Over the years, we have constantly faced an uphill battle finding hotels/restaurants that really understand vegetarian cuisine - even today I can remember the offence caused in 1990 when we bought all our French hoteliers a vegetarian recipe book as a Christmas present! We thought we were being helpful; they thought we were telling them they couldn't cook - fortunately we smoothed things out, but it wasn't our finest of hours!
So, what's changed in 20 years? Well, there's little doubt that the UK is streets ahead of most other European countries when it comes to catering for people who don't eat meat: virtually every restaurant in the land offers meat-free options with an increasing number of vegetarian-only eateries popping up every week. In France, by contrast, you'll often struggle to find anything other than a cheese or herb omelette, or a plate of crudités, often with hams/salamis on the side "just in case you change your mind"!
But, of course, places do exist where menus for vegetarian guests are considered just as important as any others. In general, southern Mediterranean countries fare pretty well, with the mezze style of cooking in Greece, Cyprus and the Middle East holding particular appeal.
Additionally, within the Headwater programme, we have a number of holidays where the chefs are particularly in tune with vegetarian cuisine. Here are 6 of our favourites:
Fruits of the Forest Walk, France
Host and chef Carolynn Grimaldi creates innovative and nutritional vegetarian dishes, using locally grown vegetables combined with dairy products, beans and pulses.
In-house chickens provide organic eggs for breakfast and seasonal fruits - melons, blackberries, peaches - are used to produce fresh, mouth-watering desserts.
Secret Tuscany Walk, Italy
The romantic wooded hills of Italy's Alto Mugello are the perfect setting for this off-the-beaten-track walking week, based in the pretty mediaeval village of Palazzuolo sul Senio. Our hotel here is renowned throughout the region for its prized restaurant: expect to taste mulberries, cherries, sage, tarragon, rosemary and wild mushrooms freshly picked from the gardens. We have also included cookery demonstrations, wine and olive oil tasting as well as a gala dinner on your final night.
Coastal & Country Tuscany, Italy
The Maremma is the beautifully undiscovered coastal corner of south west Tuscany, and comprises tiny mediaeval villages, sun-kissed beaches and ancient woodlands. Headwater guests stay at the luxurious villa-hotel Agriturismo Acquaviva where meals are served in the elegant candle-lit dining room or on the panoramic terrace. Menus rely heavily on fresh, home-grown produce - you can even drink wine from the villa's private vineyard.
Secrets of Andalucia, Spain
Consistently one of our most popular walking holidays with special appeal to guests looking for real "home from home" comfort in a relaxed and characterful setting. All meals are included (wine too!) with lunches being a mix of freshly prepared picnics and tapas bar snacks, and evening meals taken in-house or at hand-picked local restaurants. The cooking in this part of Spain very much reflects the region's history and climate: seafood, salads and the world-famous gazpacho made from vine-ripened tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and olive oil.
Catalan Classic Walk, Spain
This is one of our most up-market Spanish walking holidays with high quality accommodation and fine dining guaranteed throughout (evening meals are included 4 nights out of 6). Local specialities include saffron risotto with asparagus and tomato and lentil salad with soft cheese and seaweed.
Highlights of Syria
New for autumn 2010, this 10-day walking and sightseeing holiday is crammed with cultural, historic and architectural delights. Syrian cuisine is a subtle blend of Mediterranean and Arab flavours - very much reflecting the country's rich cultural heritage - and convivial mezze style dining makes mealtimes a shared, social and fun experience.