Special thanks to Nick and Lins, the Naked Wanderers, who agreed to let me use their photos for this post. We have a lot of naturist photos, but not so many from our 30s – and they’re actually in their 30s, which makes this all seem a bit more relevant. If you don’t know their site, and if you’re not following them on Instagram, you need to do that!
If you’re a follower of our blog, you’ve come to know our friend Addie – the one who’s recently come to realize that she’s a hard-wired naturist, and like those who have gone before, has developed something of an obsession with the cause. She had become “part of our family” for quite a long time before she would practice naturism with us, but come to find out more recently, she had been a naked yoga enthusiast at home, even when her boyfriend (at the time) thought it a peculiar habit. In short, her story goes a long way to lend support the argument: naturists are born, not made.
What’s particularly intriguing now is that Addie has made something of a party game out of revealing her preference for clothes-free recreation, travel, and I suspect if she had her way about it, everyday life. And as an enthusiastic and compelling person by nature, she has been quite successful in demystifying social nudity for her closest friends, and is well on the way to converting them into the mindset of, “Yeah, I’d do that.” Throw in a story like her recent blog post about her visit to Paya Bay, and suddenly they’re all planning a naked “galentines day” and maybe even a group nakation to some exotic destination.
As she boasted recently that she thought she had made another convert, it suddenly occurred to me that this probably goes a bit differently for a young woman than it would for a guy of the same age. Truthfully, I can’t even say my data is skewed, as I simply don’t have any. By the time I was Addie’s age, I had been married for a few years, and while we were, just then, exploring our naturist inclinations as a young married couple, we found ourselves reticent to share our proclivity for clothes-free recreation with our friends. Granted, it was a different era thirty years ago – nestled between the Summer of Love and the advent of so many stories of sexual abuse by the Church and in the schools. What’s more, most of our friends at that time were either affiliated with our involvement in the church or through our work in the public schools. Were we simply just being prudent, or were we suffering from unnecessary cowardice? Probably a combination of both, but especially once there were kids in the equation, we found it more complicated than not to broach the topic of nude recreation – even as a party game.
But let’s face it – finding friends as a young naturist couple may well be more complicated than identifying like-minded humans as a single. In fact, if you’re lucky enough to be in a relationship where both partners enjoy social nudity, the chances of finding others where both members share such naked desires are slim to none, unless you gather the nerve to visit the local nudist resort – which has been documented time and again as related to the infrequency of young naked people. Wow. This just gets more and more complicated.
But back on topic, Addie doesn’t suffer from the inherent constraints of religious induced body-shame, (She’s not a religious person.) and has created a self-identity in other parts of her life that would read something like, “Do what you want, but I really don’t care to conform to your societal norms just to avoid the risk of offending some unknown stranger. You go to the mall – I’m going to sit on the back porch and read a good book – naked.”
But what if a 30-year-old guy introduces this ideology during the half-time banter of the Superbowl?
“So dudes, I was thinking that we should start planning that weekend bash for spring break and I know this great place in Mexico where we could be naked all weekend!” Galentines Day or a girl’s weekend at a nude yoga retreat sounded like cutting edge, but somehow, I imagine that same proposal from a male member of the species would elicit a very different response.
“Dude! Did you just suggest we all go get naked together? Will there be hot girls there? Or hey… is there something you need to tell us about your… you know… sexual persuasion and shit like that?”
And that’s just if you’re making a pitch for a single gender endeavor. Walk into a coed gathering and propose that next week the party will be at your parents’ house with a private yard and a pool, but hey – “NO SWIMSUITS ALLOWED!” – and see how that goes over!
Again, I can only hypothesize on this, as Addie has already approached more of her friends in the past year than I have over the course of my thirty-some years as a naturist, but my educated guess is that when a guy initiates the conversation about coed social nudity, people are much more likely to respond with either some hint of homophobia, or worse yet, they will immediately assign some flavor of predatory association with the underlying intent. “Sure – that’s a quick and easy way to surround yourself with naked women! Don’t be a creeper!”
I suspect a well-grounded anthropologist could draw up a quick and easy case as to how this goes back to the prehistoric interactions between the male and female of the human species. You can find several entries in my blog where I grapple with the elements of sexuality in the naturist context [See: Making Waves in the Naturist Pool for starters] as there’s no question that there is a biological blueprint at play that is intended to perpetuate the species. And to that end, my naturist Instagram account suggests that there are plenty of women who are willing to bare all to expedite the procreation process – or at least the physical pleasure part of that.
But what if a male is wired like Addie? “I do have standards, and I would be happy to come to your naked party, but no… the evening is not going to end in the bedroom. I just think it’s more fun to party naked!” A girl saying that sounds credible. A guy saying that sounds like a wolf in no clothing.
Seems there was a trend ten or fifteen years ago that was particularly prevalent at Ivy League colleges called, quite simply, naked parties. My read on it was that there were intelligent young people who were seeking to be more real with one another, and in an effort to accomplish that, everyone would check their clothing at the door, somehow in agreement of an unspoken code of ethics that this will be just like any other party, except, hey – it feels genuine and refreshing to reveal our naked selves in a social context.
Has that gone away? Was it a failed experiment where those events morphed into unbridled orgies? Or are we simply a society on an increasingly conservative trajectory that has caved to the fact of an ideology that says, “I’m a weak human and I’m about to get drunk, and naked or not, I’m sorry I can’t be responsible for my actions by the end of the night! If we’re all naked and drunk, I’m sorry I ended up on top of you.” Hmm… that may not subscribe to the tenants of anyone’s naturist charter.
I should be clear, I’m not trying to make this into a #metoo for males. In fact, perhaps pointing out that most men, especially straight men, are not comfortable with their bodies, or their self-image, or how they are perceived by others, or to be specific, their ability to exert self-control amidst visual stimulation. (That’s clearly a problem even in situations where NOBODY is naked!)
