My first holiday as a fully plant-based eating tourist. How did it pan out?

I’ve recently returned from a self-catering holiday on the North Norfolk coast. We were supposed to be in Greece but, as it turned out, it was one of the loveliest holidays we’ve had as a family. It was energetic yet very relaxing (apart from the incident when we got chased by a feisty horse). We rented a cottage in Stiffkey which is only 1 hour from our home near Norwich. I was a little unsure about where I’d buy my staple vegan-friendly foods from, whilst away, so I packed up the essentials. I also packed extra food for cooking some emergency meals – flatbread pizzas, pasta, chilli and curry. You should’ve seen my husband’s face when I laid out six shopping bags-full and asked him to squeeze them into an already overloaded car.

As we headed off, I was wondering if North Norfolk was geared up to the plant-based/vegan movement? It was time to put it to the test…

We pre-booked a table at The Feathers Hotel in Holt for the first night of holiday. I loved the atmosphere of this place. It was cosy and welcoming but with loads of space for social distancing. I knew what I was going to order because I’d trawled the menus of loads of restaurants in the local area. I liked the fact that they had a separate vegan and vegetarian menu with plenty of options. I went for the “Falafel salad with avocado, pickles and smoked hummus served with a beetroot and chia tortilla.” It was such an attractive plate of food. I loved all the colours. It was delicious and really filling. The falafel (there were 3 of them) were generous in size and lovely and moist. Dry falafel is a pet hate of mine.

We arrived at our cottage. My first job was to unpack all the food and fill the fridge with all my favourite things. I felt at home already.

On Sunday morning we ate breakfast then wandered up the road to Stiffkey Stores for morning coffee. What a brilliant local store! It’s full of wonderful products and serves up fantastic coffee. We ordered three oat milk cappuccinos and an oat milk babycino for my youngest. I spotted two different vegan cakes by Tofurei. I made a mental note to go back one afternoon and treat myself to tea and cake.

On Monday we bravely took the children on a 10 mile walk to Wells and back. We obviously didn’t tell them in advance – we’re not that stupid! Halfway to Wells we stopped for a picnic lunch at a beautiful spot overlooking the marshes. It was so tranquil with just a few walkers ambling along the path. We spotted a kingfisher flashing by. I haven’t seen one in years; what a wonderful sight!

When we arrived in the town of Wells, it was packed with people. We treated the kids to an ice cream at the Wells Ice Cream Company. They make vegan vanilla ice cream, but I really fancied a cup of Earl Grey tea, so I didn’t get to try it. Unfortunately, they don’t offer milk alternatives, so I went to Wells Deli instead. Now this is one of my bug bears – why do you have to pay an extra 30p for milk alternatives? In my mind you’re already paying for cow’s milk. Milk alternatives don’t cost that much more. It really annoys me. I did spot that they had vegan savoury pastry slices to take away. Maybe I’ll try that next time.

That night we went along to the Stiffkey Red Lion. The “Eat Out to Help Out” was still running so we’d pre-booked a table. It’s got a great atmosphere and lovely friendly service. The vegan choices included – Homemade beetroot burger in a toasted bun with gem lettuce, beet tomato and red onion jam or Superfood salad of mixed leaves, olives, tender stem broccoli, avocado, peas, tomato, red onion & mixed seeds with a home-made dressing.  

I opted for the salad because I’m a sucker for superfoods. The plate was very pretty looking and tasty but I shouldn’t have ordered the large glass of rosé wine to go with it. There were no carbs to soak up the alcohol! When I make a super food salad at home, I always include grains such as quinoa, bulgur wheat or brown rice or serve it with a slice of sourdough. Feeling a bit tipsy I stumbled back to the cottage and made myself some peanut butter on toast.

I love a trip to Wiveton Hall Café when we’re in the area, so we headed here on Tuesday morning for coffees. I loved the show “Normal for Norfolk” with the very eccentric Desmond. It’s such a beautiful setting overlooking the marshes. We spotted eight red kites circling over. What a special place to drink a delicious creamy and frothy oat milk cappuccino.

