With a fabulous climate, some of the best beaches in Europe, and a relaxed and sensible attitude towards public nudity, it’s no surprise that Portugal is becoming an increasingly popular destination for naturist holidaymakers - not to mention expats looking for a permanent place in the sun. Paul Rouse reveals all...
Naturist tourism may still be a niche compared to some sectors of the market, but it’s growing quickly, and naturism has come a long way from its nudge-nudge, wink-wink connotations with seaside postcards and Carry On Camping.
Depending on how you define the term, there are an estimated 500,000 naturists in the UK alone, whilst according to a recent British Naturism survey, 25 per cent of British people have gone skinny-dipping, and one in seven have sunbathed nude. And that’s not to mention Germany, Holland, Sweden and other northern European countries where few people have any inhibitions about being naked in public places such as spas, saunas and beaches.
The stereotype of the elderly naked eccentric is also a thing of the past. In line with the current demographics of cruise passengers, many of the new breed of naturist holidaymakers are typically aged 25 to 40, and it is a market that Portugal is starting to tap into.
Admittedly, compared to some of its larger European neighbours, the government and the commercial sector have been a little slow to realise the huge potential, and there is certainly no equivalent to the likes of Vera Playa in Spain or Cap d’Agde in France in the way of large purpose-built naturist resorts.
What you do have however is a growing number of guest houses and campsites ideal for couples, families or groups of friends, as well as dozens of beaches where nudity is the order of the day, frequented by tourists who may be staying in non-naturist accommodation but who still want to go home with an all-over tan.
There is a Portuguese expression, nao faz mal, which roughly translates as ‘it doesn’t matter.’ It perfectly sums up the country’s laid-back attitude towards many things, including nakedness in public, and is the reason why many beaches, whilst not necessarily officially recognised as naturist, are naturist by default or common consent.
Public nudity is not actually against the law in Portugal, and an offence is only committed if somebody feels morally offended and files a complaint – an unlikely occurrence. So you can, in theory, go naked anywhere you want.
However, as always, common sense should prevail. You wouldn’t take all your clothes off and parade down the main tourist drag in Albufeira for instance - even if it is called The Strip. And whilst topless sunbathing is as common in Portugal as most places in southern Europe, you might cause offence going au naturel on many of the popular and busy beaches in the main towns and resorts - especially in August, when the whole of Portugal seems to decamp to the coast to cool off, often in large family groups complete with the pre-requisite black-shawled granny.
But don’t worry. There are seven official naturist beaches in Portugal (see panel) plus any number of others - from Porto in the north, around Lisbon, into the Alentejo and along the entire stretch of the Algarve - where nudity is the norm, not just with foreign tourists but with the Portuguese themselves.
Testimony to the growing acceptance of nudity in Portugal is the number of naturist associations in the country, and if at times the proliferation of acronyms - FPN, CNC, APANAT, CNN, JPN - can seem like a bad hand at Scrabble, they are slowly but surely making progress, and between them have been instrumental in negotiating with local authorities in order to obtain official or accepted naturist status for many beaches.
The Algarve, of course, is Portugal’s most famous tourist destination, and it is here and in the Alentejo, rather than the sometimes cooler (and slightly more conservative) north, where most naturist visitors tend to head. It has certainly proved attractive to the many expatriates who now offer naturist accommodation, and a warm welcome to naked sun-seekers. They include:
Quinta dos Carricos, a part-naturist campsite run by a Dutch lady, Andrea, near Salema, west of Lagos in the Algarve. Around a fifth of the 15 hectare site is set aside for naturists, who have their own secluded area at the far end of the site, complete with its own toilet and shower facilities.
Monte Naturista O Barao near Santiago do Cacem in the Alentejo, run by Dutch couple Jeff and Laura, with help from their English friends and co-workers Jill and Andy. Set in seven hectares of forest, the site has 30 camping or mobile home pitches as well as a number of caravans and lodges, plus pool, lake, sauna, sun terrace and barbecue area, bar/restaurant and toilet/shower block.
Samonatura, naturist self-catering accommodation close to the seaside resort of Vila Nova de Milfontes in the Alentejo, run by Dutch couple Jos and Martine. A modernised farmhouse sleeping between 6-8, it also has an adjoining apartment for a further 4-6 people. Ideal for families and groups of friends.
Naturest, also near Milfontes, is run by British couple Ray and Marnie Gloster. It comprises a self-contained apartment sleeping four, plus a caravan, whilst the garden has a sauna, hot tub and plunge pool.
Casa Somba, run by Belgians Francis and Claudine, in Carvoeiro. It has two guest rooms with en-suite facilities, pool, gardens and a shaded outdoor dining area.
Portugal Naturally in Albufeira, a naturist B&B offering optional meals, is a traditional Algarvean property on the outskirts of the town run by British couple Jane and Stewart, in tandem with their naturist property location service. The casa has five double rooms, pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, hot tub, patio, outdoor bar, gardens and a roof terrace.
Quinta da Vista, offering panoramic views from above Silves, is run by British couple Bruce and Eva as a naturist B&B. The renovated farmhouse features three en-suite double bedrooms, pool, bar and sun-deck, some quiet corners in the gardens and fruit orchards, plus a sauna and boules court.
Naturist Algarve, run by British ex-pat Jon, provides rustic accommodation close to Sao Bras de Alportel, and comprises three units - a two-bedroom cottage plus two one-bedroom apartments. A selection of holiday options are available, including self-catering, B&B, half-board and all-inclusive.
Vale da Vida, run by a Dutch lady called Femke, sits in the hills just above Silves. The naturist-friendly accommodation comprises a wooden cabin built amid orange groves, with a double bedroom, open-plan kitchen, bathroom and outside terrace area. There is also a small summer house a few metres away which has two single beds, making it ideal for families.
Maison Africain is a rural retreat with bungalows, rooms and a campsite in the hills of Monchique, run by Dutch couple Dick and Helma. It has 3 bedrooms and 6 pitches for tents, plus a lounge, bar, dining room, terrace and outdoor pool. Yoga lessons are also available.
A naturist holiday might not be for everybody, but if you do dare to bare in Portugal, you’ll find it accepted as being perfectly natural, in every sense. And just think - no more white lines, clinging bathing costumes or that most ridiculous of beach pantomimes, trying to get undressed behind a towel. Go on: what have you got to be shy about?
There are three official naturist beaches in the Algarve - Adegas at Odeceixe, Ilha Deserta off the coast of Olhao, and Barril on the Ilha de Tavira - plus any number of others along the entire stretch of the coast where nudity is the norm, not just with foreign tourists and residents but with the Portuguese themselves.
The following list is by no means definitive, as within reason you can go naked on any stretch of quiet beach, but it’s a good starting point. From west to east, some of our favourites include: Amoreira, Vale Figueira, Bordeira, Murracao, Barriga, Cordama, Beliche, Barranco, Zavial, Furnas, Cabanas, Pinheiros, Meia Praia, Prainha, Caneiros, Afurada, Praia Grande, Armona and Cacela Velha.
For a list of naturist beaches throughout Portugal click HERE