Last month, we strapped 3 mountain bikes to the top of the car, headed through the Eurotunnel and made our way to South West France for our summer vacation.
It’s the furthest south that we’ve ever travelled by car and we split the journey over two days, with a stopover at Orléans. The next morning, we continued our journey which took us over the spectacular Millau Viaduct, the tallest bridge in the world!
We hired an apartment just outside Pezanas, a beautiful historic town with lots of charm and atmosphere.
During our Spring vacation to Andalucia, we were planning a day trip to Malaga. I was even more excited than usual about this trip as I’d recently discovered that El Piano had a cafe there. After a glorious morning of sight-seeing, I couldn’t wait for lunch!
El Piano is a small tapas caféand take-away located on Calle San Juan de Letran. Despite being tucked away down a side street, we had no trouble finding it. There are a couple of small tables inside the café and a couple more outside. Fortunately, we were early enough to grab a table right next to the food counter.
Over Spring break, my family headed to southern Spain for some quality down-time together. No phones, no Internet, just good ole’ fashioned paper books, sketch pads for the boys, and a bunch of DVDs for relaxing nights in. Through HomeAway, we’d hired an apartment in Benahavis, about 20km from Marbella. The apartment was beautiful, stylish, and had the most fantastic balcony kitted out with a comfy sofa, chairs, and stunning views.
The apartment had a fully equipped kitchen (including a dishwasher), which was perfect for us as we were planning to eat in most days. I had tucked a garlic press and cafetiere in my suitcase as these are the items I often find missing in rental apartments, but I needed have bothered this time. The kitchen had everything I could possibly need, including a whole cupboard full of spices and oils. I did take a pot of nutritional flakes with B12 with me (for sprinkling on pasta dishes) and a few energy bars, pretzels and nuts for the journey but, apart from that, we didn’t bother packing any other food items.
I loved everything about the rental apartment but I just wish I could have moved it a bit closer to the sea. We ended up spending most mornings down by the coast, so it would have been lovely to walk there rather than having to drive every day. Luckily it wasn’t too long a drive (20 minutes or so) and there was plenty of free parking space.
One of our favourite morning activities was to chill out in a café on Marbella beach or in the harbour, sipping coffees and checking out the multi million pound yachts and ‘super’ cars that seemed to be constantly cruising past the café. We spotted plenty of Ferraris, Bentleys, Porsches, and the occasional Lamborghini and Mclaren (much to Lil’ L’s delight).
One thing I’d been really looking forward to this holiday was seeing orange trees in blossom. I thought we’d have to head to Sevilla to see the trees but it turned out that they were growing everywhere! It was a bonus to see the trees laden with oranges too. I thought the fruits would come after the blossom, but some were covered in both blossom and fruits. Such a beautiful sight. And the scent was incredible!
As well as spending lots of time chilling out, we also enjoyed hiking in the beautiful countryside and sight seeing. Malaga and Granada were both fantastic cities to visit.
This is the first time that we’ve self catered on mainland Spain, so I wasn’t sure how ‘vegan friendly’ the local supermarkets would be. It turned out that they had far more selection than I ever imagined. In our local Mercadona, they had a good selection of non dairy milks, soya yogurts and chocolate desserts.
It didn’t take me long to find vegan choc ices and ice cream in their freezer cabinet too. Not only was the ice cream delicious and creamy (best choc ices I’ve ever tasted!), but they were really good value too.
We also found big tubs of hummus in the chiller cabinet which, we were relieved to find, were made the traditional way and didn’t include strange ingredients like the ‘fromage blanc’ we found in shop-bought hummus in Paris last year.
The Hipercor in Marbella had even more vegan options. There was a whole chiller cabinet filled with vegan sausages, burgers, tofu, cheese and even Spanish tortilla. The ‘Bio’ (organic) aisle also had vegan patés and all kinds of vegan (and GF friendly) goodies. There was even a dedicated British aisle filled with PG tips, Heinz baked beans and lots of Tesco own brand products.
Needless to say, we weren’t going to go hungry this holiday!
Most days, we packed a lunch to take out with us. We found seeded wholegrain mini baguettes in the bakery section of the supermarkets. often so fresh that they were still warm. We’d fill them with hummus, pate or smoked tofu, fresh tomato slices, salad leaves and enjoy them sitting on the sea wall down in Marbella or out on a hiking trail. For snacks, we had roasted nuts, dried fruit mixes or my personal favourite, roasted sunflower seeds. I especially loved this brand as they were salted to perfection.
