At the writing, we are in the midst of the COVID-19 Social Distancing Crisis. Somehow, it’s seemed a bit glib to continue the typical trajectory of my blog, which is usually focused on nakation destinations around the globe – here at a time when going to the grocery store is considered an adventure. To that end, I thought it might be a good time to add to my Nakation Chronicle installments, intended to sequentially document our naturist journey over a period of thirty years of meandering about six continents. At very least, this feels cathartic to me, a devoted naturist consumed with wanderlust, as I sit here wondering when the world will, again, be open for naked meandering.
2010 was a particularly busy year between family events, business travel, and keeping tabs on our son who had an internship in China. So much time going places where we had to wear clothes.
That said, from the perspective of documenting our naturist journey, we have interesting tales to tell from that year, beginning with our one and only visit to Eden Bay Resort in the Dominican Republic. We were among the last (and only) visitors to this beautiful resort before it became Caliente Caribe – a subsidiary of Caliente Resort in Florida, another beautiful resort that threw their naturist mission under the bus to cater to the “adult playground scene.” My impression was that Caribe followed suit, only opening for selected periods to facilitate “parties of like-minded folks.” Last I knew, even that had ceased, as the place had fallen into disrepair. Bummer! It was a gorgeous venue.
We also traveled to France that summer with our young adult daughters, revisiting their childhood naturist fav, Domaine Naturiste La Jenny, located west of Bordeaux on the Cote d’Argent. From there, we made our way to Provence and took the ferry to Ile du Levant, staying in a modest hotel that shared that special Caliente vibe! (Guffaw!) Shame on us for not scouring the TripAdvisor reviews before we booked. Suffice it to say, that trip ended abruptly and early.
So there you are. Nakation Chronicles VIII. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page if you want to trace our story back to its humble, naked beginnings.
Eden Bay, DR
Eden Bay, DR
Eden Bay, DR
Eden Bay, DR
La Jenny, France
La Jenny, France
La Jenny, France
Ile du Levant, France
Ile du Levant, France
Ile du Levant, France
Eden Bay, DR
Eden Bay, DR
Eden Bay, DR
Ile du Levant, France
La Jenny, France
Ile du Levant, France
Ile du Levant, France
La Jenny, France
You may want to check out the previous Nakation Chronicles installments:
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.
So I read the Nick and Lins piece about naturism on Facebook the other day on Naked Wanderings when they lamented the many ironies of social media policies where simple nudity is forbidden, while all sorts of other atrocities somehow slip through the cracks. To be sure, navigating the internet in search of reliable information about people who are earnestly interested in social nudity is a slippery slope that will almost certainly lead your favorite search engine into various porn sites, while helping you find “new friends seeking benefits,” not to mention an unsolicited fan club willing to send you pictures of their genitalia. Who could have imagined any of this back before the digital age?
But here’s a thought for the day: What about all of us who feel so passionately about the naturist cause that we’ve barricaded ourselves in the naked cyber-fortress. That is, surrounding ourselves in naturist propaganda, if you will, until we actually lose perspective of how one’s quirky desire to doff his clothing is actually perceived in the greater context of the textile-loving masses.
Here on the eve of the 2018 mid-term election, I have grown acutely aware of how deeply people have aligned themselves to very specific ideologies. Of course, at the moment, most of the attention is on political perspectives and how those will influence the upcoming election, but it seems to me that the unintended consequence of social media is the emergence of so many factions who mainly pride themselves on their inability to understand the other side of the argument, regardless of what that argument is about.
