The meandering naturist gets a compass

It’s been about nine months since I’ve posted to my blog. Some of you who have followed for a while know I was attempting to document our naturist journey across Europe; one that would begin in Spain and end up in Greece – over a period of about twelve weeks.

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A sign posted in an Italian resort where, oddly enough, nudity was often forbidden!

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The last naturist in Greece

We made the entire journey, but someplace in central France, I simply fell off the cyber-map. I have several alibis at the ready for my sudden and mysterious disappearance, the most compelling having to do with the lack of WI-FI connectivity in naturist locales that can support the bandwidth requisite of a blog platform, in addition to the fact that we were getting a little road weary near the end. And as the seasons started to turn, and our accommodations morphed into smaller, naturist friendly inns, taking photographs became increasingly problematic. And to be sure, a blog is infinitely more interesting with photos!

Since I wrote last, we did manage to visit two excellent naturist resorts in the Provence region of France. Domaine de la Sabliere lies in a rugged canyon just south of the Ardeche, surrounded by picturesque little villages and lavender fields. Origan Village is perched on a steep mountain in the foothills of the Alps above Nice. Our favorite feature there is a 90 minute walk along the mountain ridge – perfect in the early morning… au naturel.

ImageLazy days in Croatia

From there, we crossed Italy (not especially naturist friendly) to take our apartment at Koversada in northern Croatia, then on to Montenegro where we had to get our naturist fix on the terrace of a rented villa above the Bay of Kotor. A series of ferry crossings would allow a rather bizarre visit to Pizzo Greco on the southern tip of Italy, before visiting two excellent (but quite different) naturist lodgings on the Greek islands of Zakynthos (Panorama Naturist Hotel) and Kefalonia (Vassaliki Resort).

We had designs of experiencing naturism in Brazil and Thailand this past year as well, but neither of those trips came to fruition.

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Morning walk in South Africa

We did, however, find two naturist venues in South Africa, most notably, the rustic but charming Harmony Nature Farm – once again challenging our preconceptions of what we’ve come to know as European-style – or more specifically, French-style – naturisme.  And truth be told, I found it difficult to keep comparing other naturist destinations to those we’ve already identified as Nirvana, and so quite frankly, I stopped trying to do so.

In the meantime, we are still residing in Europe; a year-long adventure that will conclude this summer with one more visit to La Jenny (see previous post), our naturist home-away-from-home.   I think it a worthy cause to keep documenting our naturist travels – past, present, and future – as we have come to appreciate a few words of wisdom from those who have gone before us when we first arrive at a new place to shed our clothes.

As this goes to press, I’m working on a new post called “100 Naked Places.” The list will include 71 places where we’ve been naked ourselves, 44 of which we would gladly recommend to our friends, and another 27 or so which might fall into the category of, “Been there, done that – don’t need to do that again!”  The remaining 29 places on the roster are still on our bucket list, with Thailand and Brazil still near the top of that list, along with resorts on Mallorca and the Canary Islands – and even a few places that hold some intrigue back in the good ol’ US of A.

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Making our own resort, in Montenegro

Thanks to the nearly 90,000 of you (as of May 2014) who have stopped by my blog so far. I’m hoping I can find the time in the coming month to stay on course, in an effort to help other meandering naturists find their way.

Domaine Naturiste de La Jenny

Where to begin the account of our long, usually amazing (but sometimes stormy), relationship with the expansive naturist resort on the Cote d’Argent (Silver Coast) of southwest France – Domaine Residential Naturiste La Jenny.  Suffice it to say… this is a long one!

Making our way from Spain to La Jenny

Making our way from Spain to La Jenny

While I’m not typically inclined to statements with self-aggrandizing superlatives, I have probably put more information out there on the web about La Jenny than any other American naturist.  You can find loads of banter about La Jenny and the other south Atlantic resorts on various French naturist forums like VivreNu, but of course, it’s all in French!  I have reviews up on Trip Advisor (which need to be updated) and two previous website endeavors that have since been lost from my archives, but are probably still floating around out there someplace in cyberspace.

(Should you wish to see our entire itinerary, you can peruse the “Blowing Through Europe” post from last May.)

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This year’s chalet in Marguerite 58

La Jenny was actually the place that got us hooked on naturism in the French tradition.  I first learned of the place from a friend on the Internet back in the early 90s, on a CompuServe message board about family naturism – back in the day with dial-up modems where a photo download would appear in pixelated form, one line after another.  At the time, we were diligently working our way through various American nudist listings, like those published by AANR or The Naturist Society, hoping we would find someplace our pre-adolescent children would be willing to join us while pursuing our own desires to vacation au naturel.  We had tried a few places in California, and then a few more after moving to the east coast, but the results were always pretty much the same.  “So mom, swimming without a swimsuit is kinda fun, but where are all the other kids?  I thought you said this was a family place!”

