Actually… things are getting better for naked people

On the beach at Cap d'Agde

On the beach at Cap d’Agde

It’s easy to reminisce about the good ol’ days, when local nudist clubs were thriving in America, when naturist ethical mores were higher, and people were just more laid back about the naked people on the beach. You know, back before the internet.

As a 50-something male, I have pined over the fact that I was born a bit too late to enjoy the “golden days of naturism.” We like to believe that things were better before people became so uptight and paranoid with a desire to legislate every possibly questionable behavior out of existence. While there’s some truth in that, (another rant for another day) I would have to say that things are getting significantly better for naked people. More complicated, perhaps, but better.

From Ile du Levant, c. 1961

From Ile du Levant, c. 1961

My inspiration for making such a bold statement is largely a reaction to having read Stephen L. Harp’s recent book, Au Naturel: Naturism, Nudism, and Tourism in Twentieth-Century France. I fear he won’t get much press outside of academic circles, as even the Kindle edition is really expensive. But given the fact that I’ve spent so much energy over the years touting the naturist glories of France, I thought this would be well worth the investment. And it was.

Harp spends a lot of time setting up the story as he traces the roots of naturism back to early twentieth-century Germany and France. In short, it was a radical movement, embraced by only a few, and held in contempt by most. The early leaders worked tirelessly to convince the government (and the masses) that, along with a diet that restricts meat, alcohol, tobacco, and anything else that tastes good, that direct exposure to the sun will be make you healthy.

A vintage postcard from Cap d'Agde

A vintage postcard from Cap d’Agde

There were various coalitions in those early naturist movements, including a few pioneers in the US, but it’s worth noting that much of what they were fighting for back then would be considered more conservative than the average swimwear you see on just about any beach today. (Especially European beaches – home of the Speedo!) The requirement of le minimum was typical, meaning that while breasts and chests might be exposed, genitalia still needed to be concealed. Of course, there were those who would push the boundaries for full nudity, but they were the daring ones. It would be the early 1960s before people really started getting naked on French beaches. That’s scarcely fifty years ago.

The early days on Ile du Levant

The early days on Ile du Levant

What changed the narrow minds of the masses? Two things; tourism and sex!

My followers know that we’re very keen on Ile du Levant, as we try to make even a brief visit during our annual naturist pilgrimage to France. And I have carefully avoided mentioning that we have twice visited the famous naked city, Cap d’Agde, as the reputation among naturists in the know is dicey at best. “Oh, you’re those kind of naked people!?!”

No. Actually, we’re not. But interestingly enough, when I tell somebody from the US that we enjoy naturist vacations in France, if they know anything about the topic at all, their first question is, “Oh, do you go to that big naked city on the Mediterranean? What’s the name?” And if they’re really in the know, “Aren’t there swingers there?”

What I found most informative about Harp’s history of French naturism was that there has been a consistent pattern over the past hundred years when it comes to humans getting naked. In very general terms, it goes something like this:

  • People were looking for a place to get naked and they found Ile du Levant. The tradition grew until it was no longer possible to mandate, let alone enforce “acceptable behavior,” until eventually, some of the naked people decided to push the boundaries of sexuality. Between nudity and sex, tourism exploded, and this little island became an international destination until the authorities cracked down and a better option materialized.
  • REPEAT: but fill in Cap d’Agde
  • REPEAT: but fill in Florida
  • REPEAT: but fill in any number of “naturist places” that begin with the best of intentions, but at the end of the day, people come to spend their naked dollars (euros, francs) or they don’t. Money speaks louder than an imposed sense of morality.

The “AH HA” moment for me was not that naturism caught on in Europe simply because Europeans are more open minded and free-spirited, but in nearly every case, the right to get naked followed some initiative of commercial development. “Turn these marsh wetlands into a place to get naked, and people will come by the thousands!” Simple supply and demand.

A sea of nakedness at Cap d'Agde

A sea of nakedness at Cap d’Agde

And sure enough, we are seeing similar trends today, even in the US, with offerings like the The Big Nude Boat and some of the Florida resorts that have simply abandoned the guise of what so many of us hold dear as holistic naturism to cater to those with more hedonistic tendencies. The assumption is that if we let people believe that sex might be related to nudity, that the public at large will completely flip out. But if this article in the Huffington Post (What Really Goes On Inside Nudist Resorts) isn’t enough evidence, the only people who are not connecting those dots – at least in the US of A, are the naked people. By and large, the average guy on the street has already made up his mind.

