Le Nautilus, Paris

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There are 463 swingers' clubs (clubs echangistes) in France. Well, to be more accurate there were when we wrote this, but new ones are opening every week, and by the time you read this another dozen or so will probably have been added to the list...

The attitude to swinging in France is very different from that in the UK. It is far less covert and secret... less cloaked in guilt. Clubs do not skulk in semi-obscurity. Oh no! Every self-respecting town has at least one and Paris, as you'd expect, has scores. Flick to the back pages of Pariscope, the weekly 'what's on' guide, and you'll see them listed and advertising alongside what's showing at the local cinema, the guide to the latest exhibitions at museums and art galleries and the restaurant reviews.

The French frame of mind

For many French couples, sharing an evening with like-minded friends is as natural as sharing a meal, a glass of wine or a night at the cinema. France is a sophisticated country, a fact that is reflected in its food, its wine - and its attitude to sex. They took off their bras and invented topless bathing and wondered what all the fuss was about - after all why would anyone want white strap marks when you can have an all-over tan?

So when next in Paris, by all means check out the Musee d'Orsay, stroll along the banks of the Seine, take in a trip to one of the city's excellent jazz clubs - but also do your bit for Anglo-French relations and the entente cordiale and visit one of Paris's many swingers' clubs.

An underwater experience

But with so many clubs to choose from where to start? Well, our favourite is Le Nautilus, which is located virtually next door to the Paris Stock Exchange, La Bourse. It is themed to look like the inside of a submarine, although quite why we're not sure. The temptation to exclaim 'up periscope, going down' at the critical moment can be over-powering - but would probably be lost on most of the couples there. It rather loses something in the translation...

French clubs operate differently from those in the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands. If you're used to putting your clothes in a locker and wrapping yourself in a towel, be prepared for a surprise. In French clubs you hand in your coats and jackets at a cloakroom and then head off for the fun, stripping when and where the mood takes you. It is far sexier and avoids the ludicrous scene of people sitting around in bathrobes, looking like lost extras in a bubble-bath advertisement.

Couples only

Le Nautilus is a small club which, until recently, was run by Jean-Charles and Pierina, but although it's now under new management it is virtually unchanged. You don't need to book, you don't need to be members, you don't need to produce ID. But you do need to be a couple - a male-female couple. It is a strictly 'couples only' club, which is bad news if you're a single male, but terrific news if you're fed up being pestered by ever-hopeful guys.

One press of the bell and the door opens and, assuming you don't look undesirable, there's a welcoming smile and you're invited in. Your coats, hats, umbrellas, shopping bags (it is conveniently close to some of the best shopping in Paris!) will be courteously taken and locked in a secure cloakroom and you'll be given an identity disc. No only does that ensure you get your coats and bags back when you leave, but it'll enable you to charge drinks to your tab. The entrance fee (afternoons 49 Euros, evenings 65 Euros per couple) not only gains you entry to the club but also includes a drink - usually champagne - but you can choose whatever you fancy. You can pay by credit card and when it appears on your statement, relax, it comes up as the suitably anonymous Zimba, so no tell-tale details to give away what you've been up to!

The layout of the club

The bar area is just inside the door. Opposite the bar is a relaxing area with leather sofas and a tv playing explicit swinging videos. It's a nice area to sit, sip and soak in the atmosphere. Most couples seem to make this their first stop after the bar, where there's a little flirting, a little flashing and couples getting a little frisky.

Beyond the bar is a series of alcoves to left and right, and it's here that most 'playing' takes place. The alcoves have wide leather-clad seats (beds), a table for drinks and dim, atmospheric lighting. The 'steel frames' of the 'submarine' create the alcoves, some of which have large portholes in the side through which you can look or proffer a tentative hand. The adventurous can climb through into the next alcove or stay half in and half out and thus enjoy the attention of those in each alcove!

The alcoves on the left are rather more dimly lit than those on the right, so if you are an exhibitionist couple, head for alcoves on the more brightly lit right side, and if you prefer to watch, occupy an alcove on the more dimly lit left side. At the end there's a large alcove and it's here that couples wanting to play with several other couples tend to migrate.We've seen as many as five couples here, all playing together and it can be quite a challenge working out which bits belong to which person.

