Plant Based Travel in Italy with Lyndsey + Sautéed Mushrooms and Onions (Oil-Free)

June 22, 2019 / Molly Patrick /

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Adding to our repertoire of travel posts highlighting ways to eat plant based around the world, I’m thrilled to share with you Lyndsey’s travelogue chronicling her epic plant based travel in Italy.

~Molly


By Lyndsey Hafer-Williams

I’m a wordsmith.

I cobble together nouns, verbs, and adjectives to portray ideas and scenes of real life.

I fashion together sentences, phrases, and paragraphs in order to explain an experience that will hopefully open the reader’s imagination.

I use the power of words to elicit feelings, provoke emotions, and to motivate others to examine their own life, love, and relationships.

That’s why, when I sat down and tried to write about my recent holiday in Italy, I was startled when I found myself at a complete loss for the appropriate words to string together.

So what does a writer (who liberally sprinkles around big, juicy words on the norm!) do when there seem to be no words to accurately describe such a life-changing odyssey? She shows you in pictures!

I want to take you with me on this adventure. I want to inspire you to open your mind and whet your wanderlust to experience new things, creative ideas, different people, and unique places.

I want to bring you along to see the history, walk the cobblestones, taste the food, smell the sea, feel the breeze, hear the language, touch the culture, and be absolutely astounded at the vibrant energy of an ancient people.

Let’s begin the journey!

My travels began when my friend Kim Giovacco and I, flew into the ancient city of Rome. We only had an afternoon there, as we were headed to join up with her vegan tour group, Veg Jaunts & Journeys in Venice the next morning. But I was absolutely determined that I would see at least one amazing site and eat some fresh pasta while in Rome!

I was also curious to know if, in the land of Italian sausages and mozzarella cheese, would I miss out on something if I stayed with my plant based way of eating? Would I have to eat only lettuce and baked potatoes? I’ll let the pictures do the talking, but spoiler alert: everything I ate was plant based!

The Coliseum! It’s the largest amphitheater ever built and was completed in 80 AD. I was deeply moved and I am not ashamed to say there were tears in my eyes at first sight.

We ate at Rifugio Romano which has several pages of menu dedicated to vegan options. We shared plates of Fettuccine Al Ragu and Pennette Alla Vodka and moaned with pure pleasure.

The Tiramisu was unlike any that I’ve ever had in my life. Creamy, dreamy, and sinfully decadent with a soft cookie-type crust on the bottom.

And then the next morning, following a breakfast of delightful pastries, we were off to Venice!

First time on a passenger train!

Venice was everything I thought it would be and more than I could have imagined. It was a continuous labyrinth of narrow cobblestone walkways, charming old homes, meticulously designed stone bridges, and canals with singing gondoliers.

Lunch was at a sweet cafe with a fabulous view of people strolling (and floating!) past us…

I enjoyed a savory tofu and avocado tartare…

And slurped up every single bit of this carrot-ginger-pumpkin soup!

Dinner was at an all vegan restaurant, and I ate the best pasta dish I’ve ever tasted in my life.

Black and white cashew ravioli in a butternut cream sauce! Don’t you just want to lick your screen right about now?

And the hazelnut cake simply knocked me out and had me begging for mercy.

I promise I did more than eat!

There are no cars on the islands, which is perfectly wonderful, so you arrive by train or water taxi.

I was able to visit the island of Murano, which is known for its glass-making…

And then on to the adorable island of Burano known for its handmade lace and rows of colorful homes. Even rainy days in Italy are glorious!

After three unforgettable days in Venice, I said arrivederci but not before diving into a plate of fresh gnocchi with lemon and sage!

A short plane ride and I was on the southern coast in the Puglia region which is in the heel of Italy’s “boot.” This area of the world is famous for its olive oil, long stretches of Mediterranean coastline, white-washed hill towns, and centuries-old farmland.

Bari, the capital, is a vibrant port city and university town.

Old Town Bari is not just a tourist destination, but it’s a living city where people still raise their children, work in their shops, tend to their homes, and keep their old world traditions alive.

