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Spain & Portugal

Map of the Iberian Peninsula
Getting Acquainted with Spain & Portugal
Naturism in Spain & Portugal
Nudity and the Law
The Languages of Iberia
Some Terminology

Map of the Iberian Peninsula

Getting Acquainted with Spain & Portugal
Iberia, or the Iberian Peninsula, is a term that refers to Spain and Portugal collectively. Iberia is separated from the rest of Europe by the Pyrenées, the 430-kilometer-long mountain chain that defines the border of Spain and France. Iberia is also surprisingly close to Africa. At the Strait of Gibraltar, which is the Mediterranean Sea's outlet to the Atlantic, the distance between Spain and Morocco is a mere 15 kilometers.

Iberia has a land area of about 582,000 square kilometers, which is 84% the size of Texas. While Spain is smaller in area than France, Spain and Portugal together are just slightly larger than mainland France. Spain covers roughly 85% of the Iberian Peninsula, while Portugal—which is a bit smaller than Maine—covers about 15%. Iberia is very roughly a square, and Madrid is situated roughly in the middle. If you draw a perfectly north-to-south line through Spain that goes coast to coast, passing through Madrid, the distance (as the crow flies) is about 750 kilometers. Likewise, if you draw a perfectly east-to-west line through Spain and Portugal that goes coast to coast, passing through Madrid, the distance is also about 750 kilometers. In the far north of Spain, the coast-to-coast distance is greater—closer to 1,000 kilometers across. A road trip from Barcelona to Lisbon represents a coast-to-coast trans-Iberian journey of about 1,250 kilometers—about the distance from Philadelphia to Atlanta.

Spain and Portugal both have islands that add slightly to the land area and are popular with tourists. Two well-known archipelagos are part of Spain: the Balearic Islands are four islands in the Mediterranean, the closest to the mainland of which is less than 100 kilometers east of Valencia; the Canary Islands are seven islands in the Atlantic, the closest to a continental land mass of which is about 100 kilometers west of Morocco. The Canaries are considerably distant from the rest of Spain, lying about 1,200 kilometers southwest of mainland Spain. Portugal's Atlantic islands—the Azores and Madeira—are not included in this guide since they seem to lack established naturist entities.

Spain is subdivided into seventeen autonomous communities (comunidades autónomas) that are roughly the equivalent of U.S. states. Fifteen of them are on the mainland. The Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands are each autonomous communities as well. The next lower administrative divisions are provinces (provincias), which can be thought of as counties. Nine of Spain's autonomous communities, all on the mainland, have multiple provinces—as few as two and as many as nine. The other autonomous communities are not subdivided, so the autonomous community and the province are essentially the same entity. Murcia, for example, is an autonomous community with a single province of the same name with the same borders. Local subdivisions are municipalities (municipios). The term urbanización generally refers to an outlying development within a particular municipality.

The administrative divisions of Portugal are more convoluted. The first-order divisions are regions (regiões), which roughly correspond to U.S. states. Portugal has five regions. The second-order divisions are districts (distritos), of which there are 18. These are problematic for organizational purposes since districts are not always contained within the borders of a single region. In this guide, we have not listed or mapped districts. Since Portugal is a fairly small country, breaking listings up among five regions works fine. The lowest order of administrative divisions are municipalities (municípios). A municipality usually has the same name as its largest town, but some larger towns and cities like Lisbon and Porto are spread over multiple municipalities.

Almost all our listings for Spain and Portugal are coastal sites, with very few interior places. All mainland beaches are listed in geographic order, going clockwise.

Naturism in Spain & Portugal
The Spain that we known today began to emerge in the 70's, when it was unburdened of 36 years of oppressive rule upon the death of right-wing dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. In 1978, Spain became a democracy, at which point it seems to have pressed the fast forward button on social progress to play catch-up to other countries in Western Europe. To grasp the significance of the rate of social change, consider that in 2005—30 years after the end of the Franco era—Spain became the third country in the world to recognize full-fledged same-sex marriage, and opinion polls have shown that public support of marriage equality is on par with Norway and Sweden.

