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.
It feels a little odd to be reviewing products at the moment, but lockdown hasn’t stopped us finding and trying new things and I wanted to share this review from a few weeks ago. It’s been 4 years since I tentatively ventured into the world of M-friendly pastry, concentrating my efforts on using the small handful of safe ingredients that were open to him at that time to create croissants and apple turnovers. They weren’t the roaring success that I would have liked them to be, but given I’d never turned my hand to even “normal” pastry before, I honestly felt they weren’t bad for a first attempt. I always meant to give it another go, but somehow it was never quite the right time and, other than fleeting thoughts in the middle of the night, the idea to try and achieve the perfect M-friendly pastry with a new and improved recipe never once really crossed my mind.
So, my latest discovery of the Jus-rol gluten-free puff pastry on the pre-lockdown fridge shelves of our local supermarket opened up a new and exciting realm of baking in our household. As well as being gluten-free, this prepared pastry is also dairy-, soya- and egg-free, which makes it a safe option for both children. The blend of different flours and vegetable fibres also meant that it fitted in perfectly with the most recent food trials agreed with M’s consultant, who suggested we try expanding M’s repertoire slowly by introducing regular gluten-free pasta, rather than the rice pasta we usually buy. The reason for this was preparation for M’s much hoped-for and long-planned school trip to Sorrento, supposedly happening this June, but cancelled due to COVID-19. It means that M won’t be able to travel this year, but our plan is to persevere with the trial with a hope that he will get to Italy as some point in the future, be that with school or with us.
Mike took on the first challenge of cooking with the puff pastry and made some bacon and cheese pastry parcels for tea. Sadly, and somewhat typically, being my husband and children, there was no thought to provide any photographic evidence of how they turned out, but given the fact that they all disappeared before I returned home from choir, they appear to have been a roaring success. With that in mind, next it was my turn and I decided to see how well the pastry would lend itself to a sweet, rather than savoury offering. Thanks to a plethora of apples and pears in the fridge, plus the fact that I know even G will happily eat a sweet fruity treat containing both of those ingredients, apple – and pear – turnovers seemed the obvious choice.
Quick and easy to cut, prepare and bake, I can’t rave enough just how easy this puff pastry is to use. It took me hardly any time at all to prep the turnovers for the oven and 20 or so minutes later they were ready. I left them to cool on the counter and managed to steer both G and M away from them long enough to sit down and eat their main courses before diving into dessert. There’s no question that the Jus-rol gluten-free puff pastry has been a big success in the 7Y2D household for both sweet and savoury dishes. Even better, the ease of use means that both children would be able to prepare pastry dishes of their choice with only very minimal supervision needed from me.
There’s no question about it, rainbows hold a special place in most people’s hearts. Whether you believe that they are a symbol of God’s promise to us to never again flood the earth to the Biblical proportions of Noah’s time, or simply a natural phenomenon that occurs when you have the perfect conditions of both sunshine and rain*; most people would agree that they are a wonderful representation of hope and promise to us all.
At what is one of the darkest moment of current times and an experience that few of us have ever even had to contemplate, yet alone live through, the rainbow has become a reminder that there are bright days to come again and that storms don’t last forever. Reportedly starting in Italy, and now spreading worldwide, in much the same manner as COVID-19 though at a much slower pace, households are creating rainbows and putting them on display in a show of solidarity.
In our village, the local FB group has been encouraging families to put their rainbows up and we have enjoyed spotting them when we doing our daily exercise routine. I will rapidly clarify that we are fortunate to live in a relatively small community and have rarely come across anyone else whilst we are out and about. And it’s not just our community that is inviting young people to get involved with sharing these uplifting images. Communities nation- and worldwide are seeing these images spring up and our favourite charity, Over The Wall, launched its first #MondayMayhem today with the challenge to create a rainbow and put it on show.
Never being ones to reject a challenge, and finding it a good alternative to the monotonies of an isolated life, G and M worked together to create their “alternative” rainbow – their teen years apparently wouldn’t allow them to be in anyway typical or predictable – which is now proudly in the spare bedroom window for all who travel the A-road past us to see. There were also some threats to paint one another’s faces rainbow-style when emotions ran a little high, but thankfully we’ve managed to avoid that, at least for a few days.
