing such remarks may well do harm to a place that is renowned for strong naturist values. (I have subsequently changed the language in that review.) In fact, La Sabliere is about as naturist as it gets in a country celebrated for upholding naturist ideals, but the business of family naturism has become increasingly complicated in this age of obsession with fashion, body image, and the proliferation of publishing digital photos on the web. Seems that it’s a challenging time to manage a naturist resort, even in France.
All that aside, if you can manage the basic accommodations of a simple chalet, you will likely be mesmerized by the ever-changing ambiance as the sun moves across the sky. The clever design of the pool gives you the sense that you’re at the edge of a waterfall on the precipice of a steep canyon, and watching kids jump from the twenty-meter boulders into the river Céze provides hours of entertainment for those of us who are too cowardly to do it ourselves. The summer climate in this region typically facilitates dawn-to-dusk (and beyond) nudity, which is permitted throughout the resort – even in the restaurant.
Should you compromise your naturist resolve, there are innumerable options for immersing oneself in typical Provençal delights, such as the aforementioned Roman ruins, charming local marchés such as the one in Goudargues, and the incredible Cascades du Sautadet (sadly – not naturist) where hundreds gather to scale the rock formations before going airborne into dozens of fresh water pools. A great spot for swimming and people watching. And to my palette, it’s difficult to find a poor restaurant in this region, where even the unassuming pizzeria will have a local specialty and charming atmosphere.
Our next stop in Provence represented our second visit to Origan Village near Puget Théniers in the Alpes Cote d’Azur above Nice. Also a family establishment, there had been many upgrades since our last stay about ten years ago, including several modifications to the pool area, renovations to the restaurant (where you have a breath-taking view of the valley below), and several new options for rental chalets amidst the expansive campground. Our favorite feature at Origan remains the wilderness trail that runs straight up the mountain behind the resort, then along the ridge for perhaps two kilometers before bringing you down on the other side of the property – about a 90-minute circuit that became our morning exercise routine – au natural! Naturist hiking is quite popular in France, but is best done in an organized group of card carrying naturists should you inadvertently wander your way into trouble. Of course, that requires that you are available to meet up with such groups when they have an organized naturist trek, and quite likely, some facility in the French language as well. Origan satiates our naturist hiking desires, on our own time at our own pace, and again, even a time deviation of fifteen minutes remarkably changes the landscape as sun and shadows morph throughout the day.
Our son and his girlfriend would visit us near the end of our stay at Origan. For her, it was the first visit to a naturist place, and while a good sport about the whole thing, you could tell her brain was working overtime trying to figure it all out. This became even a bit more complicated the last night of our stay when we went to the Friday Night Spectacle in the resort restaurant – a cabaret extravaganza of sorts. We had remembered a similar production from our visit years ago that featured an older couple who were once renowned for their professional ballroom dancing. It was dated, but nonetheless, charming.
This time I think it’s safe to say the show had a more burlesque feel about it, with a bizarre mixture of clichés that you might associate with the sort of tawdry humor that one associates with, well… burlesque! It all seemed a bit peculiar to me in this “holistic naturist environment,” and I daresay, a bit awkward while sitting across the table from our son’s girlfriend who was still grappling with all things social nudity. It appeared that most other people in the audience were French, (and thus, they likely got the jokes!) laughing uproariously throughout the show. Even a year later, I’m not sure how to contextualize that evening, except to say that it was memorable, and will likely resurface at family gatherings for a long, long time under the banner of, “Hey dad, remember that evening we went to that cabaret show in Provence…”
Both Sabliere and Origan are situated in stunningly beautiful locations that would be well worth the effort even if naturism was not part of the deal. That is something I long for at home, but even when one finds such a place in the US, it’s so remote that you have to drive for hours to find a supermarket or tourist attraction. Seems that in Provence, you are never farther than an hour from a naturist place.
There are a lot of options, especially if you broaden the brushstroke a bit to include the region near Montpellier (including the offerings in and around Cap d’Agde), the well known Bélézy to the north of Avignon, or any number of smaller camps in remarkable locations, such as La Messidor, a modest naturist resort near the village where we resided for a year. I suppose ultimately one needs to decide if you’re going to Provence to see Provence, or if you’re going to Provence to exploit her most precious resource – immeasurable doses of sunshine. That’s the problem with naturist travel, especially if you’ve only managed to carve out a week or two. Places like La Sabliere and Origan Village beg you to step out of the fast lane and simply absorb the ambiance and conviviality of a real holiday in France. I suspect that’s not the way most Americans experience Provence. For my naturist dollar, it’s the only way to experience Provence.
You may also be interested in our other Naturist Odyssey installments: