Think about it. Europe is great in the summer. You might even get a few chances at naked autumn or spring in the South of France, Spain, or Italy. And if you’re really adventurous, you can find your way to the Canary Islands, which are essentially due west of the Sahara Desert.
But Africa!? A continent that straddles the equator. And until all the westerners showed up, they thought naked was the way to go. (“Thank you kind and thoughtful missionaries who taught us to pray and wear clothes – except for the wearing clothes part!“) Few issues with laundering clothes. Temperate climates much of the year. No bizarre religious convictions to make one ashamed of her breasts. From what I can gather, a loin cloth seemed like the perfect attire for any formal occasion back in the day.
Truth be told, once Western Europe finished cutting Africa into neatly packaged countries, it seems a bit ironic that about the only place one might consider going for social nudity is at the southern tip of the continent – South Africa. Ironic because this is a huge expanse of land where the Dutch (We LOVE public nudity!) and the Brits (Ahem… please don’t offend the Queen.) decided to fight it out with the indigenous people to lay claim to the natural resources that rest just beneath the soil there. Most know what came of all that, the legacy of Nelson Mandela, and perhaps even a bit about the chaos in the wake of what one friend refers to as “centuries of Social Engineering gone awry.” In layman’s terms, read any post about visiting Johannesburg on Trip Advisor, and it will likely lead out with the words “Be careful!” Good advice.
As it turns out, there are several naturist places dotted about the country of South Africa – seemingly the only country on the continent that recognizes social nudity in any organized sort of way. I/we have visited two. My wife and I spent a week at Harmony Nature Farm back in 2013 (Literally, the week that Nelson Mandela died), then I recently made a quick trip that accommodated a weekend visit to Sun Eden Resort just east of Pretoria, then a return visit to Harmony Nature Farm to visit some of the friends we had made there years ago.
In the middle of summer – January on this part of the planet – the weather was literally postcard perfect for a naturist outing. Days were warm and sunny with low humidity, and evenings remained naked friendly without being oppressively hot! I rented a car at the Johannesburg airport, plugged Sun Eden Family Naturist Resort into Google Maps on my phone (couldn’t find it on Apple Maps), then sped off on the well maintained motorway to the north, past Pretoria and off to the designated exit. So far, so good!
What I didn’t expect, however, was once having left the motorway, I took a hard right into the African bush, only 18 kilometers to go according to Mr. Google, which created the illusion I would be at my destination in a matter of minutes. That idea vaporized just a few hundred meters later where the asphalt ended, and the well maintained, but bumpy, dirt road started chopping away at the suspension system of my little rented car. Signage? None. Other humans? Occasionally a Toyota Forerunner would speed by. Civilization? A few remnants of something that might have once been a market or restaurant, and a gate now and again that seemed to lead to someone’s cattle ranch tucked just over that rise in the distance.
But sure enough, after about fifteen kilometers of trying to avoid the potholes that would blow out my tires, there was a right turn, then a short distance later, a sign appeared on a small road named “First Street,” (Indeed it was!) which took me to the gate of Sun Eden Resort.
Having not been to a naturist camp or resort in Great Britain, I can only speculate this would be quite similar. A nice pool complex with a bar and a little store, several trailers (caravans) and small houses scattered about, many of which could be rented, and a few large attractive homes that would dwarf some of the McMansions I’m accustomed to in the eastern United States. Spread out over about fifty acres, nothing seemed crowded, and even walking the fenced perimeter road seemed completely viable given the few signs of life outside of the resort – other than impalas and other wandering creatures of the landscape. (I was warned to watch out for the snakes, which I did, but I never ended up meeting one.)
While one could certainly rent a cottage or home here for the entire “summer,” this is most definitely a weekend destination. I didn’t arrive until Saturday around noon, by which time there was plenty of conviviality around the pool and the bar. For those who frequent some of the more traditional nudist places in the US, the entry process felt very familiar, the long-timers running the front desk who provided a thorough introduction to the honor system in the camp store while making sure I knew the rules about sitting on a towel. “Got it!”
The weekend crowd was quite mixed though, with one or two families with small children, a good number of 30/40-somethings, and a few more folks in my current demographic of 50 and above. I earnestly enjoyed the music and banter in the bar on Saturday night where the bartender was pouring some purply shots that tasted a little like medicine I had to take as a child. “NO! One is enough! Really! Thank you.”
The store had a nice selection of meats (but essentially nothing green, I might mention) and all the supplies one needs like charcoal and fire-starters, which made for two very pleasant “braai meals” outside my little cottage. Turns out my meal plan was particularly fortuitous as come 3:00 pm on Sunday afternoon, the party vaporized into their cars and disappeared down that long dirt road back into their clothed existence. Walking around that evening, I found a few “residents” who would remain in the silent serenity of the expansive grounds, but even of those who remained, many had a tendency to get dressed. I used the opportunity to wander around for a while to snap a few photos, with a stop-off to chat with the owner of one of those nicer homes. He also runs a naturist travel agency based out of South Africa. He rents his place, and it was lovely. I suspect that will turn up in a future blog post, as I would be delighted to stay there.
On Monday morning, I packed up, settled my bill in the market, and headed off to see Piet and Piet (father and son) at Harmony Nature Farm. You can read a little more about our previous visit here in an earlier post, though I suspect I could write a whole book about this incredibly gorgeous stretch of land pressed against the African bluffs, once again scattered with caravans and – shall we say – less luxurious rental homes. We stayed a week in one of these little rustic cottages on our previous visit where the highlight included zebras begging at our door for food each morning, and being awoken early one morning when a baboon jumped from a tree onto the tin roof of our house. Startling, to say the least.
