Spain’s nudist beaches: a niche market with more appeal to foreigners?

Catalonia’s 50 naturist areas are mainly used by visitors from Germany, France and the Netherlands

Mar Padilla
A nudist on Mar Bella beach surrounded by clothed bathers.
A nudist on Mar Bella beach surrounded by clothed bathers.ALBERT GARCÍA

When it comes to naturism, the mantra of Catalonia’s tourist industry seems to be: “There’s so much still to be done and so much to be gained from doing it.”

Some 2,000 people in Spain are members of naturist clubs and half of them are in Catalonia. In the summer months, they are joined on the country's beaches by an estimated two million nudists, three-quarters of whom are foreign tourists, according to data from the country’s tourism authority and the Spanish Naturist Federation.

The average naturist is “a family person who is relaxed and respectful and appreciates good beaches and nature”

The foreign naturists come from countries with a strong nudist tradition such as Germany, France, the Netherlands and Denmark. They also have medium-to-high purchasing power and “adore” the  beaches of Catalonia; tens of thousands flock to the northern region’s 50 nudist beaches and other naturist establishments every year.

Segimón Rovira, President of the Catalonian Club of Naturism, describes the average naturist as, “a family person who is relaxed and respectful and appreciates good beaches and nature.” He adds that Catalonia has a lot of potential that has yet to be explored, comparing it to France where the weather conditions are less favorable, but where naturist establishments are invariably full in the summer months.

Tolerance toward naturism is growing in Spain, according to Rovira, although he admits many people, “a backward element,” still disapprove. “Forty years of dictatorship have done a lot of damage in many respects,” he says. “We still have some way to go here, while in the north of Europe, perhaps because of the Lutheran or Protestant culture, nudity is acceptable.”

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Rovira offers three good reasons for going nude: convenience, the feeling of freedom and peace when your body comes into contact with the water and air, and avoiding the discomfort of sitting around in a wet bathing suit. It also offers the chance to tune into the naturist philosophy, which advocates a life in sync with nature, as well as social equality.

Among Catalonia’s most popular naturist resorts is La Bartra, a mountain refuge near Prades,where people can go nude hiking, or stay at home in the buff. The goal is straightforward and enlightening simplicity, says owner Ángels Farré. Groups also come for yoga and meditation. “There’s complete freedom. All kinds of people come and some go nude and some don’t,” says Farré.

On a bigger scale, El Fonoll is the only totally naturist town in Catalonia and probably in Spain. Located in Conca de Barberá, a wooded valley some 20 kilometers inland from Tarragona, it has stores, a supermarket, a library, a vegetable plot, a reservoir, badminton, tennis and volleyball courts, and a social club spread over 175 hectares. The idea is to strip off and enjoy the open air, but those who prefer to remain clothed are welcome.

“It must be because we remind people of a different era. I mean the origins of mankind, not the 1970s,” jokes a 70-something naturist

However, Emili Vives, the man who created El Fonoll, always goes nude. An electrical engineer and legal expert, he decided to “separate from the herd” in his retirement and enjoy nature at his own pace. He’s doing well, but, while he’s content not to be losing money, he is not convinced that naturism is on the rise.

When it comes to camping, the 1,000-capacity Templo del Sol site in the nearby L’Hospitalet de l’Infant is bursting at the seams with 80% of tourists coming from abroad, mainly from Germany, the Netherlands and France.

Set up by a French naturist couple who fell in love with the area 20-odd years ago, the campsite is located on the Playa del Torn, one of the oldest naturist beaches on the Mediterranean.

Like Vives, its manager, Ferran Pujol, is cautiously optimistic about the growing popularity of naturism. “We don’t know if we’ll do better in the future, but we do know that there is a different kind of tourist coming,” he says. “Young couples have started to turn up and that hasn’t happened before.”

The naked truth about Barcelona

Barcelona itself hasn’t much to offer naturists. There’s the Sant Sebastià beach, which tolerates nudism, Mar Bella, which is the only officially naturist haunt in the city, and the Picornell swimming pools, which have set aside several hours on Saturday evenings for nude bathing.

On a late July morning on the Mar Bella beach there were scarcely 20 nudists, surrounded on all sides by tourists in swimwear. Many over 60 years old, they stood out like beacons. “It must be because we remind people of a different era. I mean the origins of mankind, not the 1970s,” jokes Miquel Camps, who at 70-something says he never ceases to be amazed that in this day and age there are still people who feel uncomfortable when close to a naked body. The truth is no one is particularly bothered about the nudists here; they’re more concerned with trying not to fall over one another.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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