In the buff
Ever felt you've had enough of the hassle and bustle of city life? That you’d love to shed your worries and stresses and dependence on consumer goods and get right back to nature? Then, a downshifting spell at El Fonoll Poble Naturista could be just what you need—provided you’re prepared to shed your clothes along with all the other clutter.
Located deep in the Tarragona countryside and built on the ruins of an abandoned village, El Fonoll is the only naturist village in Spain. But, unlike more commercial naturist camp-sites and resorts on the coast, what’s on offer is far more than sunning and socialising in the sun. Former Barcelona businessman Emili Vives, and those who helped him build the village, are naturistas in the true Spanish and Catalan sense of the word. So while they enjoy being outdoors naked as much as possible, they also eat a mostly vegetarian diet, use natural medicine and treatments, and generally live a healthy life in nature. Vives calls El Fonoll, “A way of life and a life project.”
Regular guests, like Ricardo and Maria from Barcelona, seek peace and tranquility. “We come here,” said Ricardo, “to enjoy naturismo puro, to be in contact with nature.” They find what they’re looking for. Masses of it. In the quiet of the grey-stone buildings; along the leafy paths that wind around the village; by the poppy fields and in the copses; down by the natural swimming pool and lawns; in the vegetable gardens and orchards; on the farm, among the donkeys and horses and goats and ducks and peacocks; and in the stillness of the early morning, broken only by the sound of braying and quacking and cock-a-doodle-doo-ing.
Not quite a village, yet far more than a resort, on the main drag there is a shop selling organic produce (don’t panic, they do sell wine and beer), a library, a meeting room, gym, massage room and a refectory. There’s also a dance hall, an archery range, tennis courts, meditation huts, and a huge barbecue area, as well as mud baths, where visitors can wallow around in their own troughs like small hippopotamuses until they are slathered from top to toe in grey, sloppy goo. Afterwards, the clay is left to bake hard on the skin in the sun, for some extreme exfoliating. After any remaining gunk is showered off, the skin is left with a smooth silky glow. Forget spa-pampered (and pricey) luxury. This is the real thing.
Accommodation-wise, apart from the rather primitive camping pitches, there’s an albergue for use of the members of the Catalan Naturist Association, and there are plans to build an 80-room rural hotel. For now, the best bet is to stay in Sensualitat, Amor, Natura, Amistat, or any one of the other charmingly-named rustic houses and studio-apartments. Built from local stone, the grey-fawn façades blend in perfectly against the greenness of the countryside. Cool and airy in the summer and with a wood stove for colder nights, the houses come equipped for self-catering. Visitors will be searching in vain for a fridge, however. Instead, there’s a giant cooler box and ice cubes are fetched from the freezer in the main kitchen.
For people who like the sound of El Fonoll as a place to visit, but have reservations about being naked anywhere other than their bedrooms, bathrooms and possibly on a beach, it is possible to try a small dose first, by going along on a Sunday for the highlight of the week: Vives’s gourmet vegetarian paella.
Scores of visitors come from miles around to take part in this munificent naturist experience. Everyone lends a hand chopping sacks of onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, red peppers, green peppers, courgettes, artichokes, green beans, and enough garlic to see off a pack of vampires. Golden olive oil coats a paella pan the size of a small flying saucer. In go the vegetables. Snap, crackle, sizzle. Then the rice. Smoky, garlicky flavours fill the air. Vives and one or two helpers stoke the fire, stirring the ingredients with a spoon that looks like it would serve as a pole vault. In goes the stock. Spatter, bubble, glup. Slow food at its slowest best. Until, at last, diners sit down at long tables to piles of roasted pepper and aubergine salad, porrones filled with thick red wine and one of the tastiest paellas to be sampled anywhere—with or without clothes on.
The community spirit is an essential part of the El Fonoll ethos, and nowhere is this more apparent than at the Sunday meal. El Fonoll is quite a unique way to pass a weekend. For those who think that back-to-nature buffness in a gorgeous and secluded rural setting could be just the ticket, they are not likely to find a better place for it.
Emili Vives –Man with a mission
There is no mayor in El Fonoll, but if there were, make no mistake, his name would be Emili Vives, a man of vision, tenacity and plenty of seny (sense), who has battled to fulfil his dream of restoring the abandoned village. “When I bought this place in 1998,” he said, “there wasn’t a tile in place; it was a total ruin. I thought it would be beautiful to bring a village back to life.” Unfortunately, not everyone in the surrounding area felt the same and every time he tries to push forward with new projects he meets with what he describes as, “persecution from right-wing religious cliques.”
But Vives is nothing if not determined. “I have not broken any laws,” he insisted. “All the work done so far is lawful. Charges have been brought against me and my son, who has nothing to do with the matter, for refusing to stop building work. They’ve fined us, requisitioned machinery and tools, and repossessed property of ours in a neighbouring village. But we will carry on fighting against the reactionaries...who look unfavourably on our modest naturist project. I bought this place. I have the right to restore and rebuild it. In the end we will win.”
Looking around at what he has already achieved, he is not to be doubted for a moment.
Poble Naturista El Fonoll
43425 El Fonoll, (La Vall del Corb) Conca de Barberà, Tarragona
Tel. 977 26 61 38 or 93 421 1880
www.kadex.com/fonoll (in Catalan, Spanish, English and French)
First published: Friday June 1st 2007