Last Summer, my family spent a glorious three weeks in the Black Forest, Germany. At the time, I was busy editing my cookbook so I never got the chance to write about the trip, so it’s been wonderful to spend time this weekend looking through photos and reminiscing.
In this post, I thought I’d share some of our favourite activities from the vacation as well as our experiences of eating vegan in the Black Forest; an area of Germany that isn’t particularly known for its ‘vegan-friendliness’.
During the Easter holidays, we were lucky enough to spend five days in the glorious city of Rome.
We booked a B&B studio at Al Colonnato di San Pietro through Booking.com and, I have to say, it’s one of the loveliest apartments I’ve ever stayed in, with the most helpful of hosts, Rosa Maria ♥
After reading the glowing reviews of Rosa Maria, I couldn’t wait to meet her. After arranging our transfer from the airport, as promised, she was waiting on the corner of the street to greet us. Full of smiles and cheer, she showed us into the apartment that was going to be our home for the next few days. Continue reading “Spring Break in Rome”→
Last week Lil’ L celebrated his 12th birthday, and we decided to mark the occasion with a special overnight trip to London. Even though I grew up in Essex – just half an hour’s train journey from the Big Smoke and worked there for a year after college – I’ve never actually been ‘sight seeing’ in London. So I was just as excited as Lil’ L about the impending trip.
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.
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?