17 days, 12 towns, 34 restaurants; AKA an epic, foodie, trip of a lifetime. Read on to discover where to find the best vegan food in Italy!
As a mostly-wheat-free vegan, I am sure you can imagine my pre-trip apprehension about the potential availability of food for a fuss-pot like myself, especially given the Italians’ love for wheat and cheese ladled pasta and pizza. I stocked my suitcase with snack bars and porridge sachets ‘just in case’ and set off on my excited-but-nervous way, accepting that if I didn’t find any delicious food at least this could be classed as a successful diet-holiday.
I didn’t have particularly high expectations, not least because I live in a farming community in the South of England where the word ‘Vegan’ is more or less considered hippy-witchcraft. It is fair to say that we don’t have an abundance of vegan restaurants locally but the greengrocers, farm shops and supermarkets sort me out. I’ve got to say – Italy, you surprised me!
After a couple of days of hunting down fruit stalls (of which there were plenty) and surviving on unadventurous dinners of chips and salad for most meals on our way from Milan to the coast, things took a massive upwards turn when we arrived in Pisa.
My trusty Happy Cow app led me to a little place called ‘Vegan Come Koala’ for lunch, which was nestled away on a backstreet. When I say ‘nestled away’, we literally walked past it three times before seeing it! It is a tiny little takeaway place that serves freshly made wraps and sandwiches.
The gentleman that served me was friendly and spoke good English (thankfully given the confusing Italian menu!). He created a custom-made wrap for me with pumpkin tofu burger, salad leaves, cherry tomatoes, vegan cheese and ketchup all housed in a warm corn tortilla. I’m actually getting a little bit excited writing this, it was so SO good!
That evening we went to a modern, smart-looking restaurant called ‘Il Vegusto’ just across the river in Pisa. It was again on a little backstreet and had a lovely outdoor seating area surrounded by plants.
After the delights of the lunchtime koala wrap I was even more excited to see a whole menu made up of vegan food (no, I don’t get out much), which had five or six choices for each course. We opted for a sharing platter, which had a selection of cheeses, salads and dips along with a rather tasty ‘pink carrot cocktail’. The cheese was so realistic that my husband, Rob, was convinced I was no longer vegan after eating it and we had to check with the waitress, who confirmed that everything was indeed, fully vegan. The main course was an incredibly flavoursome organic black rice dish with seaweed, tomato and soy, and dessert was a creamy almond ice cream.
All in all a very successful trip to Pisa.
Next stop was Florence, which had an abundance of little cafés serving fresh fruit juices to sip on whilst sat in a romantic Piazza in the sun. We made a quick juice stop at a little place near the bridge called ‘Silvana’, which was an all vegan restaurant with fantastically quirky décor.
For lunch we accidentally happened across ‘Shake Café’ in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, which had a number of vegan options and more incredible juices. I had a wrap with hummus, green peas, walnuts, lentils and kale, along with the ‘Iron Man’ juice with strawberries, kiwi and apples, both of which were absolutely delicious.
The pièce de résistance was the vegan croissant filled with apricot jam. I unintentionally let out a little squeal when I passed the pastry section adorned with a ‘vegan’ sign and swiftly ordered one for lunch-dessert; my first (but certainly not my last) vegan pastry. The croissant was buttery and flaky and even my ever-skeptical husband devoured half of it despite eyeing it suspiciously when I first brought it out.
I was one very happy vegan that day!
Rural Tuscany and Umbria were much like the UK’s version of the South West, incredibly beautiful (I highly recommend a visit to Assisi, it is stunning) but ever so slightly challenged in the nutritional requirements area, so lunch and dinner consisted of potatoes and salad again for a few days.
We started to make our way up to the East coast towards Venice and stopped for a night in Ravenna. As an aside, a rather expensive but great tasting car treat is the Nocciolato Fondente Novi chocolate which you can pick up in most Autogrill service stations; a chunky dark chocolate with whole hazelnuts – yum! To make up for the chocolate we frequented a juice shop called Sukko for fresh pressed juice when we arrived and again that afternoon.
Ravenna was less of a touristy town than others that we visited but our dinner stop, which was a proper locals haunt, is worth a mention. Alchimia Ristorante Pizzeria Bio was buzzing with locals ordering freshly made pizzas and not only did they have gluten free bases, they also had a dedicated vegan menu, complete with vegan mozzarella and meat-substitute toppings! Not gourmet but worth a visit if just for the novelty of being able to have a fully vegan, gluten free pizza complete with cheese and fake-meat. Be sure to take your phrase book with you though as there was no English menu.
Venice was our next stop and in amongst the hustle and bustle of tourists (and pigeons) down a quiet side street we found a little gem of a restaurant called Ristorante Da Mario Alla Fava.
The restaurant had a dedicated vegan menu with four or five options for each course. I had papa al pomodoro, which was a mouthwatering tomato pie topped with crispy red onions; it was light, perfectly seasoned and had the most divine rich flavour from the freshly roasted tomatoes and herbs.
