Ciao! There are no words for how much I love Italy… the food, the culture, the history, the art, the pace, the language, the people. Whether you are just dreaming of a trip to Italy or already packing your bags, these 10 Tips to Enjoy Gluten-Free Italy will help you relish la dolce vita!
Don’t skip Tip #9!
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1. Just go!
Gluten-free Italy is counterintuitive when you think of the land of pizza and pasta, but enjoying food is a core value in Italy, and that includes those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. There is a high diagnosis rate of celiac disease in Italy and a high level of awareness. You will discover that Italy is also the land of gluten-free pizza and gluten-free pasta!
2. Get the AIC app from the Associazione Italiana Celiachia (Italian Celiac Association)
The AIC app is essential for finding gluten-free venues, including restaurants that have been certified by the AIC to provide celiac-safe dining with methods to prevent cross-contamination. AIC-approved restaurants are always my top choice for celiac dining.
Important note: currently, the AIC app is only available through a paid ($3.99) two-week welcome access, which you can renew one more time. After your second two-week welcome access ends, you have to become a member of a regional AIC group in Italy for access. I recommend you download the AIC app close to your departure so you can access it throughout your trip.
3. Download the Find Me Gluten-Free App
Whether you are going to Italy or not, you need this app. It has reviews of gluten-free diners who have gone before, ratings for the most celiac-friendly restaurants, and a filter to pull up only dedicated gluten-free restaurants. I frequently use the Find Me Gluten Free App, and sometimes even find new gems that have popped up close to home. Some towns in Italy have no AIC-approved restaurants, so the Find Me Gluten Free App fills that gap nicely.
4. Join the Celiac Travel and Associazione Italiana Celiachia Facebook groups
These Facebook groups are a treasure trove of personal gluten-free experiences in the cities you visit! Search both groups by city before posting, as it is likely someone (or many someones) has already asked for recommendations for your destination.
For the Associazione Italiana Celichia FB group, which is in Italian, click on “see translation” at the bottom of posts. I have done that enough times for FB to figure out I want all the posts in English.
5. Use a gluten-free restaurant card
These little cards explain the dietary needs of celiacs in Italian, and you can show one to restaurant staff whenever you dine out. There are several options, but I have personally used and like The Gluten Free Card Project. You can use the app or print out a wallet-size card, both are free. If you do not speak Italian, check out the English card; so you understand what it says.
6. Learn a few key Italian phrases:
Sono Celiaco/celiaca = I am celiac (celiaco is masculine and celiaca is feminine) Because of the awareness of celiac disease in restaurants throughout Italy, my experience was that this phrase was always met with immediate awareness.
Senza glutine = gluten free (literally, “without gluten”) This phrase was also met with awareness.
E senza contaminazione = and without contamination This phrase was critical! Every time I said, “senza glutine… e senza contaminazione”, it was understood. The response was usually “not a problem, don’t worry”, because I was already walking into well-researched, often AIC-approved, restaurants. In other cases, the request was met with additional precautions being taken, and in one case the response “maybe a little bit of contaminazione” due to lots of flour in a shared kitchen meant I had to find somewhere else to eat dinner.
7. Enjoy picnics!
More than once we enjoyed a picnic of food picked up at a local grocery store. Labeled gluten-free salami, labeled gluten-free cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, and a gluten-free section with bread and sweets were easy to find. Picnics are inexpensive, easy, create wonderful people-watching opportunities, and allow more time for sightseeing during your gluten-free Italy vacation.
8. Take a daily gelato walk
Many cities have Grom, a 100% gluten-free gelato chain. If not, there are usually excellent recommendations on the “AIC” and “Find Me Gluten-Free” apps. In a pinch, I have found most gelaterias understand gluten-free and cross-contamination enough to tell me which flavors, if any, are safe, get a clean spoon (even though each flavor usually already has a dedicated spoon) and scoop from the untouched portion of the gelato.
9. Head to an Italian pharmacy to pick up gluten-free goodies
The Italians understand that for celiacs, gluten-free food is an essential health need; and you often find the widest selection of gluten-free food in pharmacies. My jaw dropped at the amazing selection of gluten-free foods when I stopped in a pharmacy in Sorrento. There were gluten-free pasta varieties I had never seen!
It must be the reaction of every celiac who stumbles into an Italian pharmacy. The next day, I returned to buy more bread; and I met another woman with celiac disease absolutely frozen as she tried to take in all of the gluten-free food.
You will wish you could take it all home with you, so…
10. Pack a collapsable duffle bag
Your duffle bag will take up very little space in your luggage on your way to Italy, and will oh-so-usefully tote home all of your goodies. Since my carry-on is usually already stuffed, CJ generously stores my collapsable duffle bag in his backpack on our outbound flight; and I load it up for the return trip. This works for souvenir shopping, too. Although, you may want two duffle bags; because you will NEED a full one just for all of the gluten-free food you buy at the pharmacy.
If your pre-ordered gluten-free meal is missing on your return flight, at least you will enjoy really good bread and butter on the plane. Ask me how I know!
This tip closely relates to two of my favorite not-celiac-related travel tips:
- Pack carry-on luggage only. You CAN do this. The best site I know for learning how to do it well is Travel Fashion Girls. Leave behind the “just in case” items. This is particularly helpful in Europe where you will likely be lifting your bag onto a train or pulling it down a cobblestone street.
- Put Apple AirTags in your bags if you are checking them, or in the event you have to gate check a carry-on. If the airlines lose your bags, as is happening often lately, you can at least know which city they are in. I have heard reports of people convincing airlines to let them into luggage storage rooms to get their missing bags because they could prove to the airline staff the bags were actually there. Well worth the peace of mind… and then, if you are anything like me, you can attach them to your keys when you get back home.
Bonus Tip: Rick Steves Travel Guides
Completely unrelated to gluten-free Italy, but relevant for any trip to Italy, get the Rick Steves Italy Travel Guide. In fact, ALWAYS get the appropriate Rick Steves travel guide wherever you travel in Europe. You can usually borrow his guidebooks from your local library, or order from Amazon by clicking the link below. I also highly recommend downloading the Rick Steves Audio Europe App for tips and education before you leave and walking tours while on your trip. Click below for the Italy travel guide:
Want inspiration for your next Italy vacation? Check out our gluten-free trip to the Amalfi Coast. I would love to hear about your Gluten-Free Italy Adventures! Buon Viaggio!