A middle aged man and woman are holding dry fruits and giving smiles while enjoying their time with lights in the background; A Magical Christmas in Alsace | Colleen Patrick-Goudreau | Ep 92

A Magical Christmas in Alsace | Colleen Patrick-Goudreau | Ep 92

Introducing Colleen

Today’s episode is a little bit different. Because today’s episode is cooking at you just before Christmas, a holiday that we happen to enjoy and celebrate in our little family and my friend Colleen and I thought we would record this Christmas-themed podcast and hopefully get you in a festive mood. We are talking about what many would call, the capital of Christmas the region of Alsace in France – a trip that we have run several times and we think captures the essence of Christmas so whether you are thinking of joining us on this trip in 2023, or just want to know a little of the area – we do share lots of info so you can plan your own trip to this part of the world should you want to, or maybe just a little virtual tour of Alsace in the form of this podcast is all you are looking to do right now, we hope you enjoy this episode with my dear friend Colleen Patrick-Goudreau!

In this episode we discuss:

  • The backstory of the World Vegan Travel trips and Joyful Vegan Trips
  • Vegan Alsatian and French food
  • Vegan Christmas markets
  • How we dip our toes into Switzerland and Germany
  • Our Christmas memories

Learn more about what we talk about

Other World Vegan Travel content connected with this episode

Connect with Colleen


Colleen: hi Brighde and welcome to Food for Thought Podcast,

Brighde: Hi Colleen and welcome to the World Vegan Travel Podcast

Colleen: I love it. We’re doing this for the first time, as we would’ve said in our respective introductions, and I’m excited to do more conversations on Food for Thought after 16 years. Thought it would be fun to do, and I love that you and I collaborated to do this for each of our podcasts. So thanks for having me on World Vegan Travel

Brighde: thanks for having me on The Food for Thought Podcast.

Colleen: You are welcome. And so Brighde and I were inspired to do this episode together because we, together, and I’ll give a little context if we didn’t already say it again in our respective introductions, but Brighde and I worked together, along with Brighde’s partner Sebastian at World Vegan Travel along with me, and I am just gonna put David in there because the four of us do, do really work together on the Joyful Vegan trips for sure and David is part of that. But the point is that the Joyful Vegan trips that I host that you have heard me talk about before, they’re basically run by World Vegan Travel. They create the itinerary, they do all the logistics, they do all the hard work, and I get to play, host, and draw as many of my people to the trips as much as I can. And so we work together on these trips and it is such a joy and David and I were just talking about it even last night. To be able to work with friends, we care so much. And friends we love to travel with so much.
But then also to be able to marry all of our skills and backgrounds and, expertise together. Is really super for me and I hope super for you as well. And so we just released, now obviously we all were a bit curtailed by Covid and so some of the trips we had to be canceled, some had to be pushed. We were about to leave for Africa. And I say Africa ’cause we’re gonna be in several different countries in Africa. And we’re, we’ll be hosting a trip in Rwanda, we’ll be hosting a trip in Botswana, and then in between the Joyful Vegan trips, those two Joyful Vegan trips, the four of us are gonna be scouting in South Africa, and the Garden Route.

Then Brighde and sub go on to host more trips, including you’re doing a Garden Route and you’re doing another Botswana trip. So that’s our, the end of our 2022, in the Botswana trip, all of the Botswana trips have been pushed. Now, this is the third time it’s been pushed because of Covid. It was originally supposed, they were originally supposed to be 2020 trips.

So with that in mind, we are now obviously looking toward 2023, and that’s such an exciting time for us because once, especially you guys Seb gets all of the itineraries, all of those details in place, the pricing, talking to the hotels, deciding on those kinds of things, we can announce the trips and so after our Italy trips, which were also 2022, we’re one double room short of being filled in Northern. And it’s eight months away. And we just hosted that one the Tuscany and then Northern Italy. The Tuscany, I think has two, maybe double and one single, I can’t remember, But it’s a few, it’s a few spots away from being filled, but those two are almost filled. And then we’re, we just announced just recently as we’re recording this, France, as people can here, we’re focused completely on Europe in 2023, and so the two France trips are in September. We’re doing the French countryside, which is super quintessential French countryside, Loire Valley, Dordogne starting in Paris, ending in Bordeaux. And we can talk about our nickname for that trip a little later on cause I love the nickname for that trip. And then in December, we are hosting ours for the third time on our Alsace trip. Actually fourth time for you because you did one Alsace trip. Fall right in the fall in September, one year, and then, but this will be our third Christmas Alsace and we just, we, it’s, it tends to be the trip that sells out the fastest, although, I don’t know, North Italy may have just beaten that. We’ll find out. And we just announced it. And so we wanted to talk about it. And especially since this is Christmas time, we thought, get some slippers on, Put your jammies on, get some hot cocoa, light the fire, and just listen to why this is such a special region to go to, in the wintertime, what we do on our trips, and of course, we’d love you to join us, but also if you don’t go with us, you can still get a sense of what it’s like there in the wintertime, and we wanted to share that with all of you.
Did I get that right, Brighde?