What does that have to do with social nudity on the internet? Everything! As my blog has developed over the years, I’ve cultivated my own news-feed from other naturist bloggers, keeping a particularly keen eye out for those that are up-to-date and insightful for the greater naturist cause. (Clothesfree Life, Felicity’s Blog, and Naked Wanderings are regular go-to outlets on this front.) But over time, I have found Twitter, reddit, and Instagram also to be good sources of information when looking for news stories about the naturist cause, or finding a new place to explore during our next nakation. While the nudism and naturism boards on reddit are well moderated, it’s taken a bit of time and tweaking to develop a Twitter feed that’s not overrun by stuff I really wasn’t looking for, but even with the harsh policies regarding nudity on Facebook and Instagram, there’s no question that those two platforms reach a wider audience, and arguably, do more to bring naturism into mainstream consciousness than most of the others combined. In fact, I just read an article this morning about the naturist movement afoot in Australia where over 8500 photos have shown up on Instagram with the hashtag #getnakedaustrailia, which has started to bleed into mainstream media threads normalizing nudity for 20 and 30-somethings. That seems like progress.
But to my point…
I have spent so much time on naturist social media platforms that it’s difficult to imagine what I might find there that I would find shocking or offensive, including all that stuff that doesn’t belong on a naturist forum. That’s where the barricade thing takes hold! Begin each day with a fifteen minute dose of naked news, and after awhile, you no longer notice that anyone would go to social media with the expectation of seeing anything else? It’s a slightly different argument than becoming desensitized to nudity itself; it’s just that you don’t think it odd that there is casual nudity all over the internet, as one loses total perspective – the perspective that not only would my friends mark most of these threads NSFW, but may actually be downright offended.
“Offended? It’s just nudity!” we say.
Strangely enough, I have become most sensitive to this phenomenon while listening to several podcasts as people wager various opinions about the possible outcomes of the upcoming election. I thought two of these programs to be particularly thought-provoking: the first one that talked about the influence of “nationalist websites” on recent acts of violence, and the second that included an interview with a Russian journalist whose job is running a website known widely as an American news source. [Yes, you heard that right!] In the case of the latter, the news is “factual” and drawn from real sources, but carefully selected to elevate fear and despair among citizens of the U.S. of A. Each of these examples represent the barricades of social media, as we all sit by our glowing computer screens absorbing opinions we already embrace about “stuff we already know!”
Despite the fact that my political leanings are probably well defined by my podcast playlist, that’s not actually relevant to this post. What IS relevant, however, is that in 2018, we can easily barricade ourselves within an impenetrable fortress in a forever “lock-in” with others who think, see, and feel exactly the same way we do! How many studies have we all seen about lonely people who spend night after night surfing the web, looking for community or someone to talk to, whereas twenty years ago maybe they would have joined a bowling league, or a model train club, or a sports league at the YMCA in an effort to connect with other humans… Other humans that would have that one thing in common (bowling, model trains, or basketball) but would surely have differing opinions on the big ticket issues, like religion, politics, and even social nudity.
Bury yourself in the naturist communities of Twitter and Tumblr, and you will be inundated with memes and one-liners that relentlessly preach to the converted that nude is the new normal and the rest of the world just needs to deal with it. But the rest of the world is emphatically screaming at one another right now, making it clear that “We believe what we believe, and don’t even try to clutter my mind with an opposing perspective!”
I admit, when I think about the gravitas of promoting social nudity in comparison to some of the other pervasive causes out there on the internet right now, my default position is, “Pfff… my cause is harmless by comparison! Just let me go on nakation and soak up some Vitamin D.” But I think we – the naturists – are being unrealistic when we fail to acknowledge that some will be as deeply offended by our Twitter feeds as I would be by any number of social media sources crowding the airwaves right now spreading highly biased rhetoric that will most certainly shape the future of the human race.
Ironically, I think I have always thought of social nudity as a channel of tolerance, that in the best case would read something like this…
You don’t have to practice naturism, and I will respect you for that, but I hope you will return the favor by letting me enjoy total exposure at my local beach or on a forest walk.
But tolerance is not particularly in vogue at the moment. And while that may not be the best news for the naturist movement, it seems that should be the least of our worries when we think about the level of intolerance and single-mindedness that is gripping the minds and hearts of humans all over the planet right now.
At the risk of concluding with a message of cynicism, I offer you these immortal words of Kermit the Frog:
“Take a look above you.
Discover the view.
If you haven’t noticed, Please do. Please do. Please do.”