Despite the fact that I’m well beyond Addie’s age bracket, I have to say, I’m quite envious of her ability to advocate for the naturist cause. I’d love to join the crusade, but as a guy, I’m just not sure it would play out quite the same way.
How is it that a thin layer of fabric, or rather – the lack thereof, can make things so incredibly complicated?
I know… First World Problems and all that! But while one might think that naturist photography has become a lot easier in the digital age, in many ways, it’s quite to opposite.
I feel like I can speak with some sense of experience on this topic, if not outright exasperation. The first time I remember bringing a camera to a naturist place was in 1994. We were visiting a modest nudist place in the San Francisco Bay Area and brought along our 35mm camera hoping we might grab a few pics for the archives. (We’d be moving to the east coast soon, and who knew if we’d ever find a place to get naked there!)
It would be difficult for somebody under the age of 30 to remember what it was like to carefully calculate your film consumption, as the most you could hope for was a 36-exposure roll of film. If you were going to set up a shot, you’d better get it right. In fact, they had you coming and going: Not only would you lose the frame on the film roll, but then you’d have to pay to have that random and blurry photo of your foot developed! Seems to me that if we got ten good shots out of a 36 exposure roll of film, we were feeling pretty good. Some of our earliest naturist photos are either blurry beyond recognition, of inadvertently cropped out appendages such as arms and heads. Not suitable for any photo album, I dare say.
And if the shot had nudity in it… What then? I remember taking a few early rolls to the drug store hoping that would “be OK.” The general word on the street back then was as long as there was no sexual content, you were probably going to be fine. Then there was a big scandal where a mom took a roll of “bathtub pictures” in to be developed, only to find herself facing criminal charges, despite the fact that the pictures were of an innocent nature. As I recall, that led to a wide sweeping ban, led by the likes of Walmart, to immediately sequester any photos featuring nudity – especially child nudity – while the authorities were to be summoned.
Soon there were digital cameras. While I think we purchased our first one around 1999, I remember taking a spiffy new Canon 35mm model with us on one of our first explorations of naked France. It looked, felt and acted much like a traditional 35mm camera. Suddenly, it was “take all the pics you want!” You’re only limited by the size of your flash card and disc space on your computer. And you didn’t have to worry about that moment at the One-Hour photo place when the middle-aged woman watching your naked ass slide out of the developing machine at the CVS store freaked out. Nor did we have to find one of those discreet photo developers listed in the back of a naturist magazine, pay twice as much, and wait for three weeks for a blurry picture of a naked foot. Nakation photography was here to stay!
Who could have predicted the explosion of the internet back then, let alone the advent of the smartphone? As I write this from a smallish resort in Thailand, it took me five tries to position my phone with the timer to create a discreet photo by the pool, early in the morning, before everyone is up and about – ever so diligent about not catching one of the “no photography” signs in the background.
I get it! Once an image is captured in 2019, who knows where it will end up? And I’ve already ranted in other posts about oh so many websites that claim to feature genuine and fully authorized naturist photos, but how does one even begin to go about verifying that? So most small resorts invoke the only logical policy – NO NAKED PHOTOGRAPHY, OF ANYONE, EVER!
That said, generally speaking, I have found most places in Europe and Asia a bit more easy going on this policy than those in the US. (Thinking of what almost came down to a body cavity search at a nude music festival in West Virginia a few years back!) Though yesterday, during my visit to Chan Resort in Pattaya, there were at least two guests reading books on their smart phones, (Would have loved to have gotten a pic of the guy doing that right below the no photography sign!) as was I, as this is my primary reading device when traveling. My wife was doing the same thing in a German spa a few years ago and was told to put her cell phone away – and fair enough! Who’s to say she’s not taking advantage of the occasional photo op every now and again, which by the way, she was not.
Of course, if you’re at a large naturist center like some of those in France and Croatia, where people simply have more private space away from the pool complex, naturist photography is quite a lot easier. Or, if you can find a place where naturist walking is possible – the shores of Mallorca, isolated paths on a Greek island, resorts with significant acreage, or just about any beach in France – a few more opportunities open up even yet.
Interestingly, I got in a bit of a tussle recently with a long-timer on reddit about the proliferation of naturist images on the internet, which of those might be considered to be in the public domain (He would say none!), and which of those were simply a gateway drug to pornography. All valid points, I think, but ironically enough, I think this all cycles back to one of the greatest difficulties of being a naturist in the 21st century. The issue shouldn’t be the proliferation of photos depicting simple non-sexual nudity; the issue should be that there’s really nothing wrong with simple non-sexual nudity. In an era where paranoia is dictating just about everything, from rules in the public schools to foreign policy on immigration, most of us naturists are scared to death that the wrong photo will somehow turn up in the wrong place. In thirty years of naturist activity, this has yet to happen to me, and on this end of the spectrum, it is not only seeming less likely, but I’d like to think I’m less likely to care.
In the meantime, we not only enjoy documenting our naturist travels, but have also taken a great deal of pleasure from a slideshow that runs fairly constantly on my desktop computer. It’s simply a travelogue. We travel naked about half the time, so about half the photos feature nudity. We enjoy reliving each moment of each particular place, as each of those places have a story. But it’s also interesting – if not a bit disquieting at times – to watch out bodies age within the typically human struggle of accepting that is simply what humans do! While body acceptance at 35 was easier than at 55, I’m hoping I’ll have the constitution to appreciate the inherent beauty of my 75-year-old naked self when that time comes.
I’m not only a naturist, I’m also a mileage runner. That means that sometimes I fly places simply for the miles or, more importantly, the status with the airline. Sometimes, I’m able to pair that with my work as a musician and university professor, sometimes it simply syncs up with the need to check in on family located out and about the US of A, and sometimes, I can figure out a way to coalesce my love of flying and travel with my fixation on getting naked. This would be one of those times. (You can also follow my blog about mileage running here.)