Brighde: You absolutely did. And I just want to make it clear to listeners, you know that you do have a very big hand in deciding what these trips are going to be like. And I think maybe it’s a little bit easier for you these days because we know the kinds of things that you love. So we know the kinds of hotels that you are just gonna be super excited about the kind of activities. But these trips really are tailor-made, to you and your audience, so the things that you are really passionate about. It’s there is a lot of work on this side, but also your influence is weaved throughout these trips. I just wanted to make that very clear.

Colleen: Thank you. And then I just wanna emphasize that too. Thank you. And I wanna emphasize that to my audience because the reason I do these trips with Brighde and Seb is cause I was working with a different travel company in the past, and Brighde and Seb were both travelers on both of those trips. The same trip in Southern Italy. The people I was working with were not the right fit for me. And Brighde and Seb having had a background and training and experience, that’s where they met in tour leading many years ago, many years before that. And you weren’t doing that as careers at the time you came on my trips, that’s when you started planting the seeds. I think what I do love so much about working with you, aside from all of the fun we have but in terms of my brand and trusting you, you know me so well, and you know my brand so well. And so that is what’s really fun is that Seb when he’s picking a hotel or he is picking a dinner or an experience, he knows when, Oh, Colleen’s gonna love that, or David’s gonna love this, or this is a Colleen thing. And so I do appreciate that so much. It is a collaboration in that sense. And because you know my brand so well, we’ve done so many trips now and, hopefully, we can keep doing more. We have so many WhatsApp conversations, guys, You have no idea what WhatsApp conversations we have daily, so anyway, thank you for saying that. Anything else you wanna say about why we’re doing this before we get started?

Brighde: No. No, not really. I think you covered it all beautifully. Thank you.

Colleen: Yeah. Okay. So before we went to Alsace the first time, I was certainly not familiar with this region. I had been to France many times before that. I went where most people go, kind of Paris, that area, a little bit of south, and obviously Versai, that kind. But Versaille hadn’t been to Alsace as you. And so let’s talk about where Alsace is. Maybe you can just establish that for everybody. And had you been there before, what was your experience in that region? You had spent a lot of time in France during your traveling career, early traveling career. So tell us more about where it is and what your experience was and why you thought this would be a good place to have one of the Joyful Vegan Trips.
Brighde: Sure. So I lived in France for a year in my early twenties or so, and I was teaching in a school and I had a four-day weekend every week. It was just brilliant. So I did a lot of travel throughout France, so I did go pretty much everywhere in France during that time, including from Alsace to Strasbourg specifically during the Christmas markets time. So that was my first introduction to it. And then Seb and I, also went there for a little visit before we visited a few of the Christmas markets in that area. It was like a happy accident I would say as to why we decided to do this is our first Europe trip because both Seb and I speak okay French. We are very familiar with France and we knew that French cuisine is internationally very famous, but it’s not exactly very vegan-friendly. I can’t think of many accidentally vegan French dishes in France, except for perhaps Ratatouille so I knew that creating a trip a vegan trip to this area of France would be very special. And the fact that Christmas is just such a magical time to go.

Colleen: Yeah. And so what Brighde means when she says our first European trip because our first trips together that we did together were number one Thailand, number two, Vietnam, and then it came, then came Alsace, and then at the time, we were already planning the Rwanda trip. This was back in 2017. We would’ve been planning that. That was 2018 was our first Alsace and then we did Alsace again in 2019. So yeah, it was our first European trip together as a group travel trip, as a World Vegan Travel Joyful Vegan trip. But not a lot of people know. About Alsace, not a lot of people have heard of it. And yet, and that’s the thing we also talk about a lot, is how to market these trips, how to talk about them. Because we wanna obviously, to make them as enticing as possible. And titling them is important and complicated. But Alsace is not a region, I think people go, Oh, Paris, I wanna go to Paris. Oh, Bordeaux, Alsace is not really familiar, but I think because it’s the Christmas magic, we call it Magical Christmas. We call it Fairytale Christmas because that’s what it is. And as you said, So number one, French cuisine is not very vegan friendly, not as you said accidentally vegan. Number two, this is not just French cuisine, it’s Alsatian cuisine, and we’ll talk about that. Number Alsatian it’s Alsatian cuisine, which is not very vegan-friendly in the wintertime. So in all of these ways we’ve we’ve made it the most difficult trip we could, we could possibly do, and a huge part of what makes these trips work, and especially with the food, is finding the right hotel, the right chef to work with. So your first experience, when you and Seb or Seb went along, whatever that experience was, He’s got some hotels in mind when he first goes to talk to them.
But not everyone is gonna say, Oh yeah, vegan in winter and Alsace sure, yeah, we’ll do that. Not everybody does that. So we have to have some in our back pocket and hope that we have a chef and a manager who wants to work with us. And so what was Seb’s experience when he first went to Alsace to find the right hotel?