It is important to grasp how fast things have changed in Spain to understand that naturism has also been fast tracked. Under Franco, the official attitude (if not the popular one) was that nudity was immoral and offensive. A generation after the end of the Franco era, Spaniards had become about as blasé about beach nudity as their French neighbors, with bare bathing widely practiced at beaches on all parts of the coastline. Spain has a seemingly endless number of beaches where nudity can be practiced. In this guide we detail nearly 200 beaches on mainland Spain and over 80 on the islands.

Since modern interpretations of Spanish law have established that nudity in public spaces like beaches is not illegal, nudists have abundant opportunities. However, nudity patterns vary widely at Spain's nudist locales, so it would be a mistake to assume that all nude beaches are of equal interest to nudists. Spain has some beaches where nudists always predominate, but there are many beaches where the occurrence of nudity fluctuates, with the percentage of nudists dropping—sometimes to zero—on peak days when the beach is crowded. Furthermore, nudity is so well accepted that textiles do not necessarily shy away from beaches where nudists are known to congregate, so there are a good many "nude" beaches where a rather small fraction of visitors actually go nude. As you are browsing through the nude beach listings for Spain, the brief descriptions will help direct you toward the most popular and the other notable beaches in each region. If you are seeking nude beaches where nudists are a majority, you'll want to cull the listings to find beaches that have strong naturist traditions. If you aren't shy about being bare at a beach where a minority of the crowd is naked, you'll have more options. Besides the predominantly nude beaches and the mixed beaches, there are also plenty of remote and lightly attended beaches where nudity is perfectly acceptable.

Portugal's political and social evolution in the 20th century is oddly similar to that of Spain. It too was under the rule of a right-wing dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar, for nearly four decades, until 1968. Salazar's successor was peacefully ousted in 1974, and within a few years Portugal had transitioned to democracy. While democracy actually arrived in Portugal a few years earlier than in Spain, the wheels of social progress have turned a bit slower, which is not to say the Portuguese haven't made tremendous strides in a short time; they have. However, Portugal remains somewhat more socially conservative and religious that its larger neighbor. Nonetheless, naturism has flourished in Portugal, particularly on the southern coast, and the social climate is such that Portugal's many nude beaches are safe havens for those who prefer to be bare. In this guide, we detail 48 nude beaches in Portugal. Just going by numbers alone, nude beaches are as common in Portugal as in Spain considering the two countries' shares of the Iberian coastline. However, numbers don't tell the entire story. Just a fraction of Portugal's nude beaches can be described as really well established and well attended, while the rest are places where there is a small or sporadic nudist presence on remote, little visited stretches of the coast. On the whole, the culture of bare bathing is not as deeply rooted in Portugal as it is in Spain. Portugal's nude beaches are very heavily skewed toward the sunny southern extreme of the country, along a section of coastline called the Algarve. North of Lisbon, nude beaches are far fewer in number (but the frequency of nude beaches picks up again as you cross the norther border into the neighboring Spanish region of Galicia).

Naturism in Iberia is mostly practiced on coastal beaches. Indeed, Spain and Portugal have more nude beaches than any other part of the world. However, there are fewer naturist accommodations than one might expect. Private-membership naturist clubs (sometimes called landed clubs in the U.S.) that are common in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. do not exist in Spain or Portugal. There are some naturist vacation centers, but the number of them is small compared to neighboring France. Iberia has one naturist mega-resort, and that is Vera Playa in the province of Almeria in the southeastern corner of Spain. There are a handful of medium-scale naturist resorts and camping establishments. All other naturist accommodations are rather small in scale, most having the character of a guesthouse or B&B.

In this guide we have included only three interior nude beaches in Iberia. There are in fact more interior naturist sites, at least in Spain, but most of them are obscure sites that seem to be more potentially naturist than established naturist. At any rate, we do not have sufficient details to confidently report on these interior locations, so they have been omitted. If you have visited an interior naturist beach in Spain or Portugal that you think warrants inclusion, by all means let us know.