Am I condoning places that advertise themselves as naturist/nudist destinations only as a guise for the crazy sex dens everyone is leering and jeering about? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Am I shunning my commitment to holistic, non-sexual naturism as a truly meaningful way to enjoy life? Again, I say no. But as a fellow blogger put it so succinctly, (Sex and the Conservative Nudist) we are doing a disservice to our own credibility if we refuse to view nude recreation through the eyes of the public at large.

Naked luxury at Cap d'Agde

Naked (concrete) luxury at Cap d’Agde

And to be sure, the Millennials and their younger cousins are growing up in a different world than the pioneers of naturism, with different ideals about sex, nudity, religion, marriage; all salted with a sense of paranoia instilled by a generation of helicopter parents. But amidst it all, I’m sitting naked on the porch of a Hawaiian yurt bantering about nudity. While some of the old nudist camps have quietly disappeared, there is a greater variety of opportunity for people to get naked than ever before… all over the world. And on the day of this writing, people are taking to the streets with the #freethenipple campaign – a war that’s already been won in New York City. That’s a long country mile from requiring le minimum on a beach in the South of France just a few decades ago.

Maybe the Millennials will help us all sort out some of the sexual hang-ups of the past. My guess is that, as in the past, supply and demand will even things out. As long as there are people who embrace holistic nudity, – whatever that means – there will be places to do that. As long as there are people who want to push that boundary, there will be a market for that as well.

How is that different than anything else that’s trending in the world right now?

A POST SCRIPT to my readers in France: Harp goes on to talk about CHM Montilivet and the other resorts on the Aquitaine as well as those in Provence and in the Ardèche, noting that these places have largely held true to the early naturist core values, while at the same time, benefiting from the local government’s desire to increase tourism. As long time patrons at La Jenny, we are most grateful for that. No such phenomenon has yet to occur in the US.

Photos for this post were found on the internet. If I used your photo without permission, let me know and I’ll change it out.

Why France is such a great place to get naked.

So we’ve been in Europe for about five weeks now. Four weeks in France, and now, several days in Greece.

Headed for the port on Ile du Levant

Headed for the port on Ile du Levant

Much of the time in France this summer was work related, though we were able to steal away for a couple nights on the magical Ile du Levant, and carved out a week at our “go to” place, La Jenny, before jetting off to the dependably blue skies and turquoise seas of Greece. We like getting naked in Greece, and in Croatia, and if the conditions are right, in the Caribbean and Germany as well. But at the end of the day, France gets the prize.

If we’re going strictly from a meteorological point of view, even the best parts of France can be tricky. Get a cold front on the Atlantic coast, or a severe dose of the Mistral blowing up from the Mediterranean, and your week or two of sun-worshiping can become a soggy or sand-blasted mess! The Adriatic and Aegean Seas are much more predictable in the Vitamin D consumption department.

But here’s some interesting data…

Near the vineyard at Club Origan

Near the vineyard at Club Origan

When I make a new blog post that I think might be of interest to a certain demographic or group, I tend to post a link on a relevant message board, such as clothesfree.com or the British Naturist Corner. Despite my limited abilities of being conversant in French, I have particularly enjoyed being part of the VivreNu community – the comprehensive resource for naturism in France. After a year’s absence, (as I’ve not done much naturist blogging over the past 11 months)  I posted a link to a recent blog post on VivreNu. Within one or two hours, “referred click-throughs” from VivreNu had nearly outnumbered that from any other country, including that of the good old (but decidedly prudish) US of A.

In other words, the naturist community in France is alive and thriving. I’m not really a facts and figures guy, but from an anecdotal point of view, I would say that the French people have fewer hang-ups about casual encounters with naked people, while French families seem to be the most likely (along with the Germans and the Dutch) to go on a family “nakation.” It was this very phenomenon that drew us into French naturism in the first place, and if the VivreNu data is of any consequence, it seems that France continues to grab the brass ring when it comes to going on holiday with nothin’ but the radio on!

Truthfully, I’m not fond of gross generalizations. And there are a lot of great places to get naked in Europe, and I predict that there will be more and more opportunities for no-tan-line vacations in Asia and South America in the coming years, but for now –

On the beach near La Jenny

On the beach near La Jenny

All hail to nakedness in France, and those who celebrate the right to bare all amidst vineyards, sunflowers, and historic chateau. France will always be the place where naturism genuinely made sense to me – in a way that I had dreamt it should be – and for that, I am forever grateful to the people who are able to say “a breast is a breast, a penis is a penis, and it appears everyone sports a remarkably similar pair of buttocks!”

Viva la France.

La Jenny plage

La Jenny plage

Sorry if you’re offended by my elbow…

Today was a good day.