Dessert was incredible; apple tarte tatin topped with cherry ice cream (made with rice milk) decorated with beautiful rose petals. It was tangy, sweet and packed with flavour.
A definite 5* vegan restaurant in my opinion.
We were nearing the end of our trip but Italy had the best still to come. Our last stop was beautiful Verona, which housed the top vegan gelato and three course meal of our trip.
The best gelato we had during our 17 day stay (and we sampled a LOT of gelato) was from a smart-looking gelateria called La Romana. They had around six vegan options and not just the usual fruit sorbets (yawn).
I ordered praline crumble and dark chocolate with sour cherries; both of which were out of this world delicious. The praline crumble was a creamy, sweet, nutty gelato with chopped nuts mixed in. The dark chocolate with sour cherries was the best gelato, and even ice cream, that I have ever tasted – hands down. The tang of the sour cherries combined with the rich, creamy, dark chocolate gelato was heavenly.
The last meal of the holiday, at a beautifully decorated vegan and gluten free restaurant called Flora, was a work of pure genius. The menu was lovingly constructed and had four or five fantastically creative options per course, even including several raw vegan options.
Starter for me was finely diced courgette in a light avocado tartare, with mint and lemon emulsion on the side. The presentation was perfect and the combination of flavours was incredibly fresh and moreish. Rob’s starter was wild mushroom orecchiette in a garlic and parsley sauce, which was full of rich, creamy flavour. Both starters were a generous serving.
The main course for me was crunchy tofu balls with apple and ginger cream, and diced peaches in a balsamic glaze on the side. Rob, a relatively hard-to-impress non-vegan, was delighted with his trio of burgers (quinoa, spinach and beetroot), which was served with a rosemary jacket potato, turmeric ‘mayo’ and caramelised onions.
Dessert was a thing of pure joy!
The raw melon cheesecake had a subtle, fresh melon flavour and a decadent creamy texture topped with a melon jam. The ti-raw-misu was so realistic I am still baffled over how it could have been raw. The ‘sponge’ in the bottom was soaked with rich coffee and topped with a creamy, light, cocoa cream marscapone with vanilla, dates and a dusting of cacao. Find my recreation recipe here.
It was by far the best vegan or vegetarian meal we have ever had – 10/10.
Here is a list of my top 10 vegan eats in Northern Italy:
1. Flora, Verona – a truly brilliant all-vegan and gluten free restaurant with a range of both cooked and raw dishes.
2. Ristorante Da Mario Alla Fava, Venice – a fantastic restaurant with a vegan menu that focuses on flavour and quality.
3. La Romana, Verona – houses the best vegan gelato in all of Italy!
4. Vegan Come Koala, Pisa – a must try lunch-stop if you are in Pisa. Custom make your lunch to your liking from a range of wraps and breads, topped with vegan burgers, sausages, salads and sauces. Yum!
5. Il Vegusto, Pisa – a friendly, smart, all-vegan restaurant with a great range of dishes to try. I recommend the organic rice cake with seaweed, tomato and soy, which packed a powerful flavour punch.
6. Shake Café, Florence – a number of delicious vegan wraps, pastries and bagels on offer, topped off with crisp, fresh juices. Don’t leave without trying one of their croissants!
7. La Lanterna, Verona – a fabulous vegan restaurant, which was buzzing with people and had a broad menu. The vegan ‘ferrero roche’ chocolate and nut pie for dessert is a must.
8. Alchimia Ristorante Pizzeria Bio, Ravenna – a locals’ ‘pie stop’ but don’t let that put you off. They have an extensive vegan menu with gluten free bases, vegan mozzarella and toppings such as soya frankfurter, all dished up in a hearty pizza that hits the spot.
9. L’ancora Della Tortuga, Monterosso Al Mare – a beautiful restaurant situated right on the sea front. They have a range of salads and potatoes freshly roasted in rosemary. Follow dinner with the dark chocolate gelato from Gelateria Golosone in the town centre, which is incredibly rich, refreshing and moreish.
10. Il Massimo Della Focaccia, Monterosso – Crispy, freshly baked focaccia with tangy tomatoes and olives. A must try and surely the best focaccia in Italy.
Quite honestly I was both amazed and delighted at the vegan options that Italy had to offer. Vegan dishes and restaurants were much easier to find than I had anticipated and we came across some absolute gems – I still crave the wrap from Vegan-Come-Koala and the raw melon cheesecake from Flora now!
My recipe recreations:
- Ti-RAW-misu from Flora – a silky smooth coffee cashew cream atop a raw coconut sponge, with just a hint of rum.
- Raw Vegan Melon Cheesecake from Flora – a creamy, light melon ‘cheese’ cake with a fresh melon topping.
A Vegan Visit to Northern Italy – Watch the vlog here: