Happy Memorial Day, the unofficial launch of summer and summer holidays. Where to go? And what to eat? A growing number of vegan tour groups make travel more fun and remove the worry about what's in your dinner. Think of it as plant-based Trip Advisor.
Why vegan travel? Demetrius Bagley, award-winning producer of Vegucated has been working -- and playing -- with Vegano Italiano because their tours offer all the fun, none of the stress. "Rather than printing out a gazillion pages from Happy Cow," he says, Vegano Italiano, a specialized tour series organized by husband-and-wife travel pros Gretchen Sheridan and Pasquale Tierno "makes it easy." The Vegano Italiano team has over 40 years travel experience and the Italy-based couple bring their insider knowledge and passion to tours of Italy. So do all-star culinary instructors like Julieanna Hever and Fran Costigan.
Photo credit: Franco Pecchio
Many people choose vegan tours for the same reason they go vegan in the first place -- wellness. That was Sandy Pukel's thought when launching Holistic Holiday at Sea. Pukel spent years living and teaching meatless nutrition, macrobiotics and wellness only to watch clients backslide into old, unhealthy ways. His idea -- get them away from their routine long enough to let good habits take hold. "Of course it has to be fun, too. We have parties every night," says Pukel. But participants always rate the classes and instructors including vegan celebs like T. Colin Campbell and Rich Roll "as their #1 reason for coming." The pioneering vegan cruise has grown exponentially since it began 14 years ago. Now 35 presenters, 20 vegan chefs and 1,850 attendees commandeer half the MSN Divina for a week-long Caribbean trip to wellness.
More intimate but just as wellness-focused are Blissed Out Retreats organized by vegan chef, athlete and wonderwoman Christy Morgan. Her wellness workshops (which like Vegano Italiano tours are limited to 20) take place in exotic locales like Bali and Mexico and attract an equal mix of vegans and omnivores "which I love because I l get to expose omnivores to vegan food," says Morgan. "Many comment on how amazing they feel and will continue when they get home -- this is a great feeling as an activist."
Photo credit: VegVoyages
The food is amazing, of course, but the tours also reflect the increasing sophistication of vegan travel, incorporating a in-depth, hands-on experience. We're talking really hands-on -- making your pasta in Italy, strolling the markets in India, sharing a home-cooked vegan meal in the home of a local host. "We focus on cultural immersion," says VegVoyages co-founder Zac Lovas. "We work closely with communities where the adventure is taking place to introduce local cultures and customs in a responsible and respectful manner."
VegVoyages offers 25 tours of Southeast Asia, and all integrate the green living attitude that's a core part of being vegan. "The best part," says Lovas, "is bridging cultural gaps and hopefully making the world a little smaller for all of us." Winner of the 2015 Green Festival Green Dream Award, VegVoyages is also VegNews' go-to company for the magazine's upcoming tours of India and Thailand. "They meet our standard of excellence every step of the way," says VegNews editor Colleen Holland, who always returns from the tours "recharged and full of gratitude."
Lovas and Morgan both say the biggest tour challenge isn't logistics, it's getting guests to leave behind pre-conceived notions -- fear of different places -- and to turn off the noise (and cellphones) of their life back home.
Some destinations are challenging. There has yet to be a vegan tour of ham-loving Germany or Spain, but Vegan River Cruises gets you pretty close, with cruises down the Danube and Rhone. Most tours focus on the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Southeast Asia, where plant-based food is intrinsic to the culture and cuisine. It's pretty spectacular, too, and for a change, you can eat it all.
There's a vegan tour for you wherever you want to go, whatever your passion and price point. Remember, though -- the real investment here is in yourself. Pack your bags.
Photo credit: Green Earth Travel
Crema di Pistacchio (Pistachio Butter)
If like me, you have a weakness for nuts and nut butters, this recipe from Fran Costigan is so luscious, it's dangerous. Use to top crostini, as a base for gelato or eat out of the jar. As Fran says, "The taste is pure Italy."
Recipe reprinted with permission from Fran Costigan.
8 ounces shelled, raw, unsalted pistachios (from about 16 ounces in-shell pistachios )
5 tablespoons superfine sugar
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, more if needed to adjust consistency.
Process the pistachios in a food processor until very fine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the sugar, salt and olive oil. Process until a smooth and almost runny paste is achieved. This can take up to 10 to 12 minutes in a standard food processor.
Spoon into a clean jar with tight fitting lid. Refrigerated, this spread should stay fresh for a couple of weeks.
Makes 1 cup.
More at soulfulvegan.com.