To save time preparing evening meals, we bought packs of frozen ready chopped and grilled veggies. They were really colourful, tasty, and ready in just 5 minutes.
One of my top supermarket discoveries was Tomate Frite. I’ve consumed a lot of store-bought tomato sauces in my time and this one was by far the best I’ve ever tasted. The only ingredients it contained were tomatoes, olive oil, salt and garlic, yet it had the most incredibly rich, deep flavour. Clearly, the Spanish know how to cook their tomatoes 😉
Our evening meals were super simple affairs that didn’t require much prep. Veggie paella (using a shop-bought paella seasoning pack), pasta with grilled veggies in tomato sauce, bean salads, and stir-fried veggies (onions, courgette, peppers, mushrooms) in toasted seeded baguettes were big favourites.
We often made a double batch one night and used the leftovers the following day, combined with salad, avocado and hummus or pate-filled bread.
We did eat out on a few occasions. There were two dedicated vegan restaurant/cafés that I couldn’t wait to check out, but we also had a couple of impromptu meals. Italians are my ‘go to’ restaurants for impromptu vegan meals as I find they’re always happy to make me a cheeseless pizza. I just order the vegetarian pizza (‘vegetariana’ or ‘giardinera’) and ask for no cheese. The one I had at Da Pino Ristorante Italiano in Benahavis was especially tasty and had lots of flavourful char grilled veggies and herbs. I definitely didn’t miss the cheese!
In the bigger towns and cities, there were plenty of Indian restaurants offering a wide selections of veggie dishes. In Fuengirola we had a lovely al fresco meal consisting of poppadum and chutney, onion bhajis, tarka dhal, pilau rice and veggie biryani. As we were heading back to the car, we suddenly stumbled into an Easter procession. It was fascinating to watch. The Nazarenes (the guys in the tall pointy hats) were pretty spooky looking!
I never realised that Easter was such a big affair in Spain. The celebrations went on for days!
As I mentioned above, we also ate at two 100% vegan restaurants/cafes. Both were outstanding and definitely warrant a dedicated post, which I’ll publish next week. For now, I’ll leave you with a photo of a beautiful cloud that we saw in Ronda. It’s amazing what you spot in the sky when you’re not busy rushing around.
What does the cloud look like to you? ….
M thought it looked like a bird but, to me, it was definitely an angel 😉
Have you ever self catered as a veggie or vegan in Spain? If so, I’d love to hear your top tips.
During the school summer break, we strapped three bikes to the roof of our car and headed across on the Eurotunnel to France. Our destination – the beautiful French Alps.
La Clusaz, a short drive away from our hire chalet, soon became our favourite place to hang out. It’s a great family-friendly place, with so many activities going on that I felt like I’d landed in a scene from Where’s Wally!
The village was filled with activities for all ages – inflatables for the small kids, summer luge, zip wires and a big air bag for the older kids, as well as an ice rink and swimming pool.
Lil’ L loved the big air bag! The slope is actually designed for ski jump practice but, in the summer, you can slide down it in an inflatable tyre. It was really popular with kids and adults alike. Literally everyone I watched jump had a big smile on their face :o)
From La Clusaz, you can take cable cars up into the mountains for hikes, cross country biking and downhilling.
Our hiking adventures took us through alpine meadows…
through forests and streams…
and up and down rugged hills…
where we came across these beautiful creatures ♥
The weather wasn’t the best, but we made sure to make the most of the sun when it came out.
We did get caught out one day whilst hiking on the top of a mountain. The sky suddenly went dark, and then the most almighty storm set in. We ran as fast as we could down the mountain, slipping and sliding in the torrential rain, with deafening claps of thunder and forked lightening overhead. It was exhilarating (and just a little bit scary too!)
For the first time ever, it was me that was left trailing behind on the bike rides!
It’s incredible how much Lil’ L has improved at hill climbing in the past year. Last year, I was the one waiting at the top of hills as M patiently coached him up the hill. Now, he flies up the hills and stands waiting for me!
I’m seriously going to have to up my game as I don’t want to be ‘slow mum’. That’s just not cool!
As well as hiking and biking, I loved running in the stunning countryside surrounding our chalet. After climbing up and down hills for three weeks, my body’s definitely stronger and more toned. I’d love to keep it that way!
Other activities that Lil’ L loved this holiday included swimming, reading, playing chess and Diablo. He’d been patiently waiting for a new Diablo for weeks so, when we finally gave it to him at the Eurotunnel terminal, he couldn’t wait to get started. He even managed to spin it in the car!
