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Kitchen equipment of an old churchThe experience for a vegan eating out in restaurants in Spain can range from being daunting (not knowing what the dishes and especially the sauces contain) to verging on the rather monotonous, for reasons explained below. (See my blog here about what I packed for the Camino di Santiago – clothes and food.)

The country is completely self-sufficient by growing every imaginable crop (tropical fruit may come from the Canary Islands), and the markets are brimming with the bounty of the land. Depending on the area, a 3 – 4 page menu will mostly offer meat, fish (if it’s near the coast) and cheese dishes. In our experience after travelling around Spain for 3 months and visiting hundreds of villages for morning snacks, lunches, afternoon snacks, tapas and dinners, you may expect a few truly vegan dishes at some establishments, for example: grilled, plain red bell peppers in garlic and olive oil; pan-fried “Pimientos de Padron” (small, sweet green bell peppers in olive oil and salt; “Escalivada” (grilled mixed vegetables); “Gazpacho” (raw tomato soup) and salads: some would be downright soulless consisting of a plate of iceberg lettuce, tomato quarters, olives (if you ask for them), corn (if you’re lucky, bottled), asparagus (bottled, even when in season); while others are wonderfully satisfying with up to 12 different vegetables in them.

Grilled vegetables - a standard menu item

Grilled vegetables – a standard menu item

RESTAURANTS

Fried broad beans, baked chickpeas and fried giant corn kernels

Fried broad beans, baked chickpeas and fried giant corn kernels

So, to make one’s dishes more interesting, and to take the stress away when you eat out with visiting family or friends, COME PREPARED. Bring your own protein source, for example hotel room-sprouted quinoa or mung beans), plastic container of cooked lentils; little bag of lightly salted almonds and toasted cashews; huge maze kernels found at the markets; small tin or jar of chickpeas/peas/beans, opened and rinsed out in your room; vegan cheese or spread; packet of marinated tofu; slices of tempeh; slices of vegan cold ‘meats’, etc. At the Paradors, there is a separate vegetarian menu with at least 3 or 4 vegan choices with each course. These dishes are outstanding, varies according to the season and the region, are balanced and delicious (they’ve been drawn up by the Vegetarian Society of Spain).

Interestingly, where I have been disappointed (outraged!) a number of times with the food and service was not at the regular restaurants, but at the Vegetarian ones. They will insist on adding cheese or eggs to your dish, even after asking expressively to omit these (we spoke English and Spanish). My advice is to either go to purely vegan eateries (they are doing a fantastic job), or go to the regular restaurants. I found the waiters extremely knowledgable about vegan food, they were helpful steering me around the menu or suggesting how they will be able to veganize a meal.

THE CAMINO

Baskets of dried pulses - a vegan's delight

Baskets of dried pulses – a vegan’s delight

If you stay in accommodation that has a kitchen, it is very easy to eat vegan. Dried pulses are light to carry and provide an easy protein. On the Camino are various shops: some selling only fresh vegetables and fruit; others stock produce, dried pulses and nuts apart from the usual cheese and meat. There are also tiny supermarket-style delis offering jars of preserved vegetables (such as asparagus, beans, chickpeas etc), chocolates (lots of dark, vegan options), dried mushrooms and olive oil. Dried beans take too long to cook, and you will be too tired! Couscous, millet, buckwheat and quinoa are quick to prepare, add a tin of cooked pulses and vegetables. Bake your own vegan biscuits before you go on the Camino to take with you.

In my experience, it’s actually easier to be raw vegan on the Camino. Then there’s no expectation of finding vegetable patties or tofu anywhere! Take your nut milk bag with you, soak mung beans, chickpeas or lentils (available all along the way) overnight in a mug or bowl, then sprout. Supplement further with bliss balls (roughly grind together dates, raw cashews and cinnamon – all available along the Camino – to make your own bliss balls along the way), nuts, fresh vegetables, fruit and dried fruit; buy glass jars or ring-pulled tins with asparagus, mushrooms, chestnuts etc.; take with you little bags of spirulina powder and raw protein powder for your protein needs. There are lovely picnic spots in the towns’ parks or at the entrances of villages. Recycling bins are usually close-by.

Bliss balls: raw cashews, dates, cacao and cinnamon

Bliss balls: raw cashews, dates, cacao and cinnamon

Santiago- on old doorKeep in mind that for siesta, the shops all close at either 12 or 1pm, to open again only at 4:30 or 5pm.