My January schedule is such that I have to be in certain places at certain times, but beyond that, I can do most of what I need to do from my cyber-office, which in this case, happens to be a MacBook and a iPhone with an international data plan. For me, this particular itinerary will be something of the ULTIMATE MILEAGE RUN, consisting of several segments that will take me to Munich, Bangkok, back to NYC, on to France (where I have business to do) then to South Africa (which ironically enough, greatly reduced the airfare to France!) then on to Buenos Aires and Uruguay, where my wife will meet me for a few days of naturist beach combing in a new (to us) naturist hotel just a few blocks from a famous nude beach. There’s a strong possibility that I’ll tag on a fourth leg of this sojourn with a quick turnaround to Sydney on a ticket that was ridiculously cheap, which would put me on the ground just long enough for a trip to the nude beach near the zoo, thus making a six continent naked mileage run. We’ll see how I hold up.
But this is a naturist blog! I can’t post my own photos yet as I haven’t yet been to all these places, but I’m borrowing a few pics from the web to outline the naturist elements of this round-the-world endeavor.
My first stop is at the expansive Therme Erding, a place that loves to advertise as the world’s largest spa. Some think it’s a bit overdone, but for me, a day of soaking, sweating, and sleeping in this Disneyland for grown-ups is about as good as it gets.
From there, I intend to check out two naturist places in Thailand; namely the Phuan Naturist Village, then the Chan Naturist Hotel, both in Pattaya. I’m particularly excited about the former, as it is one of the newest naturist ventures in Thailand, and they claim to have the biggest nude swimming pool in Southeast Asia.
France is typically a great place to get naked, but in January, not so much. But I’m going to stretch out a layover in Frankfurt where I can easily hop a train up to Cologne to check out the spa scene there. I’m particularly excited to visit the Neptune Therme downtown, and the sister spa to Erding just a short distance away in Euskirchen. I think I can hit them both in the same day, then back in time to catch my early morning flight to Marseille the next day.
A deviation to South Africa was literally a cost saving measure! By adding in a round-trip hop to Johannesburg, the ticket to Europe dropped by over 40%, including the trip to Africa. Go figure. This will be my second naturist outing in South Africa, but my first visit to Sun Eden Resort, which features a number of small houses to be rented. Most definitely new territory to add to my travelogue.
Finally, I’ll make my way from South Africa, bouncing through Zurich, to Buenos Aires, where I will meet my wife before we find our way to the domestic airport where we can catch a flight to the Hotel Refugio Naturista in Uruguay. It looks like a fairly simple and quiet place, but we like both of those things, and look forward to spending a good bit of time on Uruguay’s most famous naturist beach.
As for Australia, we’ve already done our naturist exploration of Australia’s east coast, (You can find those blog posts beginning with this one) so at best, I can hope to find a nude beach there – most likely Cobbler’s Beach, which we found to be quite agreeable the day we were there a couple years ago. Thus, my first and last stops consist of places I’ve been naked before, but I should pick up a half-dozen new nakation spots along the way. More good fodder for blogging, to be sure.
I’ll try to blog along the way. You may also want to follow me on Instagram at @naturistdan or the Mileage Runner version @mileagerundan. Hope to see you there!
PeaceBlue Naturist Resort recently opened their doors of their specially designed naturist hotel just a short distance from Naiharn and Rawai beaches on the southern tip of Phuket. A remarkable accomplishment by an enterprising young couple, Patty and Golf, who have found a niche market in catering to discerning naturists.
This is the most recent of several naturist friendly developments in Thailand, (See my recent blog post about that here) though this is the first time I’m aware of a brand new property built specifically with naturists in mind – most certainly the first in Asia! Open for only a few weeks by the time of my visit, construction crews were still wrapping up the finishing touches, while new loungers arrived for a secluded sundeck on the roof of the snack bar. Located on a crowded side-street near Rawai beach, they found a way to position the hotel rooms, restaurant, and pool complex in a layout that allows for total nudity anywhere on the property except the front lobby. Clever and comfortable.
I had made several visits to PeaceBlue’s predecessor, LemonTree Naturist Resort, which had a lovely vibe as well, but felt a bit crowded, especially when the villa section was rented to a private party and was not available to the general clientele. PeaceBlue, on the other hand, enjoys a location a bit closer to the middle of town which means there are a plethora of bar and restaurant options within a ten minute walk. You can also reach Rawai or Naiharn Beach on foot in less than 30 minutes each, though if you attempt that much later than 10 in the morning, it’ll be an intense trek in the heat of the day. Taxis are cheap, and the hotel staff coordinates several beach runs each day, so options are plentiful.
It remains a mystery as to why nudity is such a taboo throughout most of Asia (with the notable exception of single gender nudity at innumerable hot springs of Japan). As a default, I hold the missionary based empirical conquests of the West largely responsible for this. While Christianity seems insignificant compared to the influence of the Buddhist influence in Thailand, I think we (Westerners) can take the credit for laying out the infrastructure of roads and railways, and delivering other 21st century amenities like outlet malls and European ideals related to fashion and body-image. I’ve always thought it interesting that the French taught everyone exactly how one should dress, then turned the corner and led the world in a renewed mission of getting naked at some nearly 300 naturist resorts in France! What’s it gonna be French people? Haut couture or Heureux nu?
But I digress. Patty and Golf not only want you to feel totally at home while on their property, but they are eager to create opportunities for nude recreation off the property as well. To that end, they have continued to refine their naturist boat trip into an all day exploration of several of the nearby islands, along with a few carefully timed stops for naked snorkeling – all of which conveniently serves as a stopover for the boat captain to check his fishing nets along the way. (I swear, I saw that dude catch a fish with his bare hands and bring it back on board. Whoa!) The first year it was a long boat (the sea vessel counterpart of a tuk-tuk) that sputtered out to the closest island with a private beach. This time, there was a snorkeling stop, a beer and nap break on on a secluded beach, another snorkeling stop, a brief stop the the crowded and commercial (textile) Banana Beach to use restroom facilities and buy an ice-cream, yet another snorkeling stop, then lunch (Provided by Golf along with all the Chang Beer you can drink!) on a different secluded beach, then back to the mainland. We were naked all day except for the brief visit to Banana Beach. I would take that trip every day of the week were it offered. It will be interesting to see how that develops as they forecast being booked to capacity in the coming months.
