SOLAIR RECREATION LEAGUE – Established 1936
As we took to the wooded trails beyond the club house and sprawling village of rustic cabins, we frequently found ourselves walking along the remains of an old stone fence. This must have been built back in the 1930s by early nudists to delineate the property lines of this 300+ acre plot of land not far from the colonial village of Woodstock, Connecticut. On approach, I had wondered, “This must be near the place where rock-and-roll history took shape some fifty years ago.” Turns out not to be the case, as the famous music festival was a couple hundred miles to the west near Bethel, NY. But it is an important part of American nudist history, as Solair was one of the very first clothes-free establishments in the United States.
I’ve been wanting to find my way to Solair Family Nudist Resort (aka. Solair Recreation League) for at least fifteen years, as the place had been recommended to us by other folks we’d met through the naturist online community of days past. Those friends had spoken of the excellent facilities, the rental cabins, and the extensive circuit of hiking trails where a naturist might meander for hours without worrying about having to cover up. Who wouldn’t like that?
Solair jumped to the top of our 2020 Naked in America Tour simply by the virtue of the fact that they were open (to a limited number of guests) after Memorial Day, while most nudist places in the greater Northeast are still limiting admission to official members and season-pass holders. So, we set off before dawn on a morning of promising climes, hoping the place would live up to the hype – which in large part, it did.
If there’s one thing the millennials and I agree on when it comes to the future of American naturism, it’s the need for naturist establishments to get a grasp on the sense of immediacy deeply embedded in those who grew up in the Digital Age. These days, a person under 30 (as well as many over 40) simply assume they will have the ability to say “Hey Siri! Find me a naked place within 50 miles of Hartford, Connecticut.” Even if Siri was smart enough to connect the word “naked” to “naturism,” this endeavor would have still posted as a fail – at least for us.
Having scoured the various forecasts to make a best guess on the weekend weather a full five days out, I fired off an email to Solair noting that I was a naturist blogger and that my wife and I were hoping to visit the following Saturday. No response.
Resigned to the fact that this might require picking up a phone and speaking to a human – a particular disdain that I believe I share with many of my millennial peers – I dialed the number listed on the website designated for making a special reservation during these extenuating COVID-19 circumstances. The automated voicemail response was unnerving, with a predictable greeting from what sounded like a typical family with two kids and a dog. “Please leave your name and phone number and we’ll gladly get back to you.” No mention of Solair… or naturism… or the requisite reservation process. I hung up the phone to double check that I had dialed correctly, (I had.) I called back and left a message that we were hoping to get on the limited visitor list for the coming weekend. Again, no response.
On the third try, I decided to get really creative and try the phone number listed at the bottom of the website under contact information, intentionally choosing a midday time when one could anticipate the office to be open. Success! Just like that, I had paid our day fees in advance, while receiving directives to carefully examine the special rules for visiting during these unprecedented times.
Cruising through TripAdvisor produced a cross-section of reviews that suggested that this may be the friendliest naked place on earth, along with the typical smattering of rants about the registration process, the admission policies, and even one rather startling report from a couple who was invited to leave the premises at the conclusion of their orientation tour. (I suspect there’s a good story there to be told by someone.) All said, compared to similar rituals at other American nudist places, we found the check-in process at Solair to be expeditious and innocuous. We were issued red wrist bands, that are given to all first time visitors, that provided the community with the telltale signs of our transient status, then were instructed to wait for our tour guide who would load our bare asses onto the back of her golf cart – seated on our towels, of course – to show us a few highlights of the place while engaging us in a bit of idle chatter. Apparently, we passed the test, and soon enough we were cut loose with the directives to enjoy the day, to carry our phones in case we got lost in the woods (of little help without a cell signal, but otherwise sound advice), but absolutely NO PICTURES. We obviously violated the last rule, though being the seasoned naturists that we are, we were discreet to find places away from the crowds, making sure to avoid unauthorized subjects in the background.
Once settled with our beach chairs and umbrellas, we enjoyed a picnic lunch by the lake, a brief wine-induced nap, then set off to explore the place on foot to check out the aforementioned hiking trails. Our guide had noted that the trails were popular amongst the members with ATVs as well, just in case we had brought our motorized vehicles along, unannounced! It’s also worth noting that our cell service was sporadic at best, but if you settled near the lodge, you could pick up decent free Wi-Fi without a password. That’s a nice perk, Solair!
The trail map in the welcome packet provided a color-coded key, from which I can report that the Red Trail, the Yellow Loop, and the White Trail to Lookout Point are all in fine condition and well sign-posted. The Green Trail across the rear property line, however? Not so much. We were pleased not to share our forest walk with ATVers, as such would have felt like an abrupt intrusion into our otherwise bucolic, naked walk in the woods. Similarly, we were happy to find that nobody was taking advantage of the on-property Rifle Range, in the place one might have expected to find the Archery Arena in a property of European equivalent. Note to our future selves: A visit on a crowded, post COVID holiday week-end could become quite a noisy affair with All-Terrain-Vehicles grinding through the forest, while gunshots ring out from just over the hill. This bloggers notes, yet again for the record, that one person’s annoyance may well represent the next person’s elation. And so it goes for travel junkies, whether clothed or not.
Similarly, it has become increasingly apparent to us that the “qualities of a friendly and welcoming environment” represent a varied and nuanced palate. To that end, I think I have another blog post burning deep inside me that will likely carry a title something to the effect of “Why are American Nudists So Damn Loud?” (In the meantime, you may want to take a look at a related post: The Demographics of Nakedness.) Whether in Greece, France, Croatia, Spain, or Thailand, we find that travelers outside the United States tend to keep more to themselves, and when they do congregate, they often do so with a sense of discretion under a shroud of privacy in public. Those observing this phenomenon in the opposite direction are likely to complain, “Why are those damn Europeans such snobs!?” Each criticism carries equal weight of condemnation, I suppose. Though it is just now occurring to us that we are inherently quiet people when visiting a new place. We are quite happy to hunker down with books and a bottle of wine in the shadows while others in our midst eagerly share their opinions on politics, the economy, and the latest news about their mortgages with raised voices and abundant laughter. To many, we are certain, these are the tell-tale signs of that welcoming and friendly community where everybody knows your name. While we enjoyed a few quiet conversations with long-time regulars and locals, we almost felt guilty about our reticence to pull up a chair and share our latest COVID horror-story with naked strangers. Seems we’ve become as distant as those pesky Europeans and didn’t even realize it.
In the end, our final scorecard for Solair Recreation League includes high marks for stunningly gorgeous mountain-lake scenery, a wide array of cabins (several of which we’re told are available to rent), a well-appointed clubhouse with clean restrooms, showers, and a small restaurant, and a circuit of hiking trails that lived up to the much anticipated joy of about five miles of naked walking. Noting that our visit was early in the season, under the lingering restrictions in this era of social distancing, it’s a bit overwhelming to imagine what the place might be like on a mid-summer holiday weekend, teaming with campers and ATVs.
Maybe that’s a word to the wise: Should you wish for peaceful mountain tranquility, perhaps a midweek visit would suit your fancy, when I suspect you’d pretty much have the run of the place. But if you’re looking for a place to make lots of naked friends with an immediate sense of familial engagement, it seems you could scarcely go wrong on any weekend when they skies are reasonably sunny. All in all, Solair lived up to its reputation as one of the best naked places we’ve found to date in the greater Northeast US. Provided we’re not black-listed due to butt recognition software, or simply voted out as wildcard introverts, we’d happily return for another walk in the woods.