BRING WITH FROM ORGANIC SHOPS IN BIGGER TOWNS:

High protein grains, such as quinoa (which cooks quickly and can be sprouted), millet or amaranth are not readily available in the smaller towns, so bring your own in a small bag. White rice is available but sometimes not brown. I brought along savoury and sweet vegan biscuits; vegan spreads made from sunflower seed; few tablespoons of nut butter spooned into a tiny plastic jar; TVP which is super light in weight and cooks in minutes; vegan chorizo and tofu sausages; sugar-free protein powder (even better if it contains probiotics).

SUPPLEMENTS TO TAKE ON THE CAMINO
Vitamins: CoQ10 (for energy); B12 and iron; probiotics that don’t need refrigeration (with these you can also ferment your nut milks overnight to make yoghurt).

SNACKS

Bottled hazelnuts and spelt savoury biscuits

Bottled hazelnuts and spelt savoury biscuits

I baked my own rusks beforehand when I had an oven (with lots of dried fruit, nuts and protein powder for a solid snack); dried fruit (especially figs for calcium, raisins (not sultanas) for iron, goji berries (for calcium and iron), apricots and dates (for magnesium and energy); nuts and seeds for energy and some protein. Buy these at the produce shops in the towns you’ll be passing through. Vegan chocolate is available everywhere (the higher percentage the less likely to melt easily in the heat) – I buy 85%. Vegan, sugar-free protein energy bars: in my experience sugar depletes your energy levels very fast. Look for items sweetened with date paste or raisins.

LIQUIDS

There are water fountains all along the route, but it’s best to consult a good map to see where they are indicated. We carried a filter water bottle to fill at the many fountains to cut down on buying plastic water bottles. I brought along a couple of small boxes of rice/soy/oat milk to vary my diet. I’d open these in the evenings, add probiotic powder and leave at room temperature to ferment, making my own yoghurt for the morning. I took a small one cup plastic bottle of Kombucha fermented tea with me: these are very high in Vitamin B (which gets depleted with excessive exercise), probiotics (a good protection should you encounter a stomach bug) and it gives loads of energy.

OTHER SMALL ITEMS

I took along small bags of salt; herbs; blend of cumin and coriander; ground black pepper; dried mushrooms and a zip-lock bag with interesting herbal teas. I also brought my own muesli which is sugar-free and one small half-cup plastic container of soy sugar-free dessert with added probiotics as a treat for one of the days.

Dry mushrooms, licorice sticks and dried fruits

Dry mushrooms, licorice sticks and dried fruits

Some VEGAN menu items you may encounter in cafés and restaurants:

You may want to get out of the midday sun or pelting rain by going inside an eatery for a spot of lunch. For vegan options, it’s best to order side dishes and starters. Supplement with the items listed above. These are traditionally always vegan:

VEGETABLES:

“Escalivada” – grilled eggplant, onion, and bell pepper

“Aceitunas” – olives 

“Champiñones al ajillo” – garlic-sauteed mushrooms 

“Alcachofas al ajillo” – garlic-sauteed artichokes

“Pimientos asados” – roasted bell peppers

“Pan con tomate” or “Pa amb tomaquet” – bread rubbed with ripe tomato, olive oil, salt, garlic, ASK IF IT COMES WITH MEAT (HAM, BACON)

“Berenjena con miel” – fried eggplant strips drizzled with honey
, ASK TO OMIT HONEY “Zarangollo” – zucchini and onion stew

SALADS

“Amanida catalana” – mixed salad : ASK NO tuna / egg / mayo / bacon
“Espinacs a la catalana” – spinach (or sometimes chard “bledes”) with pine nuts, raisins and ham – ASK NO HAM

SOUPS
” Gazpachio” or “Gaspatxo” – cold soup of blended raw tomato, breadcrumbs, oil, garlic, onions, cucumber and bell pepper
“Ajo blanco” or “Sopa de almendras” – cold soup of blended skinned almonds, olive oil, garlic, vinegar, salt and breadcrumbs), served with grapes and sliced apple – ASK NO CHICKEN STOCK and NO EGG
“Sopa de col” – cabbage soup – ASK NO CHICKEN STOCK