Once again, this is a weekend destination, and it seemed that I was the only guest on the grounds during this Monday lunchtime, though there were a few other residents meandering about, some clothed, some not.
It was good to see Piet and Piet again, the father/son duo who are “somehow making ends meet.” Piet senior had told me the story during my last visit of his European naturist experiences when he was young, and how he was eager to recreate such a place in South Africa. Compared to Sun Eden, the place is looking a bit tired, but when sitting at the Sunset Bar perched on a steep hill overlooking the rest of the continent, or when walking the grounds under a bright blue sky in and out of the shadows of the towering bluffs, it reminded me how amazingly beautiful this part of the world really is, and how amazingly special it is to be able to enjoy that in a clothes-free environment.
It is worth noting that both of the naturist places are located within a short distance of nature reserves where one can make a day-long safari with a remarkably high chance of seeing at least four of the Big Five. Didn’t bother with that this time, but it occurs to me that when we return to South Africa, which we undoubtedly will, I think I would spend a long weekend at Harmony Nature Farm, perhaps venture out during the week (Maybe even to neighboring Zambia to see Victoria Falls) then return for another long weekend at Sun Eden. Neither location is able to provide the amenities of one of the super resorts in France or Croatia, but then again, the list of “nakation in January” spots is pretty limited. I can deal with a dose of rustic and a dash of quirky, knowing my driveway at home is coated in snow and ice, while here I have to wonder if I should bring along a t-shirt in case it gets chilly after the sun goes down.
Ever since discovering naturist Europe – especially France – I’ve been hell-bent on finding something of an equivalent in the Southern Hemisphere. You know, when our cold, northeast winters are offset by their sun-drenched summers. We have now amassed a few options that meet that criteria, including Brazil, Uruguay, and South Africa, but it seems Thailand is quickly pulling into the lead as the single country in Asia that is at the ready to give the discerning naturist a few excellent choices.
I have written quite a bit about my previous visits to naturist venues near Chiang Mai and Phuket, with a particular fondness for the new PeaceBlue Resort near Rawai Beach. But this time I thought I’d head the other direction, flying into Bangkok’s international airport then driving about 90 minutes to the sprawling seaside metropolis, Pattaya. If there is an Asian equivalent to the Jersey Shore, this would most certainly be it, with towering apartment buildings and beaches packed with umbrellas and loungers, all for the privilege of splashing around in the murky waters where snorkeling would seem futile – if not a little disgusting – at best.
My base camp this time would be at the relatively new naturist resort – Phuan Naturist Village – located on the edge of a small village about 25 minutes (by car) outside the center of Pattaya. For those who have visited Oriental Village near Chiang Mai, you would find this somewhat similar given its proximity to a couple small stores and some other basic amenities, but you’re not likely to walk into the village for dinner in the evening – unless you’re really accustomed to hardcore “be like a local” travel.
To that end, Phuan has a restaurant on grounds that’s open pretty much all day every day, including the highly coveted luxury (at least to me) of fresh brewed coffee. (What is it with the rest of the world with their incredibly high tolerance for Nescafé. That is not coffee!) Otherwise, their menu is a bit limited, but enough choices to warrant staying in to eat naked.
In combing through their website, I had a difficult time figuring out the lodging configurations, which are most definitely a two tier affair. I stayed in one of the simple bungalows for the equivalent of about $45 USD per night. A small cabin with low ceilings and a shower that simply consisted of a sprayer head anchored to the wall below a small water heater – You know, the one that washes down the entire bathroom, draining to the lowest point in the corner of the room? But otherwise, the AC was excellent and the bed was comfortable enough. Certainly adequate for one person; perhaps a bit cozy for two.
The alternative looked to be a significant upgrade, beginning at about three times the price. The villas are referring to several modern two bedroom houses scattered about the property. You can rent the entire villa, or you can choose to “share” a villa, which means you and your housemates will each have your own bedroom, but share all the common spaces such as the bathroom, kitchen, and living room. I could certainly imagine doing that when traveling with good friends, but I guess it’s not uncommon for total strangers to rent “a shared villa” – at which point, I guess they would become good friends rather quickly. Seemed they were running near capacity during my stay, with an interesting mix of guests of both Asian and Caucasian heritage, including several northern Europeans, and perhaps two Russian couples traveling together as well. Clearly, their international marketing campaign is working.
Since I was only there for a long weekend, and quite enjoying the excellent Wifi connection to get some work done from the poolside open-air cabana, I debated about actually making the trek into the crowded and reportedly over-stimulating mecca of Pattaya, though it seemed a bit absurd to go to one of the world’s famous beach towns, and not go to the beach. And… I really wanted to duck in and see Chan Naturist Resort, somewhat famous in naturist circles for being the first such establishment in Thailand. I had written ahead to inquire about day use, and indeed, they offer a day-use fee of about $15 that gives you access to a locker, restaurant and pool. Having read mixed reviews of the rather confined feel of the place behind 10-foot walls along a city side street, I was pleased to find the place crowded and convivial, with a clientèle a bit older on the average than that of Phuan Village, but also quite international. (Meaning mainly European again, I think.)
I especially enjoyed the restaurant, with a significantly more extensive menu than Phuan, particularly given the ambiance of the small alcove (seen in the photo above) next to the pool. With all the rage for naked dining opportunities trending at the moment, I would actually say this is a naked dining destination, and best of all, if you go the “too spicy” route, you can jump in the pool once your meal is over. I didn’t bother to check out a room, but the property appeared comfortable, clean, and modern. In short – I would stay there in a heartbeat.