A shout-out the DeAnza Hot Springs in Jacumba, California for their most excellent memes included in this post. They convey a great message, and they run a beautiful operation in the high desert. You should grab a friend with opposing views and go for a naked walk in the high desert – maybe even take a moment to discuss something you don’t agree on!
Peace Blue Naiharn Resort opened their doors last weekend, rolling out the red carpet on their beautiful new naturist resort/hotel near Rawai on Phuket Island in Thailand. This is the biggest and boldest endeavor yet that represents a serious presence in Southeast Asia to provide a year-round escape for those of us who simply can’t manage to keep our clothes on for the six months we call winter in the northern hemisphere. IT’S ABOUT TIME!
Despite repeated visits to various regions of Asia, I still have a very limited understanding of why nudity is such a taboo matter in this part of the world, where clothing seems unnecessary during even the coolest of days. Throw in the copious presence of palm trees and innumerable sandy beaches with water as warm as my hot tub, and I find myself crying aloud – Really? Nudity is illegal here? What a waste of so many naked opportunities.
Oriental Village – Chiang Mai
But alas, it seems a few entrepreneurial folks in Thailand are seeking to put their country on the map as the naturist capital of the Far East, and apparently it’s starting to take hold. In addition to Chan Resort Pattaya and Oriental Village Chiang Mai, several new enterprises have entered the market with ever-improving amenities and locations that provide the opportunity for a bit of sight-seeing should you have the urge to put your clothes on.
I have yet to visit Chan Resort in Pattaya, but hoping I might manage a day visit during an upcoming trip to Pattaya, (a city that seems to have the reputation of being the Jersey Shore of Southeast Asia) located on a side street just two kilometers from the (non-naturist) beach. Perhaps it is my aversion to over-crowded tourist meccas that inspired me to book at the new Phuan Naturist Village, instead, which is located in a relatively rural area outside of Pattaya. This is the most recent entry into the Asian naturist hospitality game, notably run by three sisters who, somewhat uncommonly, have fully embraced the naturist lifestyle even when they’re “at work.” I’ve booked a bungalow for my stay which looks like it may well be a bit rustic, but it reportedly has a private bath and AC. That seems more than adequate amenities for a nakation to me.
Phuan Naturist Village – near Pattaya
The little naturist hotel called Barefoot Resort in the northern part of Bangkok seems to be getting good reviews, aside from the fact that it’s difficult to get to, and thus, not terribly convenient for taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of Thailand’s megopolis. It’s on my bucket list, if only as a gesture of support for their pioneering efforts of providing a clothing-optional stay in Bangkok, but given its proximity to airports and train stations, I’ve yet to find a way to work that into a viable itinerary.
A couple years ago, we did pay a springtime visit to the quirky, but lovely, Oriental Village resort about 45 minutes outside of Chiang Mai. The middle-aged French guy who runs the place is… well… a middle-aged French guy, giving the place a decidedly French-Asian edge on the market. He was kind enough to pick us up at the airport (for a fee, of course) and was happy to share his perspectives on naturism in Thailand, which might be summarized with “You should come to my place.” What hadn’t occurred to me is that Chiang Mai (A great city, by the way) is far enough north to have a distinctively cooler climate that I had associated with Southeast Asia. It’s worth paying attention to that and the timing of the burning of nearby rice-fields when planning your stay, as either factor could cast a shadow on the perfect nakation.
Peace Blue Resort – Phuket
Which brings us back to Peace Blue Resort, the new edition of Lemon Tree Resort, a place I’ve come to refer to as “my branch office in Asia.” Patty and Golf opened Lemon Tree as a naturist destination by converting an existing property on a quiet street near the southern tip of Phuket, within (a significant) walking distance of Naiharn and Rawai beaches. At this writing, the owners are moving their base of operations from the smallish Lemon Tree property (where the lease has expired without the opportunity to renew) to the brand new Peace Blue Resort featuring condo like luxury units with private pools as well as beautifully appointed hotel rooms overlooking a sizable pool complex. I will be in a better position to offer a candid review after my much-anticipated visit in the coming weeks, but if the photos of the soft-opening are any indication, this will quickly become a premiere naturist destination outside of Europe.