I spent most of it sitting naked by the pool at a quaint little naturist resort on Rhodes (Greece), which allowed the luxury of a day of dozing and pleasure reading. And indeed, it was a pleasure to read Mark Haskell Smith’s Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World. i’ll get around to posting a full blown book review in the coming days as I think this is a must-read for anyone interested in nudity; pro, con, or indifferent.

An afternoon dip in Montenegro
An afternoon dip in Montenegro

As I reached the end of the book, one of those silly internet quiz games came to mind, like this one, where you try to guess whether you’re looking at a picture of an ass or an elbow. While I don’t have statistical evidence of this, it seems that most people pretty-much fail these tests outright. When put to the task, most are unable to distinguish one from the other. In other words, all our family photos of arms in flexion should have been confiscated by the WalMart photo guy as pornographic – just a simple crop and Photoshop away from the photo line-up of inter-generational asses!

Forest walk the South of France
Forest walk in the South of France

What’s most brilliant about Smith’s book is his assertion that being offended lies mainly in the eyes – or more accurately, the acculturation – of the beholder, well illustrated by the fact that in many parts of the world, the exposure of a woman’s elbow would be considered way more heinous than a guy like me dropping his clothes and walking naked through Barcelona. (Which up to a couple years ago, used to be legal, by the way.) After chatting up all the leaders of various naturist movements at play in the last fifty years, he concludes that the crazy ones are not the naked ones, but the people who can’t handle looking at them – or even simply knowing about them.

In any case, here’s where I think Smith delivers his knock-out punch

“Society needs to come to terms with the fact that some of us like pleasurable pursuits. A person shouldn’t feel guilt or shame for being naked any more than someone should feel guilt or shame for enjoying a ripe peach. So what if people want to go skinny-dipping at the beach? If it really bothers you, maybe you need to take a long look at yourself and figure out why it bothers you. Just because you’re offended doesn’t give you the right to keep someone from enjoying their own body and the environment. Two things we all share. Two things that are free of charge.”

I don’t want to throw out a spoiler, but this is coming from a guy who didn’t consider himself a nudist before writing the book, and admittedly, doesn’t consider himself a nudist after writing the book, despite the fact that he must have spent the better part of a year hanging out naked (sorry for the pun) while researching why people get naked, and investigating the psychological mêlée surrounding people who love getting naked, as well as the people who freak out when they hear there is nakedness occurring on the beach down the road.

"Point de vue" in the South of France
“Point de vue” in the South of France

Funny thing is, I have vivid memories from my adolescence when a local swimming hole became so controversial that it made the headlines of the local newspaper for weeks on end. (I was a paperboy, so I was tracking it closely.) It seems the problem was two fold; the first being that people were getting naked and jumping off the bridge into the river, but secondly, this became such a popular pastime for so many that parking and facilities became a real issue. People were blocking the driveways of the local residents, and lacking a better option, peeing on their trees. But by the time it hit the newspapers, crowd management wasn’t the offense – public nudity was the culprit, which led to strict legislation that would make any incident that involved nakedness a serious offense with “one-strike – you’re out” kinds of penalties. My father, who I always thought to be quite open-minded, applauded the authorities for shutting down the hippies at the river. “Why would anybody in their right mind want to be swimming naked anyway?” It was probably the first time I realized that I was a naturist at heart, as I tried to figure out if I could ride my bicycle to this place. It never happened. The whole thing was shut down before I could save enough money to buy myself a map.

A couple photos in this post are from a little villa we rented on a mountain overlooking the stunning Bay of Kotor in Montenegro a few years ago. We had a private veranda with a small pool, where we could watch the cruise ships creep in and out of the harbor. The neighboring villas on each side were closed up for the season, so while we weren’t sure whether we should be naked at the pool, we thought it was worth the risk, especially given the fact that people seem more tolerant about nudity on the Adriatic than almost anyplace in the world. On at least two or three occasions, a lovely Serbian woman from three doors down would magically appear on our veranda, either to look after the villa for the owners, or to deliver freshly picked grapes and figs, or a homemade pastry fresh out of the oven. And there we were, unable to conjure up a single word in her language, unsure of how Serbians felt about nakedness, only to respond with a smile – which was reciprocated each and every time. We were naked. She was kind. Nobody got hurt.

Morning stroll on Ile du Levant
Morning stroll on Ile du Levant

Isn’t that the way it should be? I’m not crazy about tattoos and have chosen not to get one, but I have little concern for those who enjoy them. I do have issues with people who fly the Confederate flag, despite the numerous explanations I have heard as to how that doesn’t imply what it seems to me it would imply. In short, I find that offensive, just as I find some of the political propaganda signs that appear in my neighbors’ yards to be offensive. But that is my choice to be offended – in this case, quite likely the desired effect of the offender! (I could launch into an entirely new tangent about the right to be offended in the land of the free, but I think you get my drift.)