I think Bruce, the co-proprietor of Phuan Naturist Village hit the nail on the head. (The place is actually run by his wife and her sisters, but their previous place of residence was New Mexico, so her American English as extraordinary.) Bruce noted that if you’re looking for a place with solitude and the opportunity to read and snooze by the pool all day, it’s hard to beat the peaceful and serene atmosphere of Phuan Naturist Village. Agreed! But if nightlife is a priority to you, and a big part of your travel experience is seeking out the best local eatery with the highest rating on Yelp, then Chan Resort if your place. Should I have an opportunity to return, I would fancy a few days at each resort, as each has a unique ambiance, and if you’re hell-bent on spending your days on the beach – with a swimsuit, I should add – you’ll get there a lot faster from Chan Resort than from Phuan Village. (Though neither is in walking distance.)
As a post-script, it’s worth noting that the Thailand Naturist Association organizes a boat excursion to a secluded island with a make-do naturist beach on the last Sunday of each Month. Unfortunately, my stay didn’t coincide with this event, but it seems it would be worth planning one’s itinerary around that. Few things in life sound better than getting naked on an island in Thailand when it’s icy and below freezing at home.
Another post from my millennial friend Addie who was recently on a family cruise that had a stopover on Roatan. “Roatan?!” says I! “You need to check out Paya Bay at the south end of the island. I’m pretty sure they have a program where they’ll come get you at the boat and take you to their yoga-retreat-turned-naturist-resort for a day visit of naked nirvana.” While she couldn’t convince familial members to come along, she did take the plunge solo, as Michelle from the resort met her at the port to give her a quick guided tour of the island that culminated in a few hours of naked bliss. Her words about her day there are more eloquent than mine ever could be. [Photos are from our most recent trip to Paya Bay in 2017. We’re not millennials, but the pics give you a sense of the place.]
As I stood butt naked in Honduras in the middle of a rainstorm, I tried to remember a time that I felt so very elated and alive. Water droplets rushed down my arms while hummingbirds, iguanas, and lizards all scurried to find shelter on the quaint seaside cliff. Climbing through a tangle of vines, the greens seemed effervescent. The rain’s warmth, egged on by Mother Nature’s humidity, surprised me, as I expected a chill that never came. In the midst of the sensory overload, I worked to figure out WHY I felt so very euphoric. I eventually navigated to one simple truth: novelty. I have never, in 26 years, stood naked in the rain.
Just saying…you should probably try it.
Now, mind you, the conditions need to be right; I’m not proposing that you saunter outside in a January downpour in the middle of Central Pennsylvania. However, naked in the rain should probably get to the top of your bucket list pronto. Why is this not featured on every “30 things to do before 30” bucket list you might ask? I’m not really sure, BUT I can tell you why it was so incredibly magical for me. Maybe someone will add it to some bucket list somewhere. Hey Buzzfeed, listen up!
As I stood in the middle of the jungle, grinning and giddy, I recalled the day before, when I cowered under my dinky black umbrella next to a beach bar in my romper, willing the rain to stop. It’s not that I’m grossed out by rain, or that I haven’t embraced the rain before; I just didn’t feel like sitting around in my sopping wet clothes for the remainder of the day. I’ve gone for runs in the rain, and I can recall a couple of romantic strolls with my boyfriend when we decided to embrace Mother Nature’s downpour. Those moments felt special too, mainly because of the feeling that by walking outside in the middle of a thunderstorm, we actually were giving a giant “fuck you” to all societal norms. There was something special about feeling so very far away from the other humans in the world who all cowered in their houses, hiding from the droplets that tumbed from the sky. But you can’t just walk outside in a thunderstorm in your clothes every time you want to defy social norms. To get your clothes wet, the circumstances must be perfect. There are many questions to consider: What bra are you wearing? Are you trying to go somewhere with air conditioning afterwards? Do you have a change of clothes ready and waiting?
Naked in the rain brought the rush of adrenaline without the considerations that clothed rain-goers must consider. This was completely different. In this moment, I embraced the rain without the impending doom of having to peel off of a sopping wet t-shirt and leggings at the end. THIS was the excitement, the elation, the unbridled joy that you feel as an adult when you experience something new and something sensory. This was simple. This was natural. This was FUN! After the rain subsided, I continued my seaside hike through the Honduran jungle, ending on the beach. By the time I arrived, the skies had parted, it was clear and sunny, and the sea breeze had naturally done its job in drying me off. My towel remained perfectly dry as I sunk on top in a grateful snooze under a Palapa.
I almost hate to reveal the wonder that is this Honduran paradise, but you too should probably check out Paya Bay on the island of Roatan, which Dan has already mentioned in quite a number of posts, one of which you can view here. The food was phenomenal, the staff incredibly accommodating, helpful, and kind, and the amenities beautiful. The sea not only sparkles in the sunlight, but can only be described as a puzzle of aqua, turquoise, and sea foam green, all piecing together until it’s swallowed up by the horizon. The vegetation is natural, with palm trees and vines and plants that you probably can’t name shooting up from every direction. It’s a beautiful, quiet, and peaceful place in which you can say adieu to your tan lines. . . in short, it’s a little slice of heaven. Just remember-when you go, and warm rain cascades down from the sky, toss off your clothes and take in the sensory overload that will constitute your first rainstorm in the nude; you won’t regret it!
I’m not only a naturist, I’m also a mileage runner. That means that sometimes I fly places simply for the miles or, more importantly, the status with the airline. Sometimes, I’m able to pair that with my work as a musician and university professor, sometimes it simply syncs up with the need to check in on family located out and about the US of A, and sometimes, I can figure out a way to coalesce my love of flying and travel with my fixation on getting naked. This would be one of those times. (You can also follow my blog about mileage running here.)
