Vritomartis: The flagship for the naturist marketing conundrum!

We’re just back from Greece, or more specifically, Crete – where we made our fourth visit over the span of about ten years to the beautiful naturist hotel/resort Vritomartis, located due south of Chania. Directions: Leave the airport, drive through the industrial wasteland near the airport, climb over the daunting mountains ever-attuned to dodging stray goats on the winding roads perched on precipitous cliffs, until you reach the sea. Turn right, then left, then take off your clothes.

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An oasis on the edge of Crete

I keep looking for a word other than quirky to describe this remote naturist destination, particularly since I’ve used the quirky word in the titles of several other blog posts, at least one of which was about Greece. But quite frankly, I simply can’t conjure up another word that does that trick.

I’ll lead out with the ranting part first, which on the flip side turns out to be something of a statement of affirmation. Granted, going anyplace in Europe during the month of June, before schools have let out, puts an immediate and noticeable skew on the holiday destination demographics, but Simpsons fans will immediately relate if I suggest that the clientele of this Greek resort quite closely resembled the residential population at the Springfield Retirement Home. I realize that’s hardly fair, as we, ourselves, are hurdling through middle age at lightening speed, and my typical dismay of seeing Homer in the mirror each morning is slowly turning over to recognizing traces of the emerging Abe Simpson. Now in our late fifties, we are becoming part of that skewed demographic, but golly! There were a lot of folks in the 80+ crowd at Vritomarits this time around. GOD BLESS THEM EVERY ONE! But again… wow!

Bear in mind, getting to the southern shores of Crete is a bit more complicated than finding your way to La Jolla or the Jersey Shore. Even if you can find a direct flight from London, you’re still in for a 90-minute car ride over the goat infested mountains (Actually, we adore the goats!), which involves either a hefty taxi fare, or a demanding drive that requires a good sense of acuity and quick response time. (Again… lovin’ those goats!)

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Resort promo photo

This year, we met Anka, the new animateur from France, who not only led us on the naturist walk down the gorge above Anapoli, but was also charged with doing the morning water aerobics; yet another Simpsonesque scene with an attractive young (naked) woman leading high precision dance-like routines for a wildly un-synchronized group of folks that, even if unimpeded by the viscosity of water, were nowhere close to keeping up with this high intensity workout. Not especially different than when I encounter the water aerobics classes at our local YMCA, conveniently located across the street from a sprawling retirement community, but even there – a bit sobering when the place becomes overwhelmed with the 9:00 am fitness classes donning names like, “You can stay alive another year!” Those folks at the Y are all in swimsuits, but simply put, it’s always something of a mortality check. Like seeing the recent Paul McCartney bit on James Corden the other day – “Damn Paul, you still got it, but dude! You’re getting old!”

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Workout time at the pool

I’ve been working on a blog draft of the “Top Ten Places we’d go with our Clothes on,” in an effort to identify places that have amenities beyond what one might expect at the typically more rustic naturist/nudist establishment. We’ve found several places that would make the list, most notably those in Palm Springs, Mexico, France, Spain, Mallorca, and a couple places in Greece. But not surprisingly, at each of these places, we continue to encounter the recurring story of the people who decided to “live life dangerously after that last kid was out of the nest.” We got into naturism in our late twenties, and pulled our kids into the mix through most of their adolescent years, so we’re never quite sure how to weigh into that conversation that leads out with “Do your kids know where you are right now?”

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The naked walk in the woods

I guess that’s my point. Not that the over-eighty crowd shouldn’t feel at home in their own skin at a place like Vritomartis, and to be sure, that’s a serious part of the affirmation thing. Comfortable in your aging skin is a wonderful testament to the intrinsic value of naturism itself, but naked or not, it presents something of a marketing conundrum for upscale naturist resorts in their attempt to attract a balanced age distribution as most thirty-somethings may not be ready for an exotic holiday in a place where the other prevailing clients are 40+ years their senior. And despite all of the quippy blogs and articles that preach the virtues of naturism as a way of reducing vacation costs, that simply doesn’t hold true if you’re seeking accommodations nicer than a pop-up trailer at a rustic campground. In fact, the expense of getting to a naturist destination, and the implied surcharge of staying at a property with little or no competition in its class, typically means you pay a significant up-charge for the privilege of getting naked, which ironically skews the demographics even more as those same thirty-somethings are likely lacking the discretionary funds requisite for an upscale naturist holiday. Really! A marketing conundrum from most every angle.

