A fantastic opportunity to spend time as a family, even though our children are not so small any more. Exploring a small part of Italy to discover what it had to offer including a fine array of allergy-friendly and delicious foods. Our 10 days were simply stunning and I know we’d all love to go back again:
Without a doubt we loved our meals out whilst in Italy, but sometimes it was equally fab to be able to stay in and enjoy a glass or two alongside a simple home-cooked meal. I decided we would travel lighter than normal this year in an attempt to avoid the mammoth queues that were plaguing the UK airports over the summer months. This meant I couldn’t pack our usual extra suitcase of safe foods to take with us. Fortunately, there was a large Co-op hypermarket near our farmhouse in Orvieto and we found a great free-from section there with plenty of options to keep everyone happy.
The shelves were stocked with a variety of Schar gluten-free breads which were perfect for our “at-home” days and there was plenty of choice of cooked meats and local goats cheeses that both G and M enjoyed. With fresh fruit and vegetables and crisps to sit alongside the rest of the food, most mealtimes were plentiful and we didn’t really need too much else to satisfy the pickings of my hungry duo. However, it was amazing to find these extras to keep them both smiling throughout the day:
Pizza: Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of the label for the gluten- and dairy-free pizza we found, but with the option of both proscuitto and magherita pizzas which suited both G and M, these were a big hit on our first night there. They were easy to oven-cook and it was fantastic to find a free-from pizza that was both gluten- and dairy-free to prepare as that’s rarely the case at home in the UK. In fact, I’d go far as to say UK brands should take note as this would be an absolute game-changer for us. The two pizzas were more than enough to feed even the hungriest amongst us – the 16 year-old boy who appears to have hollow legs – and Mike and I even managed to sneak a slice to taste-test too.
: These were a real find during our holiday and G and M tried both the Quinoa and Cranberry bars and Rice and chocolate drops bars, although the latter did contain a small amount of soy lecithin which was a shame. We also tried a selection of their biscuits, though these contain egg and M had to be sensible about just how many he consumed in any one sitting! We bought a few boxes of the cereal bars in particular as they were easy to pack to take out with us when we were on the move and were great at tiding M over whilst waiting for the next meal!
Valsoia & Bene-si Ice-creams: Another set of great finds, though soya was the main ingredient in the Valsoia ice-cream and hazelnuts the base for the Bene-si one. Fortunately, neither child struggles with an allergy to hazelnuts and M in particular was extremely careful about how much of this one he tried. We managed his consumption of the sour cherry soya ice-cream with an increased dose of his anti-histamines and anti-allergens when he had a bowl and we didn’t see any ill effects during our time away. It was fantastic to see a wide selection of different flavoured dairy-free ice-creams readily available in the hypermarket, although I wish we’d been able to find a good coconut ice-cream for M to try as well as the others.
If there is one thing that Italy is famous for other than pizza and pasta, it has to be the incomparable gelato you can buy on pretty much every street corner or, if in Rome, at what feels like every third shop on the street. When your children have allergies, finding safe desserts is almost always the most difficult challenge when you eat out and even in Rome, was more of a challenge that we would have liked. Lots of shops do offer gluten-free cones or, of course, you can buy a scoop or two in a paper cup instead; and if you’re happy to eat fruity sorbets, then there are some great safe options to be had. Unfortunately, G is not a fan of the sharper flavours of a sorbet and at one point I did wonder if we might end up without trying this delicious Italian treat during our Roman sojourn. However, we did find a couple of gems and I had to share them with you:
Magnum Pleasure Store: We’d wandered past the Magnum Pleasure Store a couple of times on our way to and from our apartment and on one particularly scorching afternoon, we decided it was worth a shot to see if we could find a dairy-free option to help G and M cool down. They are both big fans of vegan Magnums here in the UK with G favouring the almond version over the plain vegan option that M enjoys. It seemed like a good starting point to find an ice-cream for us all, so it was disappointing to discover that there were no vegan ice-creams to be seen. They selected a cold drink instead whilst Mike chose the toppings for his designer magnum at the behest of both children – the speciality of the pleasure store.