My January schedule is such that I have to be in certain places at certain times, but beyond that, I can do most of what I need to do from my cyber-office, which in this case, happens to be a MacBook and a iPhone with an international data plan. For me, this particular itinerary will be something of the ULTIMATE MILEAGE RUN, consisting of several segments that will take me to Munich, Bangkok, back to NYC, on to France (where I have business to do) then to South Africa (which ironically enough, greatly reduced the airfare to France!) then on to Buenos Aires and Uruguay, where my wife will meet me for a few days of naturist beach combing in a new (to us) naturist hotel just a few blocks from a famous nude beach. There’s a strong possibility that I’ll tag on a fourth leg of this sojourn with a quick turnaround to Sydney on a ticket that was ridiculously cheap, which would put me on the ground just long enough for a trip to the nude beach near the zoo, thus making a six continent naked mileage run. We’ll see how I hold up.
But this is a naturist blog! I can’t post my own photos yet as I haven’t yet been to all these places, but I’m borrowing a few pics from the web to outline the naturist elements of this round-the-world endeavor.
My first stop is at the expansive Therme Erding, a place that loves to advertise as the world’s largest spa. Some think it’s a bit overdone, but for me, a day of soaking, sweating, and sleeping in this Disneyland for grown-ups is about as good as it gets.
From there, I intend to check out two naturist places in Thailand; namely the Phuan Naturist Village, then the Chan Naturist Hotel, both in Pattaya. I’m particularly excited about the former, as it is one of the newest naturist ventures in Thailand, and they claim to have the biggest nude swimming pool in Southeast Asia.
France is typically a great place to get naked, but in January, not so much. But I’m going to stretch out a layover in Frankfurt where I can easily hop a train up to Cologne to check out the spa scene there. I’m particularly excited to visit the Neptune Therme downtown, and the sister spa to Erding just a short distance away in Euskirchen. I think I can hit them both in the same day, then back in time to catch my early morning flight to Marseille the next day.
A deviation to South Africa was literally a cost saving measure! By adding in a round-trip hop to Johannesburg, the ticket to Europe dropped by over 40%, including the trip to Africa. Go figure. This will be my second naturist outing in South Africa, but my first visit to Sun Eden Resort, which features a number of small houses to be rented. Most definitely new territory to add to my travelogue.
Finally, I’ll make my way from South Africa, bouncing through Zurich, to Buenos Aires, where I will meet my wife before we find our way to the domestic airport where we can catch a flight to the Hotel Refugio Naturista in Uruguay. It looks like a fairly simple and quiet place, but we like both of those things, and look forward to spending a good bit of time on Uruguay’s most famous naturist beach.
As for Australia, we’ve already done our naturist exploration of Australia’s east coast, (You can find those blog posts beginning with this one) so at best, I can hope to find a nude beach there – most likely Cobbler’s Beach, which we found to be quite agreeable the day we were there a couple years ago. Thus, my first and last stops consist of places I’ve been naked before, but I should pick up a half-dozen new nakation spots along the way. More good fodder for blogging, to be sure.
I’ll try to blog along the way. You may also want to follow me on Instagram at @naturistdan or the Mileage Runner version @mileagerundan. Hope to see you there!
PeaceBlue Naturist Resort recently opened their doors of their specially designed naturist hotel just a short distance from Naiharn and Rawai beaches on the southern tip of Phuket. A remarkable accomplishment by an enterprising young couple, Patty and Golf, who have found a niche market in catering to discerning naturists.
This is the most recent of several naturist friendly developments in Thailand, (See my recent blog post about that here) though this is the first time I’m aware of a brand new property built specifically with naturists in mind – most certainly the first in Asia! Open for only a few weeks by the time of my visit, construction crews were still wrapping up the finishing touches, while new loungers arrived for a secluded sundeck on the roof of the snack bar. Located on a crowded side-street near Rawai beach, they found a way to position the hotel rooms, restaurant, and pool complex in a layout that allows for total nudity anywhere on the property except the front lobby. Clever and comfortable.
I had made several visits to PeaceBlue’s predecessor, LemonTree Naturist Resort, which had a lovely vibe as well, but felt a bit crowded, especially when the villa section was rented to a private party and was not available to the general clientele. PeaceBlue, on the other hand, enjoys a location a bit closer to the middle of town which means there are a plethora of bar and restaurant options within a ten minute walk. You can also reach Rawai or Naiharn Beach on foot in less than 30 minutes each, though if you attempt that much later than 10 in the morning, it’ll be an intense trek in the heat of the day. Taxis are cheap, and the hotel staff coordinates several beach runs each day, so options are plentiful.
It remains a mystery as to why nudity is such a taboo throughout most of Asia (with the notable exception of single gender nudity at innumerable hot springs of Japan). As a default, I hold the missionary based empirical conquests of the West largely responsible for this. While Christianity seems insignificant compared to the influence of the Buddhist influence in Thailand, I think we (Westerners) can take the credit for laying out the infrastructure of roads and railways, and delivering other 21st century amenities like outlet malls and European ideals related to fashion and body-image. I’ve always thought it interesting that the French taught everyone exactly how one should dress, then turned the corner and led the world in a renewed mission of getting naked at some nearly 300 naturist resorts in France! What’s it gonna be French people? Haut couture or Heureux nu?