Have your children or you created a rainbow of your own to bring some inspiration and hope to others in your local area? Have you spotted any that have brightened your day? Please do share them.
*the “perfect” conditions include geometry, raindrops and being in just the right place with just the right refraction of the sunlight. There’s a much better explanation of it all here!
Given our Italian break was courtesy of a competition win through the Allergy and Free From Show and Dr Schär, it didn’t come as any surprise that there were several gluten-free items available at the amazing Vigilius Mountain Resort. However, what we didn’t expect were the allergy-friendly offerings we discovered from the minute we arrived at Munich airport and these were the things that possibly impressed us the most. Mike and I had a 2-hour wait in Munich before the shuttle-bus arrived to take us to the hotel. It wasn’t really long enough to venture into the town itself, but gave us more than enough time to explore the airport and its shops. I was particularly keen to see if I could spot any of the German delicacies featured on the Munich episode of Paul Hollywood’s City Bakes and was delighted to be able to snap a quick photo of freshly made pretzels to show M when we got home.
Having exhausted most of the shopping opportunities available to us, we decided to take a quick whiz around the small supermarket before heading off to meet the bus. You can only imagine my surprise and absolute delight when we stumbled upon this fixture filled with dairy-free alternatives, including the all-important rice milk that is now a staple in our household. There was a slightly smaller unit with an array of gluten-free products too and browsing the store’s shelves and fridges, I was able to pick out with relative ease other allergy-friendly foods. I think what impressed me the most was this was a small supermarket at the airport. Not some major out-of-town hypermarket, but somewhere where travellers would stop to pick up a few essentials before heading on to their final destination. Obviously I can’t comment on what would be found in larger stores around Germany, but this bodes well for what I can only imagine you might be able to buy. We have had mixed success in finding safe foods for both M and G whilst on our holidays in the past and this summer will be travelling back to Portugal for the first time since M’s diet became so restricted. I can only hope we find as good a selection as we stumbled across in Munich.
The Vigilius resort is owned by Ulrich Ladurner, who is also the founder and president of the Dr Schär group and so it comes as no surprise that every meal has gluten-free options available if wanted. Breakfasts consist of an amazing buffet containing just about everything you could conceivably want – cereals, pastries, fresh fruit, cold meats, fruit juices, smoothies, cooked breakfasts and cheeses. There was a separate section for the gluten-free choices and I was pleased to see that soya milk, local goats milk and cheese and dairy-free chocolate sauce were available too. Our evening meals at the resort were delicious and despite our initial plans to visit Lana for dinner on a couple of evenings, Mike and I ended up choosing to stay in the hotel and eat in their restaurants. There are 2 restaurants at Vigilius: the delightful Stube Ida serving regional dishes and wine, and the more formal Restaurant 1500 with exquisite and interesting menu choices. The menus were clearly annotated to show which dishes could be made gluten-free and gluten-free bread was also available on request. We enjoyed every meal we had there, and whilst we didn’t choose to eat the “Variation of Carrots” for our main course – Tartar of carrots, carrot-ginger cream, crunchy carrot peel and carrot spaghetti with curry and carrot gel – ,the “Herbs of the neighbour” dessert – Herb cookies, herb chocolate ganache, hay Chantilly, camomile Panna cotta and lavender ice cream – was phenomenal, even if the occasional thought did flash through my mind that it was a little like eating a bowl of pot pourri! We chose to drink regional wines with our dinners, grateful to receive recommendations from the serving staff, who introduced us to some that have quickly become new favourites.
In comparison, our lunchtimes were spent at various of the many gasthauses in the mountains surrounding the resort, where we chose meals that were equally delicious, but much simpler dishes than those we enjoyed for dinner. We frequently opted to share platters of local products, such as fennel bread, speck, goats cheeses and other cooked meats and of course, washed these down with a glass of local beer. Friends have told me that eating gluten-free in Italy is relatively easy and our experiences would suggest that to be true as we found a gluten-free section to a surprisingly extensive menu in a small, remote gasthaus at the top of Monte San Vigilio. I have to confess that we didn’t put these allergy-friendly options to the test as we relished the opportunity to eat “normally” without M and G around, but Italy has definitely become a potential destination for us in the future.
