This summer around 250,000 people will descend on the grim concrete holiday village of Cap d’Agde in the south of France for the sole purpose of getting their kit off.
When I hear Europe’s largest nudist colony is a mere half an hour away from my house, I feel it is my duty to investigate.
I enjoy a skinny dip as much as the next person, but if there’s anything likely to put you off nudism for the rest of your life, it’s a visit to Cap d’Agde. The whole place is crawling with bodies that saw better days in the 1950s. I run across Barbara and Henry from Staffordshire on the beach. Now they are, putting it kindly, edging towards advanced middle age. But compared with some of the specimens on display they look like Greek gods.
“I’m really not mad about it,” says Barbara. “But Henry likes it here. This is the third time we’ve been.”
“I love the freedom,” says Henry, carefully shielding his private parts with a copy of the Daily Mail. “I went to my first naturist beach when I was 20 and have been hooked ever since.” He admits their friends and family don’t know they come here.
Some Brits like it so much they have bought property here. Richard, who prefers not to give his last name, bought an apartment six years ago for £54,000. “It has two bedrooms, a sitting room and a dining room, but you can sleep six,” he says. “I live here full time but am not as dedicated as some of the other naturists who walk around naked when it’s minus two outside.”
Property in Cap d’Agde is cheap and the rental market thriving. You can pick up a studio which sleeps six with a view of the beach (naked oldies included) for €148,000. This can be rented out for around €900 a week during the high season. According to Philippe at Agence René Oltra, there is always rental demand. “There are more and more English coming here,” he says. “They love the sea, the light and the freedom. If you have a nice studio with a view of the sea you will always be able to rent it out.”
Some Brits who own property have got over the delicate issue of housing non-naturist relatives by buying an apartment outside the compound as well as inside. Graham and Sheila from Hampshire have two holiday homes here. “We come down with all the family for three weeks in July,” says Sheila. “Some of them prefer the non-nudist beaches so they stay in our apartment in the actual town. We rent them both out through an agency the rest of the time and the whole thing more than pays for itself.”
Those who have bought outside the naturist compound are keen to stress that Cap d’Agde has much to offer apart from sun-tanned bottoms. “It is a lovely resort to visit all year round, full of oleander and palm trees,” says Sheryl Simmons who bought a property on the Richelieu beach earlier this year with her husband Bob. “Our apartment is only a short walk from the international golf course and great value for money.”
The only people who are allowed to keep their clothes on the naturist village are the workers. In the post office I meet Stéphanie, Pierre and Carol. Pierre was working in a post office up north but was told it was either relocate to Cap d’Agde or go on the dole. “I chose Cap d’Agde, although I tried to tell them I was very shy and upset by nudity,” he says grinning broadly.
Carol says in the five years she has been there she has only seen one good-looking man. “Luckily the counter is quite high,” she says. “Even though I grew up in Cap d’Agde I find it all a bit much.” Stéphanie says the black men are usually better looking. “The average age here is about 55,” she says. “At first I found it terribly off-putting, but you get used to it pretty quickly.”
I wander around the beach fully clothed looking for naked people to chat to. I am constantly aware that I am breaking one of the laws of the village. “Total nudism is obligatory within the village and on the beach, as soon as climatic conditions permit it,” say the regulations. Feeling horribly conspicuous I retreat to the first aid tent. I meet Jean-Louis, a lifeguard. He has worked on the beach for five years and would not look out of place in Baywatch. He tells me he deals mainly with sunburn. I am tempted to ask him where the most common sore spots are. He expertly puts a plaster on a blister I have got from wandering around all day. Maybe that’s why no one wears shoes. As I leave he smiles charmingly. Typical. The only man I would like to have seen naked is fully clothed.
Agence René Oltra http://agenceoltra.ifrance.com 00 33 (0) 467 26 33 78
France Telecom helpline
When you want to shout at someone from France Telecom it is now possible do so in English. The French telecoms operator has opened a helpline to cater for non-French speakers living in France. The number is 0800 364 775 from France or +33 1 55 78 60 56 from abroad. The helpline is open Monday to Friday 8.30am to 8pm. You can also fax them outside office hours on +33 1 55 78 62 70.
If you’re moving house within France there is a website designed to make your life easier. Go onto www.changement-adresse.gouv.fr, enter your old and new address as well as your social security number and the site will pass the information on to the various administrative authorities including tax and social security.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group. She writes a beauty blog wwwbeautyorbeast.uk.
Her third novel, The Arnolfini Marriage, based on a romance that evolves around a van Eyck masterpiece came out in 2016. As well as writing regularly for newspapers and magazines, Helena is also working on a thriller called Welcome to Sweden that will be published in spring 2018. Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles is out in hardback and will be out in paperback in January 2018.
Helena was educated at Durham University and lived in the Languedoc region of France for eight years, where the family still have a home. She lives in London with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square January 2018
Welcome to Sweden; Gibson Square spring 2018