SAUCES

“Sofregit” – reduction of caramelised onions, fresh tomatoes and herbs
“Samfaina” – the above sauce plus roast eggplant, courgette, peppers
“Picada” – spicy, usually breadcrumbs, garlic, almonds, saffron and pine nuts
“All i oli” – garlicky, mayo-like, but egg-less

DESSERT

“Postre de músic” – bowl of mixed nuts and dried fruit

Spain - a country that blends the ancient with the modern effortlessly

Spain – a country that blends the ancient with the modern effortlessly

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Another enjoyable day on Mallorca was a drive along the south coast visiting a number of beaches and coves where the gentle still water was a light turquoise and the sand white and soft. Both Menorca and Mallorca are very rocky with few natural beaches. The best swimming however is at the coves where a steep rocky path or stone steps lead down to deep inlets with just a patch of sand. The water is transparent, calm and there are no rocks in the water – again, just like a swimming pool!

Stunning swimming cove in a nature reserve on Mallorca

Stunning swimming cove in a nature reserve on Mallorca

Organic shop in Campú

Organic shop in Campú

As we drove back to our hotel among the almond orchards, we noticed that newly built houses all had windmills – modern stainless steel ones – built as part of the structure. Our guess is that instead of milling stuff, they are now used to generate energy. We stopped at a marvellous organic shop in Campú selling all my staples of pulses, nuts and fresh produce. We bought a bag of each the purple-black figs (red centres and juicy) and green figs (wine-red inside and very sweet).

Cove beach near Cueva Dracha caves

Cove beach near Cueva Dracha caves

There is a large network of caves on the island, two of which are open to the public. We drove over an hour north-east to “Cuevas del Drach” (dragon caves), by far the most spectacular one. Because it’s so popular, one has to buy a timed entry ticket to join the tour. We managed to get the first tour, at 10am, so to while away the time until then we quickly drove to a nearby cove to go swimming in glass-like light blue languid water. The sides of this cove are developed, but in an architectural pleasing way: all-white villas cluster together on the steep slopes, with slight variations in style but all had characteristic red tile roofs. (I remember how the roof tiles were painted white as well on Menorca to deflect the sun rays.)

Back at the caves, we were disappointed to be part of a huge group of people (our guess was about 300). Nevertheless, after descending 29m via a broad, easy path and many steps we reached a cool, softly lit wonderland. Having been to many caves before, this one struck me as particularly beautiful. The calcium formations were incredibly delicate – massive expanses of the roof was covered in thin needle-like stalactites; others formed Oriental pagoda forms or huge cauliflower columns. We were amazed at other structures that resembled thin, almost transparent gently folded curtains. The caves contain one of the largest underground salt lakes in the world, with a depth of 6 meters. We all sat down on benches near the lake, when the lights were dimmed. Three boats, lit with faery lights around their rims, were slowly being paddled across the lake in front of us while musicians gave a 10 minute classical concert. It was spellbinding and felt as though we were on a set of the Hobbit film!

Moorish architecture in Palma

Moorish architecture in Palma


One morning we drove to Palma, its heavy morning traffic on 4 lane motorways not unlike that of any big city. The inner (old part) of the city turned out to be quite nice as we visited the gardens of the erstwhile Moorish palace, 10th century remains of the Arab baths, stared at the very colourfully painted buildings, bought another bag of figs in the beautiful covered market and had tea and later an early lunch in cafeterias situated in converted palaces with glass-domed courtyards.

Although we had an enjoyable time on the Balearics, by comparison I prefer Menorca: there is a lot of pride in being uniquely Menorquin having their own language, culture, history, centuries-old festivals, community feel, pretty and well-maintained villages, more laid-back life-style, cleaner uncrowded beaches, lack of heavy industries, and not being suffocated by mass tourism as Mallorca.

