Gluten-free travel to the land of baguettes and pasta can definitely be on your plate.
EXPLORING Europe and its diverse cultures and history is a life-changing experience. However, if you live with celiac disease, you may be daunted by the thought, since Europe has so many languages and cuisines. But here’s the good news: the continent has excellent rules on gluten-free food labeling, many “friendly” restaurants and yes, you can even find GF baguettes and delicious safe pasta.
Such a trip requires research, planning and a few tools for the celiac traveler. But a memorable journey awaits.
Eating and English
People who are new to international travel often like to start where English is the main language, to ease into gluten-free traveling far from home. My first European trip was back in 2000, when I visited London and Dublin. Even back then, I managed to eat gluten-free just fine.
Fast forward to 2013 when I returned to the U.K. to visit Wales and Scotland. With the help of the internet, I was prepared with many gluten-free friendly recommendations. One of my most memorable experiences was a traditional afternoon tea at the Scotsman Hotel in Edinburgh (20 North Bridge). Everything from the finger sandwiches, to the scones with clotted cream, was completely gluten-free. I made my gluten-free reservation by email before leaving the United States. It was a lovely way to experience a local tradition – high tea, hold the gluten.
Lights, Love and Baguettes
Paris is called the “City of Lights,” but it’s also the city of fresh bread on almost every corner. At first blush, you might find that frustrating but, with a few online searches, you can navigate your way to fresh gluten-free bread and pastries every day.
One of the original gluten-free restaurants in Paris is Noglu (16 Passage des Panoramas), which is owned by a chef who has gluten intolerance. Located down one of the beautiful Parisian covered passageways, Noglu delights the celiac traveler with pastries, breads, baguettes, scones, take-away Croque Madame sandwiches and much more. Don’t miss the “pâtisserie” (bakery) directly across the way. Noglu has opened a second Paris restaurant location (69, rue de Grenelle), another bakery location (15 rue Basfroi), and even opened an outpost in New York City.
Two more entirely gluten-free bakeries in Paris are Chambelland (14 Rue Ternaux) and Helmut Newcake (28 Rue Vignon). On my last trip to the city, I visited Chambelland three times – the breads were that good. Parisians love their bread, so no one looked at me funny walking around with my gluten-free loaf sticking out of my purse. Arrive early, as these bakeries tend to sell out.
Two of the specialty shops where everything is gluten-free are Madame Gaspard (28 Rue de Lagny) and Eat Gluten Free (5 Rue Caron). It is comforting to be in a store in a foreign country and realize you can eat everything they sell. They also carry fresh gluten-free breads.
Another wonderful way to enjoy Paris is to take a gluten-free food tour. Gluten-free baker Lisa Rumsey, of the website Bien Cuit Gluten Free, offers both walking tours and baking classes on a regular basis. Chiara Russo, founder of the website Baci di Dama, also organizes gluten-free travel tours around the city. Each can be customized to your dietary needs and preferences.
Pasta and Pizza Per Favore
It is often presumed that Italy, a country that thrives on pasta and bread, would be off-limits to someone with celiac disease. That could not be farther from the truth. Italy has a high rate of celiac disease, and the populace is highly celiac aware.
You’ll find an abundance of restaurants with gluten-free options, and safe packaged foods sold in both the supermarket and pharmacy. Italians, of course, take their food very seriously; they do not want anyone to miss out on their country’s culinary pleasures, even when the gluten is missing.
One of my most memorable gluten-free travel experiences occurred in Rome. Just a short walk from Vatican City, La Soffitta Renovatio (Piazza del Risorgimento, 46/a) has an extensive gluten-free menu of traditional Italian food. I cried happy tears while eating delicious bread and pasta and sipping wine after a day exploring St. Peter’s Basilica. Walk off your hearty, gluten-free meals by roaming the cobblestone streets of Rome and Florence. You will often stumble upon many surprising gluten-free options throughout your day.
Gelato is another Italian staple, and gelaterias can be found in almost every Italian city and town. The popular chain GROM, with outlets across Italy, offers completely gluten-free flavors and even cones in most locations. When in Italy, you must try at least one scoop of gelato.
Shopping in Europe
Making some of your own meals can help when you follow a special diet, but finding gluten-free groceries away from home is often a chore. Not so in Europe. Be prepared for delicious discoveries you can’t find in North America when exploring their supermarkets.
For instance, the U.K.’s massive retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) has an extensive gluten-free line, found in its food halls, that includes soups, salads, sausages, burgers and more. In addition, its “Made Without Wheat” product line includes fresh sandwiches and meals that can heated up at your homestay or hotel.
The small M&S Food Hall outpost in London’s Heathrow Airport is especially convenient after a long flight. M&S food halls are found in more than 10 countries across Europe, with free-from options in most locations. In addition to gluten, M&S is known for clear labeling of the top 14 allergens on their foods and drinks, and it includes may contain warnings.
Germany’s Lidl Supermarket, with stores across 28 European countries, has gluten-free packaged goods in most locations. Aldi, another German supermarket chain, which has recently gained popularity in the U.S., also has a long list of “free from” foods that are suitable for celiac disease. Watch for the “Has No” and “Go Free” products in Aldi locations across Europe. The gluten-free lines can vary by country, so be sure to read the labels.
As a celiac foodie, I always leave Europe with a suitcase full of gluten-free treats. Don’t overlook a trip to the supermarket during your European adventures, your belly will thank you.
Off the Beaten Path
Tourists always love cities such as London, Paris, Barcelona and Rome, but once you’re comfortable with travel, I also encourage you to explore beyond the city – and experience Europe in a quainter, more rural way. You might be surprised where you find gluten-free friendly destinations.
The Hotel Auberge La Fenière (Route de Lourmarin D943, Cadenet) is a unique hotel, cooking school and restaurant, just 16 miles from Aix-en-Provence in southern France. The mother-daughter owners offer a true culinary experience in a celiac-friendly environment. All meals at this hotel are completely gluten-free, as are the cooking classes.
The Esplanade Zagreb Hotel (Mihanoviceva 1, Zagreb) is the first hotel in Croatia to receive gluten-free certification from BOSK, the country’s celiac association. BOSK’s website explains the restaurant’s staff practitioners are trained in “the preparation, serving and distribution of gluten-free dishes to their guests.”
Relais Borgo Gentile (Via dei tre colli SP 53 N. 8, Tarano RI, Italy) only 40 miles outside of Rome should be near the top of your travel wish list. This hotel, set in the beautiful Italian countryside, was founded by a dietitian who understands the celiac diet. Cakes, charcuterie boards, and all entrees are a delicious part of your stay. The hotel can also cater to dairy-free and vegetarian needs.
There are many other surprisingly gluten-free friendly hotels across Europe. Use your imagination and the internet to find the destination of your dreams.
Bon Voyage, Buen Viaje
Celiac disease should never stop you from getting out and seeing the world. As an avid traveler and one who loves discovering cultures and cuisines, I find it just requires being strategic: do your research, ensure access to safe food, then dive into the experience. Bon voyage!
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