The naked truth: Inside Britain's first naturist hotel and spa... and it's in Birmingham!
Last updated at 9:07 AM on 19th May 2011
The Birmingham suburb of Erdington isn’t the first place that springs to mind as a naturist's paradise. But according to the owner of Britain's first naturist spa hotel, it’s the perfect spot.
‘We’ve had a bit of stick for the location,’ Tim Higgs says in reference to those who dismiss Birmingham as ‘wet and miserable’. 'But naturism in Britain is largely an indoor event, especially if you want it 365 days a year. British weather is unreliable wherever you are.'
The luxury naturist holiday spot opened its doors earlier this year and, despite the less-than-exotic environs, its clothes-free visitors have unanimously given it the thumbs up.
Guests rave about the cleanliness, the relaxed atmosphere and the friendly staff. Many have already returned more than once.
Fun al fresco: Guests at Britain's first naturist spa hotel mingle in the garden, where they can enjoy the hot tub or a game of boules. 'Nothing too strenuous - no one wants things bouncing around,' jokes owner Tim Higgs
Higgs has ensured there’s plenty to do to keep guests occupied. The seven-room hotel, set in a 1920s former private residence, boasts luxury spa facilities – sauna, steam room, hot tub on the patio and a cold plunge pool (‘you go in a man and come out a boy,’ Higgs jokes), as well as oil-scented treatment rooms for naturist massages and facials.
There’s a picturesque garden where guests gather in warmer weather, or heated, mosaic-tiled lounging areas for cooler days.
It's a sociable hotel, says Higgs, where guests meet to read, chatter or play board games.
Contradicting the stereotypical Carry On image of nudist camps, there's no naked volleyball or ping pong – no one wants things ‘bouncing around’, laughs Higgs - although he does concede to a spot of French boules.
A café (towels on chairs please) provides healthy food – no alcohol (getting a license is ‘onerous’, says Higgs, and anyway, alcohol and saunas ‘don’t mix’) – although guests are welcome to bring their own bottle of wine. Since the launch of the hotel in the Midlands suburb in January this year, a steady flow of naturists have sojourned at the establishment. And, while it’s early days yet, 55-year-old Higgs is allowing himself to hope that the future for Birmingham as the hub of Britain’s naturist scene is bright.
Gap in the market: Higgs, who also runs a hotel for 'textiles' (clothed people) next door to the spa, opened Clover Spa in a 1920s former private residence after struggling to find decent naturist spots in the UK
'We’ve only been open a few months, but those who are coming have given us a fantastic review,’ he says.
As this is a start-up business, Higgs admits he’ll need plenty of visitors to make the hotel successful in the long-run. But he is optimistic.
‘To get any new business off the ground takes a year, maybe two,’ he says. ‘But we’re growing at a good pace, and the feedback is such that we expect it to be well-populated.’
Liberating: Clover Spa's Duty Manager Barbara wasn't a naturist when she started working at the spa, but is now a convert
A keen naturist himself, Higgs decided to open the hotel after noticing the lack of suitable holiday spots for naturists in Britain.
‘On the Continent, nudity is normal,’ he says. ‘Naturism is a common experience, and people wouldn't dream of wearing swimming costumes in wellness facilities in Austria, Germany, Denmark or Hungary. In Southern Europe, many beaches are naturist. But here, there’s very little.’
Until Tim opened Clover Spa, he says he had nowhere to go in the UK for his ‘fix’.
‘Many of the places advertised weren’t very nice,‘ says Higgs.‘There are too many places who had hijacked the term ‘naturism’ but turned out to be swinging lairs with dark corners and things going on you don’t want. Or at least,' he says, 'I didn’t want.’
There will be no such shenanigans at Clover Spa. ‘Our hotel is clean, bright and above board,' he says. ‘There are no dark corners; there’s nothing illegal or immoral going on.
'We have had inquiries from the sort of people who like that kind of thing, but we advise them not to come along.‘
In fact, guests have reported that Clover Spa is particularly welcoming, even for the first-time naturist – or ‘textile’, as naturists call clothed people.
Higgs agrees. ‘It’s very sociable – one of the friendliest places around,’ he says. ‘People are very open, they’re more vulnerable when naked, and respectful of other people. It’s a unique atmosphere.’
Sociable: Naturists gather in the communal areas to read, play games or chat. 'It's very friendly,' says Higgs
Higgs explains that often it’s the husband in a couple who is the keen naturist, while their wives come along for the ride. But he is adamant that even novice naturists will enjoy Clover Spa.
‘Many women come to support their husbands, but leave converts. ‘They like that there’s no perviness, no voyeurism. It’s genuine good quality stuff.
'Once they've done it, they realise how liberating it is to be at ease with their bodies.
'We find they come back time and time again.'
Rules are few: No smoking, no swimwear, no cameras, no clothes. Once a guest enters the doors of the hotel, they must leave their clothing in their rooms, but can choose to wear a towel or robe if they please.
The eight members of staff at Clover Spa are clothed when they’re working at the front desk, but all disrobe ‘when they can’, while Higgs’ takes the opportunity of time off to mingle naked with the guests.
His own wife is less keen on joining her husband in the altogether, although she supports him on the business side of things. As for his four children - aged between 15 and 30 - they were naturists once – children take to it instinctively, says Higgs – but they now steer clear. ‘They hate seeing photos of me naked in the Press,’ he admits.
Luxury: Tim, left, enjoys the hot tub on the patio with a fellow staff member
This confession does nothing to promote naturism as a young person’s game. It’s a truism that naturist resorts tend to attract the more mature clientele, and the Clover Spa hotel’s guests seem to prove the theory.
'Maybe it's down to cost, time, competing recreational activities - or that they're not yet comfortable enough with their bodies - but we don’t have many guests under 30,’ he says.
'But there are some. Just this weekend we had a young Italian couple with a two-month-old baby, and we had someone celebrate their 70th birthday, so there’s a real range.’
Given the prevalence of naturism in the old over the young, and in men over women, there’s an untapped market out there – something Higgs is keen to change.
‘We’re always looking to attract new customers, and we use feedback to keep improving the experience for everyone,’ he says.
Rooms cost £120-£150 a night, but Higgs says there are always deals available. He is planning to add some light entertainment in the evenings, supply women’s magazines and chilled fruit salads in the lounging areas - and target non-nudist women's magazines with marketing.
Women-only nights and Hen parties are another possibility.
For now though, the guests he does have are happy, but what do the locals think of Higgs and his naturist venture? After initial incredulity, they've responded well. 'They wondered why we wanted to open here, but we’ve had nothing negative. It’s a niche market, not for everyone. But in my judgement it wasn’t being covered.
'Whether my commercial judgement is right or wrong, I’ll know in a year – and I can always turn it back into a ‘textile’ venue if it doesn't work out.'
Judging by the response he’s had thus far though, it will work out just fine.
Clover Spa hotel received the ultimate accolade when Dutch and German naturists visiting from the Continent gave it their seal of approval.
'They loved it,’ says Higgs, clearly pleased. ‘They’re happy to have found somewhere in the UK, albeit small, that they liked. It’s a small effort, but we’re getting there.
And listening to Higgs and his infectious enthusiasm, you can absolutely believe he is.
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