As we’ve been to Vritomartis four times already, I suspect we’ll find our way back there within another two or three years. We really do love the place. You can find nearly 800 reviews on TripAdvisor that speak to the various amenities you will find there, and their new website is beautifully designed as they seem to be targeting a more upscale clientele, while making smallish upgrades along the way to create a more international, Club Med environment than what you will find at the parochial little hotels down in the nearby village of Chora Sfakion where you can find a basic room with a sea view for a fraction of the cost. Vritomartis is a must see destination for the discerning naturist traveler.

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Truly an oasis – a room with a view

All that said, perhaps of greatest intrigue is a quick analysis of all the banter about the aging naturist population under the “Doom and Gloom” headers of various naturist forums, as opposed to the proliferation of articles in mainstream media about recent trending patterns for those seeking something different this year – maybe it’s time for a Nakation! Seems to me that, as a whole, there is no immediate danger of the naturist marketing niche dying off anytime soon, (and I mean that as literally as it sounds), but for each eighty-something who simply can’t make it again to some far-flung remote, luxury clothing-optional destination, there will likely be three other fifty-somethings who have just rid themselves of their children, and in doing so, have decided to ditch their inhibitions and clothing as well. Vritomartis, and similar resorts in Mallorca and France, are running at full capacity for most of the season, which provides clear evidence that the naturist population isn’t actually dying off, but rather, it’s just a changing of the guards of clothing-optional recreation. Unfortunately, we’re not getting cadet naturists in the 20 and 30-something bracket one might hope for.

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From the Vritomartis photo contest

A few years ago, we visited a very remote naturist resort in Brazil (another interesting post I never got around to writing) which featured a funky hotel in the middle or a residential community that once again, has become something of a retirement community that opens its gates to a few adventurous travelers, not terribly unlike the atmosphere of Florida’s Cypress Cove, where the more modern facilities are flanked by rows and rows of little houses where people have settled in for their Golden Years. Our next stop in Brazil was a run-of-the-mill textile resort situated near the entrance to Iguazu Falls, crowded with exactly the holiday crowd you might expect; some older than us, and lots of families a good bit younger than us. I remember sitting near the pool, Caipirinha in hand, wondering if the day would come in my lifetime when we would experience this eclectic mix in a clothing-optional setting. Wouldn’t that be something if the swimsuit simply became a matter of preference rather than something ordained in the name of public decency? But in the meantime, we will continue to pay the nudity tax for our luxury clothing-optional travel endeavors, hoping that as time goes by, the mainstream media will help get the word out that naturist travel is not just for the aged and eccentric. It’s simply a choice to leave one’s swimsuit behind as apparel that is hardly useful and usually uncomfortable. The folks at Vritomartis are doing their part to promote that message. Hoping many more will take up their cause until choosing a naturist destination becomes as normal as deciding between the Marriott and the Westin.

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Another promo short from the resort depicting the good life. So who needs a swimsuit?

 

 

The Naturist Guide to Gavdos

So after the better part of a week on this virtually unknown little island in the Libyan Sea, I thought it time to write the blog post I’ve been looking for – mostly in vain – for the past five years. There are quite a few blogs and grassroot webpages that tell you what a peaceful place this is, (True!) and about the hippies who camp out all summer and swim nude, (Also true, but not to the extent of decades past.) and a lot of vague observations about nudity that put even the most seasoned naturist on edge. Statements like, “Nobody cares if and when you’re naked,” (Well actually, they do.) or “You can walk anywhere in the nude without turning an eye.” (Most definitely not true!)