I headed to the freezer to see what I could find and struck proverbial gold. They might not have stocked vegan magnums, but instead I stumbled across the fantastically named “Bikini 1969”, a gluten- and dairy-free ice-cream sandwich bar. Needless to say, both G and M were quick to take up my offer to try this treat – their first ice-cream sandwiches ever – and what a hit it was. We didn’t quite make it back there every day, but we did partake of an ice-cream from the Magnum pleasure store more than once during our stay.
Sublime Gelateria: This was another unexpected find during our time in Rome and one that we came across disappointingly late in our trip, especially given its proximity to where we were staying. Situated just a couple of doors down from Mama Eat Lab, M spotted this gelateria thanks to the duck-egg blue Vespa in the doorway and the brightly coloured sign next to its entrance stating it had vegan-friendly and gluten-free goodies inside. Having struggled our way through the impressive 3-course meal at Mama Eat Lab, none of us had space for a sneaky ice-cream, not even M, but we vowed to head back the following day and even managed a return visit as we headed back to the airport on our final day.
All of the ice-creams were clearly marked with the red scoops depicting those flavours that were safe for vegans and therefore for our dairy-free duo. What was fantastic was that there was a great mix of traditional ice-cream flavours, fruit sorbets and some more unusual ones for us to try and they all tantalised the taste-buds. I can’t quite remember all of the flavours we tried between us, but I know chocolate orange, fig, peach and lime were amongst them. Once again it was fantastic to see G and M experiencing being able to order a gluten-free cone filled with 2 scoops of their choice of an array of safe ice-cream flavours, something they’ve never been able to do before.
Our stay in Rome was relatively short and we were able to find some great places to eat safely and enjoy some delicious meals. As well as those mentioned in my last post, we also tried the restaurant that turned into our absolute favourite find of our Italian trip and somewhere we’d all happily go back to time and time again:
This small chain has 3 restaurants in Rome, one of which was Mama Eat Lab just a short walk from our Vatican City homebase. I can’t begin to tell you just how fantastic the food here is and I’ve no doubt that if we’d discovered it on day one, we may well have ended up eating there every day!
Mama Eat specialises in gluten- and lactose- free cooking and more or less every dish on the menu at our chosen location was safe for G and M to eat. Needless to say it simply had to be a 3-course meal, which was tough given we’d already enjoyed a delicious pasta lunch, but the whole family was up for the challenge. We took our time perusing the menu and were utterly spoilt for choice, so it wasn’t an easy decision to make.
Our final dinner choices included arancini, fried chicken, pizza and lasagne and was finished off with a shared dessert of mini doughnuts. It was great to see some gluten-free beers on the menu too and all-in-all it was one of the best dinners we’ve had whilst away from home. In fact, so good was the food that we headed back the next day for a late lunch when the queue was a little less lengthy, but the food equally delicious. The lunch menu is much, much smaller, but no less fantastic.
If you’re looking for somewhere that is allergy-friendly to eat with excellent Italian food, I would heartily recommend Mama Eat – we all gave it a 10/10!
After our week near Orvieto, we wended our way to Rome for the last few days of our holiday. I had done a smidgeon more research for our stay there, which uncovered one absolute cracker of a restaurant a mere stone’s throw from our apartment near the Vatican City. We enjoyed some great, safe meals elsewhere too, most of which we walked into from the street and were impressed by just how well catered for both G and M were:
: The one request we had on the drive from Orvieto to Rome was if we could find the Hard Rock Cafe in Rome for dinner during our stay. Whilst Mike and I were keen to find some more authentically Italian places to eat whilst we were there, it was an easy option for the our first evening in Rome and allowed us to fit in a little sightseeing as well as we found our way to the restaurant via the Spanish Steps and wandered past the Trevi Fountain on the return trip. After such a fantastic meal in HRC Florence, we had high hopes for a repeat performance at the Rome branch, but both children were disappointed with the quality of the gluten-free bread rolls being too dry to complement the rest of their meal.
