Whether it’s their first or last question, there is one thing my American friends always ask about my life here in the Netherlands.
I let them down gently.
“Well, there are five coffeeshops on my street…”
“…But I haven’t been inside any of them.”
“Oh … But isn’t it legal there?”
“Well, it’s not legal, it’s decriminalized… Anyway,” I take a deep breath and try to come back strong. “I went to a nude beach!”
As often as I write home about the daily delights of working in Europe, learning Dutch (een beetje), trying Indonesian food and re-learning to ride a bike, the tale of my accidental discovery of the Maasplassen seems to generate the most intrigue.
And more predictable questions.
The practice of being naked in nature, or naturism, always seems like big news to my American friends. But it’s not foreign to Dutchmen.
According to a study commissioned by the Dutch naturist federation, NFN (Naturisten Federatie Nederland), one in nine Dutchmen practice nude recreation at least three to five times per year.
The Maasplassen, one of the most prominent places to practice naturism in Maastricht, boasts around 290 members, said Rob, a Maastricht teacher and one of five volunteers working for the Maasplassen. On a warm day, he said, the Maasplaasen gets about 300 visitors per day.
The Maasplaasen, which is open whenever the temperature reaches 20 degrees, will hold a free open house from 11 am until 4 pm on 8 June. Anyone who is interested in naturism and the Maasplaasen is invited to visit and ask questions. A membership to the Maasplaasen costs EUR 60 per year, which includes a discount pass to other places for naturist recreation and a membership to the magazine of the NFN.
But anyone may have access to the pleasant river-side knolls of the Maasplassen for EUR 5 per day. The 500 meters of beach, part of the Pietersplas nature reserve, include a café with drinks and snacks, showers and storage for beach chairs. The strand is discreetly positioned, with trees, shrubs and grass protecting nude sunbathers from public view.
As long as spots for nude recreation – which may include beaches, camping plots, pools or even private residential gardens – are sheltered, nude recreation is permitted, said Bernd Huiser of the NFN.
And if you really want to make sure it’s OK to ditch your Skivvies, have a look at Article 239 of the Dutch penal code. This law allows for local authorities to designate grounds for public nude recreation.
“So, did you actually get naked?”
My Italian housemate and colleague Elisa Delaini and I discovered Maastricht’s nude beach on a late August afternoon, just two months after I arrived in Maastricht. We were pedaling south along the River Maas looking for a grassy strand of beach we’d been told existed about 20 minutes from the city center.
Our Dutch wasn’t good enough to realize if we wanted to show off our swimming suits instead of our birthday suits, we should have kept pedaling.
So we made our way through a parking lot and walked our bikes onto a scenic grassy trail, the Maas hidden behind some prairie-like foliage and trees. We glimpsed some seemingly wild horses and congratulated ourselves on finding such a pretty place to spend a warm Saturday afternoon.