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Thoughts on the best tour for vegetarian/vegan travelers?

I’ve adored Rick’s travel shows and guides for as long as I can remember! We’ve travelled extensively and use his books and recommendations for all things Europe.

We’re interested in doing our first guided tour, but wondered if being vegan will be troublesome. On our own, we can usually request a few tweaks on menus to create a fine meal, but weren’t sure if that may cause issues when with the group. We’re super low-key about our diets and don’t like to cause a scene, just mentioning we’d like pizza without cheese, etc. Has anyone else found some tours better than others? We’re grateful for your thoughts! Thanks so much!

Posted by
12 posts

We have been on 4 RS tours so far and there has been vegans/vegetarians plus others with dietary requirements on all of them. It didn’t appear to be any issue for anyone - as long as it is communicated before the tour begins (there is a spot on your tour registration form for dietary concerns) and a gentle reminder to your guide when you get there is also helpful. The tours are great fun and the food is usually very good!

Posted by
7693 posts

I've done 10 RS tours and been vegan the whole time. In general the guides have been outstanding and able to get vegan food at nearly all group meals.

There have been the expected hiccups along the way as I found some countries have varying definition of what is "meat", lol. For instance on Village Italy there is a cooking class. I saw the guide discussing vegan with the chef. When the plates came mine and my brother's (also vegan) had the pasta sauce with wild boar because apparently boar is not a meat. We looked at each other and laughed, guide was upset but we told her not to worry....and we just ate what we could and fell back on Clif bars. In general the guides have gone above and beyond what I would have expected.

I took my first tour in 2013 and I feel like there is a huge improvement in understanding at least in France and UK. In fact, just finished Best of Scotland and a couple of places for group meals actually had separate vegan menus.

For the record, I've done:
Heart of Italy
Best of Ireland
21 day Best of Europe
Best of Paris
Village Italy
Best of England
Paris and Heart of France
Germany, Austria and Switzerland
Villages of Southern England
Best of Scotland

We also did the Villages of Southern England this spring. My routine is to go up to the guide after the first session, re-introduce myself and say something like "I'm your problem child with food I'm vegan". This tour my brother and my SIL's sis who are both vegan traveled as well so there were 3 of us. The guide was SO awesome. He said he nearly panicked when he saw he had 3 vegans because in his 30 years of guiding had never had anyone identify themselves as vegan. The meals went VERY smoothly and he was relieved. Afterward, the one he said he was most worried about was a pub lunch on Dartmoor with a set plate of a Ploughman's lunch with bread, salad and cheese. They gave us just the bread and an immense salad and we were happy as could be but he said he had no idea what to expect. We also told him we always carry some back up food just in case something doesn't work out.

I think the most difficult time was Best of Ireland. That was 2014 and I'm betting things have progressed. I've also learned a lot so I check menus ahead. If it doesn't look like a particular group restaurant will work, I try to sit on the end so I can excuse myself unobtrusively and go forage on my own.

By the way...I've also done 10 Road Scholar tours, 5 of them International - England, Wales and France and there has been no problem with group meals on any of them either.

What tour or tours have caught your eye?

Posted by
6247 posts

No problem really

Just tell your guide at the introductory meeting. On the two I have been on, as I recall, the guide asked if there were folks that had dietary restrictions/preferences/allergies. Allowed the guide to set up the group dinners to accommodate those who did have some special requirement.

Breakfast is a buffet at the hotel so you choose what you want. Lunch is almost always on your own and half the dinners are 'DIY'

Posted by
4031 posts

When the plates came mine and my brother's (also vegan) had the pasta sauce with wild boar because apparently boar is not a meat.

Pam, this story made me smile. Some (many) years ago I was studying in Poland. I rented a room in a family's home, and my DH had come to visit me for the Christmas holidays. My landlord invited us to Christmas dinner. The table was laden with ham, at least two kinds of sausages, and chicken. Our host apologized for the lack of meat. Evidently, "meat" was beef or uncured pork.

When we returned to Poland some years later, and could afford to eat in restaurants, the waiter would often apologize that because of the financial crisis, only pheasant and boar were available - no meat!

Posted by
7693 posts

Jane! That's so funny! Yes, that was the same kind of thought process we ran in to as well.

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks so much for your wonderful replies! It was encouraging to hear that this shouldn't be a stumbling block to booking our first trip! We were thinking Villages of Italy or The Best of Turkey. We've travelled on our own (with Rick's book, of course) to Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, England, Estonia and Ireland thus far. Our usual is to stay in an AirBnB with our own kitchen, but would love the group fun that comes with a tour! Especially when it would be with travelers who are like-minded in their openness to culture and wanting to be "close to the ground."

Thank you again for taking the time to respond!

Posted by
7693 posts

I havent done the Turkey tour but Village Italy is wonderful! Such fun, very interesting with a lot of hand's on things - olive oil tasting, wine tasting, honey tasting, pottery demo, stained glass demo.

Neither my brother nor I have an issue with honey altho I know many vegans exclude it. I am not even sure if they do the honey tasting every time but if your guide mentions it, just tell them you'll bow out of that activity if honey doesn't work for you. If you go to the same place for the cooking lesson and get the not-meat wild boar I want you to silently giggle and think of me!