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Walking to Trypiti Beach

Unlike Ile du Levant in France, or even the little town of Charco del Palo on the island of Lanzarote, Gavdos is not really a naturist destination; it just happens to be a place where there are a few more opportunities to get naked than on your typical Greek island. I suspect this has changed a good bit in the last two or three decades as mainstream tourism has brought electricity and several boutique hotels to the island, along with increased ferry service that even makes it possible for day trippers to get out and back in one day. (Gavdos Cruises just started up a couple years ago, and rumor has it they just upgraded to a larger boat! I suspect that’s not been particularly good for nudity on cruise days.)

In the meantime, I thought about naming this post Where Have All the Hippies Gone? Long time passing. Seriously. Are they just dying off of natural causes? Have they found another hamlet with secluded beaches in some hidden destination in the middle east? Or shudder the thought, did they give up the cause with a shopping spree at Target to clad themselves in polyurethane fabric made in China? Has it really gotten that bad?

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What the locals wear!

As it happens, especially in July and August, the number of naked hippies – let alone the more purposeful and dedicated nudists – are well outnumbered by the more typical holiday-makers you might expect on Santorini or Mykonos. Oddly enough, as we headed off on a naked hike the other day my wife confessed, “I’m not worried about offending the Greeks, I just don’t want to surprise the tourists!”

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Surprising the tourists

Surprise the tourists? Are you kidding me? The tourists probably came here looking for naked people! But the Greeks!? Long pants and layered shirts in the dead of summer? The old women wrapped in fabric and head garments. How do they do it?

In any event, while I can hardly claim to be an expert on the matter, here are a few tips for those who may be charting a course to Gavdos for their next nakation, noting that a week on the island in June (and a previous day trip in August) does not represent a comprehensive guide, but I hope it will provide a few bits of information I would have found most useful in planning our time here.

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Maps are posted all over the island. Generally, the dotted lines are safe for nude hiking.

  • Where to Stay: As I mentioned in my previous post, there are no naturist accommodations on Gavdos, though there are small inns next to Sarakiniko Beach and the nearby Agia Ioannis (notably, Sofia Rooms, which was our second choice.) that are in easy walking distance to beaches where nudity is common. But you won’t see people walking naked from their room to the beach. For this stay, we chose to stay at the mountain top village of Kastri at the Gavdos Princess Hotel, where nudity on certain verandas is possible, but nowhere else on the property or in the village. Located at essentially the dead center of the island, you are about a 10 minute drive to most every beach on the island, though most of the nice ones require a significant walk beyond that.

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    On the road to Trypiti

  • Nudity at the Beach: The easier the access, the fewer naked people to be found, and thus while nudity is tolerated at Sarakiniko, I suspect it is frowned upon by some of the mid-summer tourists. (Again, with the offending the tourists thing!) And if you wish to visit the nearby taverna, or for that matter, any taverna on Gavdos, you at least need a pareo to cover genitalia and breasts. (You don’t want to be scolded for that more than once!)

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    On the trail to Pyrgos

  • The Best Nude Beaches: During our stay, we made it to Trypiti, Lavrakas, Ioannis, Sarakiniko, and Pyrgos. Trypiti is great simply given its proximity to the “big chair” at the southern point of Europe, and most of the people we’ve seen there have been naked. Our afternoon napping under the scrubby trees at Ioannis was lovely as well, and I would say approximately two-thirds of the people we saw there were nude. But our favorite has to be Pyrgos, a bit difficult to get to, but a gorgeous setting where we only encountered one other human during our afternoon on the beach. He scrambled down the rocks to the beach, dropped his shorts, jumped into the ocean for a swim, laid out naked to drip dry, put his shorts back on and disappeared. That seems to be pretty much standard operating procedure around here. There is NO shade in the midday at Pyrgos, so we were glad we packed in an umbrella. But the water is gorgeous, with a shallow slope of soft sand that goes well into the sea. One of our best beaches ever.

