Sergio Cossu’s nude awakening came in 1972, when, at the age of 16 and needing a getaway from his family, he ventured to Santa Teresa Gallura, whose stretch of wild, pristine coastline in northern Sardinia was a mecca for hippies from across Europe.
“It was my first solo holiday away from the traditional family setting,” he said. “There was this feeling of an immense connection with nature; from that point on it was impossible to wear a costume on a beach again. There was less of a taboo about nudity back then but, paradoxically, naturism diminished in the 1990s with the explosion of gyms and this focus on having the perfect body. But over the last 20 years, there has been a revival.”
Cossu is now among the members of Anita, the Italian naturist association, seeking to tap into that renaissance by working with local authorities across Sardinia to turn the lush Mediterranean island into a haven for nudist tourism.
Even though nudist beaches have existed in Italy for decades, a law introduced in 2017 has enabled individual regions to legally dedicate stretches of coastline for naturists. Today, there are 17 official nudist beaches in Italy and beyond.
Tuscany leads the way with five, but Sardinia is hoping to steal its crown. The island is not only planning to add to its list of three official beaches but also has visions of creating naturist hotels, hiking trails and even an entire village as it endeavours to attract a growing market – currently there are an estimated 50,000 naturists in Italy and 20 million in Europe.
Luigi Tedeschi, the mayor of San Vero Milis, a tiny town along Sardinia’s central west coast, is among the local leaders getting on board. A section of Is Benas, a nearby 3km stretch of golden-sanded beach with dunes and a pine forest, was designated an official nudist spot in May. Tedeschi said the move drew a few sniggers in the town’s bar but was otherwise supported. “I’m 65 and remember the times when nudity on the beach was normal,” he said. “Is Benas was already being used by naturists – all we’ve done is regulate it.”
Tedeschi’s goal is twofold: develop a remote area abundant in nature for a tourism market which, in turn, cares about protecting the environment.
“We need to recognise the importance of accepting those who respect the environment,” he said. “Whenever nudists come to Is Benas, they always leave it clean. This should be the main thing – capturing the culture of naturism, not just seeing it as nudity. Sardinia is a paradise and this is the direction we should all be going in.”
However, not everyone is happy about the growth of naturism in Italy, a country still influenced by a conservative Catholic culture despite dwindling numbers of churchgoers.
Simone Atzeni, the owner of Arbus Adventures, a company offering boat and trekking tours in the vicinity of Piscinas beach, complained to the local authorities after they allocated a section for naturists, arguing that it should have been tucked much further away from their non-naked counterparts. “I respect the naturists, but the naturists also need to respect those who don’t want to expose themselves,” he said. “It was a mistake to give them that area of the beach as they are in plain sight of so many people who don’t like it.”
Atzeni also doesn’t want to see any naked people walking the trails. “There is a spiritual path called Santa Barbara, named after a saint and used by believers and many women who walk alone. Would you like to be followed by someone nude?”
Not so long ago, sunbathing nude on a beach in Italy could have landed you with a two-month prison term because owing to two laws, one dating back to the fascist period which stipulates nudity as shameful, it might have been deemed an obscene act in a public space. A supreme court ruling in 2006 paved the way to nudity being dropped as a criminal offence a decade later. However, it is still possible to be fined.
“For this reason we have lawyers to help naturists who find themselves in this situation, as the fines can go up to €10,000,” said Giuseppe Ligios, a spokesperson for Anita. “It’s unthinkable to fine someone such a huge amount for sunbathing nude on the beach – it’s based on archaic laws that need to distinguish between what is an obscene act, such as having sex in a public space, and what is simply sunbathing naked.”
Still, the threat of a fine or judgment is not deterring Italy’s naturists, 25% of whom are women. “Naturism has helped me to accept my body,” said Sara Pinna, who lives near Piscinas beach. “Especially for women, there is this social pressure to look beautiful and hide your imperfections, but through naturism, I can just say: ‘Look, this is me – this is how real people look.’”
However, she has not managed to convert her husband. “He’s ashamed and worries about bumping into someone he knows. When we go to the beach together, I go naked and he wears his costume. Now that’s true freedom.”
July 16, 2022 at 09:37PM Angela Giuffrida in Alghero