Brighde was interviewed by the popular podcast ‘Join us in France’ where Annie talked to her about being a vegan traveler in France. Spoiler alert, it’s better than most people might expect! I feel really passionate about France and also vegan travel in France which is one of the main reasons we run trips to France as often as we can. My love of France led me to discover the Join Us in France podcast and I asked the host Annie Sargent if I could share my thoughts about traveling as a vegan. She decided to interview me for the podcast! Thank you, Annie!
However, there is a lot to say about this topic, so let’s summarise my experiences as traveling as a vegan in France and give you some vegan travel to France tips!
My France travels as a vegetarian and then vegan
As a child
I have been lucky enough to spend so much time in France over the years as a vegetarian and a vegan. My love affair with France started young. I think it started because of my mum. My mum always liked learning languages and at that time she was proficient in French and Italian (she has since learned Portuguese and she is currently learning challenging Russian in her 70s!)
France was the first foreign country I visited. It was a day trip on the cross-channel ferry to Dunkirk when I was about 10 years old or so. I started learning French in high school and I really enjoyed it, and it became one of my stronger subjects.
Doing a French exchange when I was about 13 years old was so much fun. I stayed with a delightful host family who took great pride in cooking food for me. We liked each other so much that when I did the exchange again the following year, I decided to stay with the same family. The problem was that in the year between my visits, I became vegetarian.
Well, this was quite the shock for Madame Jardin who frankly didn’t know about vegetarianism (this was in 1991). My mother had called her to let her know ahead of time and I do remember a beautifully served up lasagna with layers of nonvegan ham and not eating it and there being a very awkward moment.
However, it didn’t destroy the relationship. Marjorie and I continued to see each other for a few more years.
Me (left) with my exchange family
As a university student
At university, I studied French and I was lucky enough to be chosen by the French embassy in Australia to complete ‘un stage’ in France where I worked in a French high school as their conversation teacher for a year. My French really improved during that time and as I had school holidays and 4 day weekends, I was able to explore the country a lot. I didn’t eat out at restaurants very much staying in youth hostels, but when I did my defaults were things like Salade de chevre chaud (hot goats’ cheese salad) and crepes (pancakes).
My Intrepid Tour Leading Days
After my stage, I didn’t come back to France for another 4 years or so. I was working as a tour leader for Intrepid Travel in 2004. This was so much fun. I was traveling and taking groups of up to 12 people around France staying in The Dordogne, Provence, Paris, and many of the famous French sites. During this time I was traveling constantly and I had no kitchen to cook in and I was eating 3 meals a day out with my travelers. I could never go to any of the vegetarian restaurants unless I had a free meal away from the group or on my week off (which still involved eating out as I still didn’t have a kitchen).
Let’s just say that a lot of French Fries, goat’s cheese salads, and pizzas were eaten. I would think that my nutrition was less than optimal during that year.
Traveling to France as a vegan
This was my last trip as a vegetarian to France and it wasn’t until a few years later that Seb and I (both vegan by then) came to France. Not only have we had multiple trips to France personally where we have done all sorts of travel from hiking on multi-day trips with only the refuge to eat from, to sightseeing in cities as well as running trips for vegans to France.
My Tips for Vegan Travel in France
If you have managed to read this far, you might have decided that traveling as a vegan in France is possible, but perhaps you might want to put this beautiful country in the too-hard basket. Fear not, there are so many ways that you can enjoy travel especially as a vegan in France. Let’s list some ways in which you can do just that!
1. Get ready with some language
We cannot expect French servers to understand our out the box requests if we are not fluent in French. English is fairly widely spoken by many people, but we cannot expect servers to understand our requests. Imagine if you were waiting on tables and someone started talking to you about veganism in Spanish, would your high school Spanish be able to cope? Probably not! Learning some French or having some useful phrases in French will really help. You can find a downloadable French language guide here.
2. Self cater when you can
One of the best ways to enjoy good food consistently is to self-cater. Get an Airbnb or support vegans by booking with Veg Visits. When you self-cater you can buy from supermarkets that are increasingly having lots of really fun vegan options or go to one of the many vegan grocery stores that can be found around France.
One of the many vegan grocery stores that can be found throughout France
Enjoy the incredible flavors of Provençal produce by cooking at a self-catered apartment.
3. Manage expectations
Yes. Vegan food is much more available than it used to be, but please do not think you can go to a nonvegan restaurant and assume that you will be able to find something that is vegan, vegetarian, or even something veganisable. This is especially true in small cities, towns, and villages.
4. Choose non French food
When you are traveling around in France, try pretty much any type of food other than French. We’re serious. Most towns and villages will have a kebab place with falafels as an option, many towns will have authentic Italian (lots of vegan options here), and also Indian is also very popular in many of the bigger towns as well.
5. Go fruit and vegetable heavy at breakfast and snacks
Many vegans complain when they go to France because they do not eat a lot of vegetables. We think this is for several reasons. For many of us, vegetables are really important, we are used to having them and when we don’t we can feel sluggish and just not in good form. This is especially the case when you choose a dish like a cheeseless pizza, you simply do not get many vegetables. Our advice is to skip the white bread-based breakfasts and use this meal to eat fruits and vegetables. Keep these foods on hand and snack on them during the day even if you are still full from lunch. By doing this you will eat less or less than optimal food at dinner time. For those really serious about vegetables, consider buying a bag of arugula and munching on that. It’s really not as bad as it sounds.
6. Eat picnics
If the weather is good, then consider going to a local supermarket or a local market, stocking up on lots of goodies. Find a park, and sit down and enjoy the probably very pleasant view. Hummus, carrot salad, prepared salads, dressings, vegan yogurts, and more are available at even the smallest supermarket. If it is summer, don’t forget the incredible fruit that France is famous for. If this doesn’t feel special enough, then buy yourself a smaller bottle of wine, bring a cup from home, and enjoy a glass of wine. It’s not illegal in France!
7. Stay in vegetarian or vegan hotels
If you are very flexible about where you are going and where you are staying, then consider staying at one of the several vegetarian and vegan hotels that France has. We always use Veggie Hotels to find them. Most French hotels have a restaurant so you always have your dinners covered.
8. Use apps and blogs to help locate vegan food
We all know that Happy Cow is a super app to help us find food all over the world including in France, but there are often local websites that can help with our endeavors to find a delicious vegan meal. Vegoresto is a website that has many more listings than Happy Cow for France that’s in French but intuitive and very visual. You won’t need to be able to read French to understand it. While abillion app (use referral code WORLDVEGANTRAVEL to join our team) is not widespread in France yet, you could be the first to share your vegan finds through La Belle France for future travelers to enjoy.
Bloggers are an incredible resource. They often put together in-depth vegan guides to locations around the world like this guide to Toulouse from Wendy at Nomadic Vegan about Toulouse or you can find blog posts on very specific things within a destination, for example, this blog post we wrote several years ago about how you can find French vegan food in the capital.
Are there any tips we have missed out on? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know in the comments.