Nudity and the Law
Both Spain and Portugal have some beaches that are signed for naturist use. However, social attitudes and applications of the law in both countries are such that you need not look for a sign telling you it is safe to disrobe.

Some nudists in Spain maintain that signage that designates certain beaches for naturism is either superfluous or a holdover from previous decades. In Spain, nudity in and of itself is not a punishable offense. Does that mean you can get naked on any beach? Well, maybe in theory, but you shouldn't, for the same reason you shouldn't wear hot pants to church. Regardless of whether or not it is legal, it isn't socially acceptable. We cannot speculate on the repercussions of testing the limits of the law against social norms, but that is beside the point anyway. As long as you stick to established nude beaches or places where you can disrobe at a respectful distance from the nearest textiles, you are within your rights. Spain has enough established nude beaches that you need not push the envelope.

In Portugal, the law is more ambiguous. The so-called "29/94" law passed in Portugal in 1994 deals specifically with naturism and is often referenced by Portuguese naturist entities. This legislation basically provides guidelines to municipalities for designating and signposting naturist areas but is not definitive on how the vast majority of Portugal's nude beaches—which are neither specifically designated nor signposted for naturism—stand in the eyes of the law. However, at the very least the law serves to legitimize naturism as a valid pursuit. Furthermore, should the practice of non-affrontive, non-exhibitionistic naturism generate a complaint, authorities are known to simply ask nudists to dress.

In both Spain and Portugal, the days of any hostile anti-nudity action on the part of authorities are history. Responsible and sensible naturists need not worry of running afoul of the law.

Spain's national naturist organization is the Federación Española de Naturismo (FEN), while that of Portugal is Federação Portuguesa de Naturismo (FPN).

An even more detailed site for Spain is Lugares Naturistas, which provides descriptions (in Spanish) of hundreds of beaches in Spain, both those that are established as nude beaches and those that are potentially or occasionally nudist.

The Languages of Iberia
The Iberian Peninsula is dominated by two languages: Spanish (español), the official language of Spain; and Portuguese (Portugués), the official language of Portugal. However, Iberia is crazy quilt of linguistic variety that goes far beyond the Spanish/Portuguese dichotomy.

Owing to its much smaller size, Portugal is more linguistically homogenous than its neighbor. Spain, however, has a multitude of traditional languages, although several of them are declining languages spoken in very limited areas of the country. Spain's official language is sometimes called Castilian Spanish or simply Castilian to distinguish it from the country's other languages. It should be noted that Castilian Spanish is also the language of the Spanish-speaking world outside Spain. Spain's three most important "other" languages are Catalan, Galician and Basque.

English speakers who are not aware of Spain's linguistic complexity may be shocked to learn that Spanish is not the first language of Barcelona, among other cities. In Catalonia and the Valencian Community (both shaded in aqua in the map near the top of this page), as well as in the Balearic Islands, the first language is Catalan. Catalan looks similar to Spanish. If you look at the same passage in Catalan and Spanish side by side, the most obvious differences are i instead of y for "and", els and les instead of los and las for the masculine and feminine plural forms of "the," a higher occurrence of the letters "j" and "x," and the linking of articles with nouns that begin with vowels, as is common in French but not Spanish. For example, "the age of Aquarius" is l'era d'Aquari in Catalan but la era de Acuario in Spanish. On maps, you will notice that many place names in Catalan-speaking areas of Spain have Catalan and Spanish variants. For example, there is a town between Valencia and Alicante that is Villajoyosa in Spanish but La Vila Joiosa in Catalan, and the region of Spain that English-speakers call "Catalonia" is Cataluña in Spanish but Catalunya in Catalan. Incidentally, natives of the Valencian Community refer to their language as "Valencian" rather than Catalan, and their dialect is distinct. The term "Catalan/Valencian" is sometimes used to be more inclusive.