Naturist boat trip from Peace Blue/Lemon Tree Resort
From my humble perspective, what sets Peace Blue apart from other naturist endeavors is the owner’s business plan, or more aptly, the fact that she has one! Patty left her managerial job in the mainstream hospitality sector to open the original Lemon Tree with her husband Golf, bringing an unusual background of expertise to the table, with the explicit purpose of meeting the demand of naturists – like me – who are looking for a place to get naked and warm when it’s snowing at home. Patty and Golf are not naturists themselves, but have embraced the naturist community, not only as a friendly and fervent clientele, but as friends who they “welcome home” at the beginning of each visit. (I’ve been to Lemon Tree three times now, and will visit the new Peace Blue in December.) In doing so, Patty reports that they are maintaining a relatively high occupancy rate even in rainy season when nearby properties are sitting essentially empty. With a steady stream of European customers, and a few random Americans such as myself, it seems they are at the tip of the naturist travel iceberg, and I suspect mid-winter bookings will soon become a precious commodity. If you time it right, the resort will have organized a boat-trip from nearby Rawai beach to a secluded beach where, sure enough, naturism is possible. And for the price of a single massage at any American establishment, you could enjoy a daily massage right in your room in Thailand. (I might mention, by the way, that while neither inappropriate nor intentionally sexual, every Thai massage I’ve had to date is a bit more intimate than anything I’ve experienced in Europe or the US. To be specific, while they don’t touch the genitalia, they come awfully close. Helps to know that going in, I think!)
Barefoot Resort – Bangkok
For those who have not traveled much in Asia, the drive from the airport to just about anyplace can be quite a culture-shock. In the case of Peace Blue, the airport is located on the northern end of Phuket and the resort is near the very southern tip of the island, which requires a 90-minute drive down the clogged arteries of this tropical island crowded with resorts, scooters, and so many people living amidst a labyrinth of road construction draped in seemingly thousands of power lines. With all the fuss in the West about low emissions and electric cars, I always find myself a bit overwhelmed at sheer number of fossil fuel burning contraptions that over-populate the roadways of Asia. But not to worry, for about $30, Patty will have a driver waiting for you at the airport to get you to the front door of their naturist haven – well worth the investment unless you have a particular fondness for sitting in traffic that would make rush hour on Long Island seem like a peaceful drive in the country.
Oriental Village – Chiang Mai
Finally, I should give a shout-out to the Thailand Naturist Association, leading the pack amidst Asian countries for promoting naturism as a wholesome and holistic, family-oriented activity. (See my previous blog posts called “Naked in Thailand? Why Yes!” or “Thailand Launches a Naturist Publication!” I’d like to think that the pioneers of naturist travel in Thailand will help others realize that even if nudity is not an inherent part of the indigenous culture, a few targeted properties catering to naturists could be a real boon to the economy. It’s most certainly a trend I’m willing to support with my naked tourist dollars.
Been awhile since I made an installment into our Nakation Chronicles, this one documenting our two big expeditions for 2009; our last annual trek to St. Marten, and our second visit to Croatia.
We had been going to SXM every year at about the same time, and we decided to mix things up a bit this particular year by renting a small boat to make our way out to Green Cay. Knowing that, at this writing, Orient Bay is still very much in recovery mode, it always makes me a bit sad to see some of these picture from the glory days.
Our first visit to Croatia was more family oriented, but this time we started in Dubrovnik – just the two of us – and made our way up, with a stop on the Island of Rab, and finally to Koversada, which would subsequently become one of our naturist go-to places. (The apartments there are hard to beat.) We also spent about a week in a stone cottage at Palmizana, not really a naturist place, but with lots of places to get naked – including the neighboring island of Jerolim. Have always wanted to get back there, but haven’t quite figured that out yet. Nearby Hvar is also a great place for nightlife, though not so easy to get to from the Palmizana resort.