We even visited a place in Florida with a diligently targeted marketing campaign, with the apparent intent to draw the family crowd, but during our stay, every time our kids jumped in the pool, they got a dirty look from the “old-timers” from the opposite ledge; annoyed by the noise of splashing water and the feverish pitch of the one-inch waves!  (We took considerable pride in the fact that our children were more accustomed to accolades for their gentle demeanor and good manners.  At American nudist places, they were immediately demoted to intrusively noisy kids!)

My aforementioned CompuServe friend listened to my rants, (I think his name was Don) and reassured me that while my mission was certainly altruistic enough, I simply was not going to find what I was looking for on American soil.  It seems that he was married to a French woman who had grown up with a family that indulged in summer naturist holidays, and at least in the years they had been together, their ultimate naturist holiday spot was La Jenny, on the southwest coast of France!

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Long time friends enjoying the Cote d’Argent

A lot of good that would do for this young, cash-strapped family.  How would we ever be able to get our entire family to France for a naturist vacation?  Really?  You have to go to France to fully immerse yourself in family naturism?

In 1997, my wife and I managed to coerce the grandparents into taking the kids for ten days so the two of us could do some naturist exploration in the South of France.  (The purpose of our trip was classified – but who needs to explain one’s desire to go to the France?) We flew into Nice where we stayed in a B&B that was located near a few well-known naturist beaches, made the obligatory visit to Cap d’Agde (an entirely different side of French… can I even call it… naturism!?), then four nights in a small chalet in La Jenny before catching the fast train to Paris to make our way home.   As American tourists, we thought our extended stay at La Jenny to be luxuriously self-indulgent in length, only to learn that Europeans typically measure their holidays in weeks, not in days!  One of our early, but numerous lessons about the fine Art of European naturist travel and leisure!

La Jenny plage

La Jenny plage

Cap d’Agde was a hot mess, and deserves another post all to itself.  (We would return in 2006 for a two-night stay.  The jury’s still out as to whether we’ll ever return again!)  This first time, however, we were only there for a day visit, but immediately found the place to be overwhelming in a confusing and disquieting sort of way.  Imagine parking on the backside of Disneyland, walking around the back gates through the sketchy streets of Anaheim, then once inside, finding yourself in a Las Vegas-meets-Malibu meets-Detroit sort of place!  (Admittedly, on our first visit, we inadvertently parked our car on the wrong side of town and made our way by foot to the naturist quarter.  Walking past a dingy waterpark and boarded up condos did not help with a positive first impression!)  The rapid-fire stimuli of walking through this seaside city, throbbing with energy at ten in the morning, past a bar with naked poll dancers, then a stop for very perfunctory (naked) shopping at the little grocery store, then past a woman “walking” her partner on a studded leash; then along side a sweet young family bedecked with floaties – all headed to the beach, until you find your place on the beach next to a very… amorous… lesbian couple.  Not to spend too much time waxing about Cap d’Agde, but it’s significant to note that this was our last stop before the much-anticipated arrival at our quiet little hamlet in the pine forests of La Jenny.  And if this was the reality of French naturism, dreams of bringing the family along were quickly fading!

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Low tide at the beach

La Jenny opened in 1983, which I think makes it the newest of four major naturist resorts on the south-Atlantic coast of France.  (Arnaoutchot, Euronat, and Montalivet are the other three, all located within a three-hour drive of each other.)  There may be other, smaller naturist places in the region, but the four big centers have accommodations for over a thousand people each; La Jenny, alone, has over 700 chalets, most of which are independently owned, but available to rent by the week if the owners are willing to sublet into the rental pool.  And La Jenny is the only one of the four resorts that does not have an option for campers.  You either rent a chalet, or you pitch your tent… someplace else!  The result is a unique dynamic we have yet to experience anyplace else.  A campground changes the equation quite a lot – in obvious and subtle ways.  In a few words, a campground is inherently transient.  A village, even a holiday village, assumes a unique character of, well… a village!  As you might imagine, there are pros and cons integral to each of those environments.

That all said, I suppose it would be an understatement to say that we were immediately smitten with the place.  We would return with our children for a two-week stay in 1999, then again in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, and most recently for a three-week stay this summer (2013). They were celebrating their 30th year.  We were celebrating out tenth visit!