Covering one's ass is now a requirement on Orient Beach
Covering one’s ass is now a requirement on Orient Beach

But when I walk naked on the beach, i have no desire to offend anyone. In fact, I go out of my way to avoid offending people as best I can. But as many have noted, someone taking offense could lead to any number of untoward consequences, from compromising one’s career to being labelled as a sex offender. Unlike today, that would not be a good day.

All that ruckus… when you have to take a double take at the photographic evidence to determine whether you’re offended by my elbow, or my ass.

Really?

Naturist Odyssey: NAKED CROATIA!

Should you be foolish enough to pick an argument with an acquaintance at a cocktail party about the birth time and place of European naturism, you’re likely to find three viable contenders in the final round for this illustrious title; Germany, France, and… CROATIA! The last of which, by the way, owes much of its naturist reputation to its proximity to Germany, but I’ll get to that in a while.

Regulars on my blog are already well acquainted with my infatuation with French naturism, and the various resorts that have come to define our own personal sense of family naturist nirvana. But as I kept digging deeper into the adverts and propaganda directed at those suffering from chronic-sun-addiction-disorder, names like Koversada and Valalta kept resurfacing in naturist guides and pre-Google-era web searches! Strangely enough, I had a vague awareness of this eastern European phenomena, as my first trip to Europe was in 1985 when I was in college; a trip that included a wide swing through (what was then) Yugoslavia, which generated a fair number of wise-cracks on the bus, “Hey, we should go to the beach and see the naked Germans!”

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Valalta

At twenty-two years of age, I had not yet ‘come out’ as a naturist, but at the time, I thought the whole thing sounded pretty intriguing. Given our two-day stopover in Zagreb, I hadn’t the vaguest idea as to where we were in relation to the nearest naturist beach or nudist resort. Turns out that beach would have been at least four hours away, on the Istrian peninsula on the Adriatic Sea.

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Beachcombing on Hvar

Before I continue, I should proclaim that with this post, I am making a decisive departure from the documentary style of our Naturist Odyssey across Europe that I had intended to post – blow-by-blow – last summer as we actually forged our way some 10,000 kilometers from Spain to Greece. (You can read about that here.) My journalistic ambitions were thwarted by poor Internet connections and a limited skill-set in navigating the blogosphere, so I finally gave up. That’s a particularly important point, as I have decided to use this post to encapsulate five different visits to naturist Croatia over a period of the last ten years, amalgamating trip reports from 2005, 2008, 2011, 2012, and 2013. The consequence is a series dated photos and details that may well be lacking in the realm of immediacy and accuracy, but my desire here is to capture the prevailing sense and atmosphere of naturism in Croatia.

That said, during the 2013 Naturist Odyssey, we made an early departure from Origan Village (in the foothills above Nice) with the objective of blasting straight across the admittedly prudish region of northern Italy (more about that in a future post) to reach naked Croatia by nightfall at the end of the day. Remarkably, our mission was accomplished, despite an aggravating, bumper-to-bumper, final approach down the narrow highway that leads to Istria, where 90% of Croatian naturist activity takes place. This particular time, our destination was the naturist apartment complex at Koversada; a sprawling property self-proclaimed as the largest naturist resort in all of Europe!

Modest apartment at Valalta

Modest apartment at Valalta

This would be our second visit to Koversada, our fourth visit to Istria, and in all, our fifth visit to Croatia. At the risk of being redundant and/or patronizing, it is worth reiterating the fact that Croatia is a part of former Yugoslavia, which was a ‘nation’ created in the wake of WWII, held together for nearly four decades with bailing wire, a charismatic dictator, and a good deal of imagination when it came to creating reasonably attractive seaside resorts with little in the way of external (or internal) capital investment. As one might imagine, the result of all this can be found in hotels and seaside apartment complexes that are… almost… luxurious! Things have improved, significantly, since our first visit in 2005, but suffice it to say, if you’re accustomed to traveling in Western Europe, once in Croatia, you will know that you’re in Eastern Europe.

Gazing at Koversada

Gazing at Koversada

Our first venture in 2005 included a mid-June visit to Valalta, near the Lim Fjord on the Istrian Penninsula, where you can see Koversada on the facing shore. I have recounted elsewhere in these pages the deep affections my children held for a place called La Jenny in the southwest of France, but to put it bluntly, the weather on the Cote d’Argent (southwest France) can be unpredictable at best. Seasoned travelers in the know suggested that we would have a better chance at winning the New York lottery than experiencing a rainy day on the Adriatic, so we took the bait, and as it happened, had a week of postcard-perfect weather in this Croatian naturist resort during the summer of 2005.

