The Best Ways to Travel Gluten Free in Italy
August 17, 2018
You've heard me talk about Italy a lot on this Blog. It's both because it's my personal favorite destination...as well as one that seems to be on top of most people's travel lists. It's no wonder, given the beautiful scenery, fascinating history, and noteworthy art and architecture. And, oh, the food and wine isn't too bad either!
Speaking of which, Italy also happens to be the most gluten-free friendly place our family has ever visited. Of course, I wouldn't recommend just booking a plane ticket and winging it! No, you really need to do your research before going if you want to have the optimal experience, especially when it comes to dining on the best gluten free specialties.
Delicious (and safe) gluten free pizza, pasta, bruschetta, crepes, gelato, pastries, and more can be found in both the big cities -- and even in the smaller, quaint towns that are off-the-beaten-path. But you have to do your research on sites like our GlutenFreeTravelSite to find them. I also wrote an e-book, available on Amazon, called Gluten-Free in ITALY: Your Worry-Free and Gluten-Free Guide to Italy. It's perfect if you don't have much time to research or plan a trip yourself -- but need to stay food safe. I recommend many safe and wonderful restaurants around all the major tourist sites in Rome, Florence, and Venice, and I even give advice on the best accommodations for your money, how to most easily get around the cities, and the best tours and day-trips. Many people who have purchased the e-book told me they used it as their own day-by-day itinerary.
While most restaurants are well-versed in Celiac and how to prepare safe gluten free meals, not all restaurants make interesting gluten free options available. For example, if you choose some of the busiest, most touristy places in the big cities -- or are on a typical tour of Rome, Florence, and Venice -- you aren't necessarily going to end up at places that have gone the extra mile to offer gluten free substitutes that rival anything on their regular menu. Instead, you will probably find yourself eating a lot of risotto, grilled vegetables, and simply prepared meats. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as Italian food is so fresh and flavorful. But it would be a shame to miss out on other places right nearby that offer gluten free versions of what Italians are known for -- pizza and pasta especially. After all, the best gluten free pizza we've had in our lives was in Italy. We even found some places with Neapolitan style gluten free pizza. And the pasta is equally as tasty, with all sorts of regional sauces and preparations to choose from. And wouldn't you love to have gluten free crepes or tiramisu for dessert?
So if you're traveling alone (not as part of a tour), I suggest visiting this page of GlutenFreeTravelSite and entering a town or city (i.e. Rome or Florence) in the search box. You'll get a list of places that have been reviewed on our site, and they'll be marked on an adjacent map.
Another way to see Italy -- without the hassle of planning everything yourself -- is to join a small group tour. Bluone in Italy Food and Wine Tours specializes in authentic food and wine tours of most of Italy's less traveled regions. In addition to partaking in amazing meals, vineyard tours, wine tastings, olive oil tours and tastings, and cooking classes, you'll visit the local historic and cultural sites. These regions showcase some of the most beautiful parts of Italy, with rolling hills, quaint towns, and true Italian culture. Bluone owners Marcello and Raffaella, a husband-wife team, have been leading these tours since 1995. They have relationships with all the restauranteurs and can make sure your gluten free (and other special dietary needs) are communicated in advance -- and then again in person -- to the chef. I know this, because I was privileged enough to join one of their tours to Umbria (central Italy, known for its medieval hilltop towns, olive oil, and wines) last October. It was a magical journey, and Bluone offers it several times each year. The tour I was on was organized by Janice Veech, a classically trained chef and yoga teacher who is gluten free herself. She has partnered with Bluone again to offer an itinerary to Puglia (the heel of the boot) in late October -- and the same Umbria trip I took part in again in October 2019.
But if neither of those itineraries interest you -- or if you'd prefer to travel at another time -- I can recommend with confidence any of the other Bluone in Italy Tours. Just contact Marcello and Raffaella through their website and mention my Gluten Free Travel Blog. They will do all the due diligence and let you know if a particular itinerary will work for you. On our group's one-week tour of Umbria, the restaurants all had many safe gluten free options available for each course, and our cooking classes even incorporated gluten free substitutes (like when I got to help make dessert crepes!). But since every itinerary is a bit different, it's best to be in direct contact with Bluone Tours.
As you know, I have made it my mission for the past 10 years to introduce people in the Celiac and gluten free community to travel opportunities that allow them to experience all the world has to offer...and "take a vacation from worry." Fortunately for us, the opportunities continue to grow. (If you doubt that, just check out our Gluten Free Getaways page with 23 different travel destinations showcased!) But Italy is a great place to start if you've never felt comfortable traveling abroad because of your gluten free diet. Their awareness and attention to their gluten free diners is unparalleled -- even in the U.S.
Look for my article in the soon-to-be-released September/October issue of Simply Gluten Free magazine for even more advice on traveling gluten free in Italy! In it, I recommend travel agents who can help you plan an amazing gluten free journey to Italy.