: We wandered into this restaurant by mistake, but oh my goodness, what a success story it turned out to be. Less than 5 minutes from the Trevi Fountain, right in the heart of the tourist area, bustling and excellent service throughout the meal. There were so many safe options on the menu and M decided to take this first opportunity to try a traditionally Italian pizza. He started with a platter of smoked salmon and orange slices, followed by a Hawaiian pizza without cheese, whilst G chose a gluten-free spaghetti carbonara. Disappointingly there were no freefrom dessert options available that my 2 could eat, but after a delicious and filling meal, pudding wasn’t something any of us could realistically manage.
: Another knock-out walk-in win, this time for lunch in the Jewish Quarter. This was a relatively quick stop between our guided tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum, and an afternoon visit to the Capitoline Museums. We found a street of welcoming restaurants and Mike did a quick scout of which could offer allergy-friendly options to our discerning duo. Most of them were able to serve gluten-free pasta even though it wasn’t clearly shown on the menus displayed outside the restaurants – a great demonstration of just how accommodating Italy can be, particularly to those who need to eat gluten-free. This time both children chose rigatoni – M with a tomato and basil sauce, whilst G again opted for a carbonara sauce. The portions were filling, but not too big, which was exactly what was needed to hit the spot in the middle of another hot day in Rome.
It has been quite some time since I lasted blogged and boy have those months been busy! Amongst other things we’ve celebrated a 16th birthday, survived the onslaught of BTEC and GCSE exams – as well as nearly all the results – some big changes at work and a performance in the West End by G and M. With so much going on, it’s been difficult to find time to put the proverbial pen to paper, but having just come back from an amazing 10 days in Italy, I was determined to find 5 minutes wherever I could to share our travel experiences.
Unusually, I didn’t do as much research on safe places to eat before we travelled as I have in the past, but having seen how well Italy accommodates those on special diets on our quick jaunt there a few years’ ago, I was hopeful we might have reasonable success. And so we did. With a little light touch internet searching on the ground to assist us, we found some amazing places to eat.
Our journey started in Pisa where we walked to see the Leaning Tower before heading for a quick pit-stop in Florence for lunch, and finally on to a beautiful farmhouse just outside Orvieto, where we spent the first week of our holiday. We didn’t eat out much whilst we were there, but the meals we did have were brilliant:
Hard Rock Cafe Florence: A holiday simply wouldn’t be a holiday without lunch at the local Hard Rock Cafe. I can’t say we go as far as planning our destinations around the HRC locations, but it is pretty much always one of the first things M asks about once he knows where we’re going. The Italian approach to allergy-friendly eating was a little different than we’re used to, with no separate menus, but we did have an extremely knowledgeable server who was able to tell both G and M if their selections were safe or not. G picked the BBQ pulled pork sandwich, whilst M chose a starter of chicken wings, followed by the grilled chicken sandwich. Their plates were cleared in the usual fashion when we eat at a HRC and I’m told that the gluten-free bread rolls were the best that they’ve eaten anywhere in the world.
Antica Cantina, Orvieto: Our base for the week, La Grande Quercia, was a fabulous farmhouse found on top of a hillside overlooking the cliff-top city of Orvieto and mid-week we decided to venture there for an explore and a lunch at the Antica Cantina restaurant. There were some great local specialities on the menu and M was delighted to learn that all of their pasta dishes could be made gluten- and dairy-free. The children started with a plate of parma ham and melon before G enjoyed a platter of goats’ cheeses with gluten-free bread and salad, and M selected the rigatoni with a tomato and smoked bacon sauce. Mike and I also chose regional dishes and we all very much enjoyed our first proper Italian meal out.
Trattoria del Buongusto, Marmore: Our one big day trip out was to the awe-inspiring Marmore Falls, the tallest man-made waterfall in the world. We spent our time exploring the various trails and climbing to get the most amazing views of all 3 tiers of the falls. We managed to buy a very basic hot dog lunch at the Falls themselves as there were no allergy-friendly options on offer, but our dinner at the nearby Trattoria del Buongusto more than made up for a somewhat scrappy lunch. Disappointingly they didn’t have any gluten-free pasta available the evening we were there, but our waitress was brilliant and helped translate the menu for us as well as letting us know which dishes could be prepared gluten- and dairy-free. This time G chose a cold meats and cheeses platter with salad and potatoes, whilst M feasted like a king on a mixed seafood platter starter followed by a mixed grill entree.
