Vegetarianism Hits the Road

Finding Respite–and a Real Meal–While on Vacation

For a growing number of travelers, the Sweet Onion Inn is a sweet site indeed. The white-shingled structure nestles along Route 100 in Hancock, Vermont, a rustic spot between unbroken expanses of Green Mountain forest and winding White River. The front walk of the inn rustles with fallen maple leaves and a wide hammock swings on the sprawling back lawn. But perhaps the most welcoming sign is the one tacked to the wooden post out front: “Lodging with Vegetarian Dining.”

Inns like the Sweet Onion in Vermont, and its sister establishment, the Sweet Thyme Inn in Green Bank, West Virginia, represent an optimistic trend among spas, restaurants and even travel agencies now specializing in vegetarian cuisine. “Consciousness around the world is changing,” says Stephen Abelsohn of Adventure Health Travel. “There’s a greater sensitivity. People are looking for travel that’s healthy, that doesn’t impact the environment, and that helps local cultures and peoples.”

An Open Invitation

A warm, yeasty fragrance wafts through the entry, greeting new arrivals to the Sweet Onion Inn. Ron Heatley, a chef and certified nutritionist who runs the inn with his wife, Kathy, travels each week to two farmers markets and a food co-op for the fresh, mainly organic ingredients that go into his home-cooked meals, devoid of animal products and dairy.

“Food is what brings people here. The comradery brings them back,” says Heatley, who intentionally sets only one large table to accommodate the animated conversation at both breakfast and dinner. “The family-style meal encourages people to come together,” says Heatley. “When you sit down here you instantly have a group of people who share your same beliefs.”

But vegetarian dining is also a time for new experience and celebration, or sometimes both. An Irish feast is the focal point of the Sweet Onion on St. Paddy’s Day, New Year’s Eve is a five-course event at the Duckett House Inn and Farm in Hot Springs, North Carolina, and the Serendipity Inn in Ocean City, New Jersey, serves up an impressive Thanksgiving dinner. Make your own holiday with a ski weekend at Stoney Brook Inn at the foot of California’s Mt. Shasta, or a “Take Monday Off” special at the Pederson Victorian Bed and Breakfast just north of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

And should your diet be even stricter, well, “There’s more than one way to skin an onion,” Heatley is wont to point out. He will happily accommodate special preferences and food allergies, and then offer tips on how it’s done. So will West of Eden, near Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island, Maine, the Tower House Bed and Breakfast on Washington’s San Juan Island and the Rosemary House Bed and Breakfast in Pittsboro, North Carolina.

Wherever You Go

If, however, you are headed for an area where the hamburgers still outnumber the apple-brie sandwiches, there are several tips you may want to take to heart.

Before you go away, check to see if there’s a vegetarian society at your destination; it will likely be full of hints to help you plot your attack on dinner. And once you’ve arrived, ask the hotel’s concierge or reception desk about health food stores or vegetarian restaurants in the neighborhood. If you can find your way to a natural foods store, says Donna Zeigfinger of Green Earth Travel, which specializes in matching vegetarians with the trips that meet their needs, “I guarantee that someone there will know where to eat.”

“A lot of places are willing to make dietary adjustments,” notes Verna Collins, owner of Vegetarian Journeys, which provides its own in-house tours, “But you have to educate them on just what that means. Because vegetarians are different, and their needs are as well, it can be confusing.”

“I usually call a hotel in advance and notify them prior to making reservations,” says Liz Vallsworth, a seasoned vegetarian traveler from Brooklyn, New York. “But while it’s nice that most hotels will make adjustments for your preferences,” says Vallsworth, “it’s much nicer to be in an environment where you don’t need to ask: ‘What’s in this? How is this made?’ or ‘Can you make something that is not on the menu?’”