The French do lots of things really, really well. Health services, roads, preserving landscapes and heritage… but two things they really don’t get are vegetarian food and toilets (not that the two are related!).
Toilets? If you’ve never been to France then your first visit to a French service station toilet will be an experience you will never forget. Although things are getting better as the French realise they are lagging behind third world/developing countries, they still have an aversion to providing toilets, toilet seats, soap and loo roll. It is a common assumption in France that you either do not go to the toilet ever, or when you do, things just miraculously occur without the need for any assistance.
The other thing the French do not do very well at all is vegetarianism. The French simply do not understand the whole notion of being a vegetarian or vegan.
A recent visit to Tignes, a ski resort in the Haute Savoie region of the Alps, has confirmed that things do seem to be getting a bit better. The French have realised that although their tastes may not have changed in 300 years, other nations have. So whereas a few years ago you may find a token cheese sandwich on a menu for 10 Euros, and begrudgingly supplied without any ham attached to it, there are now a few new entries.
The most amazing one we witnessed whilst skiing in Tignes was the introduction of a vegetarian burger.
We forgot to take a photograph of this creation because when it did arrived we were so hungry it got wolfed down (this is a common occurrence when skiing), but what did a vegetarian burger in France consist of?
The answer is a very French serving of vegetables in a bun together with some cheese and salad. In fact to be completely accurate the vegetarian burger consisted of some mushrooms out of a jar (either in oil or brine), gherkins, slices of tomatoes, a slice of cheese, an egg (fried of course), a lettuce leaf, some mayonnaise and a big piece of cucumber.
This was served with a plate of chips and packed into a brioche bun. We did find a picture on the web of the equivalent meat burger, so copy below.
Taste verdict was that it was delicious. Naturally we may well have been a bit biased as skiing does induce high levels of hunger!
Whilst the vegetarian burger would have been no good for a vegan, we did, as vegetarians, enjoy it tremendously.
Tignes itself is a rather large ski resort based 2000 metres up in the Alps with extensive skiing, including glacier skiing and is one of the best resorts in France, if not Europe. There are a whole host of different places to eat, so we thought we would highlight a couple for you to recommend for vegetarians.
The first of these is the Restaurant Aspen, which can be found at the foot of Tignes Val Claret, next to the large open air car park, Le Grand Motte. This eatery was very accessible from the slopes and we were able to park our skis and go straight in to sit out in the sun and enjoy our vegetarian burgers (see above). The staff were very helpful and friendly (which can be unusual in some ski resorts), and always seemed to appreciate it if you at least try a bit of French when ordering. Your choices as a veggie at this particular cafe would be the vegetarian burger (see above), pancakes and omelettes, together with sandwiches which are more French than English. You pay a considerable amount of money, and get a sandwich together with a plate of chips.
Le Coffee Bar, Lounge and Apres Ski
The next place is one to avoid, mainly because they appear to be somewhat devious to the extreme. We sat down to enjoy a beer post-ski, and noted that it was happy hour for the following 30 minutes, which meant that a pint of beer was 5 Euros and a hot wine (Vin Chaud) was 3 Euros. We were quite pleased to find this because the usual price of both of these is considerably more.
Unfortunately the waiter did everything within his power not to take our order. Even when he had taken the order he then didn’t bring us the drinks.
Here are some of the things the waiter did to avoid serving us during happy hour:
- Stood on a bench and took a photograph of another party.
- Poured himself a beer and started to drink it.
- Went to do a bit of mixing on the DJ stand.
- Wandered off inside and didn’t return for 10 minutes.
- Went to take orders from at least three or four other tables and in a couple of these cases actually brought their drinks out to them before even taking our order.
The list runs on, and when it got to 5:28pm we decided to give up and accepted the waiter was waiting until 5:30pm so he could bill us at the full amount, and go and find a nice cafe. The name of this cafe? Le Coffee. Avoid.
Here is a photo of Le Coffee – its in the middle of Val Claret, right next to the Tufs chairlift and at the top of the impromptu sledging park that materialises every night after the lifts close.
Another delicious pizzeria in Tignes Val Claret was Tummy. This pizzeria was extremely busy and features very highly on Trip Advisor. Quite rightly so as the service was good, staff very polite and the pizzas very well cooked indeed. Not only that but they did at least four different pizza options for vegetarians, including a vegan pizza. The vegan pizza was very nice and so were the other vegetarian pizzas on the menu. Unfortunately, due to starvation levels and burning 4500 calories in a day skiing, the pizza did not last long enough for us to take a picture of it before being devoured and subsequent puddings similarly scoffed. But we can recommend Tummy to anyone in the resort looking for somewhere with good choices for vegetarians as it was very well stocked indeed.
When travelling to France as a vegetarian we think you just have to accept that the French simply do not get vegetarianism and you are inevitably going to eat a shed load of cheese, pasta and pizza. Traditional French food simply doesn’t fall within the category of involving enough things to be able to transfer it into a vegetarian dish, and so the French simply don’t bother on the whole. This has been our experience right across France from top to bottom, and we are very well travelled in most areas. So our recommendation if going to France is to take a jar of Marmite, some decaf teabags (they don’t really understand British tea habits either), and possibly some peanut butter in case of real desperate need.