One of the best things about Bari is their sizzling-hot, crispy-crunchy, wood-fired traditional focaccia with fresh tomatoes and oregano!

Seriously. I almost died. Right there on the spot. It was that good.

Our little group gobbled up every bite right there on the sidewalk! No shame in our game…

One unforgettable experience was the sweet little “Nonna” that brought me into her home and taught me how to cut and shape fresh orecchiette…

She didn’t speak English, but I had zero trouble understanding her sharp instructions!

A smile, a laugh, and a pat on the hand communicate the same feelings in any language…

I’ll never forget this moment for as long as I live. Her generosity and kindness towards me, a stranger in a strange land, was an unexpected gift. She will never know what these beautiful photographs mean to me.

Strolling through Bari, I stumbled upon a variety of farmer’s markets with narrow tables that were piled high with fresh, seasonal veggies.

The Datterini tomato is a signature of Italian cuisine and is unlike anything I’ve ever seen or tasted. It is a deep, dark, sensual red, and when you bite through the semi-tough, plump skin it literally becomes an explosion of flavor in your mouth! Sweet and tangy all at the same time, I swear I could taste warm sunshine and all of Italy in each bite.

And then it happened… I finally discovered the one thing that I absolutely have no words to describe!

Le Sgagliozze is a little place where Bari native, Donna DeCarmela, has set up shop right outside of her kitchen to feed locals and tourists alike.

For one euro, she handed me a white paper sack with six, scalding hot, super salty, fried polenta fritters. Standing there with that bundle of happiness in my hands, waiting for it to cool, I almost fainted from the aroma and the mounting anticipation of the first bite!

Crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside this fried square of simple heaven was and still is indescribable. I would gladly fly the nine hours there and ten hours back just for another sack of that salty goodness.

The next week went by fast, but it was so nice to be in a group and to have all the logistics and food planning taken care of for you. It made for an ease of travel that was unparalleled to anything that I’ve ever known.

I was lucky enough to participate in various day trips to some of the region’s most interesting towns.

Alberobello, founded in 1635, is famous for its unique, conical, trullo buildings. They were constructed without mortar and using only the sturdy limestone found in that area.

The trulli of Alberobello have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996.

I was thrilled to learn that this region is 80% plant-based and found the people to be extremely proud of their fresh, local, organic fruits and vegetables.

I ate lunch at Trattoria Terra Madre where, every morning, they go to a nearby farm only two miles away and pick up the ingredients for the day’s menu. Whatever is in season and whatever was just harvested is what the chef prepares for that day.

The menu states that their philosophy is to “celebrate vegetables!”

The chef sent out paper-thin, sliced turnips with a balsamic vinegar reduction…

Followed by marinated artichokes…

And turnip greens with freshly shelled fava beans.

There was cavatelli pasta with chickpeas and rosemary…

And fresh orecchiette with broccoli, turnip tops, and sun dried tomatoes!

An hour outside of Bari, on another excursion, I got to see the lovely seaside towns of Polignano…

And Monopoli…

The abundance of cars, narrow streets, lack of turn signals, and aggressive, honking drivers certainly made for a memorable drive!

But one of the most fun days was in the pretty little town of Martina Franca where our little group participated in a private cooking class given by vegan Chef and yoga instructor, Marilena Marici.

So much fun!

We made a scrumptious veggie lasagne with toasted bread crumbs…

And we also whipped up a pan of roasted fennel and peas that was layered with a bechamel sauce made from millet!

Martina Franca by moonlight is positively stunning!

Our last day in the area took us to the history-filled city of Matera. Built on a rocky outcrop in the region of Basilicata, it is home to the Sassi area, which is a complex system of ancient cave dwellings carved into the mountainside.

First settled in 251 BC, the historical city of Matera contains ancient cave carvings from the Paleolithic period (10th millennium BC).

Matera was once called “the shame of Italy” because its citizens lived in horrendous poverty without electricity or running water. In the 1950s all 16,000 of the city’s residents were relocated to nearby towns. However, by the late 1980s, folks begin moving back, renovating, and modernizing the caves.

It is now a thriving city and was certified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1993.

