Staying Gluten Free and Dairy Free in Italy

When people think of Italy one of the first things they probably think of (after Rome, Venice, Florence etc) is the food.

If you are like me and have to be mindful of what you eat (especially gluten and dairy) you might be a bit apprehensive about travelling to and eating out in Italy – oh hello there pizza, pasta and gelato!  Normally when I travel I like to stay somewhere with a kitchen so that I can cook at least one or two meals a day.  So I was a little nervous myself about my three week honeymoon as we were going to be staying in hotels (not a kitchen in sight).  But travelling around Italy was a lifelong dream trip and I was determined to make it work.  And do you know what?  It wasn’t too difficult navigating my dietary restrictions.

We stayed in three places – Malcesine in Lake Garda, Rome and then Sorrento.

Breakfast

We were lucky in that a buffet breakfast was provided in each hotel.  The breakfast in Malcesine (Hotel Castello) was nothing short of amazing.  Along with the usual breakfast fare (cereals, breads, cakes, crepes which I don’t eat) they also had fresh fruit, eggs of different types (hard-boiled, scrambled, omelettes, fried), salad, a wide range of deli meats and even prawns! They had a great variety of individually packaged gluten free products such as breads, biscotti, breadsticks, museli and freshly made cake too.  One of the breads on offer was not only gluten-free but also dairy and egg free too!  While I normally steer clear of gluten free products for the most part as they’re usually quite processed I did have some of the gluten free/dairy free bread and I was impressed!

While the buffet breakfast in the hotel in Sorrento was pretty similar but not quite as good (the gluten free offering consisted of white bread and biscuits), the breakfast in the hotel in Rome wasn’t great (tinned fruit yikes!).  Luckily there was a health food shop NaturaSi just up the road from the hotel there where I was able to pick up organic fruit, coconut yogurt, coconut milk and some on-the-go snacks.  As we had a mini fridge in our room I could leave the yogurt and milk in there which was handy.  There are a number of these health food stores around Rome so if you are looking for one, they’re a great option.


Snacks and Lunch

I didn’t come across any health food shops in Lake Garda or Sorrento but the supermarkets had a wide variety of fresh produce, gluten free products and milk alternatives such as almond, rice and coconut.  There was a pharmacy in the main square in Sorrento (Farmacia Farfalla) that actually had a free-from section full of gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free products and healthy snacks so I managed to pick up a few things there too.

For the most part, lunch usually consisted of salads – either in a café or bought from the local supermarket.  Most places offered sandwiches or pizza’s for lunch and a small range of salads but a lot of these weren’t both gluten AND dairy free so I actually found lunches the most difficult meal.   I found the safest options when eating out were tuna salads with minor modifications or prosciutto and melon.  I was surprised that chicken salads weren’t offered on a lot of menus, however I found a lovely place in Malcesine (Osteria Santo Cielo) that had a delicious grilled chicken and orange salad.  My own salads from the supermarkets usually consisted of a bowl of leaves, cucumber, olives and olive oil with prosciutto or tinned sardines or mackerel.  And on days when we were out and about, I’d have snacks on hand like fruit and some fruit and coconut bars or I’d pop into a deli and get some fresh slices of prosciutto.  Gelateria Cristallo in Riva had a wide selection of gluten free pizzas, pastas and sandwiches as well as vegetarian and vegan options and green juices and smoothies.

Dinner

Eating dinner out gluten and dairy free was actually fine.  A lot of restaurants had allergen menu’s and the waiting staff usually had very good English.  I’m a meat/fish and two veg kinda girl anyway so I usually chose the grilled fish or meat (fried may have posed a problem as they tend to coat stuff in flour) with a side of grilled vegetables or mixed salad.  But I ALWAYS said to the waiting staff  that I was gluten and dairy intolerant.  I used “senza gluten and senza lattosio” a lot in case they didn’t understand my English fully!!  I’ve been stung too many times with a menu that doesn’t explain properly what’s in a dish.

Most restaurants had a very very similar menu with the same dishes on it – antipasti, first course (pasta), second course (meat/fish), pizza, side dishes and desserts and you can pick and choose what you want (i.e. you don’t have to order a first AND second course).