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Naturist dining on the deck

You can find your way to the La Jenny webpage or even their facebook page and get a pretty good feel for the amenities of the place.  It’s not quite like renting a house on the Outer Banks or the Jersey Shore, but as far as easy living in a European naturist resort goes, this is about as good as it gets.  (We’ve stayed in a couple naturist places with somewhat nicer housing options, but for the most part, the newer chalets at La Jenny are very comfortable and well appointed.)

Even though we’re clearly repeat customers at La Jenny, we still don’t quite make the “regular” list, as we’ve had to miss a year now and again, we don’t always come during the same week of the summer (which most regulars do!), and our stay will vary from one to three weeks depending on what else is on our itinerary that year.  Over a period of fifteen years, I would say we’ve met/seen perhaps a dozen other American couples or families.  There are always quite a few Brits, a significant number of folks from Germany and Holland, and of course, loads and loads of French people!  At the end of the day, it’s a French resort that targets a French clientele.  That makes sense.

Salut to our friends back in the homeland!

Salut to our friends back in the homeland!

Our children are grown now.  I think it’s safe to say they have very fond memories of their summers at La Jenny, especially that very first one as they have great programs that keep little kids very well entertained!  And our daughters have been back with us as young adults, the youngest of whom joined us for several days this year with a friend in tow from South America.  In the world of European naturist travel, La Jenny is comfort food for us.  A place to really go on vacation, where you’ve already worked out the critical variables that burn up precious vacation-time energy.

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Having given up all hopes of any attempt at being concise in this posting, I will offer a few bulleted points related to our observations from our repeated visits.  Should you find yourself considering a naturist holiday in France in the not too distant future, perhaps this will help you sort things out:

  • La Jenny was essentially built in two stages.  The older “chalets” are typically very small, and in many cases, quite rustic.  The newer chalets (on the golf-course side to the north) are quite a bit larger, and have better amenities, like dishwashers, ovens, and outdoor showers.  Well worth the price difference!  None of them are like the mini-mansion beach houses in Santa Cruz or along the Jersey Shore.  If you need 3000 square feet and a 58” flat-screen TV to relax and unwind, you’re simply out of luck.

    The morning baguette run.

    The morning baguette run.

  • Europeans bring their bicycles along, or they rent them once they arrive.  (As do we.)  The place is big.  Rent a bike!  (You haven’t lived until you’ve ridden to the market for the morning baguette – naked!)
  • The people in reception, in the kids club, at the restaurant, and at the bar all speak excellent English.  We enjoy practicing our French, but we are frequently rescued in English!  (It’s not like Paris where this comes with a sneer or snarky remark.  People are simply more laid-back in the south, and we have generally found the La Jenny employees eager to please!)
  • This is the southwest of France (Atlantic Ocean), not the south of France (Mediterranean Sea).  The weather on the Mediterranean is typically arid and predictably dry with sunny days in the mid 80s.  Those days can and do occur on the south Atlantic, but then the winds will shift and you can have an entire week of cold, rainy days where you can’t get outside without a raincoat.  This year, we only had one of those days out of twenty-one.  A couple years ago, we were only there for only a week, and we scarcely made it to the pool or the beach due to unfortunate timing with the weather cycle.  Do the math.  The longer you stay, the better your odds.
  • The beaches on the Cote d’Argent are somewhat similar to those of South Carolina.  Long, sloping gradients than go on for miles.  The entire region is more-or-less naturist friendly, meaning that we have walked an hour (or two) north and south from the beach at La Jenny, and even when encountering a beach where more people are in swimsuits than not, our nudity hasn’t even elicited the bat of an eye.  Seems that meandering naturists are di riguer in this region, if not the nuts and bolts of the local economy.
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Endless naturist beach. Ahhhhh……

  • Over the years, we have discovered the local supermarkets (such as E. LeClerc and Lidl) as well as the local town markets where you can buy fresh meat, cheese, vegetables, and fruit.  In recent years, La Jenny has made a significant effort in bringing local vendors into the naturist village so you can go shopping for fresh lamb, fish, and produce without bothering to get dressed in the morning.  The grocery store on the property is actually quite good as well, with a decent selection of staples for daily living.  Again, no shoes, no shirt – no worries!  This year, the check-out clerks were typically naked as well!  🙂
  • You can pay for internet access, but don’t think that will keep you connected.  The Wi-Fi system is frequently overwhelmed, at which point, the bandwidth drops from “poor” to “nothing!”  Takes me back to those CompuServe dial-up days!  Pretend you’re camping and plan to drive 25 minutes to McDonalds if you really want to log on and get something done.  Better yet – put up an auto-reply message.  “Naked in France.  Try me again when I have clothes on!”
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Beach combing at sunset

I have a lot more to say about our years at La Jenny.  A few topics might invoke titles of future posts like “The forgotten days of naked adolescence,” or “Have we bought out the future of naturism, “ or even, “A tongue-tied encounter with Jock Sturges.”  We have a lot of history at this place.  Now that I think about it, more than any other place we’ve been naked!  With that, comes many treasured memories, along with a few head-scratching puzzles that we have yet to fully comprehend.  I suspect both of these perspectives will bear (bare) themselves out here in this blog, buried in the nuance of subsequent posts.  Keep reading!

In the meantime, let me just say that nobody on the planet embraces naturism the way the French embrace naturism.  If you’re really gonna get serious about getting naked, you’d better start learning French!

Getting naked in Brazil = Complicated!

So in a few days, we’ll leave our home in the ‘US of A’ to take on the world.  As it happens, I have been granted an entire year to read, research, and write, and you can do all of those things almost anyplace.  Most of those things can also be done naked… at least if it’s warm enough!

So we’ve been busy getting ready to see the world through naked eyes.  I’ve already outlined the first three months of our journey in a previous post (“Blowing through Europe…”), a journey that will take us across the southern region of France and down the Adriatic coast until the weather starts to turn.  At that point, if all goes according to plan, we plan to explore the southern hemisphere with visits to lesser known naturist places, such as Harmony Nature Farm and Sun Kissed Villa in South Africa, a couple new naturist places in Thailand like the Oriental Village near Chiang Mai, and the Lumra Resort (which is advertised naturist, but seems to be a work in progress) on the rail line to Phuket.  Can one work on no tan lines all year long?  We’re going to try!

But the big project as of late has been trying to find a way to get naked in Brazil!

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You wouldn’t think this would be such a difficult endeavor in a country that is famous for the unabashed practice of removing unwanted pubic hair, but as it turns out, though Brazil is a big country, Catholicism is rampant, and naturist resorts are few and far between.  (Seems to be a South America thing!  Naked is REVERENT…?)

My first round of investigation led me to what appears to be a lovely mountain retreat about 90 minutes from Rio called Recanto Paraiso.  A nice place, perhaps, but despite the simple and beautiful bilingual website, my emails inquiring about summer accommodations went unanswered.  Either they’re closed for the winter, or foreign visitors are just too much trouble.

Then I found Praia do Pinho, near the city of Navegantes, several hours south of Sao Paulo.  Turns out this would be the winning ticket… I hope!

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Located about an hour north of Florianopolis, (a major tourist destination for foreigners and Brazilians, alike!) this naturist village apparently lies adjacent to one of the finest naturist beaches in all of South America.

Easy booking via webform?  Not really.

Accepts credit cards, American or otherwise?   Nope.  Gotta send money by Western Union MoneyGram.

Easy to reach by direct flight from Rio?  Well… no!  Either an airport change in Rio, or a connecting flight in Sao Paulo, or most likely – BOTH!  Two hours in the air will require several hours in various airports, dealing with security, body-scans and the like – all in Portuguese, of course.  (Haven’t a clue how to speak Portuguese!)

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And who knew that Americans need to have a visa  – an expensive visa – to visit Brazil?  You can slip in and out of Colombia, South Africa, or Thailand with just a passport, but a visit to Brazil requires a visit to the Embassy, which we may well have to manage in Paris – in French!  All this, as my wife reads to me about the current political unrest in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Are we crazy? Probably.

But, indeed, the place does look amazing!  Even the Lonely Planet guidebooks say these are some of the best beaches in the world, and by the time we get there, it’ll be snowing in Germany and New York, but it’ll be the longest day of the summer in Brazil!

And it seems that organized naturism is just now catching on in Brazil, which makes sense, as they seem to be taking the lead as the emerging economy in South America. (What a great place to stage the Olympics – naked, eh?) If they figure out the naturist tourist thing, it seems half the world would be eager to doff their big furry coats and thermal gloves to celebrate a blue Christmas.  We’ll let you know – when and if we can figure out how to get there!

POST SCRIPT: We’ve been working to wire our deposit to Praia do Pinho, the resort on the southern coast.  It’s been three weeks now, and it seems Western Union has cancelled the transaction.  No foul play, I believe, but just confirming that it’s difficult to navigate such transactions from the US to Brazil.  I’m still determined to figure this out.