By this time, our kids were in their late teens, and I have vivid recollections of our youngest daughter trying to recreate the French naturist experience at the dance party near the Valalta pool. “A+ for effort,” but it simply wasn’t the same. Of course not, we were 1000 kilometers, and a million miles away from France. Sadly, that was the last time our entire family embarked on a naturist adventure to Europe. It wasn’t bad – it just wasn’t French!

Nice apartment at Koversada

Nice apartment at Koversada

But wait! Before you dismiss Croatia as a viable family naturist destination, I need to mention the calm, warm-water inlets, the deep blue skies, and the local eateries with lamb or roast pig on the spit; or the fact that especially in the northern region, almost any beach is a naturist beach! While traditionally Catholic Croatians aren’t so keen on naked sunbathing, they are quick to realize the value of the tourist revenue to be had from the good (naked) people of nearby Italy and Germany.

Modest nudist sculpture

Bashful nudist sculpture at Koversada

That, along with the weather, was enough to inspire us to venture back to Croatia four more times, with a penchant for more adventurous explorations to the islands of Rab and Hvar, the historical cities of Dubrovnik and Split, and two additional visits to the Istrian peninsula, with extended stays in the lovely, remodeled apartments at naturist Koversada that afford the luxuries of modern living (thinking dishwashers and air conditioning here) along with a stunning view of the Adriatic Sea.

To date, we have stayed once at Valalta (2005), twice at Koversada (2012 and 2013), made a day visit to a third major resort called Solaris (2012), and have worked our way down through the Dalmatian Islands with stops on the island of Rab (supposedly the birthplace of Croatian naturism), the large island of Hvar (including the lovely little naturist islet of Jerolim), and even paid a visit to a small naturist beach on an island near Dubrovnik, which as it turns out, proved to illustrate a very important point…

Croatia is a stunningly beautiful region! In fact, I dare say, with the dissolution of the Yugoslavian state, the Croatians ended up with the lion’s share of magnificent beachfront property! But typical tourist Croatia – Dubrovnik, Split, and Hvar – is a significant distance from the “bazillion naked Germans” Croatia, where you may, indeed, find Europe’s largest naturist resorts with loads of naked Europeans during the months of July and August. But all those naked people are a long day or two of travel from Hvar and Dubrovnik.

In fact, one of the most startling moments during our journey down the Adriatic coast was our visit to the island of Rab, renowned for her remote and exquisitely beautiful naturist beaches. We set out one day on foot to find said beaches when finally, upon discovery, overheated and dehydrated, I doffed my shorts underneath the sign that indicated we were on an FKK (naturist) beach. I waded out into the tranquil shallows, only to realize that I was the only naked guy on the entire beach! Nobody seemed to care, but I had clearly failed the ‘blend in with the locals’ test. Never had I been so cognizant of the fact that guidebooks, even naturist guidebooks, are outdated the day they are printed! Naturism may have been allowed on this beach, but it most certainly wasn’t the common practice on the day of our visit.

Beach day on Jerolim

Beach day on Jerolim

Once this post is up, I will go to work on a new photo gallery that should provide a good sense of naturist life in Croatia. We will go back one day, but as it turns out, the Adriatic weather can be temperamental as well as we have learned that Croatia is not a slam-dunk guarantee for uninterrupted sunshine. But swimming in the Adriatic is hard to beat, and for those who enjoy exploring the rocky coastline, there are an infinite number of places where jumping naked into the sea is completely acceptable.

In the meantime, the Istrian peninsula remains the principal naturist region, near the quasi-Italian villages of Rovinj and Poreč. Friends tell me Valalta is reaching out to make naturism more relevant to the modern naturist, which I take to mean they are updating accommodations and working to create dining and entertainment options that will keep your tourist dollars in the resort. I would rent our sweet little apartment at Koversada again in a heartbeat, as a naked afternoon at the fish restaurant on the adjoining naturist island there constitutes an indescribably delicious slice of nirvana. And even though we have only made a perfunctory visit to Solaris, I would stay there without hesitation as well – a smaller resort with newer apartments, and a great little pool area overlooking the sea. Given that these incredible naturist places are roughly a six-hour drive south from Munich, (ironically, much closer than driving from Dubrovnik!) it seems you could hardly go wrong if your main objectives are sun, swimming, and the sensuality that is a nakation.

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Baywatch on the Lim Fjord

In my humble opinion, there are two Croatias; one that caters to westerners who are willing and able to pay the price to stay in five-star hotels, and another that is a bit more earthy, where people go to lay out on innumerable and expansive rocky slabs for an all-over tan. We are quite enamored with each, but have come to realize that you can’t do it all in a week!

You may also be interested in our other Naturist Odyssey installments:

A Half-Million Naked Germans Can’t be Wrong!

It’s a lazy Sunday morning and I was looking for something interesting to read when I came across this thread on the Young Naturists America (YNA) page about their ongoing efforts (and to date, some recent successes) in normalizing coed nudity in an urban spa setting, where people can hang out for a few hours of relaxed, social interaction… without clothes!

Meditating womanThe article spawned a lengthy and somewhat argumentative banter amidst readers who challenged the business model, the legalities, and even the likelihood that such a place could ever exist in the United States, suggesting that even if it did, it would fall to the immediate infestation of male voyeurs looking for a cheap thrill. The debate has meandered on while the young entrepreneurs at YNA have quietly gone about creating such a place at a New Jersey health club, if only during limited hours on a weekly basis. A brilliant move in the spirit of “I’m going to build it while you tell me why it can’t be done.”

What I simply don’t understand is how we, – and I’m trying to avoid nationalist-driven superlatives here – such a well educated, well traveled, and by comparison, well moneyed population, who live in the land of the free and the brave, can be so incredibly closed minded when it comes to anything that has to do with social nudity, while our European counterparts are floating happily about in a sea of inter-generational nakedness that feels about as deviant as a day at the minor-league ballpark!

Therme bar

Therme Erding

Take Therme Erding near Munich, for example, which is about the most compelling reason I can think of to begin any European journey with a good long soak, given it’s convenient location near the Franz Joseph (MUC) International Airport. It is from this article in an international business magazine that I have derived the title of this blog post, noting that in 2007 they expanded operations in the clothing optional Sauna World to handle a daily capacity of over 1500 visitors per day, 364 days per year. One might say, “Well yeah, but how often do they hit capacity?” Having visited at least eight or ten times now, each time on a different day of the week, at various times during the year, it appears that it’s just about every day! Try and find two empty lounge chairs after 11:00 am on any morning is like looking for a parking space at the mall on December 23rd. (Click here for yet another perspective on this theme park for grownups; a particularly animated review from a British perspective.)

Under the banner of ‘what’s possible?’ you might want to take a look at one of their promotional videos, or even dig around on their website for a while. But it’s pretty easy to let an entire day slip by floating in the lazy river, sweating away your stress in a themed sauna, reading or taking a nap in one of the atmospheric quiet rooms, or simply socializing over a naked Erdinger Weissbeer at the swim-up bar, under the shade of real palm trees and a protective glass dome that brings Tahiti to Bavaria every day of the year.

Sauna von Egmond

Sauna von Egmond

It would be impressive if this were the only place in Europe where one is afforded a day of clothing optional recreation, but in fact, these mega spas can be found throughout northern Europe, each one seeking out a distinctive marketing edge congruent with the region, and the people who are drawn there. (Some are only clothing optional on certain days of the week, while others only allow swimsuits during designated hours.) Consider the Ludwigsfelde Therme near Berlin, seemingly the flagship of the Kristall Therme chain, but with extended hours that cater mostly to those who wish to bathe textilfrei (or Naked!). Or Mediterana near Cologne, where the pools are a bit more on the tepid side, but the specialty here is a pervasive sense of Zen. My favorite ‘attraction’ is a large room where everyone sits on a tiled bench around the perimeter, feet immersed over the calves in warm water, while a mesmerizing fire draws your attention away from the other naked onlookers.

Sauna von Egmond

Sauna von Egmond

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the Netherlands share Germany’s gloomy climate that the naked spa culture is alive and thriving there as well. To date, we have only managed to find our way to two Dutch spas, but Elysium near Rotterdam apparently set the bar years ago for what many of the newer places in Germany seek to emulate today, where my favorite space is something like an IMAX theater where cinematic images of nature and wildlife are cast in 360 degrees around the room, but the seating consists of tile recliners submerged in a warm pool. Or how about the quirky Sauna von Egmond on a side street in Haarlem – smallish by comparison, but reminiscent of Gene Wilder’s imagined private quarters at the Wonka Chocolate Factory, with a surrealist décor, a deliciously warm pool, several dry saunas to help one thaw from the winter chill, and a particularly intimate reading room with a fireplace equipped with huge leather couches, where regulars curl up to read the Sunday paper over a cup of tea.