Quiet town of St. Lluis on Menorca

Quiet town of St. Lluis on Menorca


We can hardly believe our 3 months in Spain are over, having had a fantastic time exploring and learning. Lasting impressions are: its friendly and patient people; incredible pride and adhering to strong traditions to preserve local language, customs, festivals and dishes; the country’s commitment to the ecology with its hundreds of wind turbines and solar panel farms; its impressive and well-maintained road system of incredible motorways and extensive, costly tunnels; the huge change in landscape, climate and architectural styles; the wealth of fascinating history; the commendable fact that Spain imports virtually no fresh produce (not even from close neighbouring countries like Portugal or France) and instead produce everything itself and having a national program to preserve historical buildings.

orange trees
It was a country that was in fact very easy for a vegan to travel around in, contrary to what I’be been warned about (mostly by non-vegans!). Nowhere did I have to explain what vegans eat or don’t eat and I’ve always encountered a friendly, professional attitude to my dietary needs. Other useful information: health shops are called “Herbolario” (mostly small but useful for supplements, refrigerator items and snacks; Happy Cow lists most organic shops (there are in fact a lot more which I discovered by just walking around) and a huge department store, called El Corte Ingles found all over Spain has a large area in its food hall that stocks organic produce and amazing vegan foods (either in several isles or as a separate area within the food hall). In my next blog, I write more extensively about holidaying as a vegan in Spain and explaining various dishes and menu items.

We are not relishing our next two days which will be spent on 3 flights, but we’ve got countless memories and pictures that will play over and over in our minds for months to come.
Albacín: sleepy cat

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Terraced olive cultivation

Terraced olive cultivation

Since the island of Mallorca is far too mountainous to cycle, we rather took the car to drive inland to visit some high villages. After a number of long tunnels, an hour on mountain passes with hairpin bends and squeezing past countless tour buses on the narrow roads, we reached Sóller. This town became extremely wealthy a couple of hundred years ago from exporting olive oil to France. Even today the French influence in their mountain dialect is evident (the menus read like a mix between Catalan, Latin and French!), and also their building style is more reminiscent of Nice in the south of France. Another charming component to this cute town is a vintage electric wooden train that runs here from Palma (takes only 15 minutes), and from here one can continue the scenic journey by taking an antique wooden tram to its port (Port de Sóller).
The mountain town of Sóller

The mountain town of Sóller

A quiet cobbled residential street in Sóller

A quiet cobbled residential street in Sóller

The villages up here enjoy a cooler climate, with snow on the Tramuntana range in the winter. The terrain is very steep, so whole
Wooden antique train in Sóller

Wooden antique train in Sóller

vineyards or olive and almond farms have been terraced with low stone walls. We drove further north to Pollença, stopping on the way at Lluc, a huge monastery complex in the mountains. The place claims that in the 1300’s a shepherd boy discovered the Black Madonna and Child, that’s now on display in the church. Pollença has honey-coloured buildings with narrow streets shared by cars and pedestrians; the town also seemed very hot with no trees planted on the streets except for the square. On the square, Plaça Major, is a number of cafés and a lively fruit and vegetable market on Sundays.

Alcúdia with surviving 15th C walls

Alcúdia with surviving 15th C walls


After a quick lunch of various tapas dishes, we continued to Alcudia for tea and cake. This amazing town has Roman ruins and the old town is tucked in by the nearly complete 14th century crenelated walls and its huge arched entrance gates. It felt like stepping back in time. The buildings, which resemble wealthy merchant houses, had the most beautiful architecture with carved wooden embellishments. We noticed that many of those buildings were dated around the mid-15th century. By chance we stepped inside an ice-cream shop (Helados Garrido, at Port d’Alcúdia, on Passeig Maritim 20) with an impressive array of ice-creams (including various dark chocolate ones), when I spotted 2 soy ice-cream flavours. I nearly danced on the spot! As we were wandering through the cobbled lanes where pot plants lined the stone walls, I slowly savoured my scoop of hazelnut soy ice-cream.

Alcúdia little back streets

Alcúdia little back streets

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Our week on Menorca flew by, and it was time to depart for our last destination of our Spanish trip – Mallorca. The time tables of the sequence of various modes of transport – bicycle, bus, boat – were carefully planned. We first cycled through Maó, where the cobble streets were being prepared for the weekend’s festival (Festa celebrating the birth of Mother Maria): it’s a pity that I miss a big part of the event, which would be horses galloping through the streets, hence the piles of sand being raked over the cobbles. We bought a seed baguette-style loaf of bread at our favourite bakery, and cycled further to the bus station. The hour long express bus to Ciutadella went very quickly as we passed small villages, megalithic structures on farms and the neatly built dry stone walls typically used all over the island.

