Revealed: the first naturist B&B in Europe
My husband looks doubtful. “Why the suitcase?” He has a point. I am going for two days to the first naturist B&B in Europe.
I normally find packing quite a trial; what to wear for dinner, for walks, even for lunch? This time it is easy — “nothing” is the answer to all the above questions. But one thing is worrying me: where to keep my notebook?
I arrive at Hylteberga gård, deep in the Swedish countryside, at about 6pm. I crane my neck to view the yellow farmhouse along the gravel road.
I scan the horizon, as if on an African safari, and I half expect to see naked people leaping through the cornfields like nymphs.
Then I park and knock on the door. I am nervous; shamefully, still fully dressed. The advice on the internet was to leave all your clothes at the door. Should I have stripped off?
The door is opened by a man. He is wearing a grin, but also shorts and a shirt. His wife is behind him, also dressed. “Welcome to Hylteberga,” Steffen Brummer Pind says.
His wife, Eva, shakes my hand warmly. They show me to my room. En route we pass a man who, let’s say, hasn’t held back on the pies — a bit of a fatty — and he is naked.
The man looks away from the television and says hello. I try not to stare at his private parts, although my eyes are inextricably drawn. Luckily his bits are more or less hidden by his belly. It is a sad fact that naturist resorts seldom attract those to whom Nature has been kindest.
Dinner is at seven o’clock. Dress code: nothing. This is the first time I have undressed for dinner. At seven o’clock I slip out of my clothes and head to the dinner table wearing nothing but Chanel pink lip gloss.
Some standards must be upheld. The other guests are wearing clothes, but only on top: is this a new trend that I have missed?
Only Eva and Steffan are starkers. Before anyone notices, I dart back to my room and throw on a T-shirt, a cardigan and a pair of knickers; despite it being the middle of July it’s too cold to be naked, especially if I’m in a minority.
Joining us are a couple from Norway and a pair from Denmark. Clients at Hylteberga are so far almost exclusively from Scandinavia. “We did have a booking from England,” Steffen says.
“But they cancelled.”
Sweden is hardly famous for its benign climate. Even if you don’t mind getting your kit off, doesn’t wandering around naked in midwinter get a little bit chilly? And, particularly if you’re a bloke, wouldn’t that decrease your chances of making new friends?
“Yes, of course,” says Steffen, who is half Danish, half Swedish. “But you can be naked inside. People come here for the peace and quiet mainly.”
I ask him why it is more pleasant to enjoy peace and quiet in a state of undress than wearing clothes. “You’re free,” he tells me, throwing his arms in the air and revealing more than I feel is necessary.
The Danes tell me that they are there because they find being naked relaxing. “We were born this way,” the man says, “so what’s wrong with it?” The Norwegians see it as “another kind of holiday, nothing unusual or special”.
That’s easy for them to say, but I am not used to being sandwiched between two naked bodies while I tuck in to a plate of sausages.
It’s all very well discussing the Iraq War, but the fact that Steffen is wearing nothing but three strategically placed body piercings is hard to overlook.
I make an effort to relax and get into the swing of things. The sauna is the place for that. The view from the sauna is lovely, as long as I avert my eyes from Steffen’s piercings and concentrate on the landscape through the window.
It is now 9pm but there is no sign of night falling. That’s one of the strange things about Sweden: in the summer it never gets dark, while in the winter it hardly gets light.
I sleep well and wake up just after 8am, ready for breakfast. I leave my room wearing a towel — a compromise as I see it, to protect me from the cold. The pie muncher is up well in time for breakfast, and still stark naked.
He points out that I can tell which shelf in the fridge is mine by the yellow sticker that matches the one on my door. On my shelf there is some cheese, marmalade, some strange Swedish-looking paste and some ham. It seems that this bed and breakfast is a very hands-on affair. The Norwegian couple are up and about, wearing open shirts and shorts.
I delay breakfast until after rush hour — I can’t quite tackle it so early in the morning — and decide to do some yoga. Entering into the spirit of the place I do it naked. It is true, there is something refreshing about moving around in the nude. But what I find particularly liberating is that I am doing it in the privacy of my own room.
We Brits are going to have to get better at getting our kit off — especially in this heatwave. In my experience the farther north you go the more reluctant people are to strip off.
I remember once at a gym in Lanark in Scotland being thoroughly amused at seeing women showering while wearing a swimming costume. When I asked one woman for a reason she said: “We’re not here to flaunt our bodies.”
Down south they are slightly more relaxed, although for some reason nudity always makes Brits giggle. Take the naturist club in Oxford.
It has become one of the main sightseeing spots on the punting tour that takes you around the river. One famous story is that of the Oxford don Sir Cecil Maurice Bowra, who covered his face when caught skinny-dipping in the Cherwell by a punt full of acquaintances. Colleagues of his who were with him covered their private parts.
“I don’t know about you fellows,” Sir Cecil said once the punt had passed. “But where I come from I’m recognised by my face.”
Perhaps the English people who cancelled their stay at Hylteberga should take heart and rebook — as a nation, all we need is a bit of encouragment.
Need to know
Getting there Doubles at Hylteberga g?rd naturist B&B (www.hyltebergagard.se) start from €72 (£62) a night, including breakfast. Scandinavian Airlines (0871 5212772, www.flysas.co.uk) flies from Heathrow to Copenhagen from £117 one way. Trains run between Copenhagen and Malm? and take 25 minutes.
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