Back to the Garden: A Nudist Vacation in Greece
by EVE ADAMS & MIKE GERRARD
First-time naturists Gerrard and Adams record their impressions on Vritomartis, Greece’s only nudist resort.
If travel broadens the mind, then travel writers must be among the most broad-minded people on the planet. Yet, when an editor in London asked for volunteers to try a naturist (that’s nude) holiday for the first time, she was met with a deafening silence. We heard about the request and offered our services—no strings attached. After all, we’d both been skinny-dipping in the sea and in mountain streams. We weren’t shy. We were curious.
A trawl thought the Internet put us in touch with a British specialist travel company, Dune Leisure, who recommended Vritomartis Hotel in Crete as being ideal for first-time nudists. We were on our way.
As it turned out, biology was destiny, with each of us bringing a male and female perspective to bare. Here’s what we experienced:
At first sight, Vritomartis is a paradise, with bright bougainvillea and hibiscus tumbling over white stucco walls. Stone paths lined with geraniums lead to bungalows nearly hidden by jasmine and honeysuckle. Juicy purple fruit is ripening on the mulberry trees, and the squat palms look like giant pineapples.
Amidst this man-made Eden, naked Neo-Adams and Neo-Eves lounge beside a turquoise pool with nary a fig leaf in sight.
I've come to this resort on the remote south coast of Crete to expose myself to naturism. Naturist holidays have long been popular in Europe, and they are a growing part of the travel industry in America as well. I wonder whether Joni Mitchell was right. Have we got to get ourselves back to the garden?
It's one thing to strip off for a swim on a secluded beach or to splash about in a mountain stream. My previous experiences of being naked outdoors felt spontaneous and natural. But in a resort setting, nudism has a communal aspect that is rather different. For many, that's part of the appeal.
At Vritomartis, the guests come from all walks of life. In the bar one night, we met Jim and Nancy, a couple from Seattle.
“We found the hotel on the Internet,” Jim told us. “We wanted to come to Crete to see Knossos and walk the Samaria Gorge. We’ve enjoyed nudist beaches in the past, so I searched around to see if there were any on Crete and came up with this hotel. The rest of the time we’re staying in regular hotels and driving out to nudist beaches. But I tell you something: this is the best hotel we’ve stayed in so far, nudist or not.”
Interestingly, women are often the instigators of a naturist holiday. Ineka and Bart, a Dutch couple in their 40s, are veteran naturists. “I was the one who first wanted to do it,” Ineka recalls. “He didn't, and it took a few years to convince him to try it.” Since then, they've taken many camping holidays with their children. But what attracted Ineka to naturism in the first place?
“I wanted to feel the wind on my skin,” she says. “I like the feeling of not being constricted by clothes. At naturist resorts you are accepted as you are, if you are fat or thin, it doesn't matter.”
As for me, my enthusiasm for going au naturel at Vritomartis varied. A few years ago, when we still had a healthy ozone layer, I would have welcomed hours in the sun with no tan lines. Now I worry about becoming toast but don't want to offend anyone by covering up. For at naturist clubs, wearing clothes, especially swimwear, at the pool or beach seems to be strictly out, lest it make the other guests feel self-conscious, or send out a message of conservatism in this very free setting.
Admittedly, I didn't find naturism as liberating as I'd hoped, at least not the first time. Though I didn't feel embarrassed sitting naked around the pool, I couldn't bring myself to stroll the grounds in the buff. Personally, I felt that running into your matronly housekeeper dressed in her chaste uniform as you awkwardly smiled and said “kali mera,” a little unnerving. That said, I did feel more at ease on the nearby naturist beach, also part of the hotel. At a naturist resort, it’s all about personal preference.
You expose more than your body on a naturist holiday. What you think about naturism and what you feel when you actually try it can be two different things. I found I'm not really a naturist at heart. I rather like my clothes. But naturists are as individual as anyone else. For some it's a philosophy, for some it's a club, and for others it's simply an enjoyable way to relax.