But I digress. Patty and Golf not only want you to feel totally at home while on their property, but they are eager to create opportunities for nude recreation off the property as well. To that end, they have continued to refine their naturist boat trip into an all day exploration of several of the nearby islands, along with a few carefully timed stops for naked snorkeling – all of which conveniently serves as a stopover for the boat captain to check his fishing nets along the way. (I swear, I saw that dude catch a fish with his bare hands and bring it back on board. Whoa!) The first year it was a long boat (the sea vessel counterpart of a tuk-tuk) that sputtered out to the closest island with a private beach. This time, there was a snorkeling stop, a beer and nap break on on a secluded beach, another snorkeling stop, a brief stop the the crowded and commercial (textile) Banana Beach to use restroom facilities and buy an ice-cream, yet another snorkeling stop, then lunch (Provided by Golf along with all the Chang Beer you can drink!) on a different secluded beach, then back to the mainland. We were naked all day except for the brief visit to Banana Beach. I would take that trip every day of the week were it offered. It will be interesting to see how that develops as they forecast being booked to capacity in the coming months.
Is there’s anything I miss about the previous establishment at LemonTree? Well – a little bit…. yes. I was always charmed by the open air kitchen on the veranda next to the pool where you could see your lunch being prepared in real time. And while only a 20 minute walk from the new property, the French/Thai restaurant Le Celtique was perfectly situated (with the most excellent atmosphere) just a few doors down the street. But the trade off is so many great eateries in close proximity to the new place that you can always find a new foodie adventure (the French Bistro called Zen Eat is a good place to start), yet you’re just far enough from the heavy traffic areas that you never hear the noise of the city; just an occasional prayer from the loudspeakers of one of the local temples – a bit eerie at first until you grow acclimated and it becomes a part of your daily ritual.
The pool is beautiful. Exactly the right size for sitting and socializing at one end or swimming laps at the other. While I stayed in a two story suite with the bedroom upstairs and the bathroom downstairs, it occurs to me that the more basic rooms would eliminate the need to navigate a stairway in the middle of the night should you need to use the facilities, which seems a certainty after an afternoon of Chang Beer – especially at my age!
I should throw out a caveat for future guests who are looking for a nakation on Phuket. Patty said it was unclear exactly what would happen with their previous enterpriese called LemonTree Resort. For whatever reason in Southeast Asia, the name stays with the property, regardless of the management, and apparently there is a rumor that new management will try to re-open as a naturist establishment as well. That seems crazy confusing to me, as LemonTree Resort was not simply a place to get naked in Thailand, but was the dedicated effort on the part of Patty and Golf to create a naturist destination aligned with top shelf hospitality industry standards. When it comes to naturist hotels, WORLD-WIDE, I can count the options for excellent naturist hotels on less than two hands. It seems apparent to me that PeaceBlue is going to raise the bar not only for Asia, but for the entire planet.
“I’d like to go on nakation with all of the amenities of my lycra/nylon wearing friends. Do you know such a place where that might happen?”
“Why YES! I do! PeaceBlue Naturist Resort in Thailand. It’s about as good as it gets!”
Better book now while you can still get a reservation.
It’s been ten years since my first visit to a German sauna world, or Saunawelt as they would say auf deutsch. An internet blogger friend pointed me in the direction of the newly expanded Therme Erding conveniently situated between Munich and the nearby international airport. As a seasoned naturist, I will remember that initial sauna adventure for all of my days. That moment you walk into the co-ed changing rooms, trying to look unfazed by your inability to open your locker, inconveniently located in awkward proximity to a middle-aged couple removing their clothes. Meanwhile, preoccupied as to whether you’re about to offend more people by being naked or by wrapping yourself in a towel. Informative directives were posted everywhere, which would have been ever so helpful had I paid more attention during that one semester of college German.
It’s not especially helpful that there are approximately a bazillion sauna and “therme” (thermal pool) centers dotting the map of Germany, not to mention those to be found in Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands – each of which have a unique set of customs and rules that may or may not be posted – in German – on a wall, leaflet, or countertop. Doesn’t matter really though; there’s clearly something in the DNA of central Europeans that allows them to decode the unspoken rules of social nudity. It’s no secret the Germans are thought leaders in social-nudity, but still… how do they always seem to know what’s going on?
Before going into my detailed guide for naked spa rookies, I should encourage those who worry about the communal nudity thing to read any number of TripAdvisor reviews written by prudish Americans who uniformly confirm that non-sexual nakedness in a social environment only feels awkward for about five minutes, until you realize that clothing actually does very little to help us obscure the things that make us feel most awkward or inadequate about our bodies. This is not a post about the perils or merits of social nudity, but instead, a guide for the person who says, “I’m over it. A bazillion Germans seem to think it’s fun! I’m gonna shed my inhibitions and sweat it out with a bunch of strangers, and I’m gonna like it!“
With that said and done, I thought it might be useful to provide a few tips to help you find the right place for your first naked sauna experience, noting that the options are abundant and varied. Compared to everything that’s out there, (About 350 spas in Germany alone, I think!) I’ve been to relatively few. (Perhaps a dozen, but a few of those many times over.) But for the sake of this blog post, I think I can narrow thermal spa complexes down into four categories:
The Therme Erding Mega-spas: Therme-Erding is not only a relative newcomer in the spa business, but they seem to enjoy the reputation of doing everything bigger and bolder than all those who have gone before, in a – dare I say it – Disneyesque sort of way! While they advertise the installation in Erding (near Munich) as the world’s largest spa, their more recent endeavors are similarly expansive – with a consistent penchant for emulating the exotic islands of the South Seas, where the climate is controlled 365 days a year under glass domes that could house a dirigible! With locations in Erding, Bad Wörishofen, Sinsheim (near Heidelberg), Schwarzwald, and Euskirchen (near Cologne), the Erding location boasts the largest texteil-frei bereich (clothes-free zone), though the others try to compensate for this by offering “long sauna nights” about once a month when the entire property becomes naked-friendly for the evening. You’ll either need to learn a few important German words or get familiar with Google Translate to figure all that out, but it you’re hell-bent on maxing out the full-monty experience without planning around a specific day of the month, Erding is probably your best bet.