The clientele

Le Nautilus attracts a varied group of people. We have seen staff from the stock exchange pop in to spend their cinq a sept with their lover. 'It's better than a hotel', Jean-Charles once told us, 'It is cheaper, more sexy and you get two free glasses of champagne.' You certainly can't argue with that.

We've also seen journalists from the big international press agency, AFP, whose offices are opposite the Bourse, while away a few hours between assignments - but fear not, these journalists are here to enjoy themselves, just like you, not to file a report for some squalid French tabloid. Thanks to some of the most protective privacy laws in Europe, French newspapers are unable to carry the sort of 'shock, horror, sex scandal' stories which litter our papers. It's often said the reason for this is that France's great and good have so many skeletons in their cupboards it's in their interest to protect privacy. Personally, I think it's more likely to be because in France sex is not the great taboo it is here and it simply does not rate as a story.Vive la France!

Swinging Nautilus-style

'Soft swinging', where couples either have sex in front of others (but there's no contact), or where contact stops short of full swap, is common at Le Nautilus. Just like clubs in the UK, there's both soft and full swinging. For people wanting the buzz of watching others have sex, or being watched, there's plenty of scope. If you are looking for a sexy French couple for full swap you'll find that here too. We have seen it all, from the most discreet to the full-on, unashamed multi-couple orgy.

Don't worry if you don't speak French. Our French is pretty ropy but it's never been a problem and as in UK clubs, 'Non' means 'Non'.We have always been welcomed, we have never felt threatened or uncomfortable. It's a relaxed club with a relaxed atmosphere. It is frequented mainly by Parisian couples, although we have met a few English and American couples here too.

The facilities

Le Nautilus has a tiny dungeon and a small, very discreet, 'viewing room' behind a black curtain. It is totally without light and that allows you to see what's going on in one of the alcoves. If you want to put on a show for the unseen viewers, then choose the first alcove on the left. If you want a peek at what they are up to in the first alcove, slip behind the black drape by the shower. The showers and loos, incidentally, are spotless and standard condoms are free - but if you prefer flavoured, ribbed or large, bring your own. We have tended to visit in the evenings, but like the rest of Paris, the club does not really come to life until the early hours of the morning. It opens at 10.30 pm but it's not until midnight that it gets busy, and things start to get 'interesting' from 1 am onwards. It closes at dawn.We've never managed to stay up that long! There's a taxi rank nearby, but at 2 am there are revellers aplenty while Paris taxis, rare at the best of times, become almost extinct. It is for this reason that we've taken to visiting the club in the afternoons. It opens at 2 pm and around late afternoon, the classic cinq a sept, more couples arrive and things get interesting. It also means taxis are easier to find and the Metro is still running. If you want to stay nearby, one hotel recommended by the club is the Hotel Vivienne, 40 rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris. You can call them on 01 42 33 13 26, or email hotel@vivienne.fr We've never stayed there but the club say it's comfortable and not expensive. It offers free internet access, but not all rooms are en suite, so check when you book - but don't use the phrase 'en suite' - that's a British invention and totally unrecognised by the French!

If you fancy a drink before you visit, then the trendy Bon 2 bar (2 rue du Quatre- Septembre, tel: 01 44 55 51 55 ) opposite the Bourse (the Paris Stock Exchange), is worth a visit, if only to watch the young and trendy at play. If it's food you're after, then you must visit Brasserie Gallopin (www.brasseriegallopin.com ) just a few minutes' walk from the club - it's quintessentially Art Nouveau Paris.

As you can see, there's much more to Paris than the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Champs Elysee and when you return home you can tell everyone how you went down in a submarine in Paris... and leave them guessing. Louise & David


Pricing (per couple):
Afternoons 49 Euros
Evenings 65 Euros
(Includes one alcoholic drink each)

Other useful basics
Let your hosts know if you're first-timers and they'll look after you and make you feel at home
It's exclusively for couples
Club is air conditioned
Skirts are compulsory for ladies, who are encouraged to 'be vamps' - gentlemen are requested to wear longsleeved shirts
(from their website info, they're not keen on the white socks with black trousers look either!)

Contact details
Le Nautilus, 18 rue Feydeau,
75002 PARIS
(33) 1 40 41 98 58
(Fractured English, but the pictures show the submarine theme well)
Nearest Metro
(underground station): Bourse
Monday to Friday 2 pm until 8 pm
Wednesday to Saturday 10.30 pm until dawn
All day Sunday, Saturday afternoons and Monday and Tuesday evenings