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    Pyrgos beach

  • Nudity on the Trails: We’ve asked a few of the locals and encountered a few on the trails as well. It seems that free-hiking (hiking in the nude) is not a Greek cultural norm, and those we encountered en route where significantly overdressed even by beachwear standards. But none seemed offended by our nudity, receiving a gentle smile from one older man, and a lively exchange about the dogs who accompanied a middle-aged woman. If she noticed we were naked, (How could she not?) it most certainly was of little concern. So I think the general rule is, once out of sight of nearby habitations – or as our server at our hotel put it, away from the subdivisions! – you are free to do as you wish. Keep in mind that here in mid-June we have actually encountered perhaps a half-dozen other people – all clothed, I might mention – during our extensive walks on the mountain and coastal paths, though typically we’re out in the early morning before the most intense heat.

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    Pyrgos beach

The Final Analysis: Well? It’s pretty much like everywhere else we’ve been in Greece. This is a great place to take your clothes off to swim in the magical turquoise water, but show up topless at a taverna, or wander naked into a popular family spot and you might get chastised by an old woman all dressed in black. Just to be cautious, I carry a small pareo when entering doubtful territory that is simply enough to cover the crown jewels should it suddenly seem necessary. Such a small piece of fabric that is neither modest nor a fashion statement, which causes me time and again to ask, “Why all the fuss about naked?”

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Crete in the distance from Gavdos

Does Gavdos make our Top Ten of Naturist Destinations? Probably not quite, simply due to the lack of a “place to stay naked” other than the tent cities that come and go on the beaches. As is often the case, sometimes I wish I could roll back the clock to have experienced Gavdos in all its hippie glory of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Who knows? Had I done that, I may have never left. You would find me down there on Lavrakas beach with the other leathery old men who emerge each morning to bathe in the sea. To be sure, that’s a commitment to a lifestyle that would have set the meandering naturist on a very different path.

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The view from the most southerly point in Europe

 

Naked with Goats in a Distant Land

So there it is!

In my very first blog post, I stated that maybe one day I might be able to tie all my musings and travelogues together into a single publication. A printed on paper book? Eh… I doubt it. But maybe one of those Kindle publications that sells for something between free and three dollars, ninety-nine cents. I’ve read quite a few of those now, each time thinking, “Hey, I could do that!”

IMG_7259In the meantime, a friend said, “You’re headed out for nakation in Greece. What will your next blog post be?”

How about “Naked with Goats in a Distant Land! What do ya think?”

“I’m pumped. Send it when it’s done!”

It was a magical moment of sorts. Thinking about that potential book deal with Kindle. (Is that what you call it? A book deal? With Kindle?) And how would I frame such a volume? Does the planet need another book about clothing-optional recreation? Or for that matter, another blog post even? How much more can one say other than “Go find a beach, take your clothes off, fait accompli.”

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But alas, here we are on Gavdos, a small island off the southern coast of Crete that requires a significant acumen for travel planning along with – at least – a recessive gene for adventure. Gavdos hails itself as the most southerly point in Europe as the lower tip of the island points down into the Libyan Sea well south of the shores of northern Africa. Egypt and Israel are merely a Greek athlete’s stone’s throw from here.

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Not unlike naturism itself, Gavdos is something of a dichotomy. As most are moored in deep religious ideology, Greeks have something of a mixed opinion on the subject of social nudity. While a few are willing participants, most see naturism (and the beaches where such things take place) as one spoke in the wheel of the bigger tourism economy. The number of “nudity tolerated” beaches outnumber the number of “official nude beaches” by at least 100 to 1! Quite different than France or Croatia with their massive naturist centers where you can be naked 24/7 should you so desire. In Greece, you’re always playing the “Can I be naked here?” game.