Is there’s anything I miss about the previous establishment at LemonTree? Well – a little bit…. yes. I was always charmed by the open air kitchen on the veranda next to the pool where you could see your lunch being prepared in real time. And while only a 20 minute walk from the new property, the French/Thai restaurant Le Celtique was perfectly situated (with the most excellent atmosphere) just a few doors down the street. But the trade off is so many great eateries in close proximity to the new place that you can always find a new foodie adventure (the French Bistro called Zen Eat is a good place to start), yet you’re just far enough from the heavy traffic areas that you never hear the noise of the city; just an occasional prayer from the loudspeakers of one of the local temples – a bit eerie at first until you grow acclimated and it becomes a part of your daily ritual.
The pool is beautiful. Exactly the right size for sitting and socializing at one end or swimming laps at the other. While I stayed in a two story suite with the bedroom upstairs and the bathroom downstairs, it occurs to me that the more basic rooms would eliminate the need to navigate a stairway in the middle of the night should you need to use the facilities, which seems a certainty after an afternoon of Chang Beer – especially at my age!
I should throw out a caveat for future guests who are looking for a nakation on Phuket. Patty said it was unclear exactly what would happen with their previous enterpriese called LemonTree Resort. For whatever reason in Southeast Asia, the name stays with the property, regardless of the management, and apparently there is a rumor that new management will try to re-open as a naturist establishment as well. That seems crazy confusing to me, as LemonTree Resort was not simply a place to get naked in Thailand, but was the dedicated effort on the part of Patty and Golf to create a naturist destination aligned with top shelf hospitality industry standards. When it comes to naturist hotels, WORLD-WIDE, I can count the options for excellent naturist hotels on less than two hands. It seems apparent to me that PeaceBlue is going to raise the bar not only for Asia, but for the entire planet.
“I’d like to go on nakation with all of the amenities of my lycra/nylon wearing friends. Do you know such a place where that might happen?”
“Why YES! I do! PeaceBlue Naturist Resort in Thailand. It’s about as good as it gets!”
Better book now while you can still get a reservation.
It’s the first day of the new year. 2019! My feelings about 2018 are decidedly mixed – not just because of my tendency to worry about how things are going in Washington DC, but to be blunt, it was a tumultuous year with a lot of unanticipated change. Some good. Some challenging. Almost all of it someplace between disorienting and disquieting.
Last evening, on New Year’s Eve, we had friends over who have grown accustomed to going naked in the hot tub with us. They would never call themselves naturists, and in fact, the “she” of the couple wasn’t too crazy about sitting in the hot tub in the rain and so she abstained. Meanwhile, another friend stopped by – the one who has been the subject of a few of my previous blog posts, including the recent guide to exploring German spas – and she was naked and in the tub in a flash. I think she would tell you social nudity has provided her with a new sense of identity and self-expression – part counter-culture, part self discovery, as she is facing a lot of difficult questions in her life right now. She’s a natural born naturist!
In the meantime, while our non-naturist couple friends are inclined to quickly wrap in a towel the minute they step out of the spa, our younger companion never seems quite sure just how naked to be once making her way inside the house. Is this a wear your towel zone? Cover your mid-riff area? Funny – we seasoned naturists like to tout the simplicity of it all, but in fact, knowing when to be naked and just how naked to be can be little confusing, especially when you’re not at a naked place like a naturist beach or resort.
Interesting also, when I put my wife into this mix. She loves our nakations! She has no aversion to getting naked at home except for one – It’s not practical! “I need to take out the recycling. Or the kitchen is chilly. Or it simply hadn’t occurred to me to get naked right now.” Not a statement, per se, just an extra chore that adds one more step to the mix. “Pull on a shirt to go get something out of my car? Meh… I’ll just keep my clothes on.”
We have some friends from work who, quite by accident, we came to know of their affinity for Montalivet, a popular naturist destination in France. They’ve been going for years while we’ve been visiting a similar resort just an hour down the road. He is French and was raised with naturist vacations, and they have taken their children on nakation nearly every summer. We had them over for a naturist evening on the porch a few months ago on the coattails of summer, but as it turns out, they confessed they had never been naked at a friend’s home before, especially here in the US where they’re sure their neighbors would call the police were they ever to set foot in their backyard wearing anything less than modest swimsuit.
Then we have these friends we used to go to St. Martin with – every year for quite a stretch. One of the couples has a particularly naturist friendly backyard that is something like a private naturist resort on a warm summer day. In the winter, we’ve had a fair number of naked holiday dinners as well. But as is wont to happen, the complexities in each of our lives have made that more difficult in recent years. All said, it takes a good bit of planning to facilitate an evening of social nudity. It’s not just like, “Hey friend! Come on over and we’ll all take our clothes off!” At least in our circles, it almost never happens that way.
Other than rambling along in a reminiscent sort of way as one often does at the demarcation of a new year – and I am the meandering naturist for God’s sake – I’m really not sure what point I’m driving for here, except that I found myself strangely intrigued with a blog post I reposted on my other blog a few days ago called I Socialize Naked. The young, female author made a rather compelling case for calling out social nudity for what it really is. “I would like to not be wearing clothes right now, and I would also like to be with my friends. No protest to mount. No fitness agenda. No underlying implication of inner healing or truth. I just like being naked, and it’s more fun to be naked with other people around.”