And then Mel Gibson came to town…

Following the 2003 movie release of Gibson’s, The Passion of the Christ, which was completely filmed in the Jerusalem-like city, tourists started arriving and Matera was reborn. It has now been selected as 2019’s European Capital of Culture.

Fun facts:
Matera was the location of the fictional Amazon island of Themyscira in 2017’s Wonder Woman movie, and it’s also slated to host filming of the new James Bond movie in late 2019.

My time in Bari and surrounding cities soon came to an end, but I was quickly off on another adventure as we took the train farther south to Lecce!

Called “The Florence of the South,” Lecce is famous for the ancient, partially-unearthed ruins of a gladiatorial amphitheater…

And for its golden-hued baroque architecture.

However, I’m not a bit ashamed to say that I’ll never forget this city because of the pizza!

Yeah, I ate pizza in Italy. No biggie…

After a few days exploring the city, I hopped a train for a fascinating five-hour ride back to Rome and noshed on a traditional sandwich stuffed full of marinated veggies in a delicious flatbread called puccia.

I absolutely loved being able to watch massive groves of enormous old olive trees, fields of gorgeous red poppies, and sprawling grape vineyards pass by as the train sped through the Italian countryside.

My last night in Italy consisted of a lovely sunset stroll through Rome…

And a last supper that was positively biblical!

I enjoyed a salad of chilled corn, asparagus, and olives…

And then absolutely devoured a plate of warm, grilled bruschetta with sautéed Datterini tomatoes and mushrooms!

My friend and I shared plates of spaghetti Bolognese…

And spaghetti Carbonara topped with vegan Parmesan cheese.

My grand Italian adventure was nothing short of sensational and I am so thrilled to be able to share a piece of it with you. I am hopeful that my words helped your heart open, your imagination spark, and your view of our world expand exponentially.

For those of us looking to keep meat and dairy out of our diet while traveling, I am here to say that it can be done, and done well! As you’ve seen, I ate some amazing food and positively do not feel as if I missed out on anything!

It has to be said, that even though I stayed completely vegan and ate lots of fresh veggies in Italy, I did find that all of the oil almost immediately triggered an IBS flare. I was terribly constipated, but a week after I returned home and started right back with the CFDG Plant Fueled Meal Plans, and Lighten Up, I was back to my champion-pooping ways.

It was another brilliant reminder of why I must ALWAYS remain on a Whole Food Plant Based No Oil (WFPBNO) way of eating. Apart from when I’m traveling the globe!

I’ve been home now for several weeks and I have only just realized why this experience was so much more than a vacation or holiday.

If you’re in the CFDG private Facebook group, then you know that I spent the first half of this year reclaiming health and finding joy by participating in Lighten Up. I worked really hard to face my fears, address unhelpful behaviors, transform my relationship with food, and to finally make peace with my body.

By the time I arrived in Italy I was so full of outrageous energy, an enormous sense of adventure, and a thoroughly renewed zest for all this life has to offer, that I was totally unstoppable! I felt beautiful in my clothes, loved how I moved with ease, and was simply comfortable in my own skin.

These two weeks were phenomenally enjoyable and physically electrifying and completely unforgettable because of how I was feeling inside…

I wanted nothing more than to see, feel, smell, taste, touch, and experience every single moment and I want you to experience that as well!

When was the last time you were comfortable in your skin?

When was the last time that you felt fully alive?

When was the last time you looked into a mirror and loved your reflection?

When was the last time you faced your fears and got out of your comfort zone?

When was the last time you felt completely at peace?

If you are struggling to find that place where you are comfortable in your own skin, at peace with your body, and where you feel all-out joy, then I want you to consider Lighten Up and the CFDG Plant Fueled Meal Plans.

Because this is your one and precious life, my friend…

It’s your time.

It’s your moment.

Come with me on this huge Dirty adventure and discover who you were meant to be.

Come with me and open your arms wide to welcome whatever wonders await you.

Come with me and discover that glorious sweet spot, where life is a river of deep peace, a rainbow of vivid color, and a mountain of marvelous sunshine!

Is there somewhere in the world that you want to explore? Talk to us about it in the comments!

