NAKED in the NETHERLANDS: Bussloo Spa near Amsterdam

So here’s the thing…

Some things in life are intended to evoke pleasure and relaxation. Vacation for example! Or maybe a day trip to the spa. Or as naturists love to preach, “What’s more amazing than shedding your clothes and all the stress that goes with them by taking a nakation?”

Right with you there, naked friends, but I gotta say… even for a seasoned naturist, baring it all for the first time in a new environment can be anything but relaxing. What if I walk into the wrong changing room? Am I allowed to be naked here… or there? And what do all those red signs in a foreign language say?… Take off your flip flops? Put on your flip flops? Flip flops will get you expelled from the premises?

Amidst random, but persuasive, bouts of total relaxation, this would pretty much summarize my first (but certainly not my last) visit to Thermen Bussloo on the outskirts of Amsterdam. I first learned about the place from our naturist friend Addie (See: Dating for Naturists or Naked in a Rainstorm) who put this on my “you gotta see this place” bucket list after her stay in Amsterdam last summer. Knowing that Addie has a deep affinity for the Therme Erding chain in Germany, I assumed that if she said this place was spectacular, it must be spectacular. And naked! It was both!

I should note, at least for the sake of those unfamiliar with the European spa culture, that there is quite a wide variance in the opinion as what defines a proper and refined spa experience. Some reviewers are appalled by the “mega-spa” places like Therme Erding (You can read my opinions about Erding and a few other places here.) and much prefer the historic edifices where architecture and calmness override amenities and entertainment. To that end, it seems Thermen Bussloo lies somewhere on the middle of the spectrum, as there is no swim-up bar or evening entertainment (that I know of), but the amenities are plentiful and interesting. And is it just me, or are spa-goers in Holland simply more comfortable with naked? But more about that later.

A QUICK GUIDE TO ENCOURAGE A NEWBIE TO GET NAKED AT THERMEN BUSSLOO

First of all, I speak a little German, a bit more French, a few words of Spanish, but absolutely NO Dutch whatsoever! I can’t figure out the vowels or the consonants, whether reading it in a menu or listening to people speak it. Which is generally OK as most everyone from the Netherlands speaks nearly perfect English, including most of the employees at Bussloo Therme. So riddle me this? They only have maps, facility guides, and dining menus printed in Dutch. (There is a German version of the map, which saved the day for me!) All signage is in Dutch. All schedules are in Dutch. Thankfully, the Dutch words for “burger” and “club sandwich” happen to be burger and club sandwich. And of course, I’ve grown accustomed to using that cool app on my iPhone where you hover over text you can’t understand and it translates it into English right there on your phone. That would work here, if you were allowed to use your phone anyplace outside of reception. That makes sense. Lots of naked people around. Put your phones away! From what I could tell, there was 100% compliance with the no device rule, quite unlike some other places we’ve visited, so I would say “don’t even think about it.”

All that said, my friend Addie remarked, “I liked Bussloo since there didn’t seem to be so many implicit rules, especially about where or where you could or could not be naked.” Totally agree on that point, which we have observed at other Dutch spas like Elysium near Rotterdam and Sauna von Egmond in Haarlem. As opposed to Vabali in Düsseldorf or Berlin where there is a (somewhat) clear (but implicit) expectation that once you step out of the water, you’re going to immediately wrap yourself in a towel or bathrobe, this seems not to be the case in Holland. Even in the dead of winter when the weather was near freezing outside, the locals at Bussloo seemed quite happy to wander about the grounds completely naked. Addie tells me that in the summer, the sweet spot is one of the numerous wooden lounge-chairs out in the gardens, where the wait staff will serve food and beverages right to your seat, and as many as not are completely naked. (Clients, not servers, that is.) That makes sense to me.

I might mention that it’s something of a complicated task to blog about Europe’s naked spa culture, as for obvious reasons, I can’t provide my own images from the experience, (And we all know – Images make the blog post!) but everything you can find on line is delightfully crafted to avoid censorship. On that point, I saw exactly ZERO humans wrapping themselves in towels while sweating in the saunas, and as mentioned above, not much concern about covering up while moving about the facility, except in the lounge and the restaurant where there was a clear expectation that you will wear a robe.