If you do decide on Village Italy, I hope you have enough time to stay at least one extra night in Padua. We (I actually) didn't realize how much there was to see there!

Posted by
7649 posts

I haven't gone on any RS tours, but will tell you that about 20% of Germans are now either vegetarian or vegan so you will find plenty of meal options in almost any restaurant you visit in Germany.

Posted by
1085 posts

I have done 6 RS tours and it has never been a problem that I am a vegetarian, but I do eat dairy and eggs. I did get tired of omelets in Sicily as that seemed to be their favorite alternative and I have found some countries don't consider chicken to be 'meat.' This spring/summer I went to Ireland on the 14 day tour and was really pleased to find the law in Ireland requires anyone serving meals to have a vegetarian option. I never had a problem finding options at any meal. Most tour meals had 3 options for starter, main and dessert and there was always a vegetarian choice. Being vegan might be a bit more difficult but by working with the guide you should have no problems wherever you go.

Posted by
901 posts

I’m sure being on a RS’s tour as opposed to being on your own would make a big difference, But last summer I traveled independently in Spain and Portugal with a vegetarian (not vegan) friend. She had trouble at times finding acceptable food in the lands of jamòn iberico and salted cod. I could imagine being vegan would have only made things more difficult. I’m sure your tour guide would work with restaurants to accommodate your dietary needs, but I can imagine the variety of food would not be great.

Posted by
7693 posts

"I haven't gone on any RS tours, but will tell you that about 20% of Germans are now either vegetarian or vegan so you will find plenty of meal options in almost any restaurant you visit in Germany."

I agree with Jo's comment. I found eating the non-group meals in Germany pretty easy. Often when I would start with Ich bin vegan and point to something on the menu the server would shake their heads, say I am vegan too. Let me bring you what I like to eat here. Wow...always got delicious food!

Just wanted to also add that I forgot about the HappyCow resources of "I am Vegan" cards. Those are actually the ones I use now instead of the Toronto Veg. Society ones. They have a bit less text and I think are easier for servers to understand, especially if the server is not a native-speaker of that language.

Posted by
24 posts

I traveled on the Athens & Heart of Greece tour last year and vegetarian options were actually highlighted as part of the local cuisines. The provided group meals included many vegetable courses, which were some of the best we were offered! In Greece we learned to love the local “weeds” which often were foraged from the local hillsides by restaurant owners (sorta like marinated spinach, and very tasty)! In Olympia, we were treated to group lunch at a local vegetarian restaurant - Bacchus - since the focus that day was on bodily health and well-being =). It was one of the best meals of the trip. I also was on the Turkey tour, and the chefs & hosts take great pride in their local produce and love showing it off in imaginative recipes. There were no shortages of options on these trips from a vegetarian / vegan standpoint, and you would truly enjoy eating your way through these two trips!

Posted by
1958 posts

Just returned from "The Best of the Adriatic Tour" and I chose mostly vegetarian meals. I don't eat red meat or pork so I was happy to have occasional fish. Plenty of vegetable dishes were offered and they were absolutely delicious. This was true of other RS Tours as well eg., Greece, Potugal, Spain, France, and Italy. Our tour guides were very accommodating. I don't think you will have any issues wherever you travel!

Posted by
5 posts

We've been ovo-lacto vegetarians for 40 years and have had hit and miss experiences with dinners on all of our tours - not just Rick's, but other companies as well.

In France they really believe that vegetarians only eat vegetables. In 3 trips with Rick Steves we have received some of the worst meals on the nights we ate with the groups. We were served packets of vegetables that were overcooked and drowning in oil and salt. We've also received white rice with tomato sauce or pasta with tiny bits of vegetables. Even after speaking with the guides, the dinners continued to be less than satisfactory. We've learned to eat a substantial lunch on our own just to keep the calories up. Breakfast is usually okay at the hotels.

In Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, and Swtizerland we don't have as many problems. Group dinners were much better than in France. In Scotland we were served a lot of mushrooms as that seemed to be the vegetarian "meat" alternative. For dinners on your own, there is almost always a Middle Eastern or Indian restaurant available which have amazing vegan and vegetarian options no matter what country you're in. These aren't always listed in Rick's tour books, so be sure to do some research ahead of time.

We've often commented that we're glad we aren't vegans as we end up relying heavily on dairy and eggs and protein powder to keep our protein levels up. If you can find a good health food store, you should be able to purchase some alternatives to supplement your diet. This has been easy everywhere except France. England and Switzerland have great health food stores.

That aside, we still love and travel to France. We've just learned to bring vegetarian backpacker food and protein powder so when we are tired of soggy vegetables and bread for dinner - along with fabulous desserts! - we can make a nice meal in our hotel room with a salad from the local market.

If you're in Paris go to Restaurant Kosher Pitzman for the best pitas you'll ever have.

Posted by
13972 posts

I took the RS Greece tour last year and would recommend it. There are lots of prepared salads may solely with vegetables and legumes and fresh salads are served at every meal, just ask for yours with the big hunk of feta cheese on top. Grilled veggies, cooked veggies, stuffed veggies (sometimes vegetarian), lots of fresh fruit, dried fruits and nuts, and excellent breads. The country is beautiful and the tour is wonderful.