Welcome to the naked city: sun, swingers and very little shoplifting

Modernism and naturism meld at the world’s biggest nude town, Cap d’Agde in France, which swells to 40,000 people in summer. Could there ever be a naked metropolis? Phil Hoad exposes himself to nude urbanism.

Welcome to the naked city: sun, swingers and very little shoplifting

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We were born naked, but no one shows you the way back. I’ve just paid my €8 and walked through the pedestrian gate at Cap d’Agde’s world-famous naturist resort in the south of France. What now? A stark forecourt stretches out imposingly ahead. Is there somewhere to change, I ask the guard on the gate, as a group of baseball-capped lads stride blithely through. He nods at a set of lockers. But hauling down my kecks right here at the entrance feels wrong. Only one thing for it: do as naturists do, and make for nature. Several minutes and half a bottle of sun lotion later, I’m huddled tentatively in my birthday suit on a Mediterranean beach, one halloumi-hued Englishman in a griddle-pan of sizzling brown cheeks.

The entry procedure is a bit unforgiving, but beyond is something unique: a fully functioning town with largely naked citizenry, which grows to 40,000 in the summer. Only a day later, I’m happily part of a nude queue in the deli lining up for tabouli and octopus salad, while a hardbodied gay couple pore over a side of beef. Since the 1990s, Cap d’Agde has gained a lurid reputation as a meat market par excellence. Europe’s libertines and swingers flock here to participate in what Michel Houellebecq envisioned in his book Atomised as the perfect “sexual social democracy”. But every facet of ordinary city life is here, too: a bank, a post office, several supermarkets, concrete arcades lined with hairdressers, fishmongers, opticians and clothes boutiques. Throughout, fully dressed staff (a formality that apparently developed of its own accord) cater, with surreal nonchalance, to the great unclothed.

Nothing on this scale exists anywhere else in the world. Most naturist resorts are arcadian retreats from city life. Last year, Munich created six urban naked zones, but they were in secluded parkland. In 2012, the supposedly skin-friendly San Francisco chose to outlaw public nudity, except in specially sanctioned public events.

Well I know where I will be moving to when I retire.

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