Brighde: Sure. Yeah, it was quite funny actually because he looked throughout the whole. Sort of Alsace region to look for good hotels, and there were a lot of nice hotels around definitely. But a lot of them don’t accommodate groups, particularly at this time of year for, a number of reasons I won’t bore you with.

So his options were quite thin on the ground. And then he found this hotel in this small, not very touristy area, but very well located in this small town called Ensisheim and he really liked this one because it was in like this beautiful 16th-century building in this small town, I would say large village he reached out to them and as people might know, Seb goes and speaks directly to people. He thoroughly scouts everything and he talked with them and said, Are you interested in this idea in theory? And they said, Yes. And I should say that this hotel had recently undergone a big renovation. As I said, it wasn’t in the big city. So when they were offered the opportunity to have a whole group for one week, they were pretty excited by that. And then they wanted, And then, of course, we said it’s gonna be vegan, it’s gonna be a bit of a learning curve for you, your staff definitely your kitchen staff. What do you think about that? And the manager, she went away and had a chat with the head chef and said, Do you. You can do this. I really think we should try, because, they wanted to get this big booking of 25 people for a whole week. That’s really big, especially in a place where maybe this is low season normally. So they said yes, and they just did an amazing job. It just so happens there is a vegan grocery store just down the road, 20 minutes away from the actual hotel, and with lots of chats and discussions and meetings and all of these things. They did a great job and did a great job at veganising French cuisine and Alsatian cuisine.

Colleen: Yeah, lovely. And I remember when Seb first did that scale, I remember him sending us the pictures of that hotel for us to say yes, yay or nay. And I remember also, and this is just because this is the kind of detail we think about is one of the things, we’re always mindful of, look, I mean we’re, the way Seb always phrases it is, we are vegan but the world is not right. And so we go to hotels and there might be a leather couch, there might be down pillows, there might be things like that. But we’re always mindful of that. And we can always tell if one is overrun with animal-based materials, but, Also talking to the proprietors and seeing how they feel about, Hey, could you switch out the down pillows? Could we use, non-synthetic, non-down? And I remember with this hotel, La Couronne l say the name, go check it out.

It’s wonderful. I remember there was, one thing hanging on the wall other, otherwise, it was just so beautifully outfitted with woodland decor. And so you’d see deer, there would be deer, beautiful deer, ceramic deer heads, and someone that I wanna steal. Actually, I’m gonna remind, I’m gonna remind me to steal this one particular deer figurine when we’re there next. But I do remember there what Seb told me there was a deer head like a hunted, an actual stuffed deer head and Seb asked when our groups are there for them to remove that from their wall. And they did.

 Oh, for God’s sake, these vegans, seriously they’re probably like, that’s absolutely ridiculous. But they did, and that’s just a testament to how much they wanted to work with us. And so now we’re going back and it’s the third fourth time to be, that will be there third for me, fourth for you. And they’re just so absolutely lovely. So just because I have, I keep leading, I keep teasing with this, but I haven’t said it yet. Alsace as is a region in the eastern part of France that borders Germany and it is actually a region that has gone back and forth between France and Germany so much that it is its own, it’s really its own unique place in France.

France has a long history of obviously different regions with different languages. We talk about that history another time. But ALS is a region that was annexed to the Germans back in the 19th century and so it was very Germanic in language. It was Germanic in cuisine in all ways, it was in architecture. And then after the Germans lost in World War I, it was annexed back to France. And so now you’ve got France having it. Then in World War 2 during the Nazi occupation of France, they took back, Alsace and so it was Germany again. And now after World War 2 and for many years, for many decades it’s been part of France.

But in the meantime, it developed its own cuisine, its own character, and its own language. So Alation is a language, and it is a cuisine that marries French and German cultures. Does that sound right?

Brighde: Absolutely. Yep. You see it in the architecture, you hear it in the French accent. You hear it in some people do still speak Alsatian, certainly the food, the cuisine all aspects of it. People commute from one, country to the other for work. It’s a very interesting part of the world.

Colleen: Yeah, and I love that. I love I love that. I love that we go to this place. I love that we do this, and I love that we do Northern Italy. These are places that are, France is a pretty popular place to visit. Italy is a pretty popular country to visit, but to go to these places that are not, usually, on the typical tourists map is really special because not only are these unique places that, again, a lot of Americans, North Americans don’t go to, they stick with the more familiar regions in France or Italy. In the case of Northern, versus Northern Italy. It’s really special because. Because of the food. And in these regions, both the north of Italy and in this part of France, even not in the wintertime, these are not typically vegan-friendly areas. And so to take the cuisine to, to work with, the experts who know the cuisine really well, and then to ins, to basically give them what they need, inspire them, and give them the tools and resources they need, and they go out and figure it out themselves as well is really special.