We were really pleased with our hire chalet, which was spacious, modern and came with a fully-equipped kitchen. When in France (with the exception of Paris), we always prepare our own meals. Not only does it save us a small fortune, but it can be difficult to find vegan-friendly eateries, especially in this area of the Alps (aka ‘Cheeseland’!).
In fact, I didn’t see a single vegan option on the menus I looked at. No matter though, as I was more than happy to cook, especially as M was around to help out. Back home, I’m usually in the kitchen on my own, so it was lovely to have some company!
Since we were travelling by car, I took a few supplies from home that would either be hard to come by (like nooch and nettle tea) or a lot more expensive in France (like big packs of almonds and cashews). I also took some herbs and spices to save having to buy more.
Fortunately, non dairy milks and yogurts are readily available in the French supermarkets. The Bjorg brand has lots of vegan-friendly products, including delicious mushroom and aubergine pates. We found them on the ‘Bio’ (organic) aisle, along with the milks and tofu. Bjorg tofu is different to the tofu you find in the UK, as it’s UHT and doesn’t need pressing. It’s chewier than our regular tofu, but I find it works well when diced into small cubes and cooked in sauces.
The one thing that always catches me out in France though is the hummus – for some unknown reason, most of the brands contain cheese!
All the meals we made were simple and quick to prepare. For lunch, we loved big colourful salad plates, beans on toast (we found Heinz baked beans on the world food aisle!), or baguettes filled with stir-fried veg. For our main meals, we enjoyed pasta, curries, fajitas, French bread pizzas, stir-fries and couscous dishes.
The three weeks flew by and, before we knew it, it was time to head home. We’re now back into the routine of work, school and evening clubs and activities, so week days are pretty full on. I’m looking forward to lots of weekend biking adventures though, crunching our way through piles of Autumn leaves. I just need to sneakily get some extra hill practice so I can keep up with those boys 😉
I hope you had a wonderful summer too ♥
Did you manage to get away on vacation or for day trips?
What was the highlight of the summer for you?
During May half term, we headed off on the Eurostar to spend a few days in Paris. Our buddies are living there for a year, so it was wonderful to see them and share in their amazing adventure! We stayed at their fab apartment in Issy for two nights, then moved to the heart of the city and spent two nights in Montmartre.
We were determined to make the most of our short visit and packed a lot into each day. We visited the classic Paris sights – Louvre, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Galerie Lafayette – as well as a contemporary art market and Marvel Super Hero Expo (much to Lil’ L & M’s delight!)
Most of my visits to Paris have been in Autumn/Fall, so I’d forgotten just how busy the city can be during the summer months. After quick stops at the tourist hotspots (which were heaving with people), we took up our favourite activity which is to simply wander the streets (or “flâner” as I think they say in French). For me, this is the best way to truly experience Paris.
As well as soaking up the Parisian atmosphere and admiring the stunning architecture, we had lots of fun spotting street art by the infamous French Invader. Apparently, there are over 1000 pieces of his art in Paris alone!
I also loved spotting all the love graffiti that’s sprinkled across the city. I wish all graffiti had this sentiment!
Lil’ L has never been to Paris before and he was most excited about seeing the Eiffel Tower. I was keen to take him at nightfall so he could see the tower lit up. I didn’t tell him about the hourly ‘sparkle’ as I wanted it to be a suprise 😉 We were on a bus heading to the tower when the 10 o’clock sparkle happened. Luckily, the bus turned a corner just in time, and we caught the whole show. I loved watching Lil’ L’s face as it sparkled. It was really special ♥
We also caught the 11 o’clock ‘sparkle’ from the Trocadero. As an added bonus, the Paris Slalom World Cup Inline Skating battles were taking place and we got to watch the top three men in the world battle it out for first place. The Korean guy that came first was totally awesome! He wasn’t even phased when some idiot kept flashing a laser in his face. If you’ve got a keen eye, you might even spot me, M & Lil’ L in the background 😉
We made sure to balance the walking and sightseeing with plenty of chill-out time at cafés, parks and the apartments.
If the sun’s out, Jardin du Luxembourg is a great place to spend an afternoon. I loved watching the sailboats gliding across the pond. Very relaxing indeed!
And of course, we spent a fair amount of time eating too 😉 I was amazed at the amount of veggie options that are now available in Paris, catering for all kinds of dietary choices from raw, macrobiotic, gluten-free through to hamburger joints and fast food. There are also ‘Bio’ (organic) supermarkets where you can stock up on health foods.