You may want to check out the previous Nakation Chronicles installments:
So, it’s September. Our summer travels are over and it’s back to the grind; a time that is always a period of reflection for me as I comb through photos of our travels while I start dreaming about the next adventure for the drawing board.
This time, I came across the photos from our trip to Brazil a couple years ago, realizing that I never actually blogged on our experiences there. Well, that is, at least not in the present or past tense. I did write a post about our perils of trying to to get there in the first place called “Getting Naked in Brazil = Complicated!” At the time, we were living in France, and we simply couldn’t find a way to maneuver the complicated task of getting an American tourist visa to Brazil while residing in France.
Praia do Pinho
What I had NOT expected in response to that post was an admonishing email from a reader who warned me about the covert operations of the naturist movement in Brazil, and offered disquieting news about a particular place in Brazil where he cited a sort of pyramid scheme gone awry that ended in huge monetary losses and even allegations of murder!
Murder!? What the hell??? We already knew you had to be careful about pick-pockets in Rio, but is one really in danger of getting murdered while naked in Brazil?
Cabins at Colina do Sol
Finally, at the end of 2015 (and into the beginning of 2016) we made it to Brazil, book-ending our trip with requisite visits to Rio de Janeiro and Iguazu Falls, with stops along the way at the naturist beach (resort?) Praia do Pinho, and finally, the infamous Colina do Sol – yes indeed, the very place the dude had warned me not to visit. “And for God’s sake, don’t try to buy a house there unless you wanna get dead!”
Spoiler alert. We stayed a week at the place. We didn’t buy a house. And nobody got murdered!
While we were there, we stayed in the “Hotel” Ocara – something of a foreshadowing of our entire experience at Colina do Sol, which might best be described as an amazing idea that never quite came to fruition. It seems that one naturist entrepreneur named Celso Rossi had acquired a large plot of land in the beautiful green hills above Porto Allegre, then proceeded to lay out the plans for an expansive naturist village with summer homes sheltered in a tropical forest, a man-made lake, a full service restaurant and even a hotel. We spent quite a lot of time with Celso during our visit, who we found to be warm and resoundingly enthusiastic about all things naturism, but spoke candidly about the evolution of this naked utopia in Brazil.
The lake at Colina do Sol
The story is long and tangly, but resonated deeply with me as I have a brother who got buried in the complexities of running his own business until he ended up in a negative cash flow situation, using tomorrow’s projected revenue to pay yesterday’s bills – always a landslide in the making. Add to that mix the Socratic (I use the word with trepidation) negotiations of the home owner’s association as various people bought into the dream of their own personal naturist vacation hamlets, and a particularly fervent group of Americans who were going to make Colina do Sol their go to place when it’s cold up here and the middle of summer down there. Even by Celso’s account, the sand started slipping from beneath his toes on his own beach, and the untimely death of one of the homeowners led to speculation and allegations about fiduciary scheming and criminal wrong-doing!
Celso, our host
At the time of our visit, (2016) we stayed in the three story hotel where the top two floors remained unfinished. The lakeside restaurant that had once been the center of social activity had recently closed, and hours on the beach near the lake were decidedly quiet for a summer weekend day, though there were obviously people living in the cabins on the sprawling roads that provided a terrific circuit for morning naturist walks. We were the only guests at the hotel during our stay, and perhaps the first Americans to visit since the whole property management debacle of some years before, so Celso spent many evenings with us, guitar in hand, retelling the dream of his naturist nirvana and his unrelenting passion to see the project move forward, despite the hurdles of the past. At this writing, I think he still lives on the property with his wife, but is no longer involved in the naturist center (restaurant and hotel) that is rumored to be under new management and poised for a renaissance.
The pool – heated by the warm air of Brazil
Would we go back? Despite the unpredictable weather, (It rains a LOT in that part of Brazil!) I liked the place quite a lot (more so than my wife) and could imagine a very pleasant stay in one of the little cabins when there’s nine inches of snow on the ground at home. Seeing video footage of the place when it was at its zenith – ten years ago, perhaps – I found myself longing for the vitality of the naturist centers in Europe, thinking this might be a viable winter alternative on this side of the Atlantic. That was not the case during our visit, but as is the case with most naturist places, timing is everything. It’s most definitely worth keeping an eye on the place, though indeed, I’m not likely to buy a home there!
