I have a complete love of Italy. It was the first foreign country I was taken on holiday by my parents, aged 2. It was the country I chose to get married & honeymoon in and later it was the first overseas country we took the twins to on holiday. I’ve spent so much time there it feels so familiar. I never worry about what I’ll eat when I go to Italy because from experience that it will always be good.
In all the trips I’ve taken to parts all over Italy, I’ve learnt a few things which might help in planning a gluten free holiday in Italy:
1. It’s incredibly easy
You’d think with all that gluten-y pizza and pasta it’d be hard to eat safely in Italy but you would be wrong, it’s remarkably straightforward. Catering to coeliac and gluten intolerant diners is just so normal in Italy, it’s truly a breeze. In all the trips I’ve taken, my dietary restrictions have been treated kindly, seriously and most of all with respect. Something which can’t always be said of dining out in the UK.
2. Even if gluten free options aren’t listed on the menu, it’s likely there will be some
All over Italy I’ve discovered that just because it’s not written on the menu, it doesn’t mean they don’t have gluten free options. On the tiny Aeolian island of Salina, I asked and was given this gluten free pizza. It had been made on a shop-bought gluten free base. In Verona we had searched out a great looking gluten free restaurant I’d found online – only to arrive for us to arrive just as the kitchen was closing (for its lunch!). Instead, and with two hangry toddlers, we stumbled into a pleasant looking pizzeria opposite the Roman amphitheatre. With no mention of gluten free options on the menu I expected to order a simple salad for myself. Instead it transpired they did offer gluten free pizzas (even though they were not on the menu) and I thoroughly enjoyed this fabulous pizza, cooked in a foil tray to prevent cross contamination. Lesson of the day: If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
3. You don’t need to bring food with you from home
There is absolutely no need to bring gluten free food with you from home for your trip, taking up valuable luggage space. Italian supermarkets will have everything you need. Even a small supermarket in central Turin had this enormous section of gluten free products.
Larger supermarkets and hypermarkets carry a dizzying array of products. I was once so overcome at finding frozen puff pastry in a Tuscan IberCoop I considered making a Millefoglie on my holiday (don’t worry – I snapped out of that one pretty fast!). This was the gluten free food selection found in just one store. Can you see why you don’t need to bring gluten free provisions with you to Italy?
4. Gluten free food can be bought in pharmacies
It’s not only supermarkets, but also pharmacies (farmacia) which carry gluten free food. In my experience the range found in pharmacies varies enormously. For example, on a trip to the Ligurian coast I found a pharmacy in Santa Margherita with a huge range, much larger than stocked in the supermarkets in the area. On the other hand, some pharmacies may only carry a few gluten free biscuits and crackers. Generally they often look like this one in Milan.
Or like this pharmacy in Genoa, they could be an entire shop of gluten free food!
5. Gluten free foods can be purchased on (some) trains
Of the many things I particularly love about Italy, the ease of train travel is high on the list. The train network is fast (or you could opt to take the slow line if you wish!), it takes you easily between city centre to city centre – meaning no need for a car to explore – and gluten free foods are even stocked on some trains. On Frecce (high speed) trains, the AIC has worked with Trenitalia to ensure that two savoury and two sweet gluten free products are stocked on trains. Am I alone in wishing the UK’s train operators would offer a similar service?
6. You can enjoy your gelato from a gluten free cone
Many (but admittedly not all) gelateria carry gluten free ice cream cones. However, eating from a coppa (cup) is totally normal. If you visit a Grom store which are found all over Italy, their ice creams are mostly all gluten free and they are now also carrying gluten free cones.
7. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised at every turn
For the twins’ first holiday we rented a villa in beautiful Umbria for two weeks. A pizza evening was included as part of the rental, with pizzas cooked in our villa’s wood fired pizza oven. I explained to the pizza chef about my dietary requirements. She said it would be fine and not to worry. Just in case (and because it’s impossible not to worry when you have food allergies/intolerance), I picked up some pre made gluten free pizza bases from the local supermarket as a back up. Yet what was provided was this….. The gluten free dough had been prepared in a clean kitchen and the pizzas cooked in metal trays to prevent cross contamination. Truly some of the best gluten free pizza I’ve ever eaten. And I’ve eaten a lot. (I wanted to bring Valentina back to London with us).
8. Separate kitchen exist for the preparation of gluten free food
In some restaurants in Italy (especially pizzerias) a separate and dedicated kitchen may exist specifically for producing gluten free foods in an environment to minimise the risk of cross contamination as much as possible. I’m not aware of this type of separate kitchen set up occurring outside of Italy, except in rare cases. In addition, many of the gluten free pizzas I’ve had in Italy (including those show in this post) have been cooked in foil trays to prevent cross contamination in the pizza ovens.
9. The AIC (Italian Coeliac Association) website is open to use by non-members
Unlike other databases for Coeliacs (including Coeliac UK’s and the French Association Française Des Intolérants Au Gluten), the AIC generously provides open access to the restaurants listed within its database to non members. By clicking here you can search by town/region for restaurants trained and monitored (at least once a year) by the AIC. There are currently over 4,000 venues listed! . If you would like to use the AIC’s mobile app, full instructions on how to gain access – in English – are provided on this page.
And again exceeding expectations, this database even includes the name of the person at each venue who is responsible for gluten free food.
If there were one thing I wish about travelling in Italy, it’s that I wish my Italian language skills were better than the somewhat rudimentary level they currently are. But really I think the only way to solve this would be an extended stay spent living somewhere between Florence (and all its artistic gems) and the rolling hills of Tuscany or Umbria. I can almost taste the wine and freshest foods and I’d be eating….
Useful resources for gluten free travel to Italy
• You can find all of my gluten free posts on Italy here. I haven’t blogged about all the places I’ve visited so please do feel free to leave a comment below or email me if you have specific questions and I’ll help if I can.
• Essential phrases in Italian are:
o senza glutine = gluten free
o io sono coeliaco/a = I’m coeliac (m/f)
o sono intollerante al glutine = I’m intolerant to gluten
• It’s usually easy to find Schär gluten free products in Italy and they have a huge range of savoury and sweet options. But there are many brands offering gluten free products. Of these, some of my favourites are La Veneziane for authentic tasting gluten free pasta. Almost all supermarkets of any size I’ve visited in Italy carry the Galbusera Zero Grano range of savoury crackers and plain biscuits. Recently I’ve discovered the Barilla Mulino Bianco Rosemary crackers, perfect with some parma ham and Gorgonzola cheese. The COOP supermarket chain has its own gluten free range including gluten free cornettos.
• Gluten free beer can be found in most supermarkets, even smaller ones in town centres. It’s usually found in with the regular beers. The beers I’ve most often found are gluten free Daura and Peroni.
• As well as the AIC website, I like to use the Mangiare Senza Glutine website and app to find gluten free restaurants. I find this incredibly useful as it can search for suitable places near to your location on a map, plus it has reviews and users can add photos to the app of the foods eaten. You can even add your favourites to the app for future reference.
• Also useful is http://www.ristorantiperceliaci.net/ and http://www.pizzerieperceliaci.net/ (they also have an app)
• Just outside Rome is Relais Borgo Gentile. It’s owned by a registered dietitian and the whole menu is entirely gluten free, with other dietary restrictions accommodated also. I haven’t stayed here but Amy has and thought it was marvellous. I follow them on Facebook and the food and accommodation looks stunning (just take a look!).
Have you been to Italy? What surprised you about your trip? What was the best gluten free meal you ate there?