But let’s get real! Getting naked after sundown in southwest France (where the biggest family naturist centers are located) requires a level of endurance and resolve that is only one step removed from those crazy people in the Northeast USA who participate in the annual Polar Bear Plunge, charging into the January sea to gather data about what really shrinks in cold water! France’s largest naturist centers on the south Atlantic coast can be downright frigid at night, even at the height of summer. Greece, on the other hand, has the perfect climate for naked – such a bummer that religious dogma and the like gets in the way of clothes-free progressives.

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At this writing, we are at the end of day two of our second visit to Gavdos, most infamous for its unrelenting hippie culture of, “Don’t worry, get naked.” Our first visit, a couple years ago, was merely a one-day turnaround from the port of Chora Sfakion, allowing exactly enough time to find our way to the “big chair” at the southern tip of Europe, exploit a quick photo op, and skedaddle back to the boat to make our way back to our cushy accommodations at Vritomartis just minutes from the port.

This time, we decided to double down and really discover Gavdos. Is nudity accepted everywhere? Is it accepted anywhere? Is there a naturist hotel on the island? (I’m going with “no.”) Can I be naked on the veranda of my room in a non-naturist property? The owner of Gavdos Princess says, “Yes – as long as you use the veranda not facing the restaurant.” Can I walk through the villages on the island without clothing and without judgment? I very much doubt that. The villagers look like long timers who have little or nothing to gain by keeping the naked hippies happy, a sub-culture here on the island that seems to keep to their own enclaves under the scrubby trees near the beach.

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Can I walk the forest and coastal paths naked without fear of being convicted of a lewd or criminal deed? Well, there’s a question. Who’s going to arrest you? (I have yet to see a police car, let alone a person who would drive one, though my wife says she spotted a plain clothes police guy yesterday. Wonder if he notices we had no clothes?) And what would they arrest you for? Or more to the point, who comes to Gavdos without full knowledge that if you go near the sea, you will see naked people. And you don’t live on Gavdos without going near the sea.

What I can tell you for certain is that Gavdos is the small Greek Island that time seems to have forgotten. Said to have had thousands of inhabitants back in the Byzantine era, today it is the quiet, simple life that is most pervasive, where getting caught in traffic means you are surrounded in a herd of goats who take their time in crossing the road. In fact, it would be a great place to settle in for a few weeks, surrounded by calm seas and starry skies, and say… write a book! Maybe something like, Naked with Goats in a Distant Land.

Let me get to work on that.

Version 2

 

 

 

Nakation Chronicles VI: Mexico, SXM, and Greece

With our youngest graduating from high school, 2008 began a new era in our naturist meanderings, as the emphasis changed from family naturist destinations to, “Hey!? Are there other interesting places in the world where we can get naked?”

January of that year would bring our first visit to Hidden Beach Resort near Cancun, Mexico, noting that the opportunities for nude photography there were (and are) far and few between, and thus, the lack of photographic evidence here. We also made our annual trip to St. Maarten, which was beginning to feel a bit routine by then. But the big nakation of 2008 took us all the way to Crete where we found the naturist haven on the sea, Vritomartis. (Interesting timing as we will return to Vritomartis in a couple weeks, for the fourth time, I think! Most definitely on our top ten list.)

Greece is a funny place when it comes to naturism. Frowned on by some locals given the deeply religious nature of many who live there, but celebrated by others who even if they are not naturists themselves, appreciate this unique tourist niche, and the $$$ that follows. I think we’ve visited all the recognized naturist resorts in Greece since this first foray, but naked on the southern coast of Crete still gets our prize for most stunning nakations.

Make sure you check out the previous Nakation Chronicles installments:

Nakation Chronicles I: The Pre-Digital Age

Nakation Chronicles II: France and Corsica

Nakation Chronicles III: St. Martin, Croatia, Corsica and France

Nakation Chronicles IV: Living Waters, St. Martin, Cap d’Agde, Ile du Levant, and France

Nakation Chronicles V: SXM, Spain, and La Jenny