On patrol at Praia do Pinho
Our other naturist stay in Brazil, with its unremarkably modest accommodations, was at Praia do Pinho, about a 90 minute flight south of Rio. Here again, weather had a significant influence on our impressions of the place where rainy periods significantly outnumbered the sunny ones, and our small room became claustrophobic when sun-worship on the beach simply wasn’t viable. The beach itself turns up on many “most beautiful nude beaches in the world” lists, and I think that designation is well deserved. It simply hadn’t occurred to me that summer in the south of Brazil does not come with the arid climate of summer in the South of France. Interestingly, there were a lot of nice places to stay near Praia do Pinho that would have greatly influenced our overall read on the place, though it’s always difficult to weigh the value of the luxury walking naked from your room to the beach. I suppose it just depends on what you think a nakation actually is.
A walk to the beach
As a footnote to our Brazilian experience, with all the fuss about that scantily clad girl from Ipanema, we saw exactly zero naked people or topless women on the mainstream beaches in Brazil. To be sure, the bikini bottoms looked (uncomfortably!) skimpy, though you see that just about anywhere these days. But suffice it to say, there was nothing on the beaches of Ipanema or Copacabana that would not meet the stringent Facebook rules for public decency – which the seasoned naturist knows to be ridiculously conservative. Like most South American countries, Brazil has its own fair share of prudery that belies the implicit notion that social nudity is really a thing there.
A beautiful county worth exploration? Absolutely.
A naturist destination for the sake of nakation? Sadly… not quite.
About a year ago, I decided to augment this blog about naturist travel – which consists of things I have written about experiences I have had – with a second blog called The Discerning Nudist, dedicated to posting articles that are thoughtfully written, but mainly appear in the mainstream media, hoping that doing so will contribute to the over-arching ideal that naked is normal. Requisite of such a project is the arduous process of searching the web for material about naturism that one might actually call “thoughtful,” let alone effective in giving the reader some concept as to what naturism is actually about.
Photo from European publication about naturism
As it happens, naturism, or nakation as it is often called these days, has been quite frequently in the news as of late, both in mainstream US publications, and any number of newspapers and periodicals abroad. What’s striking, however, is how the sensibilities of social nudity are portrayed in North America compared to that of Europe.
Consider, for example, this excerpt from a British newspaper, The Telegraph, speaking to the recent boom in naturist activities in France…
Some explain the popularity of nudism by an increasing desire to feel liberated from societal norms and the constraints of urban life. Sylvain Villaret, a historian, said: “The practice of naturism is linked with periods of great upheavals. Nowadays people are looking for meaning and many turn to causes like responsible consumption, environmental protection or social solidarity, especially the young. The values of militant naturism are in accord with with these causes.”
Strangely enough, I have always held the perception that the British had the corner of the market on prudery, but even recent changes in law enforcement have reduced public nudity to a nuisance offense at most, and it seems more and more Brits are opting for clothes-free vacations at home and abroad. But then again, I’m not sure they have quite the same enticements one might find in an NBC news-feed…
Last night was crazy. Not in the Las Vegas sense of over-imbibing and forgetting where your hotel room is kind of crazy, but the kind where you go to a toga foam party and everyone ends up naked in a sea of glorious, sudsy, wild debauchery. And that was only the first night I spent at Jamaica’s Hedonism II, a clothing-optional resort situated against the sparkling blue Caribbean Sea.
“Many, many people have at least unconsciously some sexual inhibitions, and they may long to feel less conflicted and more uninhibited,” she says. “Having an entity — like a resort — that other people endorse and subscribe to and gives permission to be extremely uninhibited (and in fact, for our society, unusually permissive), helps these people to feel excited and free in a way they normally cannot.”
Excuse me? The nakation is gaining momentum? Which element of nakation? The toga foam party element or the permission to be extremely uninhibited element?
