Over the Easter vacation I gave eco tourism a try in Italy with some friends at a vegetarian/vegan organic farm not far from Parma that I located with some internet detective work.

Il Paradiso dei Gatti is a small, cute farm up a mountain overlooking the Taro valley surrounded by great hiking trails and full of not just cats but also friendly dogs, chickens, goats, sheep, horses and geese.

Staying here included the room and all meals. Breakfast was served at 9 or when you wanted: tea, coffee, bread, cakes. I learned by day two to skip breakfast to save room for lunch and dinner. Our hosts, Georgio and Graziamaria cooked up a host of never-ending meals for us. It felt like Christmas twice a day. Lunch was at 1:00. Let me tell you about these meals. They were huge and long and consisted of course after course after course. Thank goodness for all those hiking trails!

Georgio and Graziamaria are very dedicated to organic and seasonal food, and in the mountains spring had not really started so the food was quite grain-based although they did bring in some green goodies from a neighbor’s greenhouse. Dinner was served at 8:30. Here is a long list of what we had to eat for those [like me] who are interested in such things!

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  • Quinoa and greens in a flakey pastry
  • Gnocchi in béchamel with truffles
  • Chocolate pear cake
  • Risotto with strawberries and a balsamic reduction
  • Crispy breaded soy patties with chutney
  • Sundried tomatoes
  • Home made black olive tapenade
  • Olive pizza
  • Quinoa and peas baked in onion boats
  • Sautéed kale (yes, unlike France, Italy grows kale.)
  • Biscuit crust spread with raspberry preserves
  • Basil pesto and béchamel lasagna
  • Asparagus crepes
  • Radicchio salads

And we fell in love with Grandpa’s lambrusco: who could resist open bottles on the tables? What a great place.

After the farm we moved on to Verona and Venice. These cities, based on Happy Cow’s list, have no truly veg restos. We tried to get into a ‘veg-friendly’ place, La Zucca, in Venice but they were booked. After looking at their menu I was not disappointed to miss out, as they serve the likes of rabbit and all sorts of fancy dead stuff. We stayed at an apartment rental when we were in Venice, which was cheaper and also meant I could cook some of my own stuff. In the Rialto neighborhood there are well stocked natural food stores where I got some soy products etc. to cook up at our little palazzo.

Of course, it was easy to order basic Italian vegan food almost everywhere: pasta pomodoro, pizza marinara, salads, antipasti, and wine. However, veal is almost always present on the menus, so as I ate my salad I did sometimes think I should really be out there protesting.