If you’re a keen advocate for naturism, and you haven’t yet made a visit to Ile du Levant, you need to move that up on your bucket list. It’s one of a handful of places that has self-identified as the birthplace of naturism. (Germany and Croatia contend for this distinction as well!) At the very least, it seems to be something of a naked renaissance town at the moment, but more about that later.
Part of the adventure of coming to the naked island in France is catching the ferry from the port of Le Lavandou. Since the boat makes two stops, one at Levant, and the other at neighboring Port Cros, it’s fun to play the “I wonder who will get off the boat on which island” game. This time, the boat was quite full, and nearly every person on board disembarked at the first stop – Ile du Levant!
Mind you, we had been in transit for nearly twenty-four hours having made our way from Newark Liberty Airport, through Brussels, then on to Marseille. After another two hours in the car, and a 40-minute ferry crossing, I was itching to embrace the late day Provençal sunlight, free from the bondage of North American travel-wear! Thirty meters up the path from the port, a quick bathroom stop, and voila! Naked!!
A few years ago, we brought long-time friends from California along with us to experience this little naturist mecca first hand. They would not call themselves naturists, but have been willing nakation companions over the years. Our friend Tom was particularly intrigued with the history of the island, the prevailing rules regarding nudity, or more acutely, “Why were there so many people walking around the island fully clothed?” Eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit, not a cloud in the sky, and so many a passers-by wearing jeans and a long-sleeve shirt. What’s up with that?
Fair question, I think, particularly on this landmass isolated from the prudish nay-sayers who might suffer the oppression of unwanted nudity. NOBODY comes to Levant without the expectation of seeing naked people. And it seems even more peculiar to me that someone might come here without the expectation of becoming an enthusiastic clothes-free participant. Tom prodded our innkeeper about the politics of it all, unpacking the complicated history of this naturist hamlet island with nearly a hundred years of controversy in defining how naked is naked. (See: Another Round of Crazy on Ile du Levant)
Now, several years later, we’re back for a weekend of naturist serenity and solitude, and I, for one, plan to get my money’s worth! While anecdotal at best, it seems this is not an uncommon perspective amidst visitors from North America, as evidenced by the only other couple at breakfast who were as naked as we were. Perhaps some people come here simply for the pleasure of lying au naturel on the beach or striving for no tan lines by the pool. Or maybe the French people think nudity to be such a non-issue, with so many places “in the neighborhood” to get naked on the day-to-day, that they lack some of the zeal of the prudish American who has waited all year (or years!) for the privilege to bare all.
We have experienced this again and again during our European travels, going to great lengths to find places where nudity is not only allowed, but required– as is the case on the coastal path just beyond the port of Ile du Levant. (Explicit signage near the port tells you where you can’t be naked, where you can be naked, and where you must be naked!) But on this morning trek, we found the demographics to be about 50-50, some fully nude, some donning beach cover-ups, and others dressed as if prepared to take on the Appalachian Trail in early October. Really!?
There is a sub-plot to all of this, pertaining especially to residential naturist places, which Ile du Levant most certainly is. (We’ve experienced this at La Jenny as well.) With increasing frequency, it seems that families have purchased homes in these naturist communities two or three generations back. The home stays in the family, but the naturism gene didn’t carry forward.
“Hey! We have this lovely home near a beautiful beach in France!”
“Isn’t that one of those places with loads of naked people?”
“Oh yeah… you’ll encounter some of the crazy nudists, but don’t worry about it! You don’t have to get naked with them!”
As with the evolution of any neighborhood, I suppose such unintended outcomes are inevitable, but if it’s a total naturist experience you’re seeking, there’s a compelling case to be made for camping establishments that cater to young family tent-campers – the most transient of communities where the main attraction is the right to bare all. If you didn’t want to get naked, you simply wouldn’t go there.
Which takes us back all the way to our very first experience with Ile du Levant sometime back around 2006, when we came out on the ferry for a day trip for our first exploration of this historic naturist landmark. My wife and I still reminisce about her reticence to get naked that day, despite the hype about a naturist island and her confirmed affinity for naked travel.
“Are you sure we can be naked here? Why aren’t those people naked? Really, I can be topless in the village?”
We laugh about it now, but for the novice naturist, this can be quite a conundrum! As my friend Tom learned from our innkeeper that day, the modus operandus at most naturist places is simply that… “You have the right to bare all,” but there are few places that even attempt to impose any sort of regulations for mandatory nudity. “As you wish” seems to be the presumptive rule of the land.
So last night we frequented one of our favorite bistros on the island where the wait-staff were attired in their typical apparel; sandals and full-length aprons with ample butt cleavage on full display below the apron tie. While they actually advertise that nudity while dining is permitted, if not actively encouraged, I found myself – again – in the midst of that proverbial third grade dream when you realize that you’re the only one in the room with no pants on. (Except, in this case, for the waiters, of course!) It’s a small island, and by now, we’d seen at least half the people in the restaurant earlier in the day, fully nude by the pool or along the sea. But here at dinner, most everyone was fully adorned, some of the women rather provocatively so in sheer fabric that would never make muster for the church covered-dish dinner or a PTA meeting. As I made my way to the restroom, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was the singular freak-show for the evening, dressed in a button-down shirt, but nothing below. Perhaps I was, but alas, we are here in the land of as you wish, and if anyone batted an eye, they were most discrete about it.
But it was a beautiful evening, on a naturist island, and I simply couldn’t resist the all too infrequent… right to bare all!
As to the renaissance – it seems there are more 20-30 somethings on the island than we’ve seen in recent years, and at least during the day, more naked people than we’ve encountered on previous visits. They say young naturism is on an upswing in France. Maybe the young naked people we reclaim the naturist vision on this remarkable big rock off the Cote d’Azur!