I went to Barcelona recently for a conference, and my spouse traveled with me. Before we left, I read about the city’s attractions – architecture, art, sports, etc. – and also beaches, one of which, Platja de la Mar Bella, is an unofficial nude beach. The name means ‘Beach of the Beautiful Sea’ in Catalan. We found some very nice lodging not far from there, and so after we dropped off our luggage we went to check out the beach on the very first day we arrived!
You can see from maps of Barcelona that the nude beach looks very close to the city. Once we were actually there, we realized just how incredibly close it truly is: the entrance to the nude beach is a ramp off the main beach walkway, where parts of the nude beach are visible to anyone walking by. (And there are lots of people walking by! Only once did I notice someone put her purse up to her face to block her view of the nude beach as she passed it.) There is a skate park maybe 10 yards/9 meters from the entrance to the ramp, although a large growth of tall grass obscures the beach from the skate park area.
|From this paved walkway, it’s only a short way down the ramp to the nude beach. The non-paved ramp’s entrance is on the left.|
|View across from the ramp entrance. Under the palm tree are people enjoying the skate park’s concrete bowls and dips.|
This is one of the neatest things about the nude beach, which is also a gay beach (more on that below): it is so easily accessible. Even people not going to the beach walk by it or around it all the time. The fact that Barcelona is a large city, Europe’s most frequented cruise port, a world arts capital and etc., with an open (free use) nude beach as part of its cityscape, is an astoundingly refreshing display of tolerance and acceptance. [This stands in sharp contrast to what my experience was last year along Mexico’s Riviera Maya, where the only non-private nude beach in the Tulum area, El Ultimo Maya, is very far away from most anything, and even after getting there it’s necessary to pay a parking and entrance fee.]
We spent only an hour at Platja de la Mar Bella on that first visit – it was late afternoon on a Tuesday under partly sunny skies. The beach-goers were mostly young men, many by themselves, but there were indeed women there as well, and male-female couples. The shore is pleasant. It’s a somewhat closed-off area of Barcelona’s shoreline, but, again, perfectly visible to other areas of the beach on either side. There is a beachfront restaurant in the nude area, and vendors that pass along the beach selling drinks and pareos (throws or body wraps, large pieces of cloth for lying on or for wrapping up in. No one used beach towels to sit on, only these large throws.) There is also a shower and restrooms, and a lifeguard on duty until 5:00 or 6:00.
There was a disturbance on that first day that pushed some limits: a young man was walking around with an erection, and he would sit and touch himself from time to time while another man, who did not seem to be with him, was filming him. For some people, this would be intolerable. For some people, it would mark a clear difference between naturism and nudism, or between both of these and exhibitionism. Many people would say, and I agree, that this kind of behavior impedes a more widespread understanding and acceptance of social nudity. My wife’s unconcerned reaction – she said that the man was “exploring his sexuality” – was a revelation. It made me think about the tolerance that the citizenry and municipal government of Barcelona have extended to this beach – whether toward same-sex relationships, or toward sexuality in general, or toward mere nudity, it was all encompassed in the idea of tolerance. And this, too, brought to mind the fact that free beach pioneer Lee Baxandall, founder of The Naturist Society, worked openly and forthrightly with LGBTQ allies in the 1970s to build support for nude beaches.
So even though I didn’t find the young man’s behavior appropriate, nor that of the other man filming him, I still appreciated the idea of tolerance for a place to be nude in the elements. I should also note that there were no children present, nor was there any expectation that the beach would be expressly family-friendly. It was an example of differing sets of societal norms between the US and Spain/Europe in general. And I should clarify that I don’t assume the man’s behavior to be representative of LGBTQ naturists in general, either.
We went back the following Monday with a picnic lunch, and ended up spending a long afternoon there. It was not all that crowded when we arrived shortly after midday, but soon more folks showed up, including a group of four women. Again the population was mostly very fit young men, alone or in pairs or groups, and some seemed to be from northern Europe while many were local. A very large-bodied male-female couple from the UK arrived and stayed most of the afternoon – it appeared they were getting up the courage to try something new, and they finally did. Good for them! There were other male-female couples and also women alone or in pairs. The entire beach population was generally very friendly. There was a mix of ethnicities and of ages – a pair of male teenagers were, I think, the youngest people on the beach that day. Most beach-goers were completely naked, although there were some few people, men and women both, who kept swimsuits on.
The vendors amused us with their accented calls in English that sounded like “Waterbeer!” – they had both water and beer to sell, just no pause between the words! These beverage vendors were men who seemed to be from North Africa, and not only were they not naked, but stiflingly dressed, with long pants and long sleeves and sometimes windbreakers as well. I imagine this is due to a combination of religious strictures and the need to protect themselves from the sun all day, as well as the need to move among the different beaches beyond and through the nude area. They seemed to spend a lot of time among us nude folk, leading to speculation about voyeurism, but on the other hand, it was evident from looking up and down the beach that the nude area, which is rather small, was the most densely crowded (an interesting observation in many ways) and thus best for their sales. There were also a few East Asian women, dressed, moving along the beach selling “Massatge!”
It was sunnier that day of our second visit, so I swam in the Mediterranean a couple times. The water was cold but it was a wonderful experience! Unfortunately I also got some sunburn. Sigh. I had been using and reapplying sunscreen all afternoon, but it just wasn’t enough for the four or five hours we were there. We ended our afternoon with very good mojitos and tapas at the beachside restaurant, which has a fun ambiance and is named, affirmatively, BeGay. We learned later that the beach and surrounding neighborhood were gearing up to host a variety of events during Pride Month (June).
|Passion fruit mojitos|
|Some light tapas: grapes, manchego cheese, membrillo (quince paste) and walnuts|
Would I recommend this beach to fellow naturists? Yes, as long as there are no expectations of a specifically family-friendly environment, and as long as tolerance for cultural differences can be extended. Barcelona is a terrific city with lots to see and do, and having such an easily-accessible and pleasant nude beach is an added bonus. The area of the city immediately adjacent to the nude beach is called Poblenou, and it’s an underrated neighborhood with plenty of great lodging, restaurants and stores, markets, parks, its own metro stop, and its own very nice rambla (a pedestrian avenue extending along many blocks with outdoor cafes, boutiques, etc.). Less intense but no less charming than the city’s main La Rambla in the famous Barrio Gótico area, the Poblenou rambla extends southeast all the way to the beach, intersecting with the beach walkway at a spot nor far to the southwest of the nude zone.