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Vacation Au Naturel


Five stars now a bare necessity

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May 05, 2008

When Larry Massa says he likes to travel light, he means it. No need for a jacket and tie at dinner, a pristine set of tennis whites when he hits the court or even a bathrobe to wear when heading from his hotel room to the pool or the spa.

Massa, 74, a retired US Navy commander and computer science engineer from Virginia Beach, and his wife Darlene go on holiday in the nude. "If you haven't tried it, there's no way I can tell you what a fun thing it is, what an added dimension to a holiday it can be," he said.

"I'll never forget the day," said Massa, recalling the couple's first nudist holiday at a Caribbean resort. "The place was full. We went to the far end of the pool and Dar said: 'I'm going to take my top off.' I thought: 'I'm not going to wear these stupid swim trunks in the pool.' So I jumped in naked. She looked down at me and dropped her bottoms and we never looked back."

To many, the mention of a nudist resort conjures up images of Carry On films, isolated beach colonies with volleyball courts or hippie-style gatherings on a secluded campsite.

And while those kinds of offerings still exist for Massa and his fellow naturists, the real boom in nude holidays is coming at the high end of the business. Upscale hotels and resorts, and even some luxury cruise lines, have begun to see the economic potential in the no-clothes crowd – particularly those who want to shed their clothes but not their pampered lifestyles.

The £150-a-night all-inclusive Hidden Beach Resort, a nude-only luxury hotel along Mexico's popular Mayan Riviera, greets guests with champagne upon arrival. Rose petals are tossed on the beds at turndown, and beach butlers hand out towels and reading materials to guests relaxing in the nude, while they themselves walk around in discreet uniforms of buttoned-down shirts and khaki trousers.

Sea Mountain Inn, a two-year-old nude resort and spa in Desert Hot Springs, California, with room rates ranging from £135 to £450 a night, features Asian-influenced rooms with Egyptian bed linen, flatscreen TVs and natural mineral water pumped into the shower. The upmarket Occidental Grand Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands has set aside entire blocks of rooms exclusively for nude guests.

Even in the holiday home market, a new clothing-optional condo resort, Mira Vista, in Marana, Arizona, is selling more than 100 two-bedroom condominiums priced from £122,000.

In 2007, nude recreation represented a £220m industry – up from £200m in 2001 and £100m in 1992 – and it's still growing, said the American Association for Nude Recreation, which promotes au naturel holidays as "nakations". According to the association, roughly 20% of members have a median household income of £50,000, drive luxury cars and spend £1,500 or more on travel.

The types of nude holiday have expanded too. Holidaymakers can now roll out a mat at all-nude yoga retreats, share banana bread with other guests at all-nude bed and breakfasts, gear up for nude mountain biking in California's High Desert and saunter around the decks of cruise ships chartered specifically for clothing-free travel. In Germany, a travel operator has arranged for an all-nude charter flight this summer to take customers to a clothing-optional retreat in the Baltics. The naturists will take off and land fully clothed, but shed their clothes once airborne.

SpaFinder.com, an online spa search engine, recently created a separate category for "nudist spa vacations" after noticing an increase in searches for the term.

"It's no longer just a grass-roots nuts-and-sweets kind of thing," said Nancy Tiemann, president of Bare Necessities, which specialises in nude travel. It is offering a seven-day Greek cruise in September, along with four others in 2008 and 2009. Four months ago, the company began selling an all-nude 2010 Hawaiian cruise on Celebrity Cruise Line's Constellation, a 2,000-passenger ship. Already, about 90% of the ship is booked.

When the company, which she owns with her husband Tom, began chartering small ships for all-nude cruises in the early 1990s, she said many mainstream cruise operators dismissed it as a joke. "Now they're trampling each other to get our business," she said.

Most nude holidaymakers say that what they enjoy most is liberation from the typical pretenses of society.

"When you don't have any clothes on, you don't know if someone's a judge, a doctor, a lawyer or a mechanic," said Larry Massa. "You are what you are."

scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com

Five stars now a bare necessity
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