A few more tips for your first visit to Bussloo? Here you go…

  • They issued me a bracelet at check-in, along with a towel and bathrobe (upon my request) but didn’t even bother to swipe a credit card or take a deposit. “You pay on your way out!” Like most of these establishments, I was able to use the wristband to unlock my locker and pay for anything I needed during my stay. I wondered what would prevent me from just getting dressed and walking out the door at the end of my stay, until they handed me a very specific coin at check-out that would open the gate to the parking lot so I could get out with my car. Clever! Not sure what they do to keep public transportation people honest, but it must not be a problem.
  • On that topic, I was only in Amsterdam for a day on a long airport layover. When I worked out the navigation on buses and trains, it was going to be more than two hours from the airport to Bussloo in each direction, so I gave up on that and rented a car. Well worth it as I had little margin to deal with a missed connection. If you’re actually staying a few days in Amsterdam, you can purchase a system-wide transportation ticket for about twenty euros that will get you there and back on trains and buses.
  • Once you check in, the changing area is coed (with gender specific toilets). I arrived early, and it was essentially me and a few (partially naked) women. That made me a bit wary as I wasn’t sure if I was in the proper changing room, but it turned out I was in the right place. Later in the day, the changing room was quite crowded with an expected gender mix, all completely oblivious to the various stages of nudity around them.
  • Again… all signage is in Dutch, including those warning signs I mentioned that I think were trying to tell me not to slip on the ice or the slippery floor. It’s one of the few places I’ve ever been, including Japan, where at least the most critical signage was not multi-lingual. Not complaining – just thought you should know.
  • Unlike most German spas, you are NOT allowed to bring in your day-pack or any other small bag with your day’s provisions. In fact, they give you a smallish semi-transparent plastic bag at check-in for the things you want to keep with you. This always make me nervous when I have a rented towel, a rented bathrobe, and a plastic bag that looks exactly like everybody else’s stuff. You simply have to pay close attention as to where you leave your stuff as you wander about the facility or you’ll never find it again. (I once had to purchase a robe that I misplaced/was taken by mistake at a German spa. Not a good end to the evening.) Bring an empty water bottle with you, as there are plenty of places to fill it during the day, but that’s not so helpful if you didn’t actually bring one.
  • On the less pragmatic side, you want to make sure you have allotted enough time to really enjoy the place. The crown attractions seem to be the Hammam pool, the Geyser Sauna, and the salt-water cenote, where you float on your back with ears submerged while Zen music resonates through the water. Absolutely magical! I was also fond of the rest area in the Kelohouse with warmed tiled loungers. Perfect for an early afternoon nap. (Tested and approved!)
  • It’s worth noting that there is a hotel connected to the spa. It looks lovely, but I was only there for a day visit. It’s a solid hour by car from central Amsterdam, so it’s not a place to stay if you’re up for sight-seeing, but it looked like they have a clear flight-path set up that would allow you to enjoy the spa without ever putting on real clothing for the duration of your stay. I’m eager to test that theory out.

Final verdict? Addie was right! If you’re looking for a naked escape that is essentially weather-proof from the variable climate of northern Europe, Thermen Bussloo should be on your short list. In fact, I’ve added it to my port of entry destination list – as I think the best way to start any European vacation is with a day of snoozing, soaking, and sweating at the spa. Berlin and Munich have always been good options given their proximity to Vabali and Therme Erding, respectively. I’m most certainly adding Amsterdam and Bussloo to the list.

Images for this post were found by Google search and are believed to be in the public domain. If you find an image that requires attribution, or should be removed, please advise accordingly and I will do so at once.

The Joys of Living Naked

About two weeks ago, there was an article in the New York Times called The Joys of Cooking Naked that literally set the naturist community all a Twitter as links flooded social media and messaging feeds. As best as I can tell, confirmed naturists mostly applauded the “positive PR,” while comments from the textile community drew upon the tired canon of nudist puns, “I simply don’t think I could bare to dine naked!” … Ugh.

With permission from IG @amis_natturisttes

I posed the question on my own Twitter feed as to whether a media splash like this actually helps or hurts the naturist cause, as I, personally, was quite disappointed in this particular article. The New York Times has recently published a few very thoughtful pieces in recent months. (See A Once in a Lifetime Dilemma or The Naked Truth About Germans). But in this case, I found myself wondering what the author was driving for: A history of nudism in America? An advert for a nudist resort/retirement community in Florida? Or perhaps just an admonition to would-be nudists to beware of the evils of splattering bacon grease! Isn’t that common sense, whether naked or not?

I had wished, instead, that the reporter might have taken a different tack, broadening the topic a bit to something like… the The Joys of Living Naked. And for that matter, was it really necessary to get on a plane and visit a nudist resort in Florida to find a person who cooks, eats, or lives naked? I know there are several progressive young naturists living in and around New York City who embrace the clothing-optional lifestyle, but not just on vacation or in retirement, but on a typical Sunday morning when the apartment is warm enough to be naked at home, even in December, and clothing is simply an option that isn’t necessary. How about an article on Window Treatments for the Discreet Naturist, or Talking to Your Neighbors about Casual Nudity. I suspect there are any number of city dwellers across the country who could really benefit from those articles.