Cycle ways along stone walls

Cycle ways along stone walls

windmillsCiutadella has an extensive, well-painted and curbed cycle network throughout the town. It was such a pleasure to cycle from the bus station to the new port where the ferries depart for the other Balearic Islands. The ferries were enormous and looked like buildings. After a relaxed crossing of 2 hours in our own small cabin (where we enjoyed our own vegan food we brought along), we arrived in Majorca (Mallorca). It was a short cycle ride to the bus station, where we caught yet another bus from the top of the island where we landed down to the south, another 1 and a half hour journey. This island is bigger than Menorca, with high mountains resembling the Alps, has a big population and receives many visitors (in 2007 over 22 million tourists came here!!). The island also has a lot of traffic: there is a train line and motorways have 3-4 lanes. The landscape was dotted with creamy-white windmills in various stages of neglect.

Cathedral detailWe arrived in Palma, a rather charmless city, except for La Seu – the huge cathedral built in Catalan Gothic style, rising dramatically above the harbour. It apparently has the largest rose window in the world! The last haul of our busy commuting day was a pretty 15km cycle along the seafront in special cycle lanes. Dog-tired we arrived at our accommodation at 6pm after nearly 12 hours of travelling, only to find the owner – a shady German guy – had misrepresented his holiday rental villa. According to his website, we were supposed to have the entire house with private pool, kitchen, washing machines etc., while instead, he lead us through his untidy house with yelling toddlers, up 2 flights of stairs to a below-average student type flat with a tiny caravan-size kitchenette, with none of the amenities mentioned above. Hmmm.

Typical windows MenorcaAfter a bit of arguing, we left after he paid us 75% back of what we’ve already pre-paid. So, there we were without accommodation, at 7 in the evening in the busiest holiday time of the year and the sun sets in an hour. We first tried the internet on our cell phones for alternative accommodation, with no success; then we cycled from one hotel to the next just to find everything booked up. After cycling a third of the way back to Palma, we finally got a room in a couples-only hotel for just one night. Luckily, after an exhaustive search on the internet the next day we found a hotel away from the sea and partying holiday makers, for the remaining part of our stay. In order to reach the hotel, we had to rent another car. The beautiful hotel is situated in the countryside surrounded by groves of almonds and farms segmented by dry stone walls. The converted and extended farm buildings are arranged around swimming pools in a group of pleasing stone buildings partly covered by deep-green ivy and sweetly scented jasmine. The 17th century chapel on the grounds (in fact just 15 meters from our veranda) as well as an old windmill were lovingly restored. In the evenings we listened to owls in the nearby trees, and watched stunning sunsets as the sky turns soft yellow, pastel pink then a flaming orange.

Our hotel and restored chapel on the grounds

Our hotel and restored chapel on the grounds

IMG_0971Although the original farm buildings had been turned into a stunning hotel, my preference is usually to stay in a place with a kitchen. Especially being so far away from any towns, I did not want to have to eat my meals in the hotel. We solved my dilemma in an ingenious way: buying an electric frying pan with a glass lid at the reliable “El Corte Ingles” department store! This kitchen-in-one was an amazing piece of equipment. I had huge fun making our lunches and dinners in the deep pan. Since we had a garden room, I’d do everything outside: dry-frying spices and setting those aside; boiling rice / quinoa / couscous and setting that aside; using olive oil, frying garlic and onions, adding vegetables (and cold rooibos tea as stock, if using); heating store-bought vegan empanadas; boiling vegan tortellini pasta, the possibilities are endless! Since I also travel with my Tribest blender, I could grind spices and nuts with the grinder blade and make smoothes, sauces and nut creams with the other blade. Here is a photograph of our pantry in our hotel cupboard!

Our food cupboard in Mallorca

Our food cupboard in Mallorca

Salt heaps at Flor de Sel

Salt heaps at Flor de Sel

After a rather bumpy introduction to Mallorca, we started to enjoy ourselves and the first thing I did was to read up about its history. Just like Menorca, Mallorca was also inhabited by pre-historic people, albeit earlier at 6000-4000 BC. The island was then ruled by the Romans from 123 BC, founding the towns of Palma (as Palmaria, on top of a Talaiotic settlement) and Pollenćia. The main economy then, as it is even today, were olive farming, viticulture and salt mining. We drove one day passed Flor de Sel, a huge salt operation with mountains of gleaming white salt being piled high by tractors. Products mostly for sale in the shops at the nearby villages are olive oil, salt and almond products.
A particularly lovely shop selling olive oils and a range of various salts

A particularly lovely shop selling olive oils and a range of various salts

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