August was the month of the epic road trip. 3 weeks of driving in our own car driving in a broadly circular, anti clockwise route around France and north west Spain.
We had a villa booked in the Languedoc region for a week of our trip and decided to stop overnight twice to break the journey on the way down to the south of France.
Our first stop was Fontainebleau, just south of Paris. We had stayed here last year on the way back from our holiday in the Dordogne and we ended up in the same room of the same hotel.
Our second stop was due to be this amazing looking auberge in the Auvergne region. I had been SO excited to stay here. Comfy beds! A new to me region of France! The scenery looked spectacular. I’d even spoken to them about my dietary restrictions and that was under control. We were all set! We set off from Fontainebleau ready for lovely drive and a delicious meal waiting at the end of it. We tootled along for 7+ hours of driving and finally arrived. Tim the owner (British husband / French wife team) seemed concerned as I walked in and said we had a reservation for the night. “No, I’m afraid not” he told me. I honestly thought he was jesting with me. I had a reservation, I knew I’d booked it, we’d just been exchanging emails about gluten and nut free meals in the days before we’d set off.
No, I had managed to do something I have never done before. I’d booked the right hotel, but for the following Friday by mistake. The story actually is even more bizarre because I’d booked another, different hotel for this stop but I’d cancelled it after reading terrible TripAdvisor reviews and then found the amazing looking auberge. But I’d also booked the first hotel for the same, wrong date. I was so upset, I burst in to tears.
The auberge were fully booked for the night. In fact they were fully booked for every Friday and Saturday night in August as they are a lovely place to stay in a brilliant location if you’re travelling to / from the south of France. They were so kind and spent well over an hour calling around every hotel in the vicinity to try and find us somewhere to stay. Finally a hotel was located an hour’s drive away (that’s August in France for you).
My kids, bless them, were amazing through this. 7+ hours in a car is boring enough to then find out you have another hour to drive. I roll my eyes regularly when I hear people say their kids can’t travel – you’d be amazed what kids are capable of (also, always keep an emergency stash of breadsticks).
From here we moved on to our villa in the Languedoc where we enjoyed driving through endless vineyards until we reached our rather splendid village home for the next week.
And trips to the Med for a spot of wave jumping and sand castle making.
Our next stop was Boltana in the Aragon region of the Spanish Pyrenees. On the trip through the Pyrenees we were delayed as we waiting for hundreds of goats to cross the cloudy mountain pass…
The scenery here was just stunning.
This was a new region of Spain for me and I loved it. Also, unlike in the south of France, we encountered very few British people here. In one of the national parks we visited a couple saw our British registered car and came to talk to us to find out where in the UK we were from and what had drawn us to this part of Spain. Something which never happens in the usual British tourists spots in France, Italy and Spain. We stayed in a hotel here and I was glad not to be cooking. We had a lovely big suite so we still had plenty of space.
Next we moved on to an AirBnb house in Bidart, south of Biarritz in the Basque region of France. Despite countless holidays in France both as a child and an adult, was another new-to-me region and I LOVED it!
The sea air, humid and salty, and sounds of crashing surf waves from our house was great for the soul. I grew up living by the sea on the north Kent coast and I miss that salty sea smell.
I’ve read a few posts recently describing France as being great for gluten free dining. I disagree. Paris, yes, there are plenty of gluten free restaurants there. Rest of France? Not so much, no.
I did find a few gems but eating gluten free outside of Paris is tough.
In Fontainebleau we stumbled across a restaurant which actually had gluten free pasta! Fairly miraculous. Fortunately I speak French and could explain to the wait staff that the pasta needed to be cooked in a clean pan with fresh water.
In the Auvergne in the unexpected hotel, they even had a gluten free menu! The must’ve known I was staying, even if I hadn’t known in advance…
In the Languedoc, the steaks came biiiig.
I rang the changes with duck breast – but swiftly changed the subject when my kids started asking ever more questions about eating duck “what, duck? Ducks we feed at the pond?”
In Bidart, south of Biarritz, I loved these Basque style moules-frites on the beach.
And this simple but delicious poisson du jour:
You can read my gluten free guide to France for tips on eating gluten free outside Paris. Also my gluten free guide to supermarkets, sadly things have not moved on a great deal since I wrote this in 2011!
For our brief stay in Spain, most meals came accompanied by the hot bag of gluten free bread. Spain,
I found, once again was extremely easy for gluten free dining with menu items clearly marked on the menu as standard in the hotels and places we ate.
I even managed a gluten free pizza.
Even ice cream signs were labelled with the crossed grain symbol for the sin gluten options.
Mostly I loved having a break from work in August with a change of scenery and chance to spend 3 weeks with my children, something I don’t get to do very often as a working mum. Work had been crazy for a few months and I was ready to have a break from it all. I can’t say that I returned from holiday relaxed but that’s the reality of holidays with kids.
I somewhat optimistically took a stack of travel magazines away with me to read. And I managed to read….precisely none of them.
This post by Alex Gazzola on gluten free foods which can contain barley and wheat sparked a particularly interesting exchange during a long drive between Spain and France.
The point that Alex was making in his post was concerning people who are (incorrectly) berating food/drink manufacturers over social media when they have (correctly) labelled their products as legitimately contained wheat / barley. Examples of this are pickles which may contain barley malt vinegar in a very small quantity and where the final product contains less than 20ppm.
The post Alex wrote was specific to the UK and our labelling law. However, in our world of global interaction on social media this topic moved on to a discussion with our gluten free and coeliac friends in the United States.
It was interesting because I learned something from this. First of all, many people in the US are not happy when they see the words “barley” and “wheat” on items which are labelled in the US as “gluten free”. Secondly in the US, barley and its derivatives along with soy sauce are not permitted to be included in any products labelled as gluten free. On the other hand, codex wheat starch is permitted by the FDA because it’s an ingredient processed to remove gluten, even though upon seeing the word “wheat” many US celiacs would not consume a product containing it. Thirdly, manufacturers are including ingredients on products which are not permitted under US FDA rules. This includes some domestic manufacturers but also some international importers. This I find astonishing; that US authorities are (seemingly) granting import licenses to products which do not meet the necessary labelling requirements. (Anyone following the Brexit negotiations will be aware that future compliance with EU legislation for exporters post-Brexit is a key topic). The final thing I learned is that in the US, labelling of products as gluten free is based on each (permitted) ingredient, rather than in the EU/UK where it’s based on gluten limit of the final product.
The conclusion of all this is that I understand a little more about the position of US celiacs on barley etc. And on the other side, I hope it is more understood why coeliacs in the UK/EU consume gluten free beer (made from de-glutenised barley) – because our EU regulations state it’s safe so long as under 20 ppm.
Travelling frequently means I’ve seen many iterations of gluten free labelling all around the world and this is an area I find fascinating. One for further research, I think.
Phew – what a post! If you made it to this point, WELL DONE!