Mediterana

Mediterana

Interestingly enough, I don’t believe any of these places consider themselves a part of the commercial naturist industry such as the huge resorts in Spain, France, or Croatia; nor is their marketing strategy aimed at people who identify themselves as naturists! In fact, for those who are accustomed to visiting naturist places, it takes a bit of effort and patience to fully grasp the culture of nudity at the spa, where in fact, each and every spa seems to have it’s own unique culture. It’s typically a delicately choreographed dance between one’s robe, a bath towel, and nakedness. Where each is acceptable and/or appropriate varies from place to place, sometimes day to day. And it makes sense when you think about it. These are not places that cater to people who insist on being naked. These are places that market to people who aren’t afraid to be naked.

YNAI have much admiration for the good people at YNA who are working so diligently to encourage a similar ideology in the New York metropolitan area, and having lived much of my life on the west coast, I know there are similar places where such environments have survived within a successful business model. We were once regulars at a little place called Frogs in Marin County, which apparently embraces a very similar ethos to the Common Ground Cooperative in Portland, Oregon. And, in fact, the interesting nuance of the aforementioned business article about Therme Erding is that they, the owners and investors, were responding to an evolving market as well. One that supersedes that more traditional spa culture in Germany with famous bathhouses in places like Baden-Baden or Wiesbaden; each of which still exist, but are seemingly spending most of their energy catering to American tourists who take a once-in-a-life time dare to get bare, while the new super-spas in Munich, Stuttgart, and Berlin are pulling in another half-million customers a year – few of them naturists – all of them naked.

Elysium near Rotterdam

I am well acquainted with the prevailing arguments about prudery and paranoia in America, but it occurs to me that not everyone in Europe is eager to drop their worries with their clothes as well. In fact, only a mere half-million per year in metropolitan Bavaria!  Maybe what America is really lacking is a bit of imagination and a new marketing plan!

Nude at 100 Paces

[Not to be confused with my post on 100 Naked Places!]

So a few weeks ago, while staying at Vera Playa, we decided to exploit a particularly lovely morning with a leisurely walk down the beach. Having done my homework before departure for this, our first visit to this famous naturist town on the Andalusia coast, (you can read that report here) I had a pretty good sense of the general layout of the authorized naturist zones, as compared to the nudity tolerated zones, well delineated on the most excellent map on the Vera Playa friends webpage where the color fades away to indicate, “You have now left naturist wonderland! Have a nice day!”

Playing 100 paces at Vera Playa

Playing 100 paces at Vera Playa

Of course, I didn’t bother to print out the map before heading off to Spain, and it seemed less than practical to lug along my MacBook as we meandered down the broad sandy shoreline, simply for the benefit of adhering to these rather arbitrary borders on this Spanish beach where the law reads that any beach can be a naturist beach, as long as you don’t offend the locals. Well! That pretty much clears things up! How far can we walk naked until we should turn around or cover up? And how do we assess the attitude of the locals as to their collective threshold for taking personal offense?

How about this for a possible guideline: As long as we can see another naked person, it’s all good!

Naked or not, here we are!

Naked or not, here we are!

Intellectually, that policy makes a lot of sense to me, though in practice, the margin of error related to such real-time-decision-making is incredibly wide. For starters, how does one identify “the locals,” and once having done so, how do you determine whether or not they are offended? That topless middle-aged woman reading a book on the beach – is she a local? How about that nude woman simply lying out, working on her all-over tan? Is she a local? And what about that naked guy walking the beach about 100 paces in front of us? He doesn’t seem to be offending anyone. Oh wait! He’s not naked!

As we close in to about 70 paces, we notice he’s wearing one of those little nylon bathing suits that European men seem to prefer, in a color that might be best identified as “skin tone.” And it turns out one of the nude women is, in fact, only topless, adorned by a very small piece of fabric that, even at 50 paces, has created the appearance of one who is fond of that natural look below the waist. We turned this into sort of a game, “I can tell if that person is naked at ___ (fill in the blank) paces!” Followed by discrete, observation-based research during which we each had to adhere to the golden rule of the nude beach – DON’T STARE!

Clothed in the shadows

Clothed in the shadows

Long time Vera Playa patrons might be appalled to learn that we (quite by accident!) walked all the way to Garrucha, which is most definitely beyond the delineations of the naturist zone that adjoins Vera Playa. It was a Tuesday morning in May, so there were few tourists on the beach, and you could see life running full tilt up in the city near the port. Our pace accelerated as we were eager to walk the length of the beach, but we weren’t too crazy about getting in trouble with the local authorities for indecent exposure, and even more so, we are typically very sensitive about doing anything under the banner of pushing the envelope (e.g. being naked where you’re not supposed to) as that may well lead to negative consequences for the authorized naturist area down the way. But, alas, we were able to adhere to our “naked person in sight” rule for the duration of our outing, thanks to a couple of liberated young women who had settled in for a good read not far from their mainstream hotel.