The Kristall Therme Chain: I should remind my readers that I’m no expert here, but as best I can tell, the Kristall Therme chain was pretty much on the cutting edge of chain-style sauna experiences until the Erding folks stepped up to the plate. But while the aforementioned thermes decided to focus on palm trees and palapas, the Kristall team went for a Neo-Viennese-quasi-elegant-but-not-so-impressive-chandelier affect! The result is something like the amusement park down the street from Disneyland that tried to exploit the WOW factor, but didn’t quite grab the brass ring. In my humble opinion, the chandeliers and candelabras are not aging well. We have only visited two of their locations; one near Schwangau which was a good bit underwhelming, and another in Ludwigsfelde near Berlin, which is very naked and family friendly; quite different that the other texteil-frei locations that are limited to patrons aged 16 years and older. The therme in Stein (near Nuremberg) had a serious fire several years ago, but it appears they have rebuilt and reopened. I’d love to know what they’ve done to bring things up to date as compared to the older branches of the chain. Ludwigsfelde is pretty much naked friendly, everywhere, all the time, which may be the reason I’ve gone back there at least three times.
The historic sauna bath-houses: So I have to confess… the only “old school” historic bath I’ve been to so far is the Müller’sches Volksbad not far from the Englischer Garten in Munich, yet another famously naked place in Germany. I went midday on a weekday in the dead of winter, and spent most of my time there asking myself, “Should I be naked here? Can I swim naked? And where are all the humans under 75 years of age? I have yet to visit the Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Baths in Baden-Baden, nor the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme in Wiesbaden, nor the Neptune Bad in Cologne, but my impression is that they all provide a similar sense of bathing in a ornate museum, often involving a wellness course sort of ritual where you make your way through the various sensations ranging from very warm pools to very cold pools (Nope! Not for me!), stopping for a rest wrapped in warm towels in between. It’s on my bucket list to try a couple more of these out, but I’m always a little anxious about wasting a precious spa day on something I’m not sure I’m going to love! Maybe Wiesbaden or Cologne soon – we’ll see.
A myriad of independent spas with a vast array of amenities: As soon as you realize that every town that begins was the word “Bad” (German for bath) is essentially a spa town, you’ll see that there are thermal spas all over Germany, as frequently as not, in cute little villages where the thermal springs are about the only thing happening there. Schwaben Quellen is something of an exception, located right in the heart of a Stuttgart commercial center. I’m also particularly fond of a beautiful complex called Mediterana located outside of Cologne, (though the pools are a bit tepid to my liking,) and I’ve been eager to get to one or both of the Vabali Spas, one in Düsseldorf, one in Berlin, each of which are killin’ it on Trip Advisor, especially with the under-forty crowd. Conversersly, I once visited a small spa in Rheinland-Pfalz that felt a bit more like a recreation center for seniors – all good for what it is, but not what I was hoping for that day. And I’ve ventured out to Taunus Therme near Frankfurt twice. Beautiful pool area downstairs, but I keep forgetting to bring a swimsuit, (which is required in that part of the complex) so I’ve never even dipped a toe in the main pool. The point is that you need to do your research before you go. Many thermes will actually have a map like this one from Bad Hönningen that gives you a sense of the layout of the place, along with the size and amenities of the sauna area (almost always nude) and the therme area (almost always texteil), which is why it pays to dig around the website to see if the place is according to your preferences. Of course, that’s equally important for those who are trying to avoid naked Germans! Know before you go.
Locals have told me the big commercial therme chains are just for tourists and they would never go there, which may be true, but I have to say all those tourists at the swim-up bar at Therme Erding speak crazy good German. But with so many spa establishments in Germany alone, it seems location and personal preference defines the ranking system. ‘Just depends on what you’re looking for.
With that, let’s get down to business. How do you make sure your day at the relaxation spa is… well… relaxing, and not just a sequential outing of awkward faux-pas?
ARRIVAL: While I have enough German to say, “Two adults for four hours, please,” there is typically somebody at the check in counter who has enough English to immediately make me feel inadequate about my German. And besides, they’ll want to know if you want to rent a robe (badmantel), a towel (badetuch), or slippers (I don’t know that word!), all of which most locals bring along with them, but if you’re traveling lightly, it’s easy enough to rent them on the spot, and I’ve never been to a place where that’s not possible. Often, they will actually charge you up front for the purchase price of the item (Say 50€ for the robe, but since the rental is only 4€, they’ll refund you the difference once you bring it back at check-out. No big deal if using a credit card, as you’ll probably spend more than that on food and drink while you’re in the spa anyway. Most clients will bring a normal bathrobe from home, though many just make a go of it for the day with a towel. You most definitely want slippers or flip-flops as there will undoubtedly be some outdoor walking, and the floors are frequently wet and slippery.
If the complex has several different areas, you’ll want to know which one you’re looking for before you get in line. Therme Erding, for instance, has one entrance point for Galaxy Water Park (a big water slide area where swimsuits are required, along well as a penchant for sudden drops), another desk for Thermen Paradise (a large family oriented area with elaborate warm pools and maybe a few saunas (swimwear required) and other attractions, and the most expensive entrance lane for Saunawelt, where you’ll go directly into the clothes-free zone as soon as you clear the desk and enter the locker room. While it may seem strange that the “take your clothes off area” is the most expensive option, that’s because that ticket provides you access to the entire complex – but only if you remember to pack a swimsuit so you can work your way back through the labyrinth of gateways to the other areas. Again, your coin bracelet is the key to the gates that separate one area from the next.
