July 2003 Cap d'Agde, Carcassone, Naturalisme
d'Agde is basically a large French tourist town with prices to match.
For us, its main attraction was its proximity to Carcassonne, the
old walled medieval city a few miles inland. To catch the train to
Carcassonne, we hopped a bus to nearby Agde. Due to train and bus
schedules, we had some time to spend, so we wandered about Agde, enjoying
the ambiance of a French town. Had a simple but delicious lunch in
a cafe under an umbrella, petting the stray dog that wandered through,
watching the mailman pause on his rounds to have a beer and converse
with a couple of patrons. Picked some lavender from the bushes that
line the roadways. Agde, like so many towns along this coast, was
originally settled by Greeks, and some of the buildings and just plain
houses date from the middle ages. As Americans, with our throwaway
culture and a history that dates back, if we're lucky to find traces,
to the 1600's, the fact that people are living and working in structures
built in the 1200s never ceases to amaze us.
Well, it was well worth the hassle (matching bus and train schedules)
of getting there. The old walled city sits on a rise above the newer
(15-16th century!) city. It's enclosed by not one but two walls,
punctuated by a grand total of 52 stone towers. Some of these were
re-built in the 19th century and have slate "witch's hat"
tops on them, anachronistic but beautiful. We walked up the hill
to the town on an unpaved path, giving us more of a sensation of
what it must have been like long ago. Inside the walls, it's pedestrian
only, and pretty loaded with tourists and touristy shops. But since
those shops are housed in 13th century buildings, it's cool. We
walked about, bought some Quiche Lorraine for lunch which we ate
sitting on a battlement, then wandered into the church, which used
to be a bishopric. The founder of the Benedictine order of monks
preached there in around 950! To our delight, we heard singing.
Turned out, there was an exchange between Carcassonne and its Italian
sister city, and the Italian cathedral choir was singing. Dressed
in their tourist clothes, standing at the intersection of the cruciform
church, singing a capella in the gorgeous acoustics with the sun
pouring through the 13th century stained glass rose windows, they
were magnificent. Particularly pleasing to us was when they did
"Amazing Grace." What an unexpected, glorious treat! We
smiled for the rest of the afternoon, wandering through the streets
until we had to catch the train back home.
Back in Cap
d'Agde, we decided to explore the "zone de naturisme",
a huge sector of the town which is entirely devoted to nudism. It's
got control gates to get in, and costs about $3 for individuals,
per day. When we entered, we were handed a list of rules and signed
something saying we would abide by them. Rule #1 was that inside
the Naturism area everyone must be totally nude. (Most of the rest
of the rules banned pornography.) So we figured, there will be a
little place inside the gates where we can take off our clothes
and put all our stuff in a locker. We saw no such place, but noted
that, at least right by the gates (visible from the road) everybody
had clothes on. So we pushed on in our search for a locker room.
Instead, we found a huge hotel, time shares, cottages, camping areas,
swimming pools, a marina and 2 kms. of beautiful beaches -- there
were enough naked people that it never quite looked like a normal
resort, but most people were at least partially dressed. So we didn't
feel too out of place in our T-shirts and shorts. The place is a
completely self-contained city, with all the usual amenities of
a resort area: stores (a surprising number of which sold clothing),
groceries, wine stores, a post office, banks, etc. After asking
around, we learned that there is no place for "walk-ons"
like us to remove and stow clothes. The area is really geared toward
people who are staying there. It was kind of cool out, so we weren't
overly tempted to bare all, and apparently others felt the same.
After an hour or so, it no longer seemed strange to see a nude person
in the grocery store, but by dinner time, people in the restaurants
were all clothed, some rather provocatively (lots of fishnet without
undergarments). After dinner, we decided to check out the nightlife
but, to our utter astonishment, we couldn't enter a disco/nightclub
because Rob was wearing shorts, and they required men to wear long
pants!!! We said, "Wait a minute, this is a nudist resort,"
to which the doorman replied, "Well, you can go to the beach
to be nude. We require the gentlemen to have on long pants."
So much for Rule #1! Bemused, we returned to Akka.
Why we were
so interested in a nudist area is a bit of a mystery, since the
general attitude toward clothing along the coasts and beaches of
Spain (particularly) and France is that anything (that is to say,
nothing) goes. We're both developing all-over tans, and have become
quite casual about dress. We estimate some 1/3 of the women go topless,
and there's almost always some total nudity on every beach. This
doesn't extend to the towns, of course, which is what made the Cap
d'Agde Naturiste area different.