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The Italy Diaries: Cinque Terre
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Italy Diaries: Santa Margherita

Italy Diaries: The Nudist Beach

This week, Nadia El-Awady shares the tale of her Italian nudist beach adventure. Minus any actual nudity.

My husband Colin and I were invited at the end of last October to a wedding in Santa Margherita on the west coast of Italy. We decided we would make a big trip of it and see other places in that general area. We visited Florence and Pisa and hiked the Cinque Terre. This required a certain amount of research on my side. I had to find out what there was to see and do and how we might manage to get from one place to another.

The Cinque Terre is a World Heritage Site on the northwest coast of Italy. Photo credit: Nadia El-Awady

As I was doing my research some three weeks before the trip, I stumbled across some interesting directions on how to get to a nudist beach in Corniglia in the Cinque Terre.

The path turns and will take you behind some small houses and you will find yourself in front of a gate at the entrance to an abandoned train tunnel. (If you see a sign that said private property…ignore it!)
Ring the bell that is located to the left of the tunnel gate and the gate will automatically open and then close behind you. (You may feel like you are doing something wrong, but don’t worry about it. Just walk on)

I don’t know about you, but tell me that I can do something that will feel wrong and I’m there! I meticulously copy/pasted the directions to this beach into the excel sheet itinerary I had created for the trip (I’m sort of super-organized that way). I told Colin that as part of our trip we were going to visit a nudist beach. For some reason he showed no objection. I think he figured it might mean he’d get to have sex on a beach.

Just between you and me, I’m a real prude. I would never strip naked in front of strangers (or friends for that matter…well, except for that one time at the Dead Sea but that’s another story for another time). I also have no desire to see naked people waddling into the sea. But we had been in the Cinque Terre for two days and nowhere did I see anyone going swimming anywhere. The late October weather was too cool and the seas were raging. It was too dangerous to dare the waves. As a result, I did not really expect to find nudists at the nude beach. But I decided in my head that even if I did, it couldn’t hurt to take a peek and find out what a nudist beach was really like. The anticipation of going on a secret adventure had me all hyped.

Colin and I arrived in Corniglia, found ourselves a room, put our heavy backpacks on the bed, and almost immediately afterwards marched out. “Let’s go look for the nudist beach!” I said to Colin, wiggling my eyebrows the way I do when I ask him, “Want to have sex?” I took Colin’s hand and led the way. He showed no resistance at all.

I had our itinerary in my hands. The directions to the beach were too long for me to keep in my head. We went down the 365 steps that led from the cliff-top town of Corniglia to the coast. Instead of turning left to walk toward the train station, we made a right and walked behind three small houses as the directions instructed. We spotted the private property sign. I pointed at it, excited like a little child. “There it is!” I told Colin. “We’re going to trespass on private property but the directions say it’s all right so I’m sure it’s all right,” I continued. Colin seemed to be a little hesitant but I pulled on his arm. Only a few steps further and we were standing in front of the abandoned train tunnel. The gate was already open. It was dark inside. Again, I told Colin we were supposed to walk into the darkness.

The directions then read:

Walk through the tunnel for about 15 minutes until you reach the end. Don’t be alarmed if you hear trains passing in the tunnel that is adjacent to the one you are walking in. 

Colin and I walked in.

It was pitch dark. I had never experienced a darkness like this. The tunnel turned quickly so that the tunnel opening behind us and the light that came with it disappeared only seconds after we entered. Colin and I tried our best to let our eyes get accommodated to the darkness so that we could see ahead of us, but nothing worked. It was darker than any dark I had ever not seen. There was no light at the other end of the tunnel. I concluded from this that either the tunnel continued to turn and thus we could not see the opening at the other end or there was no end to this abandoned tunnel.

We proceeded into the pitch-dark abandoned train tunnel. Photo credit: Nadia El-Awady
Colin and I held onto each other for dear life. I stuck the paper I had in my hands that held the directions to the beach and used it to scrape the tunnel wall beside me so that I would have a point of reference as we slowly moved forward. “The directions say that it’s only 15 minutes, Colin,” I said, probably trying to convince myself more than Colin that we should continue forward. We were literally walking blind in an abandoned tunnel. We were in Italy, the land of the Mafia. No one knew where we were going. Bad people could jump on us and kill us in this tunnel and we wouldn’t even see them do it. We would rot in the tunnel and no one would ever find us. And if they did, they would know we died on our way to the nudist beach. Oh, the shame my dead soul would feel! Did any of these thoughts keep me or Colin from moving on? No. We just kept telling each other that this was the stupidest thing either of us had ever done in our whole lives. Did either of us suggest to the other that we turn back? No. Not a word to even imply that was uttered between us.
The paper I used to scrape against the tunnel wall so we had a point of reference as we blindly walked forward, not knowing if we’d live to see daylight again. Photo credit: Nadia El-Awady

We moved forward, one foot in front of the other, holding onto each other in the pitch dark. We were both frightened out of our wits. In this frame of my mind I suddenly feel my arm being grabbed. I jump towards Colin and scream. “What?? What??” Colin yelled. “I think something just grabbed me!” I shrieked! Did this deter us from moving forward? No. We went on.

A few minutes longer and I hear a “plop!” and then a “ffffuck!” Colin had stepped into a huge puddle of water. “Keep next to me!” I told Colin and held him even closer.

And then we heard it. The train. And in the distance we saw its lights. It was rapidly coming closer and CLOSER. Colin and I jumped and held our bodies as closely to the side of the tunnel wall as possible, Colin’s arm over my chest to push me backwards. This was how we were going to die then. Not at the hands of the Italian Mafia on our way to a nudist beach but under a train on our way to a nudist beach. Oh, the shame my dead soul would feel when people found our torn, rotting bodies.