To address the perennial question of “Where does a naked guy keep his wallet?” that takes you back to the wristband with a coin chip in it as well. USUALLY, this is ALL you need for all the business you will do that day. You will use it to open your locker, pay for your meals, buy drinks at the swim-up bar, and even to pay for a massage or spa treatment should you choose to book one. I say usually as I remember my last visit to the Kristall Therme near Berlin where they had a bizarre procedure where you could use your bracelet at the food court, but I vaguely remember having to bring a ziplock baggie of money to the swim-up bar, which made absolutely no sense to me. (Maybe there was a better solution, but I wasn’t about to figure it out in German.) In any event, if you can, it’s worth clarifying exactly what your bracelet will or will not do while you’re still at the front desk.
THE LOCKER ROOM and THE GRAND ENTRANCE: I have feared locker rooms since the I first had to use one in seventh grade! Terrifing! Really! I’m mostly over that by now when I go to the YMCA, and I’ve grown accustomed to those at the therme as well, but my heart did stop for a moment the first time I had to ease my way toward my locker next to a naked women leisurely unpacking her spa bag. She could see I was fumbling with my bracelet unlocking-device and offered me help getting the magnetic lock to release.
In reality, she was a bit more immodest than most, as many will find one of the little changing cubicles (think department store fitting room), enter fully clothed, then exit wrapped in a bathrobe of a towel. That always seems like an extra step to me as the entrance to the spa area typically takes you through a shower room where they’d like you to immediately doff said covering garment and rinse down before entering the main attraction area.
But that leads to another interesting element of spa nudity – one that I have never understood, but it seems to be a sort of common law, often specified (in vague language) in the rules for the spa. You may or may not find it posted or printed in English that nudity is mandatory in the saunas and the pools, but you are required to cover yourself with a towel or a robe when moving about the facilities or visiting the restaurants therein. Most everyone complies with the restaurant part, but every time an aufguss session lets out (more about that later) there will be a rush of naked humans rushing to the nearest shower or nearby outdoor veranda to cool-off. But otherwise, the expectation is that you will wrap at least the lower part of your body when moving about the premises. Of course, there’s always a few people who either didn’t read the rules, or simply choose to walk about naked, or maybe with a towel draped loosely over the shoulder, scarcely obscuring any of the quintessential body parts. (Yes, that may well be me!) There are always spa employees everywhere, and not once have I seen them stop someone to ask them (me!) to cover up, and since the large spas have literally hundreds of loungers scattered around, you’ll see every form of undress, from bundled tightly in robes, to people discreetly covering their genitalia, to people napping – buck naked – spread eagle. You’ll have a sense of what goes at a particular spa within a few minutes of arrival.
Having just written this, I have learned my to young female friends who visited Vabali Düsseldorf today were reprimanded for walking around naked! I stand corrected.
NOODLES IN THE POOL: This seems to be another interesting variation from one spa to the next, as Friday and Saturday nights at the therme seem to be a very popular date night outings. At Erding, it’s not uncommon to see couples enjoying a deep embrace as they’re floating in the lazy river outside on a snowy evening with steam billowing off the water. Once again, spa attendants are plentiful and you know there are video cameras everywhere, including the rest areas. (My wife and I once inadvertently summoned a bouncer-like fellow when a hand drifted too close to a sensitive area. He simply stood by making his presence known, and that was that. But indeed, there are cameras everywhere!) The Ludwigsfelde Kristall Therme allows children of all ages, so that changes the vibe a bit, and when we visited the huge Bad Wörishofen on a texteil frei Friday night, it seemed like their were guards everywhere out on noodle patrol. I’ve never seen anything that would get the overt sexual activity prize, but it seems each spa has it’s own unspoken rules regarding acceptable behavior, and somehow, everyone seems to know what those are. When in Rome…
OK – WHAT ABOUT THE SAUNA THING. WILL I DIE?: Seriously. That was my primary concern the first time I went into a sauna. I mean, the whole idea is that you’re going to go in, sit down, and get really, really hot until there is sweat oozing from places you didn’t even think possible?
The large Erding affiliate spas have the most elaborate (and largest) themed saunas. In fact, I think Erding has at least twenty-five different saunas, each of which offer a wide variety of different aufguss (infusion) ceremonies over the course of a day. By large, I mean it’s not uncommon for 80-100 people to crowd in for a popular aufguss session, and yes, everyone is completely naked, with your towel often overlapping the towel next to you. A few people, mainly women, remain wrapped in their towels, but they are by far the minority. It’s simply a sea of naked humanity! That alone might feel a bit claustrophobic to some, but that’s just before the ceremony begins! Perhaps you think yourself clever having chosen a spot with a bit more personal space on the top shelf in the upper back corner, until you realize that twelves seconds before the ceremony begins, five more people are going to dash in, see you are occupying the only available real-estate, and come crowd in around you! Now… you’re on the top level (where the heat is the most intense), in the back corner (farthest from the exit door), and packed in like a giant sweaty sardine when you realize that if you needed to leave suddenly, you’d have to awkwardly drag your moist body and dripping towel over three rows of other naked people deeply entranced in the mediation chimes of ancient Indonesia!
The aufguss ritual itself has to do with the pouring of scented water on intensely hot rocks, after which, the spa-master will take a large towel, or a flag, or maybe even giant Russian banja leaves and thwack them in your direction to provide a blast of heat that literally takes your breath away! You suddenly have an entirely new sense of empathy for your Thanksgiving turkey, coming to realize that it was a kindness to make sure he was dead before putting him in the oven!