For anyone considering a nudist holiday, Vritomartis is one of the most beautiful hotels in Greece, and probably the most benign way to experience naturism for the first time. In addition to its tolerant atmosphere, the hotel itself is a treat, with attractive rooms, delicious meals, and of course, that lovely garden.
The Greeks have a word for it: gymnos, meaning “naked,” and from which the English word “gynasium” is derived. As a culture, Greece has long embraced nudism as a natural and comfortable way of being. Not only did ancient Greeks exercise in the buff, they also competed nude in the Olympic Games (until about the 4th century AD), and studied in the nude, too.
Personally, my only previous experience of public nudity had been the occasional skinny-dip on a quiet beach. So how would I react to a full-frontal holiday at Vritomartis?
This, in fact, was one of my male worries. Would I, as it were, “react” to being surrounded by naked women? Would I not know where to look? And what about applying suntan cream to the private parts? I was nervous.
“When we first came here,” another guest named Jim tells me, “and walked out of our room naked for the first time, I was almost walking sideways like a crab, but after a while you soon get used to it.”
He was right. It was like arriving at any other hotel and not knowing where the breakfast room is. You need the ground rules and at Vritomartis these are simple. Nudity is only allowed between sunrise and sunset, and around the swimming pool. You can walk naked from your room to the pool but must cover up in the poolside bar, shop and indoor areas. Not all resorts are like this, so check first if you don't want to see someone else's dangly bits while you're dining.
Slapping on the SPF 30 sunscreen turned out to be no problem, as you can do that in your room, although you soon realize no one is the least bit bothered if you want to rub it into your bum by the pool. Or get your partner to rub it in for you.
Which brings us to the other question. Is a naturist holiday arousing?
“It's not about sex,” Jim continues. “A strip tease is sexy but naturism is the opposite: the woman starts off naked. I'm much more relaxed next to a naked woman than one in a skimpy bikini. Naturists have said goodbye to all that. They've said they're not interested in whether the person next door has got a Gucci swimsuit or whatever. Labels don't matter.”
Labels, I realized, were the problem. I'd assumed naturists were all the same, and not expected to meet scientists, accountants and nurses. Ineka, a nurse from Holland, had sound reasons for choosing naturist holidays. “We have been camping for many years and always choose a naturist campsite. They are not only usually easier to get into, they are also mostly clean and quiet. You don't get loud radios by the pool or on the beach. Naturists have respect for each other. This is our first time in a hotel, but it's the same here.”
She was right. It was beautifully peaceful. During the day people did their own thing: staying by the pool, going to the beach, renting a car. One day we walked the Imbros Gorge, about half the length of the nearby and more famous Samaria Gorge, and another day we strolled into the nearest little town, Chora Sfakion, for a beer by the harbor (clothed).
By the pool or on the beach, being naked didn't bother me, although I wasn't ready to stroll naked around the grounds. As for being surrounded by naked women, this was admittedly not Baywatch, and the nonchalant attitude of other guests emphasized relaxation over gawking. It was encouraging to see women as old as my grandma and as round as the Michelin Man walking by with utter ease. If you think your bum looks big, a week at a naturist resort will cure you of complexes—being comfortable in your own skin, be it round, thin, short or tall, is what nudism is all about.
And were the attractive women arousing? Well, one can’t help but look--that's the way nature made us. But it’s usually no more than an admiring glance. Staring was a betrayal of the confidence that everyone put in each other.
So with fears soothed, would I go on a naturist holiday again? I probably wouldn't seek one out specifically, but if the opportunity were there I'd be happy to do it, provided I didn't have to deal with boobs over the boiled eggs at breakfast. Again, just my personal preference—some nudists prefer to go 100% starkers on their vacations. But would I go to Vritomartis again? Yes, like a shot. And that's the naked truth.
For further information, contact Vritomartis Hotel and Bungalows; Tel: 011-81-0825-91112; Fax: 011-81-0825-91222; E-mail: email@example.com. Website: www.naturism-crete.com. Rates run about $30 per couple per night, including breakfast.
Dune Leisure specializes in naturist holidays around the globe: Tel: , 011-44-0870-000-4110; Fax: 011-44-0115-931-3039; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: www.dune.uk.com.