Saint-Martin, a naturist destination?

At the south end of the East Bay Beach, you can enjoy the turquoise water and white sand, just like on any other of the Caribbean’s most beautiful beaches. Here, however, we practice the full body tan. Club Orient occupies the only stretch of beach on the island of Saint-Martin where naturism has been tolerated for many years.

One afternoon in August 2016, Michael* was playing volleyball at the back of the beach. Until then, the young man had been a "textile" - a person who does not practice naturism - but he decided for once to join his friends. "It took me three days to dare to undress," he confides, now that he feels comfortable naked. On the other side of the net, a ten-year-old boy is a regular. He comes every year with his parents and grandparents. He doesn’t wear any clothing either, except for a piece of fabric to protect his back from the sun. Like them, Kim* is American. Her family owns a bungalow in the resort and she comes several times a year to relax.

"Clothing Optional," a family lifestyle

Club Orient is a resort that caters to naturist family customers without excluding the "textiles." Here, wearing clothing is tolerated and the posted dress code, "Clothing Optional," reverses the standard.  Stephen Payne, the Executive Director for the past eight years, found that people who prefer to stay dressed due to fear of others eventually stand out more, with the majority of clients choosing to spend their time entirely or partially naked. Clients are free to go to the store, the beach or the restaurant - without any clothes. On its website, Club Orient posts a code of conduct and answers the most frequently asked questions. There, we learn that to sit on a flat surface, you must first put down a towel or sarong.

The top naturist destination in the world, France welcomes 4 million regular practitioners a year, half of whom are foreigners, says the French Federation of Naturism. It also counts 16 million regular naturists worldwide, including 13.8 in Europe. While some are concerned that young people are not participating, more than 40% of naturists are under 30 years old. Stephen Payne considers that they must be more numerous, since the practice of naturism is now much easier and many practitioners do not belong to an association. For Philippe, a skipper specializing in naturist cruises with his catamaran, as for all professionals in the community, Saint-Martin is the number 1 destination in winter "just like for textiles." Although the website of the Saint-Martin Tourist Office devotes a page to Club Orient, there is no particular willingness to promote naturist tourism, as indicated by the parisian office of European advancement. Currently, the majority of these tourists on the island are North American (U.S. and Canada), which is true of the tourist clientele in general (screen capture Twitter photo). The advantage of the island’s climate is that one can indulge in naturism throughout the year. Club Orient and its 136 rooms are booked solid in the high season, and have fill rates between 65 and 85% in the low season. A period in which the majority of hoteliers oscillate painfully between 40% and 60%.

A village around a niche

Cistern, generators, water treatment and drinking water production systems: the area, which covers five hectares, is a real village. The SCI holds 37% of the area, and the rest is divided between around a hundred owners. With €10 million in turnover in 2015, and 100 year-round employees, Club Orient dominates naturist tourism market in Saint-Martin. However, a few residences also specialize in welcoming naturist tourists, like that of Etienne and Chloe* who discovered Saint-Martin in 2001 through naturism and now own five two-person lodgings. "We were looking for a new, less stressful career direction that would allow us to connect with pleasant, tolerant people. Also, being naturists and enjoying this type of small residence ourselves, we naturally gravitated towards this activity." All year round, they welcome customers who are "faithful to the search for intimacy."

Like those at Club Orient, naturist tourists generally belong to higher socio-professional categories. Once dressed, they attend the best restaurants in Grand-Case or Orient Bay and participate in the local economy. "The advantage of this niche market," says Stephen Payne, "is that it attracts new clients to the island who would probably never have come. All that, without having to compete with other hotels." In order to accept all of the booking requests it receives, Club Orient has been trying to work with the Collectivité for the past several months on an expansion project that would create jobs and accommodate more visitors.

* * These names have been changed

The history of naturism

According to the international definition adopted in 1974: "Naturism is a way of living in harmony with nature, characterized by the practice of nudity in common, and as a result fosters self-respect and respect for others and the environment."

Early twentieth century: birth of naturism as we know it today, in Germany with the creation of the first gymnastics center in the town of Lübeck.

1903: S. Gay creates a naturist colony in France in Bois-Fourgon, near Étampes.

1920: creation of the first naturist club, called Sparta Club, in mainland France by Marcel Kienné de Mongeot and Yvan de Laval. 

1931 : Albert Lecocq, founding father of the French Federation of Naturism, creates the Club Gynmique du Nord in Fort de Seclin, near Lille.

1950 : Albert Lecocq founds the French Federation of Naturism (FFN). It defines the concepts of naturism. It was created with the underlying principle that all clubs would join together within a single federation. In 5 years, the number of member associations grew from 9 to 86. The FFN now brings together 154 associations and 155 holiday centers across the French territory (mainland France, Corsica, DOM-TOM). 



Fanny Fontan