It's only 20 minutes from Paris, but a visit to Versailles can feel like a step back in time to the height of French royal pomp and pageantry. The cobbled streets of this little city echo with the footsteps of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XIV's court, and everywhere are reminders of their legacy--the gilded and imposing chateau being the most celebrated.
While Versailles has its roots in the past, the city of 85,000 balances the old with the new, blending contemporary commerce and cuisine with 18th century visual appeal. It's possible to roam the royal gardens admiring centuries-old statues and communing with heritage sheep, then dine on a three-course vegan meal at a 21st century Michelin-starred restaurant, all within 100 yards of each other.
If France's most famous royal couple were around today, who knows? Maybe they'd mingle with the masses at some of these spots, all within a short promenade of the palace gates.
Mushrooms and Mandarins
You could build a day around the lively Marche Notre Dame alone; The square is hemmed in by halles--covered markets bearing the usual French vegetable stalls, cavistes (wine merchants), butcher shops, and fromageries (cheese shops). The glorious vegetable scene is happening outside in the center of the square, where sweet mandarin oranges, spiced olives, and earthy mushrooms are wintertime possibilities, while summer means juicy peaches, luscious tomatoes, and melons ripe for your picnic buffet.
Croissant is King
I'll let you in on a secret: Buttery croissants are on the table for vegans in Versailles (and throughout the rest of France), only they're not made with butter. Just off the Place Notre Dame on rue de Pourvoierie, sandwiched between a beer bar and a print shop sits L'Atelier d'Antan, where the croissants marked "ordinaire" are made with margarine. A second location on rue de Pain ("Bread street") doubles your odds of getting a delicious carb fix.
Natural food chain Bio C Bon has a convenient storefront steps from the city-center action, on rue du Marechal Foch. Pop in to pick up picnic provisions you weren't able to procure at the open-air market. Faux sandwich meats, mushroom pates, and organic potato chips are just a few of the options. Might as well grab a bottle of organic Gamay and some dark chocolate while you're at it.
A cheap and flavorful meal in the shadow of the chateau is yours at the Canard d'Or, a friendly Chinese spot popular with locals. Take a seat on the streetside covered terrace, or settle into a banquette in the cosy inside dining room. Wherever you sit, be sure to order the plump vegetable-stuffed steamed dumplings and the very 1970s-sounding tofu chop suey, brimming with veggies, mushrooms, and savory bean curd.
Gordon Ramsey's La Veranda
The celebrity chef known for his kitchen rages and exquisite cuisine offers vegans two options to see what all the fuss is about: La Veranda and Gordon Ramsay Au Trianon. The former is his more accessible dining spot at the small but ritzy Trianon Palace Hotel, where you can try the three-course "Detox" menu--roasted parsnip with wild mushroom vinaigrette followed by vegetable risotto with roasted tofu and horsradish emulsion followed by pineapple carpaccio--for far fewer euro but with all the elegant ambiance of his namesake restaurant. If you're not too stuffed, book a treatment at the hotel spa, where the steam room, swimming pool, and foot massages offer the perfect antidote to cobblestone fatigue.