When I said that the second half of our week’s holiday was just as busy as the first in last week’s blog, I wasn’t joking. Everyday saw us exploring a new corner of the Lake District in a myriad of different ways:
Borrowdale Valley: Our walk here was inspired by an article I had read about the so-called “Borrowdale Banksy” and a desire to see if we could find one of these stunning pieces of art whilst we walked the hills. Sadly we didn’t manage to uncover the location, which is a something of a secret, but we did find some stunning views and had the chance to climb the most spectacular hill of slate to look out over Derwentwater. It was a challenging walk, but we had a glorious day for our trek around the loop.
West Lake Adventures: During our visit to Lake Windermere, G and M spotted several people paddle-boarding and kayaking on the lake and asked if we could squeeze a similar excursion into our week for them. We hadn’t previously booked it, so were a little sceptical about what we might find, but were lucky to come across West Lake Adventures who offered a 2-3 hour kayaking session on the much quieter Wastwater. Wastwater can be found at the foot of Scafell Pike, which meant some absolutely amazing photos of both children and Mike kayaking with a simply jaw-dropping backdrop.
Whinlatter Forest: When G said she’d love to horse-ride whilst we were away, M made it equally clear that that wasn’t something he wanted to do and so we looked for an alternative adventure for him for a different day. The answer was a forest segway trail with Go Ape at Whinlatter Forest. Whilst the boys tackled the trail, G and I headed off on a search for the Gruffalo, which led us to a most perfectly positioned picnic area looking out over Derwentwater, somewhere we returned to with Mike and M to enjoy our lunch. We were very impressed by the cafe here too as it served the most amazing allergy-friendly sandwiches and ice-creams, something that came in very handy when we realised that Mike had left the children’s packed lunch in the fridge back at Brockwood Hall.
Morecambe Bay: Our final stop as we began our homeward journey, and one I insisted on, was at the delightful seaside town of Morecambe Bay. Of course best known for it’s iconic statue of classic British comedian Eric Morecambe, Morecambe Bay is more than just this depiction of its most famous son. We had perhaps the best weather of our whole trip as we strolled along the prom and walked out along the stone jetty to gaze back at the peaks that had been our home for the last week. Charming in every regard and the perfect ending to a truly stupendous holiday.
The one thing we made really clear to G and M when we booked our week away in the Lake District was that it was not going to be a “lie on the beach or in the hot tub” type holiday, but rather one involving lots of exercise, especially walking. M has recently been confirmed as having hypermobility and so has been having physiotherapy to work on the strength needed to support his hips and knees as his intense growth spurt over the last 18 months has had a knock-on effect on those. I was a little concerned that he may struggle whilst we were walking and climbing far more than normal, but thankfully his joints held up well to all the challenges presented.
Black Combe – the first walk we tackled was just a 10- minute drive from our home-base at Brockwood Hall and an ambitious one for our first full day in Cumbria. We didn’t make it all the way to the very top, but got high enough to enjoy some spectacular views, albeit we weren’t quite able to see all the way to Scotland, Ireland and Wales as the very best days allow. After so many months of staying so very close to home, it was simply glorious to be out in the fresh air and feasting our eyes on a completely different part of the country.
Cumbrian Heavy Horses – G has been a fairly keen horse rider over the years, though it has been a while since she last rode. Mike found the opportunity for her to ride whilst we were in the Lake District at this centre a mere stone’s throw from where we were staying and booked her in for a 2 hour ride on the Sunday morning. Despite it being the wettest day of our entire week, G absolutely loved the ride and came back with a beaming smile. Mike joined her for the ride and managed to get some great photos of it all.
