Italy is probably my favourite country (well I did study Roman Archaeology so you can’t really blame me can you?) and Italian is probably my favourite cuisine, but since being diagnosed as gluten intolerant that’s kind of put the brakes on that. Being gluten intolerant and travelling in general can be somewhat of a nightmare to say the least. Being gluten intolerant and going on holiday to Italy therefore understandably worried me. Having said that visiting a country famed for it’s pizza and pasta actually turned out to be a pretty good experience for me. During my trip I visited Siena, Florence & Pisa; all of which came with varying levels of success when it came to eating.
Similarly to the UK finding anything gluten free at airports/train stations/general travel hubs was pretty much a no go (unless you’re happy with a McDonald’s salad). Since rail travel is so cheap and reliable in Italy, due to being subsidised by the government, we did end up visiting a number of stations. All of which were your bog standard fast food chains or independent cafes offering a huge range of panini’s and pizza slices – all of which looked amazing but, alas, no good for me. This is where a bit of prep and planning would have come in useful. Due to only taking hand luggage I didn’t really have the option of bringing lots of gluten free goodies with me. From what I’d read online I figured there must be a reasonable amount of availability of gluten free products in supermarkets. There must be a tonne of gluten free people in Italy right? Right! Every single supermarket we visited had a dedicated section to gluten free products and I was easily able to stock up on pasta, bread, muffins, biscuits, you name it. And the pasta was undoubtedly the best I’ve ever had as well. It’s quite obvious that Italy are ahead of the UK in the gluten free game.
Eating out was surprisingly easy. Loads of places would advertise a gluten free menu but even if there wasn’t anything available I would stick to a trusty risotto (my fave) or a fresh salad. Admittedly these menus did come in differing standards. For example, in Siena I ordered pizza which was quite obviously a bought in base in comparison to Florence where I found somewhere that specialised in homemade gluten free pizza and is located right next to the Duomo (bonus!). I think I can safely say the bigger the city the more accommodating they were for a gluten free diet. That being said, all restaurants I visited (which was quite a few…) were more than helpful when it came to finding something for me to eat. The polar opposite to many places in the UK.
I’ve picked out a few of my favourite places and products from my time in Italy (sorry in advance for the vast number of pictures of food…):
Liberia Brac, Florence
What a delightful little find Liberia Brac was (well, technically recommended by my Luxe city guide). They had loads of gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options and I was pretty much over the moon. And yes, that is a flourless chocolate cake. And yes, it was amazing. The place had the most chilled out vibe and was obviously extremely popular. We were lucky to get a couple of seats to eat at the bar but I think booking is definitely recommended.
I found a gluten free bakery and I got to eat a donut. I repeat, I got to eat a donut (it’s a big deal for me okay?!). Anyway, we stumbled across this place completely by accident but what a gem to find. They even sold gluten free Peroni and I cannot express to you how excited this made me. Dreams can come true. It tasted exactly like normal, gluten filled Peroni which was quite surprising. I’ve tried desperately to find it in the UK but I’ve had no luck (if you know of anywhere please let me know). I’m a woman in need of good beer!
Caffe Duomo, Florence
The. Best. Gluten. Free. Pizza. Ever. (Sorry about all the full stops but you get my point). I couldn’t even tell it was lacking in any gluten and that’s quite a biggy. This place was so good with super friendly waiters and wine. What more could you ask for? While you’re in this region you must try their Chianti wine as well…it’s to die for.
Venchi Ice Cream Parlour, Siena
If all else fails, ice cream. Okay, so I couldn’t have the cone but I can get over that. Venchi is an Italian ice cream chain and we actually visited it in both Siena and Florence, but this beautiful picture was taken in on a sunny Sunday in Siena. Plus I’m sure I’ve heard the saying “an ice cream a day keeps the doctor away”? No? Just me? Okay then…On the plus side this wonderful establishment has made it across the channel and you can find it in London!
Four Seasons Hotel, Florence
And if ice cream fails, prosecco. The Four Seasons in Florence is one of the most beautiful, tranquil places I’ve ever been. The fact that there is so much open space in the middle of such a busy city is quite something. If you’re in Florence I couldn’t recommend this place enough. The staff were so lovely, the prosecco was delightful, and it’s the perfect place to escape the afternoon crowds.
Writing all of this up has really got me missing Italy, so I’ll probably have to have some spaghetti and an Aperol Spritz for dinner. It would be rude not to. Enjoy your gluten free Italy.