Nudist vegetarians of the world, unite!

In a world full of lies, lies, lies, how far would you go to find the truth? In 1900 an eclectic group of artists, thinkers and revolutionaries decided Southern Switzerland was far enough. They bought a hilltop overlooking Lake Maggiore, rejected meat, embraced the flesh, and established a wellness centre you can still visit today.

Just around the corner from Val Verzasca, where James Bond once took a flying leap and you can discover fresh water snorkelling today, lies the town of Ascona, where German pianist Ida Hofman and Belgian industrialist Henri Oedenkoen signed a deal to purchase farmland on Monte Monescia and establish a “vegetable cooperative”. The hill was quickly re-baptised Monte Verità – Mt. Truth – by its new owners, who had much more than gardening in mind.

“[F]ounded by truth seekers, and consecrated to truth seekers”, Monte Verità promoted radical prescriptions for the problems of the modern world, including nude sunbathing, loose clothing, wild dancing, open air showers, minimalist wooden huts, and meat-free diets. The Ticino hills at that time were fertile terrain for such ideas, as for decades the Locarno area had been attracting Russian revolutionaries and even wanted anarchists seeking refuge from the law.

For all the heady ideas about creating a heaven on earth at 321 metres above sea level, Ida, Henri and their co-founders hardly had their heads in the clouds. They were keenly aware that, like them, their fellow freethinkers were often the children of wealthy industrialists and minor nobility, and could well pay for their stay in utopia.

With the founding of a sanatorium in 1904, a school for art in 1913, and a hotel in 1923, Monte Verità became a must-see destination for a generation of artists, utopians and visionaries, including painter Paul Klee and Dadaism founder Hugo Ball, psychologist Carl Jung, writers Erich Maria Remarque and Hermann Hesse, modernist dance pioneers Mary Wigman and Isadora Duncan, educational reformer Rudolf Steiner and sociologist Max Weber – just to name a few.

The community continued for a few years in the early 20s after Ida left for South America, but then was bought by Baron Eduard von der Heydt, the deposed Kaiser Willhelm’s banker and a significant art collector, and further expanded to include a Modernist hotel whose design was contracted to Mies van der Rohe and built by Emil Fahrenkamp, both Bauhaus luminaries.

It’s a testament to the forward thinking of Monte Verità’s founders that many of their lifestyle recommendations were good advice not just in their times, but to ours as well. Today Monte Verità hosts a convention centre, a hotel and a tea house, all are open to visitors. If you do make the climb to enjoy the gardens, sun, and utopian vibes above Lake Maggiore, you might stay for a vegetarian snack – but you’ll have to keep your clothes on.