Silecroft & Haverrig beaches – wanting to get out of our lodge for some fresh air and a stretch of our legs, I suggested we headed to nearby Silecroft beach for a somewhat blustery walk. It was undeniably cold, grey and windy, although spotting a seal swimming and popping its’ head out of the water was a definite highlight for us all. A mere 45 minutes or so later, we finally gave into the moans emanating from both children and climbed back into the car. Much to their disgust, I convinced Mike to drive a little further around the coast so we could walk the sandy beach at Haverrig as well. Much to all our delight, it was as if we had entered an entirely different climate and instead of the grey blusteriness of Silecroft, we basked in glorious sunshine, whilst G and M clambered up and over the dunes.
Lake Windermere – no visit to the Lake District would be complete without a day trip to one of the Lakes and so we headed to Lake Windermere for almost a full day. We parked a little outside of the town of Bowness-on-Windermere and stumbled across a beautiful lakeside path as we strolled towards the centre of the town. The plan was for a lakeside cruise with Windermere Lake Cruises and we picked one which would take us on a circular route starting and ending in Bowness. It then turned into a busy day as we squeezed in a quick visit to the World of Beatrix Potter -another of my holiday picks – although we’d have been hard-pressed to spend much more than the 30 minutes we did spend there. Our evening finished with a fish supper courtesy of the wonderful Vinegar Jones that I mentioned in my last post.
The second half of our week was just as busy as the first, but you’ll have to tune back in to Part 2 to find out what else we did!
I have to confess that I didn’t do as much research into allergy-friendly restaurants for our stay in the Lake District as I would normally do when we travel. Part of that was that I wasn’t really sure how comfortable I would be in eating out during the week as the COVID restrictions have lifted and knew that we could take advantage of our self-catering lodge for our meals if we wanted, albeit that would mean not as much of a holiday as I would perhaps have liked. However, despite my unusual lack of planning in advance, we found some wonderful places to eat that were more than able to accommodate the various dietary requirements for us all:
Bentley’s Fish and Chips, Blackpool: I mentioned this wonderful chip shop in last week’s blog, but absolutely felt it needed including in my round-up of our allergy-friendly eateries. They boasted a dedicated gluten-free fryer for the fish and chips and the portions were more than large enough to satisfy the appetite of the teenage M for at least an hour or so! I enjoyed the scampi, whilst Mike added battered haggis to his order, and although neither of these were gluten-free, they were delicious.
The Punch Bowl Inn, Millom: This was an unexpected find less than 10 minutes away from our base for the week and we were so impressed by their offerings on the Saturday night, that we booked to go again the following Wednesday. They change their menu on a weekly basis, always making sure to include some new allergy-friendly options alongside the regular gammon and steak offerings. G and M chose the gammon and chips, which again were generously portioned and a big hit with both children. Mike tried their allergy-friendly king prawn curry on the Wednesday, which also got a good review.
Vinegar Jones, Bowness-on-Windermere: There’s nothing better than spotting a place that’s keen to advertise their allergy-friendly options and Vinegar Jones’ large window display stating that they serve gluten-free fish and chips daily absolutely did that. Obviously a popular destination in Bowness-on-Windermere, we joined the lengthy line that was queuing along the pavement and kept our fingers crossed that it could meet the requirements of my discerning duo. Given it’s presence on this list, it’s perhaps needless to state that it was another resounding success and somewhere I’d be more than happy to recommend to anyone visiting the area.
The Flying Pig Pub, Bowness-on-Windermere: This was an unexpected late addition and not somewhere we had planned to eat at all. M had spotted swordfish on the menu at the nearby Hyltons restaurant whilst we were waiting for our food to be cooked at Vinegar Jones and asked if we could pop back on another evening. We hadn’t really expected to have the time, but a quicker than anticipated visit to Keswick meant that we had time to head back to Bowness, only to find the restaurant in question closed for the evening. Instead, we found the Flying Pig Pub, which proved to be a reasonable replacement, although they didn’t offer swordfish much to M’s disappointment. G once again plumped for the gammon and chips, whilst M tried the chargrilled steak burger without the cheese. Both were happy with their meals and I certainly enjoyed the moules marinière with fresh bread.