‘A last-minute decision to join the World Naked Bike Ride in Amsterdam found me booked on an overnight ferry with a plan to visit three spas, one beach café, and an exhibition of neoclassical art. All in four days in July,’ says Jon Oates
I leave the ferry and drive up the A4 to the outskirts of Amsterdam, quickly check into the Spa Hotel Zuiver, then unfold my Brompton bicycle and pedal off to find the WBNR rendez-vous in Frankendael Park where I identify a crowd of naked people milling around on bikes. After the obligatory photo shoot, we wind our way along the streets and canals. It rapidly becomes apparent that the vast majority of onlookers are, by turns, surprised, amused, then waving enthusiastically to the passing show. It’s a carnival atmosphere. Groups in party boats roar with delight. We make our way to Museumplein, completing three laps of honour around the square behind the famous Rijksmuseum, and head off to the Vondelpark, past picnickers and joggers, for further circuits round the lake, and our final destination. We are expertly marshalled by a team of clothed and unclad volunteers, who stop the traffic at busy junctions. Tram and bus drivers accept the delays with good grace; people cheer and shout. The police presence is discrete and tolerant.
Thoroughly contented to be once again immersed in Dutch culture, I dress and head back to my room. Spa Hotel Zuiver is located on the northern edge of Amsterdamse Bos, a forest park which also has a designated naturist area, though the section at Gaasperplas park in the southeast of the city receives much better reviews.
The hotel rooms, on two storeys, are spacious, light and quiet. Spa Hotel Zuiver is neatly divided into three: the clothed hotel section, a large spa complex, and a gymnasium and sports centre. On arrival, you are issued with an electronic wristband which gives you access to the spa and gym, acts as a key for lockers in the changing rooms, and allows you to add bar items to your hotel account without the need for cash.
The spa proves to be popular, though it never feels crowded. There are the usual saunas, relaxation rooms, aromatherapy pools, jacuzzis, and a swimming pool which extends from the main hall to the large external decked sunbathing area. The terrace bar and restaurant require the wearing of a badjas—bathrobe. Everywhere else within the spa area is clothes-free, though you may wear a towel or bathrobe when walking around.
I feel the need for some serious culture, so I head to Hermitage Amsterdam to see their temporary exhibition of neoclassical art including a sublime collection of work by Italian sculptor, Antonio Canova. The highlight is The Three Graces—on loan from The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. After paying a visit to the nearby Hortus Botanicus—botanical gardens—I return to the hotel elated at having seen such wonders.
Time for a change of scene, so I catch the 346 bus from outside the VU Medisch Centrum university hospital—a ten minute walk from the hotel—to Haarlem, then sprinter train to Zandvoort, the nearest seaside resort to Amsterdam. Travelling by public transport in the Netherlands is a breeze. Buy an OV-chipkaart on arrival (€7.50 for an ‘anonymous’ pay-as-you-go card, then top up as required, valid for five years) and use it to swipe in and out for each leg of your journey. Unlike London’s Oyster card, you need to remember to uitchecken—swipe out—on alighting from buses. Your balance is displayed on the card-reader.
I head south along the promenade, then down a ramp onto the beach, and, before long, find notices identifying the start of the naturist beach, aided by the indispensable Naaktstrandje guide. It’s overcast and breezy North Sea weather, so there are few souls unclothed today, but I decide to do the hardy British thing and strip off. First stop Adam en Eva, the only clothes-optional beach café in the Netherlands (and probably in Northern Europe). I am the only nude patron today, but the staff are unconcerned, and I find a customary toastie and coffee most welcome.
On my return to Amsterdam, I decide to warm up with a visit to Sauna Deco. Located in the heart of the city, and a stone’s throw from Anne Frank’s house, this beautiful bijoux spa was constructed in 1979 out of reclaimed Parisian Art Deco furnishings from the Au Bon Marché department store. Stained glass, gilded stair railings, and 1920s decorations mix with traditional Dutch wall tiles. Whilst compact, the spa has a unique atmosphere with steam room, sauna, plunge pool, rest areas and tiny outside terrace giving a tantalising glimpse of the sky.
My final day, and, because Tuesdays to Thursdays in summer are bathing costume days at Hotel Zuiver, I head down the A4 and A12 to Elysium spa near Rotterdam to pass some time before catching the ferry back to Hull and onwards to home. The spa is enormous with countless themed saunas, jacuzzis, relaxation baths, and a central indoor pool area. Landscaped gardens offer areas for sunbathing, an outdoor pool, and yet more saunas. My favourite turns out to be the Heksensauna—witches sauna—in a Hansel & Gretel fairytale cottage. An outdoor cold shower and water pail soon shake off any drowsiness. After lunch, I finally make my way back to Europoort ferry terminal and the whirlwind holiday ends.
Some things to know:
Take your own bathrobe, sauna towel & flip-flops to avoid extra hire charges.
Hotel Zuiver offers non-resident use of the spa. Useful if you’re staying elsewhere in Amsterdam.
The Classic Beauties exhibition at Hermitage Amsterdam continues until 13th January 2019.
Picture from Ewoud Broeksma/broeksma.com