CHM Montalivet is more than a holiday camp, say regulars – it’s a community. Can naturism work in an era of social-distancing?
On the Atlantic coast of France, north-west of Bordeaux, is Europe’s oldest and largest community of naturists, CHM Montalivet. The place is the size of a small town, with over 1000 private bungalows on site, as well as a huge campsite, cinema, gym, spa, swimming pools, a library, and a central square with bars, restaurants, a bakery, wine shop and two small supermarkets.
It’s all set in a pine forest, with a beautiful stretch of white sand beach to the western side. CHM has a small permanent population who live there all year round, but every summer the population explodes as thousands of naturists come to meet friends and escape their day to day lives.
This year, coronavirus may make this impossible.
I discovered CHM Montalivet by chance five years ago while on a road trip through France with my partner. We spontaneously decided to give it a try and checked in for a four-day stay. New to naturism, we were nervous and not sure what to expect, but soon got chatting to fellow naturists from all over the world. Everyone was so welcoming. We realised we’d found something very special.
CHM is far more than a holiday camp. It’s a community, one with deep roots and where people have forged lifelong friendships. “We’ve been coming here for 25 years,” a retired couple from Texas told us. “Once you discover this place, you never want to leave.” And they weren’t wrong. We’ve been back every summer since.
“Nudity, by definition, removes social barriers. CHM is freedom and the acceptance of others.”
Naturism is a very sociable lifestyle with different generations co-mingling as a matter of course. There are huge communal meals every evening at CHM and the policy is always the more the merrier. Think spontaneous singalongs, card games and total strangers offering you a glass of wine. During the day, team sports and dance classes are popular and in the evenings the family-run beachside bar has live music (with more dancing), quiz nights and a silent disco.
None of this is compatible with the rules of social distancing, of course. CHM also has a number of elderly residents, including one pillar of the community, known colloquially to everyone as Frère Jacques, who has lived there since the place was founded in 1953.
Even as France relaxes its lockdown precautions and opens its borders, it will be hard for the CHM community to continue as normal.
Original publication 16 May, 2020
Posted on NatCorn 8th February 2021
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