Our final foodie surprise was on our way back to Munich, at what was advertised as the “last service station before Austria.” The journey to the resort on the Monday had been non-stop, no toilet breaks or opportunity to stretch our legs even once during the 4 hour trip. However, thanks to the driver of our return journey, who evidently considered himself to be the Michael Schumacher of the public transport world, we somehow managed to save time and were allowed to stop for 20 minutes near lunch-time. As we wandered around the service station looking for something quick and easy to eat before we climbed back on board, I also kept my eyes open for any last-minute goodies I could pick up as small presents for M and G from our holiday. Amongst the bumper-sized packs of pasta, bottles of olive oil and chocolate bars, I also spotted boxes of gluten-free rice flour cookies sitting in plain sight alongside their non allergy-friendly counterparts, something I’ve never seen in a service station in this country. Our holiday was a real eye-opener when it comes to how this part of Europe tackles the matter of allergy-friendly foods and has made us more confident to spread our wings and travel there with the children when time allows.
Our retreat for those four days away was the beautiful Vigilius resort, 1,200 metres up the Monte San Vigilio in the Italian Alps and only accessible by a 7 minute cable car ride. Mike and I had arrived in Lana, the small South Tyrolean town at the base of the mountain, at around 5pm and headed immediately to the cable car station, where we waited patiently for it to be fixed before we headed up to the hotel. It had been an early start and a long day of travelling, but as we stepped out into the idyllic atmosphere of this peaceful location, all the stresses and strains gently started to slip away. We were met at the cable car station by one of the hotel staff, who offered to give us a brief tour of all the facilities before booking us a table at one of the restaurants and settling us into our room for the evening.
This is an ecologically friendly and sustainable resort, where neutral colours and careful simplicity create a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The rooms are spacious and open, with stunning views of the mountains – the Dolomites and the Alps – on every side. It took a little getting used to the open plan nature of our room, where the bathroom area and bedroom were separated only by a strategically placed small clay wall that gives a slight nod to a sense of privacy. Every room includes a stereo system, but no televisions, though they and DVD players can be provided on request and whilst wi-fi is provided free of charge, it is switched off by 11pm every night creating the opportunity to be as technology-free as you want during your stay. The facilities include 2 restaurants, a library, inside and outside seating areas as well as eternity pool, whirlpool and spa. It really is a place designed for relaxation and indulgence in equal measure.
Our days were wonderfully lazy as long and late breakfasts were followed by time spent alongside the pool or exploring the local area. On 2 separate days we took the single chair lift up to the top of the mountain and followed the well-marked trails to discover astounding panoramic vistas, remote churches and wonderful gasthauses where we enjoyed simple lunches of the local specialities – speck, cheese, fennel bread – and the occasional glass of beer. We also took the cable car back down to Lana, where we spent some time searching for postcards and goodies for M and G as well traipsing between some of the 40 churches and monasteries to be found in this vibrant Italian market town. This area is bilingual with all signs and menus written in both Italian and German – that 8-week Italian course in the 6th form finally came in handy – and we found most of the people keen to practise whatever English they could.
The resort itself offers a range of activities to its guests, including hiking, mountain biking and other fitness programs, though Mike and I only watched an archery session from afar. We did, however, spend a lot of our time in the pool, sauna, steam room and spa, enjoying the peace and quiet of the mobile-free area as we swam in the eternity pool and relaxed in the indoor and outdoor whirlpools. Thanks to my Mum, I was also able to pamper myself one afternoon with a peel, wrap and full body massage. Two hours later, I rejoined Mike poolside before we headed back to our room to prepare for our complimentary evening aperitif before a late dinner in one of the fantastic restaurants.
Without a doubt, Mike and I enjoyed a fabulous time at the Vigilius Mountain Resort and left feeling more relaxed and rested than we have in a long time. The hotel staff were friendly, polite and helpful and made our stay a wonderful experience. It was a great opportunity to spend time together, without the pressure of having to cope with the everyday juggling act that is the constant needs of the children, work and home. We wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Vigilius again should the opportunity arise and I would love to explore more of the surrounding towns of the South Tyrol.
*Disclaimer – Our 4-day stay at the Vigilius Mountain Resort was courtesy of a competition prize won at the Allergy & Free From Show Liverpool and sponsored by Dr Schar UK. The views expressed in this review are entirely my own and those of Mike.