Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist and last updated May 12, 2013.
Even though this blog is called The Vegan Tourist, I haven’t done much travelling lately. I finally did manage to take a vacation in April, and spent 11 days on the island of Menorca, Spain.
Menorca is the second largest island of the Balearic Islands, but nevertheless quite small. It’s approximately 50 km east to west, and about 25 km north to south. About 40 % of the island is classified as a Biosphere Reserve.
For vegan travellers, a trip to Menorca requires a bit of forward planning. The Spanish aren’t known for their vegan cuisine. In Spain, it’s all about meat and fish.
So here are 10 vegan survival tips for Menorca:
1) Visit after May 1st – this is when the tourist season starts on the island. We arrived on April 21st and left on May 1st, and during our stay, many restaurants were still closed. Menorca pretty much closes down during the off-season, we even saw a supermarket that was still closed in April and set to open May 2nd (May 1st is a holiday in Spain). As a vegan, your choices in restaurants are limited anyway, and before May you’ll have even fewer choices.
2) Stay in Maó (also called Mahon), Menorca’s capital. It’s the island’s largest city (29.000 inhabitants), and its port – which is approximately 5 km long and one of the largest natural deep-water ports in the world – is lovely. There are many restaurants, and even as a vegan you’ll have several choices. Menorca’s second largest city, Ciutadella, offers far fewer dining options for vegans, and you can just about forget about most of the other cities and villages.
3) Rent an apartment, don’t stay at a hotel. Menorcans have only a very vague idea of what it means to be a vegetarian – I’ve seen many dishes advertised as vegetarian which contained fish -, and they don’t seem to know the meaning of the word “vegan.” There are many restaurants, which offer no vegan dishes at all. Breakfast at many hotels usually includes meat, fish, cheese, butter, milk, yoghurt, etc. As a vegan, you’ll be stuck with bread and fruit, and there’ll be no soy/rice/almond/oat milk for your coffee – it’s depressing. You’ll have to pay for a full breakfast, even though there’s nothing for you to eat. So rent an apartment, and you’ll be able to prepare yourself a proper vegan breakfast as well as sandwiches for lunch (you’ll need them, trust me).
4) The Spanish lead a very strange life. Lunch starts at around 1:30 PM and lasts until late afternoon. All the shops close for an extended siesta, which lasts from around 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM. Restaurants open relatively late in the evening for dinner (earlier in Maó). My daily rhythm is completely different, and I’m ready to eat lunch sometime between noon and 1:00 PM, and dinner way before 8:00 PM; hence the sandwiches.
5) Rent a car. We used buses during the first few days of our stay, but rented a car for the remaining five days, as many of the major sights can’t be reached by public transportation. You’ll also be able to dine at more restaurants, if you have a car. As the island is so small, we drove to Es Mercadal to eat lunch at the Molí d’es Racó and to Alaior for a “Sunday Roast” at The Cobblers Garden Restaurant (reviews to follow). Both Alaior and Es Mercadal can be reached by bus, of course, but it takes considerably longer to get there by bus than by car.
6) Do you like some soy/rice/almond/oat milk with your coffee or tea? Too bad. You’ll have to make do without or take some vegan milk with you wherever you go – which is what I did. Just pour some vegan milk into a small plastic bottle and bring it along. None of the restaurants or cafes that I visited had vegan milk. You can buy soy or rice milk at most supermarkets and health food stores in various cities and villages in Menorca (reviews to follow) .
7) At restaurants, be specific when you order your food. Don’t just tell them you are a vegan. Make sure to ask if your food contains meat, fish, milk, butter, cheese, or yoghurt. Ask if they use chicken or beef broth to prepare your vegetables, and ask about the oils they use. There’s a good chance they’ll use lard instead of vegetable oils, so watch out for that. I told a waiter at a restaurant that I was a vegan and inquired in detail about my toasted bread with eggplant (the only option available to me). I then ordered and was served a “mixed salad” in addition to my bread: lots of fresh veggies – with an egg on top.
Many Menorcans don’t speak English very well, which made it difficult to explain what it means to be a vegan. I often felt anxious when I ordered food – unsure, if the waiter really understood what I meant (see above – egg salad…). My best dining experiences were at The Cobblers Garden Restaurant in Alaior, which is owned by an Englishman, and at the Restaurante Pizzeria Roma in Maó, where the waiter spoke German (my native language).
8) Learn these words: Pa amb oli. This is practically a “national dish” on Menorca, a snack – which luckily happens to be vegan. Pa amb oli is toasted white bread, topped with garlic and olive oil. A variation of this dish – pa amb tomàquet, topped with garlic, olive oil, and crushed tomatoes – is almost always available, too. I’ve also had toasted bread with garlic, olive oil, and eggplant at another restaurant, so there are several variations available. However, this dish will often be your only choice (plus a salad), and after ten days of eating mostly pa amb oli, I was quite sick of it.
9) If you rent an apartment and prepare (some) of your own food, you’ll find that most supermarkets will offer a variety of vegan foods. Menorcans are quite fond of beans, for example, which are sold pre-cooked in glass jars. Most supermarkets offer at least half a dozen different varieties. There are also small organic shops in some of the bigger cities, which sell tofu, seitan, textured soy meat, vegan bread spreads, etc. Almost all supermarkets sell vegan milk, although most don’t sell vegan yoghurts. (And good luck finding hummus, a vegan staple; I tried in vain for eleven days.) I’ll publish addresses of supermarkets and organic shops in a later post, so you’ll be able to plan ahead.
10) Relax. Menorca is an amazing island – almost half the island is a Biosphere Reserve, there are great beaches, and numerous historic sights. You’ll have a great time – as long as you don’t come to Menorca for the food. But if you’re willing to compromise for a few days (and eat a lot of toasted white bread), you’ll enjoy your stay.