Her words really resonated with me, particularly in my shared affinity for the simple act of nudity itself, immediately complicated by the fact that unless you have made an intentional effort to go someplace where getting naked together is the primary objective, then in fact, the nuances of when and how to get naked can be quite confusing, if not overwhelming! “Do you mind that I’m not wearing pants right now?” I might say to my fully clothed, or even towel draped friend. Even as you say it, you sort of wonder if you should be phoning the authorities to turn yourself in.
And finally, to further complicate things, I think there is a train of thought that seems to empower the most ardent naturists to believe those who get naked together are destined for more intimate and meaningful relationships. (Speaking of the platonic flavor here.) They would say our nakedness itself is a statement of vulnerability and freedom from the constructs of religiosity, narrow-mindedness, and decidedly in the face ideological norms that have made it clear that hands, faces, elbows, and knees represent normalcy, while the exposure of a breast or a penis represents abhorrent behavior. The most altruistic will make a case for full self realization that is beyond the consciousness of the average work-a-day mortal.
I actually spent a good bit of time musing over these ideas in a previous post called The Demographics of Nakedness, where I essentially put my opinion out there that the only thing naked people truly have in common is… well… nudity. I don’t happen to belong to the camp that posits that nudity is the great equalizer, nor do I believe that naked people are categorically more or less genuine or vulnerable than the clothed. It occurs to me that some people simply think it feels good to be naked – and sometimes it’s fun to hang out with other people. Nice when those two elements coincide in some manner that feels organic – or at least, less than contrived. My wife and I are vowing to make 2019 less frenetic than the last year or two, which is a tall order given the demands of family, workplace, and society. To me, that automatically implies that there will be more more naked time in 2019, as the shedding of my worldly cloaks immediately represents a step-back from my everyday existence in the chaotic and noisy existence of my professional circles. For my wife, that would mean slowing the pace of our collective lifestyle so that it’s actually worth the time to get naked and stay naked when there are a bazillion other things to do around the house – most of which are much more pragmatic with clothing. We’ll see how that goes.
In the meantime, I’ll be eager to see who responds to this post. If it finds its way into the retweeting blogosphere, or even spawns an engaging discussion on reddit. I suspect there are others, like me, who find a certain (and apparently, somewhat bizarre) pleasure in the simplicity of wearing no clothing, and feel all the more validated when they find there are others who not only enjoy doing the same, but find it strangely validating to conduct normal social interactions – watching a movie, chatting over a bottle of wine, playing cards – with no clothes on. Are we freaks, us naked people? Maybe. But no doubt, whether we’re more genuine and vulnerable or not, it’s most definitely more fun to be freakish with others than by one’s self.
On a side note, since I mentioned reddit, and I will likely repost this chronicle to those forums as well, I will call myself out for the use of images in this post which I have pulled from a collection of naturist sources over the years. Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve been less than proactive about capturing social gatherings with naked friends in my digital image archive, and while most of my travel blogs feature, almost exclusively, photos of me and my wife, I come up in short supply of graphics for my posts of a more philosophical nature. This is quite upsetting to my reddit colleague, as the use of any image without permission and confirmed attribution is a breach of social contract at best, flat out stealing at least. With that, I will close with the disclaimer that if you find any image in this, or any of my other posts, lacking appropriate attribution or used in an otherwise exploitative manner, I trust you will let me know, and I will remove that image at once.
Here again… I keep thinking that embracing nakedness is supposed to represent a step toward simplicity and clarity of mind. Neither of those ideals are easily defined on this first day of 2019. Maybe I’ll just take my clothes off, pour a glass of wine and give that some thought. If you were here, I’d invite you to shed your clothes and join me.
It’s been ten years since my first visit to a German sauna world, or Saunawelt as they would say auf deutsch. An internet blogger friend pointed me in the direction of the newly expanded Therme Erding conveniently situated between Munich and the nearby international airport. As a seasoned naturist, I will remember that initial sauna adventure for all of my days. That moment you walk into the co-ed changing rooms, trying to look unfazed by your inability to open your locker, inconveniently located in awkward proximity to a middle-aged couple removing their clothes. Meanwhile, preoccupied as to whether you’re about to offend more people by being naked or by wrapping yourself in a towel. Informative directives were posted everywhere, which would have been ever so helpful had I paid more attention during that one semester of college German.
It’s not especially helpful that there are approximately a bazillion sauna and “therme” (thermal pool) centers dotting the map of Germany, not to mention those to be found in Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands – each of which have a unique set of customs and rules that may or may not be posted – in German – on a wall, leaflet, or countertop. Doesn’t matter really though; there’s clearly something in the DNA of central Europeans that allows them to decode the unspoken rules of social nudity. It’s no secret the Germans are thought leaders in social-nudity, but still… how do they always seem to know what’s going on?
Before going into my detailed guide for naked spa rookies, I should encourage those who worry about the communal nudity thing to read any number of TripAdvisor reviews written by prudish Americans who uniformly confirm that non-sexual nakedness in a social environment only feels awkward for about five minutes, until you realize that clothing actually does very little to help us obscure the things that make us feel most awkward or inadequate about our bodies. This is not a post about the perils or merits of social nudity, but instead, a guide for the person who says, “I’m over it. A bazillion Germans seem to think it’s fun! I’m gonna shed my inhibitions and sweat it out with a bunch of strangers, and I’m gonna like it!“
With that said and done, I thought it might be useful to provide a few tips to help you find the right place for your first naked sauna experience, noting that the options are abundant and varied. Compared to everything that’s out there, (About 350 spas in Germany alone, I think!) I’ve been to relatively few. (Perhaps a dozen, but a few of those many times over.) But for the sake of this blog post, I think I can narrow thermal spa complexes down into four categories:
The Therme Erding Mega-spas: Therme-Erding is not only a relative newcomer in the spa business, but they seem to enjoy the reputation of doing everything bigger and bolder than all those who have gone before, in a – dare I say it – Disneyesque sort of way! While they advertise the installation in Erding (near Munich) as the world’s largest spa, their more recent endeavors are similarly expansive – with a consistent penchant for emulating the exotic islands of the South Seas, where the climate is controlled 365 days a year under glass domes that could house a dirigible! With locations in Erding, Bad Wörishofen, Sinsheim (near Heidelberg), Schwarzwald, and Euskirchen (near Cologne), the Erding location boasts the largest texteil-frei bereich (clothes-free zone), though the others try to compensate for this by offering “long sauna nights” about once a month when the entire property becomes naked-friendly for the evening. You’ll either need to learn a few important German words or get familiar with Google Translate to figure all that out, but it you’re hell-bent on maxing out the full-monty experience without planning around a specific day of the month, Erding is probably your best bet.