After Spanish and Catalan, the next most common language of Spain is Galician, also called Galego. Galician is the native language of Galicia, which is the area of Spain at the country's northwestern corner, north of Portugal. Galician is more closely related to Portuguese than to Spanish since Galician and Portuguese evolved from a common ancestral language, and there is debate among linguists concerning whether or not modern versions of Galician and Portuguese should be regarded as different languages or dialects of the same language.

The fourth notable language of Spain is the Basque language, also called Euskara, which is spoken by a limited number of people in the Basque region (País Vasco in Spanish; Euskadi in Basque). The Basque area is in northern Atlantic Spain abutting France, and this cultural region spills over into a small area of modern-day France. Basque is a curiosity because it is not a romance language, unlike all the other languages of Iberia. Like the ancestors of the Basques, the early origins of the language are a mystery. Some Basque and Spanish words looks similar, especially place names, but that is just because the languages have influenced one another in modern times. The province that English speakers call "Biscay" is Bizkaia in Basque and Vizcaya is Spanish. Other words, like the words for "beach," look nothing alike in Spanish (playa) and Basque (hondartza).

Knowing about Spain's other languages is a good thing for broadening one's horizons culturally, but otherwise tourists need not worry about sorting through all the linguistic complexity. Spanish (i.e., Castilian) is the language virtually all Spaniards speak fluently, either as a first or second language, and of course English is also widely spoken in tourist areas. Those who learned Spanish as a second language in school are familiar with the unifying language of Spain and the most widely spoken and understood language of the Iberian Peninsula. If you are visiting both Spain and Portugal but can invest time learning a survival version of just one language, brush up on Spanish. While Spanish and Portuguese are not entirely mutually intelligible, especially in spoken as opposed to written form, the Portuguese are more likely to understand spoken Spanish than the other way around.

Some Terminology
The terms below are given in the three most widely spoken languages of Iberia: Spanish (i.e., Castilian), Portuguese and Catalan.

naturism and naturist
      In 1953, the International Naturist Federation (INF) formally defined naturism as "A way of life in harmony with nature, characterized by social nudity, with the intention of encouraging self-respect, respect for others and care for the environment." Philosophical connotations aside, the words "naturism" and "naturist" are used very broadly simply to describe places or events where nudity is considered normal and acceptable. "Naturist" is naturista in Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan. "Naturism" is naturismo in Spanish and Portuguese but naturisme in Catalan (which, incidentally, is also the French word for naturism). In all three languages, nudista can be used synonymously with naturista. Likewise, nudismo may be used in place of naturismo in Spanish and Portuguese, but in Catalan the term is nudisme (the same as the French word for nudism).

nude, naked
      desnudo / desnuda (Sp.), nu / nua (Pt., Cat.)    These adjectives describe the condition of being unclothed. The adjectives naturista or nudista should be used to describe nude beaches and resorts or naturism as a lifestyle. A man who is naked (in Spain) is un hombre desnudo, while a woman who is naked (in Portugal) is uma mulher nua. A man or woman described as a naturist or nudist may be called um homem naturista (in Portugal) or una mujer nudista (in Spain). A nude beach in Barcelona or other Catalan-speaking parts of Spain can be called una platja nudista or una platja naturista but not una platja nua, just as a nude beach in Castilian-speaking Spain would never be called una playa desnuda.

swimming pool
      piscina (Sp., Pt., Cat.)

      mar (Sp., Pt., Cat.)

      río (Sp.), rio (Pt.), riu (Cat.)

      playa (Sp.), praia (Pt.), platja (Cat.)

      bañador or traje de baño (Sp.)
      roupa de banho or, less commonly, terno de natação (Pt.)
      vestit de bany or banyador (Cat.)

      España (Sp.), Espanha (Pt.), Espanya (Cat.)

      the same in all three languages as in English

To download the complete KMZ file for Spain and Portugal (viewable in Google Earth), CLICK HERE.
See the DOWNLOADS page for a list of all available KMZ files.