So let’s talk about some of those dishes because one of the things, I think one of the most, I don’t know. Just, this is why we do these trips, right? Anything they can do, we can do vegan. We don’t want anyone to feel that they have to have a second-class experience, second tier, there’s nothing, You should not have to sacrifice or say no to something. Because you wanna live compassionately and healthfully. You should not have to feel deprived when you travel. We want we being all four of us, our intention is, and World Vegan Travel when I don’t do trips with them cause they do their own trips without me. But our intention is to provide this five-star when we can do five stars when the hotels when they’re available. But the idea is it’s a luxury experience with no deprivation for you to experience what any non-vegan would experience, especially because when you’re paying the money, there’s no reason you should get less than what everybody else is getting, but you’re paying the same price.

Brighde: Absolutely

Colleen: It’s just we are so adorable, us vegans because we take for when we do and we have, and we will take what we could get because we’d rather just not contribute to animal cruelty than accept something that has animal products or what have you, or be part of any kind of exploitation. And so what we want is vegans and then, obviously, we have non-vegans too with their friends and family. Everyone’s welcome on these trips, but the point is for vegans to feel that they can get everything everybody else gets, you’re paying the same price and we just love spoiling you.

Brighde: Yeah. We love surprising people as well because, so often when we get older, surprises are usually not great, but we really hope to get that sort of like a childlike sense of joy associated with, travel and excitement and those kinds of things. This is something we try to pepper throughout the trip as well. It’s a lot of fun.

Colleen: It is. I just did a whole podcast episode on creating surprises. Like I love creating surprises and I am definitely someone who prefers giving surprises to getting them, and I think that’s what we could all say we do on these trips. We love watching our travelers experience the thing like walking into, Oh, Like walking into a place, a restaurant, a hotel, driving up to the chateau, driving up to the villa walking into something that we planned and we have our hands, we’re rubbing our hands together and they don’t know that it’s coming and watching their faces.

It is exactly like you said, this childlike, joyful experience. So surprises are a part of the trip, but just quality, luxury, spoiled, all of it. So of us, we love all of our travelers and their testimonials, but one of the best testimonials I think we got was from the Alsace trip was a traveler named Leslie, who was actually already booked on our French countryside trip next year already. She was at the time, I don’t know that she is anymore, but she was in the food import business and wine. And so she knew this region really well and she knew the food, She knew the food well in this region. She had traveled to France so many times, and she’s vegan, and when she said that like she was blown away by the food. Now obviously that’s a testament to the Chef, but that’s what we created on this trip was, she had Alsatian cuisine that if you didn’t know was veganized you, if you didn’t, you wouldn’t know. And so to experience, again, what everybody else experiences, who comes to that region and there’s no deprivation were amazing.
And so talk about some of the dishes, Brighde that is, that’s typical French, typical Alsatian cuisine, especially in the winter time that we make sure our travelers get.

Brighde: In Paris, because I should add that this trip does start in Paris. And you can get your Paris to fix if you’ve never been to France before for sure, and there we do some really fun things, including French onion soup and vegan Boeuf Bourguignon in your these kinds of very hearty dishes, Creme Brulee, that kind of idea.

There’s. French dishes there that usually we don’t get to experience, there are some fairly well-known Alsatian dishes and some less known ones as well. So of course, fondue is very popular in this part of France. And of course, you know what is more fun than an incredible fondue when it’s really cold outside and you’ve just come back from a day of exploring? I think we do the Fondue after Black Forest Day, which maybe if we have time we can talk about that too, cuz that’s a really fun day. So we do things like fondue, Choucroute which is a French word for Sauerkraut. So what’s hot sauerkraut with potatoes and sausages. So that’s another one.

And it’s, served on this really big platter. And I love it personally. I absolutely love it. Another one is mulled wine, of course, that is usually accidentally vegan anyway, and of course, this is something that we like to drink a lot when we are walking around the Christmas markets and we’ll often have it ready for our travelers when they walk back into the hotel so they can go quickly dump their stuff and then come down to the bar area and enjoy a nice glass of mulled wine.

Also Fleischnaka. Fleischnaka, which is a very I had never heard of it. Actually. The Chef, who, on the second trip that we did, Colleen, I don’t know whether you remember this but decided that he wanted to try something new and he wanted to veganize this particular Alsatian dish. Okay, So what is it? It’s like these large, short cylinders of pasta, which have been filled with vegan meat lots of nice flavorings and stuff in there. And then it’s served in a bowl with consume kind of broth in there. Do you remember that one?

Colleen: I do know that you described it. Yeah.

Brighde: Yeah. So there’s that one as well. That’s really cool.
And then there’s Tarte Flambee. That’s another very popular Alsatian dish. It’s really quite thin and it comes with cheese and vegan lardons, which are like vegan bacon bits as well. So that’s a really fun one. And oh, Black Forest gateau we cannot Black gateau and Kougelhof which is an Alsatian cake that they serve at breakfast. It’s Europe, so there’s basically cake for breakfast a lot.

