Going nude while travelling: Places to get naked overseas

Here's the thing about being a travel journalist: you have to be willing to give it a go. Doesn't matter whether it's crossing a swaying rope bridge in the jungle, or gulping down fermented soy beans for breakfast: you're here to get a story, and you'll never do that if you say no.

Which is how I ended up naked in a Finnish sauna. I was in Helsinki for a food festival, memorable both for the friendliness of our hosts and the copious amounts of freely flowing koskenkorva, the Finnish take on vodka. Probably I'd already had a few when our hosts suggested we should try a real sauna experience – done, as the Finns do, without swimming costumes – so I happily hopped into the bus.

The sauna contingent, it turned out, consisted of me, a journalist from New York, and a truckload of obese Russians.

Turns out, I loved every part of the experience. Lolling around naked in a scorching room. Running down the jetty to plunge into the icy lake. The shock of the landing. The adrenaline high afterwards. Even the somewhat ridiculous sight of  naked Russians roasting sausages over the fire. I was hooked.

Since then, wherever I go, I seek out opportunities to get naked. They are more common than you might think. Korean bathhouses, Turkish hamams, Russian saunas – once you have tried them all out, you realise just how strange the Anglo-Saxon hang-up about nudity is.

Every culture has their own bathhouse practices, from a gentle soaping with a pillow case full of bubbles to a beating with a fistful of birch twigs.  I enjoy them all. I love the sense of ritual, and the complete lack of hang-ups. Bathhouses are filled with people of every size and shape, and there's an acceptance that it's all just flesh.

There's also an undeniable freedom associated with nudity. Whether it's water gliding the length of your body or a fresh breeze playing around you, it's a rich physical sensation. Which is why my perfect chill-out day involves a secluded spot – a private pool villa or, even better, a deserted tropical island – a beach towel and plenty of SPF 30. 

Nonetheless, there are places I'd draw the line. I'm unlikely to ever take up the European trend of naked hiking, for instance. To me, once you have thrown on hiking boots and a backpack, you have lost the sense of freedom that was the point of the exercise. 

Meanwhile, I'll make do with bathhouse sessions and with swimming laps in my favourite indoor pool. Yrjonkatu Swimming Hall not only has gorgeous art deco interiors, but also regular gender segregated swimming sessions, when swimming costumes are optional. It's in Helsinki, of course. When it comes to nudity, you can always count on the Finns.

Advertisement

TIPS FOR BARING ALL

* Sauna newbie? Start in the lowest temperature room and work your way up.

* In some European hotel saunas, swimsuits are optional. In others, they are banned. Check the hotel directory.

* If the entrance fee is remarkably low, the services will be too. I discovered – too late – that one neighbourhood sauna in St Petersburg doesn't supply towels. I had to dry myself with my handkerchief.

Comments