The Kristall Therme Chain: I should remind my readers that I’m no expert here, but as best I can tell, the Kristall Therme chain was pretty much on the cutting edge of chain-style sauna experiences until the Erding folks stepped up to the plate. But while the aforementioned thermes decided to focus on palm trees and palapas, the Kristall team went for a Neo-Viennese-quasi-elegant-but-not-so-impressive-chandelier affect! The result is something like the amusement park down the street from Disneyland that tried to exploit the WOW factor, but didn’t quite grab the brass ring. In my humble opinion, the chandeliers and candelabras are not aging well. We have only visited two of their locations; one near Schwangau which was a good bit underwhelming, and another in Ludwigsfelde near Berlin, which is very naked and family friendly; quite different that the other texteil-frei locations that are limited to patrons aged 16 years and older. The therme in Stein (near Nuremberg) had a serious fire several years ago, but it appears they have rebuilt and reopened. I’d love to know what they’ve done to bring things up to date as compared to the older branches of the chain. Ludwigsfelde is pretty much naked friendly, everywhere, all the time, which may be the reason I’ve gone back there at least three times.
The historic sauna bath-houses: So I have to confess… the only “old school” historic bath I’ve been to so far is the Müller’sches Volksbad not far from the Englischer Garten in Munich, yet another famously naked place in Germany. I went midday on a weekday in the dead of winter, and spent most of my time there asking myself, “Should I be naked here? Can I swim naked? And where are all the humans under 75 years of age? I have yet to visit the Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Baths in Baden-Baden, nor the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme in Wiesbaden, nor the Neptune Bad in Cologne, but my impression is that they all provide a similar sense of bathing in a ornate museum, often involving a wellness course sort of ritual where you make your way through the various sensations ranging from very warm pools to very cold pools (Nope! Not for me!), stopping for a rest wrapped in warm towels in between. It’s on my bucket list to try a couple more of these out, but I’m always a little anxious about wasting a precious spa day on something I’m not sure I’m going to love! Maybe Wiesbaden or Cologne soon – we’ll see.
A myriad of independent spas with a vast array of amenities: As soon as you realize that every town that begins was the word “Bad” (German for bath) is essentially a spa town, you’ll see that there are thermal spas all over Germany, as frequently as not, in cute little villages where the thermal springs are about the only thing happening there. Schwaben Quellen is something of an exception, located right in the heart of a Stuttgart commercial center. I’m also particularly fond of a beautiful complex called Mediterana located outside of Cologne, (though the pools are a bit tepid to my liking,) and I’ve been eager to get to one or both of the Vabali Spas, one in Düsseldorf, one in Berlin, each of which are killin’ it on Trip Advisor, especially with the under-forty crowd. Conversersly, I once visited a small spa in Rheinland-Pfalz that felt a bit more like a recreation center for seniors – all good for what it is, but not what I was hoping for that day. And I’ve ventured out to Taunus Therme near Frankfurt twice. Beautiful pool area downstairs, but I keep forgetting to bring a swimsuit, (which is required in that part of the complex) so I’ve never even dipped a toe in the main pool. The point is that you need to do your research before you go. Many thermes will actually have a map like this one from Bad Hönningen that gives you a sense of the layout of the place, along with the size and amenities of the sauna area (almost always nude) and the therme area (almost always texteil), which is why it pays to dig around the website to see if the place is according to your preferences. Of course, that’s equally important for those who are trying to avoid naked Germans! Know before you go.
Locals have told me the big commercial therme chains are just for tourists and they would never go there, which may be true, but I have to say all those tourists at the swim-up bar at Therme Erding speak crazy good German. But with so many spa establishments in Germany alone, it seems location and personal preference defines the ranking system. ‘Just depends on what you’re looking for.
With that, let’s get down to business. How do you make sure your day at the relaxation spa is… well… relaxing, and not just a sequential outing of awkward faux-pas?
ARRIVAL: While I have enough German to say, “Two adults for four hours, please,” there is typically somebody at the check in counter who has enough English to immediately make me feel inadequate about my German. And besides, they’ll want to know if you want to rent a robe (badmantel), a towel (badetuch), or slippers (I don’t know that word!), all of which most locals bring along with them, but if you’re traveling lightly, it’s easy enough to rent them on the spot, and I’ve never been to a place where that’s not possible. Often, they will actually charge you up front for the purchase price of the item (Say 50€ for the robe, but since the rental is only 4€, they’ll refund you the difference once you bring it back at check-out. No big deal if using a credit card, as you’ll probably spend more than that on food and drink while you’re in the spa anyway. Most clients will bring a normal bathrobe from home, though many just make a go of it for the day with a towel. You most definitely want slippers or flip-flops as there will undoubtedly be some outdoor walking, and the floors are frequently wet and slippery.
If the complex has several different areas, you’ll want to know which one you’re looking for before you get in line. Therme Erding, for instance, has one entrance point for Galaxy Water Park (a big water slide area where swimsuits are required, along well as a penchant for sudden drops), another desk for Thermen Paradise (a large family oriented area with elaborate warm pools and maybe a few saunas (swimwear required) and other attractions, and the most expensive entrance lane for Saunawelt, where you’ll go directly into the clothes-free zone as soon as you clear the desk and enter the locker room. While it may seem strange that the “take your clothes off area” is the most expensive option, that’s because that ticket provides you access to the entire complex – but only if you remember to pack a swimsuit so you can work your way back through the labyrinth of gateways to the other areas. Again, your coin bracelet is the key to the gates that separate one area from the next.