Colleen: Yeah, and Spazzle was the other thing I remember, which is like a pasta dish. One of the things I remember though, in year one when we did this is we did run to the kitchen, Brighde you in a panic, said, could we please get some salad? Because this is what people, this is what is eaten in Alsace in the wintertime, it’s cold and I’ll say by the. We’re in Alsace we’re not in the mountains. And so it actually is a really nice mix because it’s cold outside, but it’s not like we’re not over one with snow or anything like that. But it’s really cozy and homely. So we, we go when we’re inside the fire’s lit and it’s so lovely. And when we’re out and about, it’s. It’s manageable. You’re gonna wear your winter coats, you’re gonna wanna bring gloves and scarves, but it’s manageable, it’s not like you’re not able to go outside because it’s so cold. However, this is the cuisine of Alsace in the wintertime.
And so I do, we do try to make sure we get some greens in, but as you can hear, we, there’s a lot of eating on this trip, 

Brighde: Bring stretchy pants But saying that, people very often like to go outside and walk and get some steps in. We do a bit of exercise, not a huge amount, but we do some exercise on our walking tours and things like that yeah. Yeah.

Colleen: Oh yeah. And that’s what’s nice being in a town, and so with the villa being right there, you can walk around the town. It’s a small town, but there’s a, there’s actually one of the things that David and I do, it’s the first thing we do when we get there. We go to the park, There’s a park not far away, there’s a lake there. It’s a beautiful walk around there’s. So there’s actually some really nice walking you can do before or after breakfast or dinner or what have you, obviously the nights are short. The nights are long, and the days are short. The nights come early, but there’s lots of opportunity for that and it’s really, it’s lovely.

And as Brighde mentioned, the walking around that we do, we have wonderful tour guides. We go to, we can talk about a couple of the places, but that’s the gist of the food. And she mentioned the mulled wine, which is called Glue Gluhwein so that’s a German word for mulled wine for spiced wine and in Christmas markets, the quintessential thing you do is, it’s so much fun. I remember the first time we went cause we were just so blown away. We go to these Christmas markets and the first Christmas market we did actually was without you when we were on our way to meet you. I think that was for our Africa trip.
We stopped in Frankfurt and we went to a Christmas market. Was that the first time.? We had No, maybe we had gone already with you. I don’t remember the, I, no, I think our first Christmas market was with you we were in Bavaria and we spent the week there for Christmas. Oh my gosh, that was still the most magical trip when I think about that. And that’s what we try to replicate, right? This experience of quintessential, I’ll say Germanic, cuz it is, Christmas markets started in Germany more and in Switzerland.

Those are very Germanic traditions. And so that’s obviously carried over into Alsace and we do go into Germany as well. But just to finish up on the Christmas markets, if you’ve never been to one, this is why I think people are always drawn to this trip is it is they’re basically markets that are up every day. They’re running every day during the Christmas season and there are stalls every night and there are edible things you can buy, there are gifts that you can buy, mostly handmade crafts, a lot of them local, locally made, and lots of different beverages. And glue vine is one of the things you get at so many of these stalls and they’re so wonderful. It’s basically either a red wine or a white wine, and then you can get the alcohol that you have added to that alcohol. It could be brandy, and so you get the mug, which is your gluhwein mug. And so many of these places allow you to either just take it as a souvenir. So you, when you buy your gluhwein, you’re paying for that mug. And then when you go to other stalls, you can get that same mug filled up with additional gluhwein. You’re not stumbling home you’re close to it. When the night is done. You can also just say, I don’t wanna take the mug home with me. Bring it back to that stall. And actually, a lot of stalls tend to partner up. And you get your money, you get your money back. So it’s wonderful and it’s just the quintessential Christmas in Northern Europe. Brighde, before we move on to Germany, cause I do think we should talk a little bit about the Black Forest. Is there anything else you wanted to say about any of the places we go to analyze? Just, generally speaking, a lot of these kinds of medieval, cobblestones.

Brighde: I would say that we just hit a few different kinds of places. We hit a big city, Strasbourg is a very big university city, and the European Parliament is there. We also visit towns as well, and of course, they have a very different feel from Colmar, for example. It’s just a beautiful little town, but we also do little villages as well. And I think these are my personal favorites because, they’ll often have the Christmas markets in them of course, but they’re not nearly so busy and it’s just, super, super cozy and super, super adorable. So, we do that and we also go and do our wine tasting. We can’t go visit the vineyards because it’s the middle of winter. There are no grapes on the vine at all. So we do that and yeah it’s just a lovely little exploration of this nice area. But as you say, we do dip our toes into a couple of other countries as well.