But finally, to my point! Assuming “a pace” is between two and three feet (For the purpose of this argument, we’ll stretch the truth a bit to equal “one yard.”) and most of us can easily visualize the length of a football field as a measurement of 100 yards, it turns out that it’s really quite difficult to discern whether someone is naked or not from the distance of 100 paces. In fact, in many cases, depending on the color, cut, or size of the swimwear, it can be difficult to tell if a person is naked at 50 paces, or even 25 paces if that person is fond of flesh-tone bathers. And having gone that far, I have to say that even at 25 paces, depending on juxtaposition, lighting, and I truly hate to say this… body condition, it can be very difficult to discern whether you’re looking at a topless woman, or a “well endowed” man. But alas, regardless of breast size, topless men have been socially acceptable for nearly a century now.

Swimsuits required in Trinidad!

Swimsuits required in Trinidad!

What I find most intriguing about this topic, however, is the nuance of just what people find offensive about public nudity in the first place, when one really needs a very keen eye to discern the degree of nakedness when that person is more than at arm’s length. I find this particularly curious in the United States, where there are only three officially recognized nude beaches in the entire country. THREE! And the recurring theme at the official and non-official nude beaches in America is the ongoing problem with gawkers – those people who feel compelled to stand along the cliffs of the California coast to gaze upon the naked people playing Frisbee on the beach below. Really? At the distance of 200 paces, can you even discern who is naked, let alone, the corresponding genders or body proportions? The more resourceful voyeurs may arrive with binoculars and telephoto lenses, but really, is it worth all that? It’s sort of the same argument of watching a football game on portable TV while you’re sitting in the stadium so you can actually see who did what on the field, but in this case, you’re not trying to identify the players, but very specific (and relatively small) body parts. So much work for so little reward!

Yet the hysteria and paranoia about public nudity remains at a feverish pitch, as someone may well be offended by another’s nakedness, to the point that there have been recent citations and arrests on US beaches as a result of mothers helping their 2-year-olds change into a swimsuit – in public – on the beach! Such “reckless behavior” apparently represents child endangerment. Try that as an adult, and you risk being labeled a sexual predator.

grid-cell-28659-1403703499-21Apparently, in the minds of so many, the simple state of nudity can’t be as innocent as purported… by naturists… to be. I defer, once more, to Philip Carr-Gomm (A Brief History of Nakedness, 2010) where he quotes Pope John Paul II, “Nakedness itself is not immodest… Immodesty is present when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person, when its aim is to arouse concupiscence, [had to look that one up!] as a result of which the person is put in a position of an object for enjoyment.” As best I can tell, even the Pope thought it OK to be naked if your nakedness is devoid of the intent of personal exploitation or the desire to offend. But clarification, please! Is that from 100 paces away? 1000 paces away? Within sight of the people behind you on the beach, who decide to turn you in to the ranger for an accidental display of nipplage? How’s a naturist to know?

Those of us who take delight in simple and forthright naturist pursuits bear the burden of seeing ourselves as others see us – naked. It will be interesting to see if the people marketing the nipple bikini (pictured above) actually end up promoting the cause for positive public nudity, or simply stir up another round of hysteria as onlookers pull out the cameras and magnifying devices to discern – “Are those really your breasts, or are they just painted on?” History suggests the pendulum swings back and forth on issues like this over time, but as best I can tell, it’s been a while since the pendulum has moved in a direction that favors the naturist cause.

A thousand paces more...

A thousand paces more…

So much ado… about (wearing) nothing!

Thailand launches a Naturist Publication!

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Thailand’s new Naturist Association publication.

So while we’ll be making Provence our home base for much of next year, we plan to take every opportunity we can to knock a few other travel destinations off our bucket list – naturist or otherwise.  (Hoping we can negotiate one of those round-the-world plane tickets, but we’re still working on that!)  We’ve already made reservations at a naturist resort in Chaing Mai, Thailand called Oriental Village.  Looks like that will be a lovely place to stay. But while seeking out other places to get naked in Thailand, I found a link to this first naturist publication to promote naturism IN Thailand!  WOW!  Since a weblink is worth a thousand words, here’s a link to NAT MAGAZINE.  It’s beautifully written, with loads of information for the freshly minted naturist, and incredibly helpful to people like us, who have wondered for years why so many of the world’s best beaches are wasted on people in swimsuits!

One big step for naked people EVERYwhere!