To address the perennial question of “Where does a naked guy keep his wallet?” that takes you back to the wristband with a coin chip in it as well. USUALLY, this is ALL you need for all the business you will do that day. You will use it to open your locker, pay for your meals, buy drinks at the swim-up bar, and even to pay for a massage or spa treatment should you choose to book one. I say usually as I remember my last visit to the Kristall Therme near Berlin where they had a bizarre procedure where you could use your bracelet at the food court, but I vaguely remember having to bring a ziplock baggie of money to the swim-up bar, which made absolutely no sense to me. (Maybe there was a better solution, but I wasn’t about to figure it out in German.) In any event, if you can, it’s worth clarifying exactly what your bracelet will or will not do while you’re still at the front desk.
THE LOCKER ROOM and THE GRAND ENTRANCE: I have feared locker rooms since the I first had to use one in seventh grade! Terrifing! Really! I’m mostly over that by now when I go to the YMCA, and I’ve grown accustomed to those at the therme as well, but my heart did stop for a moment the first time I had to ease my way toward my locker next to a naked women leisurely unpacking her spa bag. She could see I was fumbling with my bracelet unlocking-device and offered me help getting the magnetic lock to release.
In reality, she was a bit more immodest than most, as many will find one of the little changing cubicles (think department store fitting room), enter fully clothed, then exit wrapped in a bathrobe of a towel. That always seems like an extra step to me as the entrance to the spa area typically takes you through a shower room where they’d like you to immediately doff said covering garment and rinse down before entering the main attraction area.
But that leads to another interesting element of spa nudity – one that I have never understood, but it seems to be a sort of common law, often specified (in vague language) in the rules for the spa. You may or may not find it posted or printed in English that nudity is mandatory in the saunas and the pools, but you are required to cover yourself with a towel or a robe when moving about the facilities or visiting the restaurants therein. Most everyone complies with the restaurant part, but every time an aufguss session lets out (more about that later) there will be a rush of naked humans rushing to the nearest shower or nearby outdoor veranda to cool-off. But otherwise, the expectation is that you will wrap at least the lower part of your body when moving about the premises. Of course, there’s always a few people who either didn’t read the rules, or simply choose to walk about naked, or maybe with a towel draped loosely over the shoulder, scarcely obscuring any of the quintessential body parts. (Yes, that may well be me!) There are always spa employees everywhere, and not once have I seen them stop someone to ask them (me!) to cover up, and since the large spas have literally hundreds of loungers scattered around, you’ll see every form of undress, from bundled tightly in robes, to people discreetly covering their genitalia, to people napping – buck naked – spread eagle. You’ll have a sense of what goes at a particular spa within a few minutes of arrival.
Having just written this, I have learned my to young female friends who visited Vabali Düsseldorf today were reprimanded for walking around naked! I stand corrected.
NOODLES IN THE POOL: This seems to be another interesting variation from one spa to the next, as Friday and Saturday nights at the therme seem to be a very popular date night outings. At Erding, it’s not uncommon to see couples enjoying a deep embrace as they’re floating in the lazy river outside on a snowy evening with steam billowing off the water. Once again, spa attendants are plentiful and you know there are video cameras everywhere, including the rest areas. (My wife and I once inadvertently summoned a bouncer-like fellow when a hand drifted too close to a sensitive area. He simply stood by making his presence known, and that was that. But indeed, there are cameras everywhere!) The Ludwigsfelde Kristall Therme allows children of all ages, so that changes the vibe a bit, and when we visited the huge Bad Wörishofen on a texteil frei Friday night, it seemed like their were guards everywhere out on noodle patrol. I’ve never seen anything that would get the overt sexual activity prize, but it seems each spa has it’s own unspoken rules regarding acceptable behavior, and somehow, everyone seems to know what those are. When in Rome…
OK – WHAT ABOUT THE SAUNA THING. WILL I DIE?: Seriously. That was my primary concern the first time I went into a sauna. I mean, the whole idea is that you’re going to go in, sit down, and get really, really hot until there is sweat oozing from places you didn’t even think possible?
The large Erding affiliate spas have the most elaborate (and largest) themed saunas. In fact, I think Erding has at least twenty-five different saunas, each of which offer a wide variety of different aufguss (infusion) ceremonies over the course of a day. By large, I mean it’s not uncommon for 80-100 people to crowd in for a popular aufguss session, and yes, everyone is completely naked, with your towel often overlapping the towel next to you. A few people, mainly women, remain wrapped in their towels, but they are by far the minority. It’s simply a sea of naked humanity! That alone might feel a bit claustrophobic to some, but that’s just before the ceremony begins! Perhaps you think yourself clever having chosen a spot with a bit more personal space on the top shelf in the upper back corner, until you realize that twelves seconds before the ceremony begins, five more people are going to dash in, see you are occupying the only available real-estate, and come crowd in around you! Now… you’re on the top level (where the heat is the most intense), in the back corner (farthest from the exit door), and packed in like a giant sweaty sardine when you realize that if you needed to leave suddenly, you’d have to awkwardly drag your moist body and dripping towel over three rows of other naked people deeply entranced in the mediation chimes of ancient Indonesia!
The aufguss ritual itself has to do with the pouring of scented water on intensely hot rocks, after which, the spa-master will take a large towel, or a flag, or maybe even giant Russian banja leaves and thwack them in your direction to provide a blast of heat that literally takes your breath away! You suddenly have an entirely new sense of empathy for your Thanksgiving turkey, coming to realize that it was a kindness to make sure he was dead before putting him in the oven!