I don’t wish to downgrade the seemingly growing trend amidst the general public as related to the tolerance of social nudity, and would even go as far as to celebrate that fact that a major U.S. newspaper published a photo of a fully nude woman – from the backside – working in the kitchen. Apparently, we’ve all finally agreed that the nation’s children will not be harmed by the  incidental sighting of unadorned buttocks. (News flash! Everyone has a pair!)

But I think naturism will really turn the corner in America when we can speak freely about one’s neighbor who has a penchant for being be naked at home, just doing normal things on the day-to-day basis, without the urge to make some goofy pun, or quietly wonder if you’re living next to some kind of sexual deviant. Which takes me full circle – Does an article like this help or hurt that cause?

With permission from IG @moreschicarina

One curious element of all this is the evolution and self-perception of naturist places in the United States that are, at least inadvertently, self-deprecating if not outright ridiculing themselves. In this particular article, the author mentions the resort restaurant (where the research for said article had taken place) – the Bare Buns Café, and adjoining bar, the Butt Hutt! While all under the guise of fun and laughter, (“Hey Naturist Dan! Lighten up a little!“) American nudist places simply can’t seem to resist nomenclature, sign-posts, and newsletter headlines that actually perpetuate the idea that “You naked people are all a little crazy!” or at the very least, you’re hopelessly addicted to second tier dad jokes. (I’m a dad. I love dad jokes. But in this case, doesn’t this kind of thing make us naked people all look a bit silly?) I don’t think I fully recognized the subversive impact of all that until visiting naturist places in Europe, especially in France and Croatia, where you would never find that kind of word play.

Truth be told, if the social media (e.g. Twitter and Instagram) confessions of many a closeted naturist have any validity, it seems that The Joys of Living Naked is probably embraced by hundreds of thousands of people who would never think of dining at a place called the Bare Buns Café, but routinely find ways to avoid getting dressed in the morning until the last possible moment before stepping out into the “real world.” That has certainly been my strategy, and I most definitely do not live in a warm place, and we most definitely have neighbors. To that end, I thought I might offer a few tips on how to realize to joys of living naked, whether you’re into cooking or not.