Photo from American publication about naturism
But wait, let’s try a different source. Say, Forbes Magazine; a publication dedicated to leading business practices that had two features about nude travel in their July publications. Let’s start with the article about “cruising as the sexy way to travel.”
Like Bliss Cruise, Desire Cruise, whose parent company is called Original Group, is more than just a clothing optional experience for older travelers for whom curiosity is burning a hole in their bucket list. The cruises they host offer top notch dining and beverages, spa services, a clothing optional pool and erotic themed nights. According to their website, Desire Cruise invites couples to take their relationship “to the next level.” This, of course, does not refer to a higher deck on the ship.
In fairness, that article talked about several nude cruise options, and that quoted clearly was at the extreme, but then again, if you lead out with the words “nude” and “sexy” in the title, it’s pretty clear where you’re headed.
Photo from European publication about naturism
For another perspective, a female author wrote a quick guide to naturist resorts where she identified the benchmark destination as Hedonism II in Jamaica, a place that has found their marketing niche in helping people leave their inhibitions and their clothing behind.
Considered the granddaddy of clothing-optional resorts, Hedonism II in Negril, Jamaica, has been catering to open-minded travelers since 1976. Guests have the option of staying on the “nude” or “prude” side.
Considered the granddaddy of clothing optional resorts? WOW! Grandpa’s really got it goin’ on!
Under the banner of interesting timing, Nick and Lins of Naked Wanderings just published a very interesting blog post called, Can a Nudist Feel Comfortable in a Sensual Resort? They make a very compelling argument for the live and let live perspective, which I largely agree with – beginning to end. In fact, I have no desire to get into the weeds about the underlying values or morality of one resort versus another, or what people are looking for when they get naked (or not) with their friends. And to reinforce what Nick and Lins have found, the only time we have found ourselves in a awkward position of an unsolicited advance was at a place that was considered by most to be the epitome of holistic naturism.
Photo from American publication about naturism
This is not a matter of whether there should be different strokes for different folks, but more accurately, the inability of the media, and I daresay, most Americans, to discern that there is a difference between a naturist place and a sexual playground! People in France know what to expect when they go to Cap d’Agde, and how a vacation at a family naturist center like Belezy or La Jenny will have a completely different ambiance. But how do you explain that to your next door neighbor on Main Street, USA when even the headline news tells you that social nudity is about foam toga parties, lingerie dances, and embracing open minded ideals. What does that mean, exactly… “open minded?”
I don’t know that I actually fault the American media for broadcasting such a bizarrely mixed message (Or maybe it isn’t mixed at all!) about naturism. It seems that every journalist’s first call is to the AANR (the American Association for Nude Recreation) which has had its own share of problems drawing the line regarding what defines acceptable behavior at a nudist place, starting with the pudding toss, and sliding off the edge about the time the lingerie dance begins. And I have made the case in several other posts that when you’re dealing with a limited demographic, it’s essentially impossible to be all things to all people without pissing most of the people off at one time or another. To that end, it’s not the media circus that’s driving perception, but the paranoia and Puritan ideals of your average soccer mom that is driving the media. How on earth does one stop that vicious cycle?
Only mildly seductive. Does that count?
Twenty years ago, when we first started taking our children to French naturist resorts, I had hoped that one day in our lifetime, the barriers and prejudices related to social nudity in America would go the way of so many civil rights issues. But alas, I fear we live in an age where we have never been so deeply divided by our social, religious, and moral beliefs, which has created nothing less than a feeding frenzy for the press. Why would one think it would be anything less when it comes to a flashpoint topic like social nudity.
It’s quite a conundrum. One American writer states, “‘Nakations’ – or naked vacations, are on the rise and the nude and clothing-optional travel industry is booming.” Part of me is really happy to hear that! Maybe the numbers will grow to a point to where the naturism tourist industry can multiply and divide? But in the meantime, it looks like I either need to book a another plane ticket for Europe, or if I’m staying in my homeland, I’d better allow time to pick up some sexy underwear on the way to the airport.