Next on the route was Cley with a pilgrimage to Pastonacre Bakery which is a well-known sourdough bakery. I’d never been before and couldn’t find it despite walking up and down the high street twice. I checked out their website to find out they were closed for a holiday. I didn’t think to check beforehand and I felt really disappointed. We went to the Picnic Fayre instead which is a fabulous shop full of wonderful local foods. They obviously sell lots of cheeses, pies and sausage rolls but I bought hummus, artisan bread and locally grown tomatoes (which smelt magnificent).

We got up early the next day to beat the crowds and headed to Wells beach for the day. Anyone that knows Wells will tell you that the beach goes on for miles and it’s a long way back to the café. I always take a picnic on days like this because my children are active and constantly asking for food and snacks. I packed up tofu egg-filled pitta breads, loads of chopped veg and fruit, a few treats for the kids and we played on the beach for hours.  

On return to the cottage I picked a load of blackberries in the private meadow which was accessed up the side of the property. I also had some wind fallen apples I’d found the day before. I didn’t take any flour or sugar with me, so I had to get creative! By chance, our welcome pack from Norfolk Cottages included some locally produced foods that I could use to rustle up a crumble. I made a topping with “Crush” chocolate & hazelnut granola with vegan butter and “Norfolk Cordial” blackcurrant & quince cordial to sweeten the fruit. I served it with soya cream. It was totally yummy!

On Thursday we headed to the Art Café at Glandford which specialises in vegan and vegetarian food. They had a big notice on the door which read “closed due to a technical problem.” I’d really looked forward to trying their food but we went next door to the Cley Smokehouse farm shop to buy some lunch items instead. I chose a focaccia with caramelised onions and some smoked olive paste. The two items ate very well together, and I’ve used the smoked olive paste in loads of dishes since.

In the afternoon I made a beeline for Stiffkey Stores to treat myself to that vegan cake I’d seen earlier in the week. Horror upon horror – the cakes had sold out! I had to hide my bitter disappointment and settle for an Earl Grey tea with soya milk instead.

On Friday we made a trip to the Tuscan Farm Shop in Burnham Market. I’ve been following them on Instagram for some time. I was overjoyed to find that they had fresh borlotti beans! What a result.

We popped into Number 29 (bar, restaurant & rooms) for a quick coffee. They have a gorgeous courtyard around the back. I had a rather strange conversation with the restaurant manager about barista oat milk. I asked if they had oat milk to make cappuccinos. He said yes but it doesn’t foam very well. I said “do you have barista oat milk?” He replied “yes, we make barista coffee.” I continued to say, well if you had barista oat milk you’d find that it froths properly. It was like speaking to someone in a different language. He didn’t understand what I was talking about, so I gave up! The cappuccino was ok, but it could’ve been better with the proper milk.

We’d booked lunch at The Hoste Arms. They took us through the conservatory to the secluded courtyard at the back. The menu doesn’t make any secrets that it’s now owned by The City Pub Co. There were two plant-based options to choose from – the “Moving Mountains” burger and a house salad with quinoa, heirloom tomatoes, leaves, peppers and courgette. I’d normally opt for the salad but the only option to add was Steak or Chicken so I plumped for the burger. Bizarrely there was a key to explain which items were plant-based. The burger didn’t have “pb” next to it so I don’t know how other vegans would know. According to the waiter he has mentioned this several times to the central City Pub Co. but they haven’t changed it. It was my first taste of a “Moving Mountains” burger and I have to say I was impressed with the authentic taste and texture.

On our last day we stopped at Creake Abbey Farmer’s Market to Saturday to stock up on Rocketship sauces. We bought more hummus (we live off this stuff) and an artisan baguette for yet another picnic.

Looking back over our week away we enjoyed lots of picnics, we cooked four meals in our cottage and ate out three times and we found many places serving dairy free milk alternatives for cups of tea and coffee. I’m glad I went armed with lots of picnic items like falafel, vegan mayo, tofu, cheese and milk alternatives and some meals that we could prepare ourselves. It can be a bit tricky to find plant-based foods when the shops are full of meat, fish and cheese. I eat a mainly wholefood plant-based diet, so my options were a bit limited when eating out. The tide is changing though. Slowly but surely there are more interesting vegan and vegetarian items appearing on menus. Things can only get better.

We loved our holiday so much that we’ve already booked to return to North Norfolk next year!

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