A GUIDE TO THE JOYS OF LIVING NAKED

  • TALK TO YOUR NEIGHBORS: Obviously, this depends on whether your neighbors reside through the 14th floor window in the adjacent apartment building, or just across the fence. But if you’re making an effort to be discrete, chances are good they might be more chill than you expect. The neighbors on each side of our home know about our naked tendencies, (Especially mine!) but neither seem to have an issue with it, even though the teenage daughter on one side once let herself into our backyard – unannounced – to tell us her family was leaving on vacation, only to find me reading naked on the porch. The moment was a bit awkward, but the residual effect was null.
  • BE AN ADVOCATE: Seasoned naturists find ways to work potential nudity into the conversation to test the waters as to anticipated reactions. Try “Come over any time, but you’d better call first in case I need to put clothes on!”… and see how they react. You might be surprised when they respond with, “Yup. We know that about you.”
  • UNDERSTAND YOUR WINDOWS: My wife is more likely to get naked on “nakation” than she is around the house. (It’s simply not pragmatic to bother with throwing something on to empty the recycling bin.) But I finally got her to do the “window test” a few years ago to demonstrate just what people can and cannot see when looking in from the outside. The tint of the glass, the angle of the sun, and simply the sight-line from the ground to the window often makes it impossible to see whether a person is naked or not, especially during the daytime. And there are a myriad of window treatments that react differently to light. Some let the light in while making it impossible to see in from the outside. Talk to your friends at Home Depot to figure that out.
  • LANDSCAPING AND SIGHT-LINES: A clever rhododendron here, and a leafy lilac there, can help with those windows that provide outside exposure below the neck. And fast-growing plants like privet hedges, forsythia, or Leland Cypress can create a better barrier than any fence in just a year or two.  
  • THE WOOD BURNING STOVE: We have a house with vinyl siding in the northeast US that was never warm in the winter – at least certainly never warm enough for naked. Our wood-burning stove changed all that, making our family room (and adjoining office space) naturist friendly 365 days a year. A real wood burning stove may be more trouble and expense than you want, but there are a lot of second-bests these days, some of which run on pellets, gas, propane, or even electricity for no trouble or mess. But the intense heat source in your living space makes wearing clothes unnecessary at least; maybe even a bother. Almost as good as direct sunlight on your bare skin!
  • PAREO or SAUNA TOWEL: The ubiquitous pareo (or sarong) is the go-to cover up for many a beachgoer, but an absolute necessity for the confirmed naturist. A single piece of cloth that can cover the controversial body parts in a matter of seconds, which is particularly useful for women who, in most places, are required to conceal their breasts. For men, a quick Google search will lead you to the sauna towel with Velcro binding common in European spas, so you can move from awkward to appropriate in a matter of seconds. Pareos work for guys too. All a matter of preference and choice.
  • DISPLAY NUDE ARTWORK: We’ve become increasingly brazen with decor that reveals small hints that we’re less than offended by nudity. Maybe a simple line drawing? A fridge magnet, or a simple wooden sign that admonishes: “Life is Short. Run Naked.” All good conversation starters when inviting friends over for dinner or cocktails. You never know when you’re going to run into another closet naturist.
  • NAKED GOURMET DINING: The author of the NYT article claims “the nudist movement has historically been connected to food.” I thought that was a particularly peculiar statement that attempted to draw a connection between the health obsessive virtues of the nudist pioneers a hundred years back, and the “astonishing” truth that people at today’s nudist resorts still… eat. (But they’re very careful when frying bacon!) I would counter that with a story of two couples we met years ago at Club Orient in St. Maarten. They happened to be from our greater metropolitan area. Though it requires a bit of travel, we get together at least a couple times a year for naturist gourmet nights, sometimes on the patio, sometimes by the fire – season dependent. Here again, if I were a reporter in New York City, I’m guessing a bit of digging would have led me to one of the groups that stage evenings like that on a regular basis. One such group is Just Naked NYC that is leading the way in helping would-be naturists find one another and even planning events like these. My hunch is this trend will continue to grow in cities across the nation.
  • AND WHAT ABOUT THE WNBR? The World Naked Bike Ride events that are popping up all over, well… the world! I’ve not had an opportunity to participate in one of these events yet, but as the numbers are growing steadily all over the planet, it seems that would be an excellent place to meet other people who might be open to the idea of “living naked.” Personally, it’s on my bucket list for 2020. Wanna meet people who embrace social nudity? Go hang out with them for a day.
With permission from IG @naturistsmarumba

To the point… While I’m always delighted to see ANY positive reference to social nudity in the mainstream media, I think the author of The Joys of Cooking Naked overshot the assignment, and in doing so, sort of missed the point altogether. Naturism is not just for retired people living in Florida nudists resort! And in fact, I suspect there are people living naked within blocks of the author’s apartment. But perhaps most presciently, there’s a good bit of evidence that a good number of Millennials are ready to doff their clothes, turn up the heat, live naked in the suburbs, and take the appropriate precautions when cooking bacon.

With permission from IG @simonnaturist

As a recent guest on the Naturist Living Show recently stated, we’ll know we’re making progress on this front when people react to naturism the same way they react to skydiving. “Would never care to do that myself, but I have a quiet admiration for those who find that exhilarating.”

THAT… would be a good article in the New York Times.

The Garden of Eden Under the African Sun: Sun Eden Naturist Resort

Ever since discovering the intoxicating summer climate of the South of France, which precipitated the insatiable desire to enjoy so many naturist opportunities there, I’ve had an obsession with finding alternate locations in the southern hemisphere where summer occupies the months when Europe and North America are frosty at best, if not outright freezing.  How is it that with so much landmass crowded around the equator, where it’s perpetually 85 degrees Fahrenheit 365 days a year, that most of those continents are occupied by countries and cultures subject to some flavor of religious and philosophical doctrine that essentially makes public nudity all but impossible, if not a severely punishable offense? What’s a devout naturist to do? Even if you live in a region where saunas are common, you can’t stay in there sweating it out for six months!

To that end, I’m happy to report that after years of diligent and exhaustive research, we may well have identified a place where a laid back nakation in January is actually a viable thing, though it does require a bit of work to get there.

Sun Eden Naturist Resort near Pretoria is one of three places we’ve visited in South Africa where naked is the norm. I actually made a brief reconnaissance visit to this place in the midst of other travel about a year ago, (You can read about that here.) simply to see if this would be a suitable place for a more substantial naturist stay. (Translate: Will my wife be keen on this place?) For a sense of context, the first impression is not completely unlike visiting some of the “legacy nudist camps” in the US – those like Rock Lodge Club in New Jersey, Lupin in California, or even Lake Como in Florida. In fact, if you show up on a Wednesday afternoon (as we did) you will quickly discover this is largely a weekend retreat for locals from Pretoria and Johannesburg who have discovered the additive and addictive qualities of the naturist life, making a hasty retreat from city life each Friday evening for weekends with their naturist companions.