The train, of course, was not going through this tunnel. It was above it just as the directions had described.

Colin started having some doubts. “Nadia, where did you find these directions?” he asked. Trying to make light of the situation I replied, “On a website called” “Nadia!!” was all that Colin said. I learned a few days later that he actually believed me. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure where I found the directions. I had used many websites to get information on the Cinque Terre. It was only today, as I write this, that I discovered that I got them from a website called Me, the science journalist, who has lectured other science journalists AND scientists on how to use CREDIBLE sources of information. I was following directions I found on a website called NotAMall on how to go to a nudist beach that involved an abandoned train tunnel, trespassing on private property, and NUDISTS. I don’t know what I was thinking. Did ANY of this make Colin and me rethink what we were doing? No. We continued to move forward.

After about 15 minutes of this we both thought we saw a light far far away. This allowed us to convince ourselves that we were almost nearing the end…that there even WAS an end. We walked and walked and walked, expecting it to get brighter, but it took several minutes until it did. FINALLY we reached the end of the tunnel.

The tunnel opening was now straight ahead of us. And at the opening we saw a motorcycle and lots of gear. What caught our attention most was rows and rows of shoes on shelves lining this end of the tunnel wall. “This must be where they take off their clothes!” Colin said, too much excitement in his voice. I got the impression he was implying that maybe that’s what we should do since OBVIOUSLY that was the norm on these grounds. I ignored the implication and we walked out of the tunnel. Immediately to our left we saw a small shaded area with two big bench-tables in the middle. A teapot and some glasses were set up in one corner. And socks and underwear were hanging on clotheslines traversing the place. “I’ll bet you THIS is where the nudists take their clothes off!” Colin exclaimed, again rather too excitedly. We both nervously looked left, right, and behind us, suspiciously expecting naked people to pop out at any instant. But they didn’t. So we moved on.

The “other side” of the tunnel. Photo credit: Nadia El-Awady

We were walking on the side of a mountain, some 30 meters above the shore. The area was covered in olive trees that made it difficult to see the water immediately below. If there was a nudist beach in this area there would have to be a trail that led down to the shore. We set out to look for it.

As we continued to walk we saw a makeshift tent on our left. We held onto each other not knowing what to expect. Once we passed it Colin whispered, “Did you see the guy who was looking at us from behind the trees??” My heart jumped with fear. “No! Was he naked??” “No, he was wearing clothes,” Colin replied. “Oh,” I sighed with relief.

We continued to walk. Just ahead of us and walking towards us we then saw a fully-clothed fat 50ish man leading a fully-clothed man and woman, both in dreadlocks and in their 20s or early 30s. They nodded to us and we nodded back; a nod of fellow nudists, we felt. “Do you think those guys look like nudists?” Colin asked. “Yes,” I whispered back. We figured we must be close to the beach and these guys had just finished their swim.

We continued forward. We then came across three odd looking men, all with their shirts off, picking olives from the olive trees. They looked at us suspiciously. We walked by them, trying to make it look like we belonged in the place. “Those men look scary, Colin,” I whispered. He agreed.

I didn’t dare take a picture of the Mafiosos but I did take a quick snap of the olives they were picking. Photo credit: Nadia El-Awady
We could now see the coast clearly below and there were a couple of steep trails that led down. The beach was small and pebbly. The waves were crashing against the rocks. If any nudists had dared to go down, there were definitely naked bodies floating in the Mediterranean today. Seeing that the beach was not as spectacular as promised by, that there were no nudists to be seen anywhere, and that there were Italian Mafiosos and a dark abandoned train tunnel between us and civilization, Colin and I decided it was time to head back.
What Colin and I can only assume is the nude beach in Corniglia. Photo credit: Nadia El-Awady

“Take a picture of the bright blue sky with your iPad,” Colin instructed. “We can then use that as a light source on our way back through the tunnel.” I did as told. I don’t know why we didn’t think of using the iPad’s light on the way there.

We walked back towards the tunnel and passed the Mafiosos. “Ciao,” I said to them and nodded, one fellow Mafioso to another. No one replied. “Why did you talk to them??” Colin said angrily. “They look strange, those guys!” I explained to him that this was exactly why I did talk to them. I figured that by saying something to them I’d get us on their good side. They might get angry with us and kill us in the abandoned tunnel if we just IGNORED them!

We started rushing toward the tunnel, feeling the eyes of the Mafiosos on our backs. I flipped open the iPad with agility. We passed the parked motorcycle and hiking shoes lining the shelves. As the light from the tunnel opening disappeared behind us, we were thrust into the darkness once again, this time with the very faint light of the iPad to guide the way. We were unable to see far ahead of us but at least we were able to see below our feet. And it was thus that we were able to avoid stepping into the huge puddle of water Colin stepped into on the way in. The trip that took us about 20 minutes going in took us about ten minutes going out. We were moving as quickly as the dark allowed us to, always expecting Italian Mafiosos to jump on us and stab us in our backs.

The light at the end of the tunnel appeared and Colin and I RAN. We ran for dear life. We quickly passed the private property sign and got ourselves onto the stairs that led back up to Corniglia. We saw people…lovely, adorable, NORMAL people. We sighed a sigh of relief. We were alive! We vowed never to do anything so stupid again.


Next week read about the final portion of our Italian visit in the lovely Santa Margherita and Portofino.