A personal "Tour de France" - the vegan way


We love travelling. It had been very long since our last travel – our memorable visit to Thailand on the occasion of the 1999 World Vegetarian Congress. This year, matching a family celebration to be held at the mid of may, we decided to organize a little “tour de France” to explore some spots of the french country and visit vegetarian establishments where we could find good food and a warm reception.

My wife, Estrella, in spite of being born in Spain, spent her childhood and youth in France, in the town of Besançon and surroundings – in fact one of her brothers is still living there and so this was the final destination of our trip. Undoubtedly her fluent french language is a great advantage for travelling through the country. Our main concern was to know whether our small baby Leo would be able to resist so many days of travelling by car. During her pregnancy and the baby’s first year, we didn’t travel at all, and in fact it was now, with 13 months of age, his first major journey.

Being vegans for several years, travelling is always a challenge. Not only for the differences in local customs, but for the impossibility of eating in most of the public places. Luckily enough, in France it’s not hard to find salad bars or restaurants with a wide menu of salads, though they’re not exclusively vegetarian. With this, it’s possible to eat decently adding some extra elements to the daily menu. The rest of the day can be completed buying some fruits, vegetables, bread and other foods, many of them organic – in France it’s relatively easy to find organic produce (bio), it’s quite spread.

Coming from Spain, our first stage was Lavaldieu, a nice country house located in a hidden spot in the Languedoc region, in the inner Aude department (11). Surrounded by woods and fields, it’s a wide house where group activities, yoga stages and so, are usually held, along with the possibility of camping and guest facilities. Patricia Cooper is a great cook with 20 years of experience in vegetarian cooking, and that’s for sure !! We were delighted with a tasty dinner, composed by a tofu green salad, a roti de noisettes et legumes (hazelnut cake) and a sweet pear as dessert. After visiting the area, we got on the road again making a fast visit to the beautiful Carcassone, with its impressive walled citadel. We were surprised to learn about the regional history, linked to the cathars – a christian sect that curiously practiced vegetarianism as far as the middle ages.

From there we headed to our next stage, in the department of Lozère (48), located in the heart of the Cévennes national park. “Le Rabies” is a picturesque hamlet rebuilt by René and Elvira, located in a hidden spot at 900 meters altitude. The beauty of the place, the purity of the air and water, are inspiring, and we were enchanted by their respect for the traditional architecture style (using local slatestone), with small and surprisingly comfortable cottages built in a rustic style. It was a nice gratification to share with them the dinner table and the ideas about their vegan lifestyle. In fact it’s one of the few places in France where exclusively vegan food is offered. On our first day we were able to taste their wild veggies salad, a soft bean soup, pasta with tomato sauce and grilled tofu, and a delicious dessert cocoa cream made with potimarron and orange. On a second occasion, we had another green salad, a leek soup, polenta with lentils casserole, and apple crumble as dessert.

Afterwards, we headed to Besançon, where we could rest for some days with our family, and go shopping in the meantime.

Some days after we got on the road again in our way to the south, this time to the department of Drôme (26). In a tiny mountain village, which is reached after miles of gorgeous landscapes, is located the Hotel Prasada, an atypical stablishment with an exclusively vegetarian restaurant, with the privilege of being the first one of the country in this category (more than 20 years of existence), with a trend to macrobiotics. Our dinner there included a green salad and a dish with a vegan galette with ratatouille and bulgur.

Quickly, we continued our way to the department of Alpes de Haute Provence (04), to visit “Le Claus”. It’s a magnificent farmhouse dating from the XVII century, which has been converted in an eco-tourism center with vegetarian facilities, as well as a meeting point for the educational activities of the Vitaverde Institute. The warm welcome of our hosts – Patricia, Mike and Claude – made us feel at home. Claude Pasquini acts as the IVU Liaison Officer for Europe, and we had the chance to meet him and Mike as well at the Thai congress. As a part of the activites of their Institute, our friends had organized a public talk by Estrella (in french, of course), about our personal experience on natural hygiene and veganism. Also, together we were able to enjoy an interesting tour through the natural sceneries and historical villages of their region. In a near village, some relatives of them run a pizzeria where you can find several vegetarian and vegan choices in the menu – something quite unusual –, which allowed us to have a nice lunch in a pause of our touristic visit.

Our next stage in the planned itinerary was a visit to the Provence, a very famous region that certainly leaves nobody indifferent. Though it was still too early to have a glance at the well-known lavander fields covered by flowers, the seduction of its landscapes and villages found everywhere turn the journey into a constant discovering of charming spots. As our final destination we choose Arles, in the department of Bouches du Rhône (13), a town full of history and with a very cosy ambience. There used to be a vegetarian hotel-restaurant (Le Molière) which sadly disappeared, that’s why we had to choose another one amongst a wide offer of hotels. We finally chose Le Calendal, a picturesque hotel that, for a little more money, has the advantage of being closely located to the roman amphitheater and also being nicely decorated and having a charming inner garden. Seemingly in Arles there is a health food store which serves vegetarian meals, but as we arrived on the weekend, it was closed. So we had to go to a quite unusual restaurant we had references on, named Vitamine, where several vegetarian dishes can be served and we were treated very friendly.

With this, our trip faced to the end. We headed back to our country, having a last stage in a rural vegetarian guesthouse called La Gineste, located in the department of Aude (11). This time, it was a poorly conditioned house, set up as a kind of summer camp for groups, although on the other hand their economic rates are balanced according to the facilities.

On the next day, we had only left our last exhausting journey with many miles to go, under a hot day of spring more likely to be in summer… something quite usual in our mediterranean regions. Our way back home, loaded with memories of the trip – and aromas of lavanda under the shape of souvenirs –. Back to the daily routine, and finally our baby will be able to recall normality, because one thing is clear... travelling is tough for small babies.

What about our next escape? Who knows... possibly the next World Vegetarian Congress, which would allow us to explore another beautiful country – the vegan way.

See you there !!

David Román -
August, 2001