Colleen: Yes. And so one of the countries is Germany. One of the countries, cuz this is a three countries Switzerland because of Basel. So when we go into the Black Forest, so one of the things we always do on our trips for I’m sure you know who’s listening, is we always try to incorporate some kind of animal protection aspect in that we wanna support and visit a sanctuary or refuge when we can. Sometimes I think France was probably the hardest when we were looking. It’s not because there’s no animal cruelty in France, there is, but in terms of finding sanctuaries and refuges, it was a little difficult. And so we were really, fortunate and again, I remember when Seb first scouted, I think he was on his own when he first scouted and he was blown away by this organization that is in the Black Forest, which was my first time in the Black Forest. David’s as well. I know you had been there before and hiked in there and Oh my gosh, it is. I just love Germany’s forests. I love it there’s, You can really feel like you’re in a different place. You can see why there are so many, like the origins of fairy tales, like where like originated in, in Germany. You can, I don’t know, I can feel that kind of fairytale aspect and the black forest did that for me for sure.
And in the Black Forest is a sanctuary in that it’s a refuge for bears and wolves who have been rescued from lots. 

Brighde: And Lynx 

Colleen: and Lynx and Lynx which I think was, I just think it’s probably so hard to say no to any animal who’s, suffering. I think they’re, that was not their original intention, but this lynx I remember was kept in some kind of concrete display for just like a long time, and that’s the case with all these animals who were rescued. They’re either rescued from some kind of awful zoo situation, some kind of confinement situation, or some kind of exploitation. They’re in some kind of circus or some kind of performing act.
And last time we were there, I don’t know if it’s changed Brighde but they were looking to expand. It’s in the forest so that the animals have a natural habitat. Of course, it’s not, It’s not 500 acres or anything, but it is a really good size for bears and wolves to be able to, basically roam around. And yes, they’re in the same area. To see bears and wolves together was just mind-blowing. But anyway, and then, they have hibernation areas for the bears and I know that they were looking to expand that. I don’t remember what the story is.

Brighde: Yeah, I was speaking to them last week, so that information should be top of mind, but I can’t think of it right now. But the environment is just absolutely beautiful surrounded by this forest. And one thing that I remember being blown away a little bit when they were talking to us when we were there last time, or maybe the first time, were they deliberately kept the bears and the wolves together. Because it allows it allows them to stay a little bit alert, it keeps them on their toes for want of a better word that these animals just have not had the opportunity to develop at all because of their time spent in, in confinement. And I will say that many of these animals have come from zoos, but also, those kinds of roadside zoos as well in, in places like Albania as well cuz they do accept animals from throughout Europe. And it so happens that Albania has, as one might imagine, fewer laws and laws that are actually enforced there. This is just such a wonderful place and I will say that the work that they are doing is absolutely inspiring. And it was really funny. I was speaking to Sabrina the other day, and when people go past there when they drive past, they actually think that it’s a zoo. Even though it’s absolutely not. So they’re like, they pull over with the young kids, for example, and they go in and they’re just like, bam tons of information and education. And they do a great job at showing our visitors around and teaching about the unique plight of bears and wolves in Europe because it is quite different from the plight in North America because there is not so much natural habitat for them.

Yeah. A lot of human conflicts, and human-animal conflicts.

Colleen: A lot And yet Europe in different parts of Europe, they are leading the charge on rewilding wolves, especially doing a much better job than we are here in the western United States. We’re doing some, we did it in Yellowstone, but we’re still up against so many people who want the wolves destroyed because of livestock.
And that’s the case all around the world really. It’s livestock that is creating all of these wild animal and human conflicts because it’s not the domestic animal’s fault, they’re bred like cattle are bred just to be killed. And so in the meantime, they have to eat so we can fatten them up before we kill ’em, which is just like the most macabre cycle you can imagine. Let’s bring them into the world to take them out of it. Like it just makes no sense. And so the conflict is with the humans who are raising these animals who don’t need to be, we don’t need to do it. So it is obviously a worldwide problem. We see that. Even in, even in Rwanda, it’s not necessarily cattle perse, but sheep, and just, agriculture constantly butts up against wildlife. So it’s an issue in so many places. But I remember when Seb first went there, I remember his reaction cuz he had the same reaction. He was really, ’cause we’re, we go into these places, we vet all these places, we would never go to a place that was questionable for us. And if Seb had any instinct or inclination or indication that there would be any in that it would be an exploitative experience at all we wouldn’t take anyone there. And so I remember he was just wary when he first got there and then he went through the tour and just, kept his ears perked to hear anything.

Brighde: Vegans have a very good radar for this kind of thing. I think

Colleen: Exactly. Exactly. Maybe that’s when we were on Voxer before WhatsApp. But I remember his enthusiasm about this place when he first discovered it, and he was very proud of himself as well. And it was a real feat because finding, we can do a trip without an animal protection component, but that’s, I think, one of the things, one of the many things that make our trips unique and it’s certainly, really relevant for us in particular. So it’s a really special place and it’s not the only sanctuary we go to, Seb was also pretty stoked to find another sanctuary a farmed animal sanctuary. And we can leave some things to the people who will join us. But it is a really special story. It’s a very, I would say this is a micro sanctuary. It is pretty much at this rescuers’ home. And I’ll say briefly and then Brighde, you can give the name. But it’s a really amazing story. The man who is the founder of the sanctuary and who runs it, Jean-Luc he worked in the slaughterhouse. 