If you’re planning a visit to Paris, I highly recommend checking out the restaurant reviews on HappyCow and Trip Advisor. We tried a few places (including M.O.B. vegan burger joint and Pousse Pousse), but there were two clear favourites. For a quick lunch option, we loved Maoz Vegetarien near Notre Dame, which serves falafels stuffed in pittas to which you add salad and dressings from the self service bar. There was a great selection of salad options, including yummy beetroot and cumin-spiced carrots.
In the evening, we enjoyed a visit to Vegebowl which serves Asian cuisine. We arrived as it opened and the place quickly filled up (always a good sign!) 90% of the dishes are vegan and those including dairy are clearly marked. A 3 course meal cost 12 euros, which is cheap for Paris. The dishes are named after their meat counterparts (which me and Lil’ L found a bit creepy) but the ‘meat’ was essentially tofu. We tried a whole range of dishes and all bar one (the Lemon “Chicken”) were really tasty. We especially loved the Basil Stir Fried Tofu, ‘Cashew “Chicken”’ and ‘Sweet and Sour “Pork” balls’.
After reading Vegan Miam’s review of the Gentle Gourmet Café, I’d really wanted to check out their vegan French desserts. Unfortunately, the two occasions we happened to be nearby it was mid-afternoon and the café was closed. Next time!
Finally, to round off what was an incredibly special trip to Paris, in the departure lounge at Gare du Nord, we spotted Hannah and Dan from our favourite band, London Grammar. They were on their way home after playing at the We Love Green Festival. I’ve listened to their album ‘If You Wait’ hundreds of times and it still sends shivers down my spine. I couldn’t resist popping over and saying hi to Hannah. She is so lovely! ♥
During the Easter school holidays, we were fortunate enough to be able to escape wet England and spend a couple of weeks on the volcanic island of Lanzarote. This is is our fourth visit to the Canary island. There’s clearly something special about this place that keeps drawing us back ♥
Regardless of how busy the main resorts are, within a few minutes you can get away from it all and find complete peace and solitude.
All three of us ‘unplugged’ for the trip (no phones, iPads, computers, video games) and it was utter bliss! Lil’ L never run out of things to keep him occupied. In his ‘down time’ he sketched and read (the NERDS series by Michael Buckley was popular this holiday) …
… while the rest of the time he was swimming, playing tennis, exploring, rock climbing, or playing on the beach.
When I asked him to name his ‘top three’ holiday highlights he said ‘swimming in the sea with the beautifully coloured fish’; ‘the Aqua Park’; and ‘spending time as a family’ ♥
It’s funny how the littlest of things can totally captivate me….
… like finding this tiny yellow flower happily growing on the beach in a volcanic rock shelter ♥
During our time away, I was studying for a Buddhist exam but luckily I could do this anywhere – at the cafes, on the beach, sitting on a rock, in a lava tunnel.
Most days I went for a morning run along the sea front which was totally exhilarating (the winds were seriously strong!) M also hired a mountain bike and went exploring in the volcanic national park.
Once he’d pedaled to the top, he paused for a moment to take in the views…
… then munch his box of home-made trail mix (see even he’s started taking food photos now!)
Talking of food, we ate really well this holiday. Most days, we prepared our own lunches. We ate lots of fresh salads, accompanied by six-seeded multigrain bread that was so fresh from the bakery that it was still warm ♥
All the restaurants we visited had veggie options on their menu or were happy to accommodate us. I’m so grateful for this as I don’t think demand for veggie food is very high in Lanzarote! Pretty much everyone I saw was tucking into meats – steaks and racks of ribs the size of plates (literally!) – and chips. Not a veggie in sight!
In the Italian restaurants we asked for vegetarian pizzas without cheese, and they were utterly delicious! When you ask for a cheeseless pizza, they tend to substitute the cheese with lots of extra yummy grilled veggies 🙂
Another favourite was the veggie fajitas at the Mexican restaurant. A huge plate of sizzling veggies came accompanied with a bowl of chilli beans, rice, salsa, guacamole, sour cream (which I left) and tortillas. While M and Lil’ L ate a small amount of eggs and dairy this holiday (mainly ice creams), I chose to stay 100% plant based. It just suits me better.
All three of us agreed that this trip was easily as good as our previous trips to Lanzarote, if not better! I think we all cherished every moment of it ♥
Back home, life’s returned to its usual level of ‘busyness’, but I’m still determined to strip back and ‘declutter’ my life in pursuit of the ‘simple life’ that I yearn for. I’m still very far from that place but if I keep steering myself back on track, hopefully I’ll get there one day.