For those of us who bother to worry about such things, there are wildly mixed reports about the future of naturism in Europe. One day, you read that young French people are lining up in droves to get naked, but the very next page lays out the demise of naturist tourism in Croatia as all the “old leathery Germans” are dying off. Never mind the thriving spa industry in The Netherlands and Germany where thousands of 20 and 30-somethings are having naked date nights every weekend. But that scarcely ameliorates the rampant complaints on Trip Advisor that hardly anybody was naked at the big naturist center in France last week.
Really, it’s all very confusing!
So confusing, in fact, that I finally had to go see one such place for myself in preparation for that awkward moment at a cocktail party when somebody asks, “So aren’t you one of those nudie types? And didn’t you say you’ve been to Montenegro? Is there a good place to get naked there?”
“Well, I think Ada Bojana is still open. You might wanna check that out.” I say with tentative trepidation, “Though I can’t really say for sure, since, well… I’ve never been there.”
Which was true, until a few weeks ago when I purposely diverted my flight itinerary to avail myself for a bit of nakation research in an area that has become known as the French Riviera of the Adriatic. Ada Bojana is actually a triangular island that splits the mouth of the river that separates Montenegro from Albania, or if you know your post WWII history, the southern reaches of former Yugoslavia.
As best I understand it, Yugoslavia garnered much of its naturist fame during the Tito dictatorship that, bizarrely enough, provided a framework for stability until the dictator’s death in 1980. (Tito’s death was the beginning of the end for Yugoslavia as tensions grew between various factions that eventually led to genocide and the many atrocities of the Balkan War in the early 1990s. It’s worth reading up on all that if you decide to visit the region, as the topic is still very much relevant to the people who live there.) But ironically enough, it seems the communist regime of former Yugoslavia was amazingly good for naturism. With the northern beaches of Croatia a mere six-hour drive from rainy Bavaria, and decades of a depressed economy under a communist regime that kept the cost of tourism ridiculously low. So many naked Germans flocked to the Adriatic coast that, even today, German remains an unofficial second language of the region.
Endless rocky shorelines on the deep blue Adriatic created the perfect formula for the rapid growth of the mega-naturist centers Koversada and Valalta near Rovinj, numerous others scattered down the Dalmatian Islands, and finally, the naturist Queen of the south – Ada Bojana; a perfect sandy beach landlocked between historic Ulcinj and the mysterious borders of Albania. I can only surmise what the place was like in its heyday, but even what remains today – a complex of several hundred apartments, an adjacent camping area, and three kilometers of sandy beach – represents one of the most expansive naturist properties in Europe.
Several years ago, we made a naturist trek across Europe beginning in Spain and ending in Greece. Ada Bojana had been on that itinerary until I finally got cold feet after reading so many poor reviews on Trip Advisor about this place stuck in the communist era, along with rumors that the entire plot of land was for sale to the first developer with enough cash and a little entrepreneurial imagination. Regrettably, we didn’t even bother to give the place a day visit.
Six years later, it seems the developers never showed up, the existing management made a few modest upgrades, and a few more mildly positive reviews have accumulated on line, including that of Nick and Lins from Naked Wanderings, who (rightfully!) raved about the beach bar and the expansive naturist beach.
I flew into Podgoriça where I rented a car for the 90-minute drive through the mountains down to the sea, well worth the entire trip simply for the scenery alone. But as you make your way south of Ulcinj, the mountains fall away into broad open marshlands, past a few modest hotels, and across the bridge onto the little island Bojana. Walking into the reception area, it felt very much like the hotels of Zagreb and Budapest I had visited as a college kid in 1985, before the fall of the Iron Curtain. It was early June, and the place wasn’t crowded, and thus I think they upgraded my 60€ room to an apartment right on the sea with a small terrace overlooking rows of loungers – ALL intended for naked sunbathers, like ME!
The linens were clean and starched, and clearly the bathroom fixtures had been updated within recent years, but even with the terrace doors wide open, it was impossible to get rid of the pervasive aroma from decades of cigarette smoke. I would later ask about non-smoking rooms as I was checking out of the hotel, when the man in the white shirt and black tie behind the counter looked at me as if I were proposing some bizarre revelatory idea for the first time ever. “Oh no…. we don’t have that kind of room.”
Making my way to the beach bar, there were only three or four other people there on this weekday evening in early June, but the kitchen was open, and the server was pleasant enough to communicate in our best GerFranglish. Calamari and beer seemed like a good bet. It took a couple visits on subsequent days to figure out the laid-back policy of dress or undress as you wish while enjoying a beverage as you’re overlooking the sea, another particularly well-deserved rave from Nick and Lins. No shirt? No shorts? No problem.
One of my main objectives during my short stay was to test out the walkability of the three-kilometer naturist beach. The most immediate realization was that the management of the naturist resort does an excellent job of keeping their sector of the beach clean and groomed, as once outside the resort, the accumulation of plastic bottles and assorted trash was immediate and overwhelming, in some cases, sculpted into art installations of sorts. But indeed, the beach was sandy, and a chance encounter with a herd of cattle while beach-combing was a first for me. Not only was naturism not a problem, but I was practically the only person out walking that day, with the exception of one or two others, also fully nude.
When a cluster of small fishing boats appeared on the horizon I thought I must be approaching the outlet of the river, and thus, the Albanian border, only to realize upon closer inspection that maybe those weren’t fishermen in those boats. In fact, a good swimmer could easily wade out into the mouth of the river and make their way across the stream onto mainland Albania in a matter of minutes, and it seemed evident that the occupants of the yellow boats were quite concerned I might attempt to do just that. The jetty formed a quiet little bay that was similarly littered with refuse, and while the rugged Albanian mountains in the close distance looked inviting, the feeling of being naked and watched – by border-guards in small motor boats – was at least a little spooky.
Making my way back to the resort area, signage demarked an area closed to public access (only by signage, not by barrier) where simple cabins for maybe one or two- hundred more naturists were slowly falling into ruin. It made me wonder about those years during the Balkan Wars when devoted naturists are said to have maneuvered around the areas of intense fighting to make the annual pilgrimage to these hallowed naked stomping grounds, and the parts of the region that never quite recovered from all that.
Today, textile civilization is slowly closing in around Ada Bojana, providing some excellent dining options within an easy walk of the naturist lodging, but a burlap fence has also been placed near the end of the beach with a beach bar for those who insist on wearing swimwear. Will the textiles eventually capture the entire resort? Are there simply not enough naked Germans left to go around? Can’t you find your own private island someplace where you can drink cheap beer in a swimsuit?
I’ll keep an eye on Ada Bojana. If you can handle a couple imaginative flight connections, it’s a stunning place for vacation even with your clothes on! And given the success and proliferation of naturist places in France, it’s hard to believe people wouldn’t pay two or three times as much for naturist accommodations here, simply for the privilege of just a few more amenities and the option of a no-smoking room. Thankfully, it seems change happens slowly in Montenegro, which may be the very reason this magical little corner of Europe hasn’t been swallowed up by holiday business tycoons… wearing beach pants and nylon swim trunks.
Hang in there Ada Bojana! You are a most worthy naturist destination. You just need a little TLC, and a few more naturist tourism dollars that many of us would part with in a heartbeat for a fresh room and a naked beer on the shimmering Adriatic!