Thankfully, your spa-master has told you about the entire process before it actually began – typically a two or three minute explanation that I think goes like this…”Welcome to mud ritual of ancient Egypt! In a moment, I’m going to close the door, then poor this magic potion on those boiling rocks. Then my assistant and I are going to give you some magic goo that we found near the tomb of Moses so you can spread it all over your body – unless you want to ask your friend to help you with those hard to reach places. (Hahahahaha!) Then I’ll pour some more water on those rocks and take this towel and snap it within inches of your face so you can feel the magic mud being absorbed into your pores and your body begins triage inventory – “Brain – functioning. Heart – beating. Arm-pits – on overload!” Then I think he says something like, “Please remember, this is a high intensity ride. People with heart conditions, pregnant women, and humans prone to anxiety should take note of the nearest exit, even if you can’t possibly get to it when it matters. Please keep your arms and legs inside the carriage at all times.” Let me remind you, I only know a few German words, like exit, panic, and die, but I usually feel reassured by the laughter of my German counterparts.
This is why you may want to ease your way into the process, realizing that any particular sauna will only have an aufguss ceremony every two hours or so. When that happens, they put a sign on the door that says “session in progress,” do not enter!” But otherwise, you can go in and try out the various saunas and stay for as little or as long as you wish. Pretty soon, you’ll realize that each sauna has a sign on the door that tells you the temperature, and sometimes the humidity percentage as well. Of course, it’s all in Celsius, but you’ll figure out the difference between 65° and 85° pretty quickly! Way more than the Fahrenheit equivalent. And the higher the humidity, the more intense the heat.
It also took me a while to realize that if you want a premium seat for an aufguss ceremony, on the bottom step, not too far from the door, you have to plan ahead. Each aufguss event lasts about ten minutes, and while they won’t let additional people come in once “the show has begun,” you do have the prerogative to leave any time, and typically, one or two people do. For me, I found that putting myself in a position to escape if I felt I needed to was all the assurance I needed to alleviate the anxiety, but that requires forethought. In this case, forethought involves arriving ten or fifteen minutes before the aufguss begins, putting your towel down to mark your spot, sitting to acclimate for a few minutes to get a sense of the heat intensity, then stepping out of the sauna – leaving your towel behind – (you’re naked, remember!) to cool down; maybe even step outside if it’s convenient, to bring down your body temperature. Sometimes there will be a giant vat of crushed ice nearby that people scoop up by the handful. I, along with many others, will make a giant snowball and take it back in the sauna with me if I know the heat will be particularly intense, then rub it on my forehead and chest when I feel like it’s just a little too much. By the end of the event, your snowball has vanished into a puddle on your towel.
Most of the aufguss sessions I’ve gone to involve two ceremonious rounds of dousing the hot rocks with infused water followed by the accompanying whacking of towels, but the entire thing never lasts more than ten minutes. That seems a reasonable amount of time for nearly anyone to endure the intense heat, but that’s also assuming you set out your towel early, then stepped out to cool down for a few minute. (25 minutes without pause would be long stretch for even the heartiest of sauna warriors!) And there may well be some quirky ritual immediately before, during, or after the aufguss, like going into an adjacent cave to cover your body in salt, or the aforementioned mud ritual. Sometimes you even get a prize at the end, like fresh bread that comes out of the oven at the same time you do, or a Popsicle to help you internalize the fruity joys of a tropical island. In time, you’ll master the fine art of discretely watching the people around you before you accidentally rub salt in your eyes, which the spa guy probably told you to avoid, but you really weren’t sure what the nervous intermittent laughter was about while he was giving his spiel.
Other than some of the historic spas where the traffic essentially flows from one activity to the next, the typical scenario at the more recent establishments allows you to plan your day as you wish, usually providing a detailed schedule of all the day’s aufguss events. My wife is not too keen on the intense heat of the saunas, but loves the warm pools, the quiet resting areas, the various restaurants (at the nicer spas) and simply lounging by the pool with a good book between visits to the swim-up bar. Those quiet resting areas may have ceremonies as well to encourage meditation, relaxation, or mind-expansion. Or sometimes it’s just a nice place to take a nap or curl up with a book. (Many have reading lights above the bed) Most inhabitants will be wrapped in a towel or a robe, but a few will be naked as well. Just remember… no hanky-panky! 🙂
Whenever possible, we make the spa our first stop upon arrival in Europe since most flights from the US arrive in Munich or Germany around 7:00 am. That’s just enough time to drop our bags at the hotel – spa bag already packed – then make our way to the therme. (This works particularly well in Munich, as bus 512 goes directly from the airport to the village of Erding)
As mentioned above, my two young (female) friends have made their first stop at Verbali Spa near Düsseldorf where they report that the amenities and view of the lake from the warmth of the spa was unbelievable. But contrary to my earlier words of advice, they were actually cited for being too naked as they were walking from one place to another without bothering to wrap in a towel. That seems particularly peculiar for a place that doesn’t even have an area that allows for swimsuits.
Later today, they will visit one of the Erding-chain establishments near Cologne, and I’m urging them to write a guest blog post to capture the experience from their own perspective. They are both quite new to naturism, and even newer to the German sauna experience. Regardless, seems they are both enthusiastic converts to clothes-free recreation. Take note nay-sayers: There is hope for the future of naturism even yet!
You may want to visit a few other posts about saunas and thermal baths, such as my blog post about the Onsen experience in Japan, or one of my very first posts about spa nudity written about five years ago. And I haven’t even scratched the surface on some of the spa hotels in Austria that sport sauna centers as well, or some of the very hip places in Holland that have yet another spin on communal nakedness. All good. Still stuff left to blog about.
Working on the Naturist’s Guide to Corisca, so I thought it might be good to put up a collage of photos from our visits to this naturist haven from our several visits over the past fifteen years. An island with France sensibilities toward naturism, Italian influences for cuisine, and all with a quirky Corsican twist makes for a great nakation.