Thankfully, your spa-master has told you about the entire process before it actually began – typically a two or three minute explanation that I think goes like this…”Welcome to mud ritual of ancient Egypt! In a moment, I’m going to close the door, then poor this magic potion on those boiling rocks. Then my assistant and I are going to give you some magic goo that we found near the tomb of Moses so you can spread it all over your body – unless you want to ask your friend to help you with those hard to reach places. (Hahahahaha!) Then I’ll pour some more water on those rocks and take this towel and snap it within inches of your face so you can feel the magic mud being absorbed into your pores and your body begins triage inventory – “Brain – functioning. Heart – beating. Arm-pits – on overload!” Then I think he says something like, “Please remember, this is a high intensity ride. People with heart conditions, pregnant women, and humans prone to anxiety should take note of the nearest exit, even if you can’t possibly get to it when it matters. Please keep your arms and legs inside the carriage at all times.” Let me remind you, I only know a few German words, like exit, panic, and die, but I usually feel reassured by the laughter of my German counterparts.
This is why you may want to ease your way into the process, realizing that any particular sauna will only have an aufguss ceremony every two hours or so. When that happens, they put a sign on the door that says “session in progress,” do not enter!” But otherwise, you can go in and try out the various saunas and stay for as little or as long as you wish. Pretty soon, you’ll realize that each sauna has a sign on the door that tells you the temperature, and sometimes the humidity percentage as well. Of course, it’s all in Celsius, but you’ll figure out the difference between 65° and 85° pretty quickly! Way more than the Fahrenheit equivalent. And the higher the humidity, the more intense the heat.
It also took me a while to realize that if you want a premium seat for an aufguss ceremony, on the bottom step, not too far from the door, you have to plan ahead. Each aufguss event lasts about ten minutes, and while they won’t let additional people come in once “the show has begun,” you do have the prerogative to leave any time, and typically, one or two people do. For me, I found that putting myself in a position to escape if I felt I needed to was all the assurance I needed to alleviate the anxiety, but that requires forethought. In this case, forethought involves arriving ten or fifteen minutes before the aufguss begins, putting your towel down to mark your spot, sitting to acclimate for a few minutes to get a sense of the heat intensity, then stepping out of the sauna – leaving your towel behind – (you’re naked, remember!) to cool down; maybe even step outside if it’s convenient, to bring down your body temperature. Sometimes there will be a giant vat of crushed ice nearby that people scoop up by the handful. I, along with many others, will make a giant snowball and take it back in the sauna with me if I know the heat will be particularly intense, then rub it on my forehead and chest when I feel like it’s just a little too much. By the end of the event, your snowball has vanished into a puddle on your towel.
Most of the aufguss sessions I’ve gone to involve two ceremonious rounds of dousing the hot rocks with infused water followed by the accompanying whacking of towels, but the entire thing never lasts more than ten minutes. That seems a reasonable amount of time for nearly anyone to endure the intense heat, but that’s also assuming you set out your towel early, then stepped out to cool down for a few minute. (25 minutes without pause would be long stretch for even the heartiest of sauna warriors!) And there may well be some quirky ritual immediately before, during, or after the aufguss, like going into an adjacent cave to cover your body in salt, or the aforementioned mud ritual. Sometimes you even get a prize at the end, like fresh bread that comes out of the oven at the same time you do, or a Popsicle to help you internalize the fruity joys of a tropical island. In time, you’ll master the fine art of discretely watching the people around you before you accidentally rub salt in your eyes, which the spa guy probably told you to avoid, but you really weren’t sure what the nervous intermittent laughter was about while he was giving his spiel.
Other than some of the historic spas where the traffic essentially flows from one activity to the next, the typical scenario at the more recent establishments allows you to plan your day as you wish, usually providing a detailed schedule of all the day’s aufguss events. My wife is not too keen on the intense heat of the saunas, but loves the warm pools, the quiet resting areas, the various restaurants (at the nicer spas) and simply lounging by the pool with a good book between visits to the swim-up bar. Those quiet resting areas may have ceremonies as well to encourage meditation, relaxation, or mind-expansion. Or sometimes it’s just a nice place to take a nap or curl up with a book. (Many have reading lights above the bed) Most inhabitants will be wrapped in a towel or a robe, but a few will be naked as well. Just remember… no hanky-panky! 🙂
Whenever possible, we make the spa our first stop upon arrival in Europe since most flights from the US arrive in Munich or Germany around 7:00 am. That’s just enough time to drop our bags at the hotel – spa bag already packed – then make our way to the therme. (This works particularly well in Munich, as bus 512 goes directly from the airport to the village of Erding)
As mentioned above, my two young (female) friends have made their first stop at Verbali Spa near Düsseldorf where they report that the amenities and view of the lake from the warmth of the spa was unbelievable. But contrary to my earlier words of advice, they were actually cited for being too naked as they were walking from one place to another without bothering to wrap in a towel. That seems particularly peculiar for a place that doesn’t even have an area that allows for swimsuits.
Later today, they will visit one of the Erding-chain establishments near Cologne, and I’m urging them to write a guest blog post to capture the experience from their own perspective. They are both quite new to naturism, and even newer to the German sauna experience. Regardless, seems they are both enthusiastic converts to clothes-free recreation. Take note nay-sayers: There is hope for the future of naturism even yet!
You may want to visit a few other posts about saunas and thermal baths, such as my blog post about the Onsen experience in Japan, or one of my very first posts about spa nudity written about five years ago. And I haven’t even scratched the surface on some of the spa hotels in Austria that sport sauna centers as well, or some of the very hip places in Holland that have yet another spin on communal nakedness. All good. Still stuff left to blog about.
Working on the Naturist’s Guide to Corisca, so I thought it might be good to put up a collage of photos from our visits to this naturist haven from our several visits over the past fifteen years. An island with France sensibilities toward naturism, Italian influences for cuisine, and all with a quirky Corsican twist makes for a great nakation.