Brighde: He was a government official so he was one like a U S D inspector and that was his job. Yeah.

Colleen: So he saw a lot, and he saw a lot of animals killed, and he saw a lot of suffering. And he had a change of mind, heart, conscience all of it. And he rescued a pig named Henni

Brighde: He rescued him, and now he has this small sanctuary called La Ferme De Henni le Cochon the farm of Henni the pig. Henni’s farm has a number of animals, geese, ducks goats, chickens, and of course a few pigs as well. And, we love going there and supporting them. Seb has mad respect for Jean Luc and what he does. And it’s, he lives in quite a rural area, so I’m sure it is a huge amount of work. There’s always a lot of work in having sanctuaries, but he’s amazing and super inspirational.

Colleen: It is amazing. We, and we love sharing this and so again, one of the things that your, you know I’m speaking to the audience now. One of the, one of the things our travelers pay for when, you know, when we basically price out these trips is you’re supporting these organizations as well, it’s part of what happens is we’re obviously making donations to these organizations and you can make additional donations. I remember actually I remember Jennifer who came with us to Thailand. She stuck around, didn’t she stick around for a good month or three weeks or something like that to volunteer at the elephant sanctuary? Am I remembering that correctly or 
Brighde: You are. Yeah, the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. She stuck around and volunteered there for some time. I can’t remember exactly how long. And of course, this is something that you can do with the trip do our trip and then add on some sort of volunteering afterward if you want to, or whether you’re traveling with us or not. This is, there are lots of really great ways that you can volunteer in sanctuaries when you’re traveling. So it’s a great way to travel.
Colleen: Yeah, so I don’t know what else to say other than I wanna go on this trip. Can I come?
Brighde: You definitely can. Colleen, you absolutely can. We didn’t talk yet about Switzerland and German and Freiburg which is new to you this time around
Colleen: My bad. Take it away cuz Switzerland is what David has. David, I know that you talked for years, you and Seb about how if you could just pick anywhere and money was no object, you would live in Switzerland. I David would be there with you.
Brighde: It’s a pretty beautiful place. But yeah, just going back to that German day, we pop over to the border for the day and we go over to the Bear and Wolf Sanctuary. And then this year, instead of going to Baden Baden, we are going to Freiburg which is a bit of a smaller town, a different town, different feel. That has its own beautiful Christmas market as well so we do a little day in the Black Forest area. And then we also have a morning, most of the day in Basel. And Basel is just over the border. It’s very close to where we are. We’re really at this kind of corner where you’ve got lots of different countries meeting at this one of the apexes. Basel is a beautiful Swiss town and they have Christmas markets too and, it is very, very beautiful. It’s a really great transport hub as well. So many people decide to fly out of bale after the trip. We drop you off at the airport, whatever. But Basel in Switzerland is a really nice way to get a little bit of a taste of Switzerland cuz it really is very beautiful indeed.

Colleen: It’s so beautiful and in all of these places, whether you’re doing some of the, bigger, nicer shops, a little more affluent in Basel or the Christmas markets. It really is a lovely time to do your Christmas shopping. And that’s one of the things I love about this trip is that it’s all quintessential Christmas, but you’re home for Christmas, so you’re not gonna miss that with your family.

And some people still stick around and have the rest of Christmas in Europe. They’re really wonderful places for shopping. And again, just supporting local, regional crafts and merchants and it is, it’s a, it’s incredible, it’s an incredible trip. And it’s, What’s wonderful, and this is where Seb and Brighde are always constantly, I’ll probably say Seb of causes, constantly in his head thinking how to make it even better.

How to make it even more spectacular. How can we do this differently? How and not that any trip that’s come before is in any way inferior but Seb is always looking to just do something different. And we did talk about potentially this Christmas or sorry, in 2023 I should say, but the next Christmas trip being more than just the, what we’ve named.

And that is something Seb is working on. And let’s not say too much because we don’t know yet and we don’t wanna spoil it. But he’s got some, he’s got some ideas up his sleeve to make. I know Brighde’s about to hyperventilate. It is that amazing. And he tells us these things. He shares these itineraries. We have this, we have documents and the sheets that we share. And this trip building, the brain of Seb and so he shares these things and we’re like, Are you kidding? Shut the front door. That’s ridiculous. They just keep getting just more spectacular.