Finding gluten free pizza and pasta was easy as most restaurants offered it.  What I found hard was getting gluten free pizza or pasta which was dairy free and also tomato free so I usually didn’t go for this option and stuck with my fish/meat and veg.  But I wanted to try pasta while in Italy so when I saw a restaurant in Sorrento that advertised themselves as gluten free on their signage I thought that it might be the place.  They said they made their own gluten free pasta in the restaurant and I found a dairy-free and tomato-free option on the menu (lemon, basil and green olive) so went with that.  It was an EPIC fail!  The sauce was gloopy and oily and it didn’t look appetising at all.  I ate about a quarter of it and decided to leave it.  Unfortunately I was pretty sick the next day.  I’d like to think it was the sauce that didn’t agree with me but I didn’t chance any other gluten free pasta dishes on my trip.

Restaurants in Lake Garda:

Hotel Castello in Malcesine (may have been our favourite dinner which included a thunder and lightning show over the Lake)
Ristorante Italia da Nikolas (we went here twice – the grilled salmon cutlet was really good and eating right on the lake was great)
Restaurant La Pace and Osteria Al Vecchio (5) where I had the grilled octupus.
Bar Pizzeria Da Pedro (I had grilled swordfish and polenta).

Restaurants in Rome:

Brillo (2) near the Spanish Steps – A cool restaurant just off the shopping street. I had lamb chops with a red onion marmalade – delicious.
TED Lobster and Burgers (6) in Prati near the Vatican – When we were craving something other than Italian food.  I had a burger on leaves with salad.
Cul Du Sac (7) near Piazza Navona – A real traditional Italian restaurant where I had salmon and veg cooked in paper. Worth the wait.
La Soffitta Renovatio (4) in Prati district – I had veal covered in prosciutto and sage which I’m definitely going to try to replicate at home as it was so so tasty.

Restaurants in Sorrento:

Ristorante L’Abate (1) just off the main square – I had grilled squid which was lovely but the boiled veg was boiled within an inch of its life!
Ristorante O’Murzill.  Gorgeous tiny little restaurant with the red and white checkered table cloths and great customer service.  We liked it so much we went twice.  Once I had the lamb chops and the second time I had grilled fish.  But what I liked most was the grilled vegetables which were done to perfection with a hint of herbs and garlic.  So so good!!
Restaurant Da Gigino (3).  Another place we went to twice.  They made their own gluten free rolls which were still hot when they came to me.  I had roast chicken one time and then grilled fish and salad the next.  The restaurant has its own cookbook and I can see why.
Le Grazie.  Probably the best grilled salmon I had on the whole trip.  Crispy but not dry.
Ristorante O’Parrucchiano.  We ate out on the terrace under the lemon trees and fairy lights.  Super pretty.  I opted for lamb and broccoli florets.  I preferred the romantic atmosphere to the food but it wasn’t bad.

Gelato

I couldn’t get over how many gelato shops there were and that people were eating it morning, noon and night.  Most places offered a dairy free option but not all so I definitely asked.  The dairy free options were usually fruit based flavours or sometimes the dark chocolate flavour. I pretty much had some every day of the trip (when in Rome…).  Some of my favourite places were:

Cento Per Cento in Malcesine right beside the Castle.  They had vegan offerings too and stayed open until 11pm.

In Rome, Wonderful Ice Cream (2) was great and Grom in Verona was amazing.  Grom have outlets all around Italy and actually internationally too.  They have a great menu for those with intolerances.  I got the blueberry sorbet in there and it felt like I was just eating frozen blueberries – so good!

In Sorrento I loved Raki (3) which is award-winning and I can see why, Gelateria Primavera (5) which had an amazing selection and We Love Puro (4).

So eating out in Italy was much easier than I expected.  While I relaxed some of my normal restrictions and ate some foods that I wouldn’t eat much of at home (such as nightshade vegetables, nuts, gluten free products and dairy free gelato etc.) I still was able to stick to gluten free and dairy free with relative ease.  I learnt that I can probably tolerate some foods much better than before and that it could be more of a case of having a tolerance threshold now (can have some but not a lot).  I’m so glad I had my Crohn’s surgery when I did as I don’t think I would have enjoyed my honeymoon as much!!!

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