July 2003 Cap d'Agde, Carcassone, Naturalisme
Cap 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.

Carcassonne. 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.