Brighde: Yeah. Yeah. that, that winter one, or it could be a summer one as I think. But then, this trip, I’m just gonna say Paris, Venice, Paris, Venice. And then that’s it. That’s all I will say
Colleen: The Paris to Venice but you could say five countries.
I’m just gonna say them. I can say No one’s gonna remember. I’m just gonna say it. I’m gonna say France. I’m gonna say Italy. I’m gonna say Germany. I’m gonna say Switzerland and I’m gonna say Austria. Am I correct in saying those words?
Brighde: You are, yes, absolutely. So it’s like this Western Europe amazeballs combination just incredible. Like we found some really great connect train connections that are gonna really work for this trip. We are really excited about it.
Colleen: Yeah. Trains in Europe if y’all haven’t experienced that, some of these winter ones, which I or I should say mountain trains. It doesn’t have to be winter. They’re incredible. The worst part is when Brighde instead goes scouting without us.

Brighde: I know you need to travel more. Colleen, I know you can’t be away from Charlie and Michiko. 

Colleen: We used to say we can’t do more than two trips. We can’t do more than three trips. Guys, We can’t do more than four trips. Now we’re a four and five is probably on the horizon.
Brighde: Yes. Anyway, it’s always good. It’s nice surprising you as well when we actually do the trip too.
Colleen: That’s true. That’s true. So is there anything else that you wanted to cover specifically for us just, obviously sharing our enthusiasm for this region? We of course would love you to join us. This trip, this Alsace trip. As I said, it’s, by the time you hear this, it is life and it is ready for your booking and it’s pretty special. And if you don’t come with us, I hope that’s given you some inspiration for visiting this part of France and heading over to Germany cuz it’s really special and just knows. That we’re doing what we can to help veganize these places when we’re not there. And I will say, and we’ll have to double check, Covid just messed everything up, but there was a time, and this happens with a lot of the places, and Brighde and I talk about this a lot regarding the advocacy aspect of the food.

Part of our trips is being able to inspire these hotels and restaurants to put vegan options on the menu, they don’t just always, doesn’t happen a hundred percent of the time, but they don’t just take them off once we leave. La Couronne is a really good example. They actually kept, one of the dishes on their main menu like their prefix menu a plant-based vegan dish that they had done for our group that they then kept on their menu.
Brighde: Yeah, it was really cool to see that. Yeah. And chefs are usually really busy. It’s not that they’re necessarily against vegan food necessarily until they’ve been forced to, step it up a little bit, for their own benefit as well, that they have the opportunity to deep dive into these things and spend that, a significant amount of time that it takes to learn about vegan versions of cheese, sausages, meat, whatever it is. La Couronne is a fantastic hotel. I can’t wait to go back. Vanessa is just so lovely there and the whole team is just adorable and wonderful and fantastic.

Colleen: They are all of those adjectives. Let’s end on this, to inspire listeners wherever you live now, I’ve talked about this before. I think restaurant advocacy is really underrated and underutilized underdone. What? What am I looking for? I think there’s a lot of opportunity out there to work with restaurants, wherever you are. And one of the things I love, there’s a group of folks who do this in Sacramento every year. I know this happens in other places around the world, but I’m very familiar with the activists who are doing this in Sacramento. They do a is it a week-long or it might be a month-long? Vegan Chef Challenge, work with restaurants throughout the entire city of Sacramento and they get these restaurants on board to say either they’re gonna veganize for the month or week or whatever it is, or one weekend is gonna be all vegan, or they’re adding Vegan dishes, and then they make it a bit of a contest. So there’s a bit of a, there’s a war. When we make things competitive, I think, cause sometimes people are more inclined, like you’re saying, when you push someone, it’s the reason I did the 30-day Vegan Challenge. When you create a challenge for someone, they go, I could do that. I’m gonna do that. I’m gonna up my game. And that’s what we are able to do on these trips. But we can all do that wherever we are, talk to your local restaurants. There are lots of resources out there to do more restaurant advocacy and you too can enable it so that people behind you, people who come after you, will be able to enjoy the food in the restaurant and the region you’re in, even, beyond you have enjoyed it at the time.
So there are lots of opportunities there.
Brighde: Absolutely. Yeah, I agree.

Colleen: All right. I think we have nothing more to say, Brighde. I look forward to more conversations. It’s really fun, just reminiscing. And of course, I’ll probably see you in WhatsApp in about 15 minutes. I always love talking to you and I always love sharing these trips with you and with our audience

Brighde: Same right here, Colleen. I just pinch myself that I can’t believe that I’m doing this work. And it all comes down to that conversation that we had over a glass of wine a few years ago now. I’m able to do this full-time as a job and you are. You’re a big part of what, how that has come to be. So thank you so much,

Colleen: Oh, I love it. That’s a different episode altogether. We’ll talk about that. We’ll talk about, we’ll talk about manifesting your dreams in the world at another for sure. It’s a really inspiring story, Brighde. Thank you, my friend.

Brighde: Thank you, Colleen

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This trip is still in the planning stage, but you can expect:

Scheduled for September 2025
100% vegan local French cuisine
stay in a château!
Visit castles and medieval villages
17,000 year-old prehistoric cave art
Visit & tasting at a Loire winery

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