Ciao, bella

Lyndsey


Oil-Free Sautéed Mushrooms and Onions

Makes about 4 cups
Author: Molly Patrick of Clean Food Dirty Girl

Ingredients

  • 5 cups sliced mushrooms (375 g / any variety)
  • 1 cup thinly-sliced red onion (130 g)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (about 10 turns)

Instructions

  • Heat a large skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, onion and garlic. Sauté for 6 minutes, stirring often and adding a splash of water if they start to stick.
  • Stir in the thyme, salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Wishing you a happy week. May it be filled with making plans to explore the globe.

Xo

Molly

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29 Comments

  1. Cheryl on June 22, 2019 at 10:09 am

    Wow! These pictures are gorgeous! Makes me want to go to Italy NOW!! And the food…well, it’s beautiful too! I have to ask: Do Italians think it’s strange to eat pizza without cheese?

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on June 22, 2019 at 2:56 pm

      Hi Cheryl!
      I can’t speak for all Italians, but I do know that authentic pizza (which originated in Naples) did not have cheese.
      The pizza that I ate was THE BEST THAT I HAVE EVER EATEN!
      Xoxo

  2. Devi on June 22, 2019 at 10:27 am

    Lyndsey – once again you outdid yourself. You are so incredibly inspiring. But I wanted to tell you how freaking fabulous you look! I mean you always have a huge sense of joy and happiness radiating out of you, but in these pics, you look positively radiant. GO YOU!! And thanks for sharing all of your pics – it is so good to know you can do Italy and eat ALL THE THINGS! and still be plant-based, YEY YOU!!!!

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on June 22, 2019 at 2:58 pm

      Hi Devi!
      Thank you. I felt absolutely amazing the entire time and had tons of energy. Plant power for the win!!!!
      Xoxo

  3. Cyndy Brantley on June 22, 2019 at 11:01 am

    5 stars
    WOW! WOW! WOW!…..Have been wanting to go to the land of my heritage but didn’t know how to do it VEGAN style…What an incredible account of your incredible journey! Thank you for sharing….will definitely be looking into Veg Jaunts and Journeys.

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on June 22, 2019 at 3:00 pm

      Hi Cyndy!
      It was a phenomenal experience and one that I’ll never forget.
      You should go!
      Xoxo

  4. Christine on June 22, 2019 at 11:17 am

    Wow. Thanks for sharing your trip. The photos are gorgeous….and the food; speechless haha…can you share that lasagna recipe you learned to make with the chef….it looked fantastic. Thanks 🙂

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on June 22, 2019 at 3:02 pm

      Hi Christine!
      It was an awesome adventure for sure.
      I’ll check with the chef and see if she is ok with sharing that recipe.
      Xoxo

  5. Adina on June 22, 2019 at 11:54 am

    Gorgeous

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on June 22, 2019 at 3:04 pm

      Thanks Adina!
      I’ll never forget the beauty of the food, the people, or the country.
      Xoxo

  6. Chris Tamayo on June 22, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    That looks like such a wonderful trip! Was this something you planned on your own or did you use a travel agent? I am contemplating a trip to Italy next spring and exploring different options. Thank you for sharing your trip.

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on June 24, 2019 at 7:51 am

      Hi Chris!
      It was a fabulously planned trip by my friend and through her company, Veg Jaunts & Journeys. Click on the name in the blog piece and it’ll take you directly to her website.
      Xoxo

  7. Kim on June 22, 2019 at 4:56 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience and beautiful photos! We went to Italy last October without a tour or guide, so I had to do all my own research. I used HappyCow and TripAdvisor. It was a little challenging because my husband isn’t vegan, so I wanted places he would enjoy, too. I communicated with many of the dinner restaurants via email when possible, many chefs were very accommodating, and had some truly amazing meals!