However, a couple things set this place apart from some of its US counterparts, beginning with the pool of rental accommodations that have been made available to local and international travelers like ourselves. Last year, I rented a tiny “chalet” – a very basic little house similar to the modest accommodations one might find at most American naturist places. That was fine for a brief stay, but fell a bit short in the amenities division. While walking the property a year ago, I had the good fortune of meeting Lofty and Amanda, two long-time owners who rent out their “Summer Place” for quite a reasonable price. Turns out that Lofty has held many important roles in South African naturist circles, runs a local naturist tourism business called Joxilox Tours, and to our good fortune, their rental has been folded in as one branch of that operation.

This year, we booked the Summer Place for several nights, coinciding with what appears to be a regularly recurring event – the Friday Evening Naturist Game Drive. Knowing that there is actually a substantial game reserve just a few kilometers away from Sun Eden, we weren’t quite sure what this game drive might entail, so we pulled on our shorts and shirts and found our way to the beloved, well-worn safari jeep where we would meet our driver and tour guide, Bert.

A truly affable guy with many interesting stories to tell, his first directive was to explain the dress code for our imminent explorations – NAKED! Our route would remain within the confines of Sun Eden, which turns out to be a significant expanse of land that stretches out over the South African Bushveld, perhaps over 200 acres or so. As it turns out, Bert used this opportunity to give that typically awkward “nudist camp orientation” that is so painfully uncomfortable at most American naturist places. In this case, we learned a bit about Kathy and Wally – the founders of Sun Eden – the twenty-five year evolution of the place, a bit about the ecology of building a self-sustaining naturist resort in the remote African bush, and of greatest intrigue, an introduction to the wildlife that resides there, including a significant herd of impalas and similar cousins from the antelope family, referred to by the locals under the umbrella term of bokkies, that were a constant source of entertainment during out stay.

There had been significant social events planned for the weekend before and the weekend after our visit, so even at the height of our time there, the crowd was small, and decidedly middle-agey, though during both my stays there have been families with young children on the grounds. Bert tells me that recent years have seen significant trends with more international visitors, especially from northern Europe, along with the ever-increasing presence of young urban professionals who seek to escape city life to explore this “new idea” of clothes free recreation. That seems hopeful.

Revisiting the lead-in to this post, I would reiterate that my passion for finding that perfect nakation destination when the days in North America are chilly and short, it seems that Sun Eden is a major contender for the adventurous naturist. Especially now that Club Orient in St. Maarten is out of the game, a visit to Hidden Beach in Mexico has a price-point similar to buying a car, and options in South America are scarce, lacking amenities, and frequently requiring a tolerance for unpredictable weather.

Days at Sun Eden were typically warm and dry, with relatively low humidity and pleasantly cool evenings. We did encounter a brief rainy spell during our stay with torrential downpours, but a few hours later the skies cleared and the vast African horizon fell back into place, infinite and alluring.

Perhaps it was the pleasantries of meeting and socializing with a few of the regulars this time, or simply finding our sea-legs a bit more confidently with South African travel during this, our third visit to the region. I’ve finally grown accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, (even with a stick shift!) and with a bit of advice from the locals, it seemed easy and safe to make our way from the Johannesburg airport out to this naturist respite in the bushveld. What’s more, we had the opportunity to survey a few more of the options for lodging on the grounds, ranging from simple studio apartments to expansive homes where the bokkies are likely to provide live entertainment as you sit next to the braii (BBQ) with a glass of South African wine on your naturist terrace embracing the sunset. From a more pragmatic perspective, there’s no question – it takes some doing to get there, but the dollar and euro are both quite strong against the South African Rand these days, so once you’re on the ground, you will enjoy good value for your money, whether renting a place to stay or venturing into Pretoria for a nice meal. Perhaps half of what you might expect to pay in Europe or the US.

Will this become our South of France surrogate as we scramble to avoid northeast winters yet unforeseen? We’ll see. There are other contenders that we are quite smitten with including a charming little inn in Uruguay and some of the spiffy new places in Thailand, (Check out my previous musings about Oriental Beach and Peace Blue). But I’m pretty sure we’ll be back to Sun Eden. After all, somebody’s gotta be there during the week to look after the bokkies.