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on June 24, 2019 at 7:53 am

      Hi Kim!
      That’s so awesome to hear. I’m glad you had a great trip. It’s such a beautiful place.
      Xoxo

  8. Pia on June 22, 2019 at 8:32 pm

    We NEED a dirty tiramisu! NOW!
    PS Fab pics from Venice <3 <3 <3

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on June 24, 2019 at 7:54 am

      Hi Pia!
      Great idea. I’ll pass it along to the Dirty Wizards!
      Xoxo

  9. Jane on June 22, 2019 at 9:43 pm

    Hi Lyndsey..I am curious do you know what ingreds were used to make the creamy sauce in the Carbonara and also the Bolognese ..last day…pretty amazing to do these..thank you for all the photos of the country too…

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on June 24, 2019 at 7:56 am

      Hi Jane!
      Unfortunately, I do not.
      I do believe that most of the “creamy” type sauces were cashew based.
      It was definitely an amazing holiday.
      Xoxo

  10. Yesenia on June 22, 2019 at 11:10 pm

    Lyndsey!! You brought back such amazing memories I have of Italy when I went for my honeymoon, I want to go back so bad! When I was there I was a vegetarian and was worried it would be difficult, but I love that they have so many plant-based options! Now I can return with confidence that I can have amazing meals without feeling limited, thank you for that. Thank you for sharing your experience and bringing back my nostalgia.

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on June 24, 2019 at 7:59 am

      Hi Yesenia!
      It was the best two weeks of my life and I am so very grateful for getting the opportunity to travel.
      Xoxo

  11. Julie DeVere on June 23, 2019 at 12:59 pm

    You have only increased my desire to go! Loved your images. But, now I’m hungry!

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on June 24, 2019 at 8:01 am

      Hi Julie!
      I am so fortunate that I got to travel to such an amazing place.
      Xoxo

  12. Julia W on June 24, 2019 at 7:32 am

    I love all your pictures, Lyndsey! You look beautiful and so full of life! I am traveling to Alaska next month. I’m not really going for the food adventure, so I don’t expect fabulous cuisine, and I am OK with that. We got an AirBnB home base in Anchorage and I plan to cook as much of our own simple food as seems reasonable and just get by with whatever the great state of AK has to offer the rest of the time. I’ll share my photos of glaciers and wildlife and hiking and kayaking to the group when I get back. XOXO

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on June 24, 2019 at 8:03 am

      Hi Julia!
      Alaska is on my bucket list for sure!
      Enjoy your trip and definitely share your pictures with us.
      Xoxo

  13. michelle on June 24, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    Was just in Venice in March and we ate at the place in your photo, Trattoria al Ponte! I would love to visit some of the smaller towns you mentioned, my stepmom is from Basilicata and I’ve always wanted to go. Thank you for your detailed trip notes. <3

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on June 25, 2019 at 3:53 pm

      Hi Michelle!
      If you can ever get to the Puglia region of the country, it is well worth it! I would love to return.
      Xoxo

  14. Richard D'Orlando on August 8, 2020 at 5:19 am

    Hello! My girlfriend Gretchen sent me this email of your trip o Italy. I ma a pilgrimage to Nettuno Italy in 1992 to visit my favorite saint, Santa Maria Gift to a 12 year old beautiful girl married for defending he purity. Incredible spiritual things happened to me the. You couldn’t find any bad food. Mario Valentine’s and his family in Nettuno had me for supper every night. Incredible food like the fried anchovies in basil and bread crumbs with garlic and fresh arrivals salad. Your trip was epic! Take care Richard D’Orlando.

    • Lyndsey Hafer Williams on August 10, 2020 at 7:27 am

      Hi Richard!

      I’m so glad you enjoyed my words and photos. Traveling to Italy has been one of the best adventures of my life.

      Thank you for sharing a bit about your travels, as well.

      Xoxo,
      Lyndsey

  15. Dale on April 16, 2021 at 6:17 am

    5 stars
    This recipe is wonderful! Easy and delicious! Made it last night to go with my vegan lasagna rolls (husband doesn’t care for mushrooms too much). After dinner, when I was too full to eat anymore, I kept wanting to eat more straight out of the refrigerator.

    Went to Italy in 2003 and loved it. Your article and pictures were sent to my husband with a request to go back when COVID gets a little bit more back to normal. Pretty convincing with your pictures.

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