|Menaggio, Lake Como
On the outside Italy may appear to be the most glutenous capital of the world, famous for its pizza, pasta, breads, biscotti, tiramisu... the list is pretty extensive. However, I am happy to report that eating out, eating in and being a coeliac wasn't a issue, at least in Lake Como and Milan that's for sure. We were fortunate enough to have our own villa, which made planning for meals a bit easier and on days out I made my own gluten free pesto pasta, just in case. We stayed in Menaggio, on Lake Como, which was beautiful. This was my first time in Italy and I've fallen in love with the sights, smells, language, culture, people and of course the food - definitely a place I want to go back to and explore new regions of this beautiful Country.
The Italians are very clued up about coeliac (celiac) disease, they test all children by the age of 6 and just over 1% of children in Italy are coeliacs. There are 20,000 new diagnoses every year and they see an annual increase of 20%. As a result of this increased awareness and understanding about coeliac disease, as soon as a person shows any signs or symptoms, the average time taken between being tested and receiving a diagnosis in Italy is 2-3 weeks, when in the UK and in the US the average diagnosis time is 10 years! This is why it's incredibly important to raise awareness of coeliac disease and the symptoms; I was told I had IBS when it was coeliac disease, I can even trace some of my symptoms back almost 10 years too. Italian's who have been diagnosed receive a monthly payment from the government for gluten free food, as well as additional vacation time to shop for and prepare gluten free meals. Wow! Maybe I'll be moving to Italy.....
The majority of staff in the places were we ate spoke very good English, however some of the restaurants were limited by language barriers, which is were my phone came in handy with this genius app: Gluten free restaurant cards. You can either download the iPhone app or print them off. It explains what you can and can't eat in most languages.
Menaggio is a stunning place to stay - this picture was taken from our villa. Close to where we stayed was a family-run restaurant called Pizzeria CO.RI (Via Per la Grona 57, Menaggio). The food was very tasty (I had steak and chips with grilled veggies) and the staff were lovely, for dessert I had sorbet with liquor - very nice! We watched an impressive thunderstorm whilst our food settled and the view across the lake was spectacular. Red Bay restaurant is also a nice place to chill, they also have mini-golf next door. I didn't try the food here but they do make a lovely long island ice tea!
Eating In - Menaggio
The supermarket Pellicano had a great selection of gluten free foods, ranging from pasta to breads, desserts to pizza bases and all food products were clearly labelled if they were "senza glutine" (gluten free). Their cherries were moreish too!
Bellagio is stunning. It's only a ferry ride away from Menaggio and I cannot recommend a trip there highly enough. We visited Villa Melzi whilst we were there and both the gardens and views are beautiful (see picture). In Bellagio we stumbled across a great restaurant called Far Out! where I had gluten free four cheese pasta with saffron, which was very tasty! The other place which apparently does very good gluten free options (although I haven't tried it) is Hotel du Lac which is right on the waterfront near the ferry. One thing I will say for Far Out! is always ask the staff whether they have any gluten free pasta in, they're more than happy to oblige but they did need to check in with the kitchen when I asked.
We only had one day in Milan, which felt too short in some ways, but we made the most of it anyway. We got the ferry from Menaggio to Varenna and then got a train to Milan (took 40 minutes). A word of caution - make sure you buy your tickets in advance from a news agent and get them validated in this machine (see pic on right). We visited the Santa Maria del Grazie which was stunning, although I'm sad we missed The Last Supper - you need to book at least 6 weeks in advance to see this! We also visited the incredible church Duomo and La Scala - definitely a must see in Milan.
After wandering around for a while we decided to go for a bite to eat and I'd heard fantastic reviews about a place called Bebop. As soon as we entered the lady said 'gluten free'?.
She must have known we'd travelled specifically to find the place, which we had. They also cater for people who are dairy free, vegans and even my rather fussy parents (Mum doesn't like tomatoes and Dad doesn't like cheese) which is impressive given that it was mostly a pizza restaurant! It was safe to say I was spoilt for choice by their menu, the staff were very friendly and accommodating and on the whole made the experience very special for me. They even did gluten free breadsticks! Main course was a tomato, mozzarella, palma ham and gorgonzola pizza (yum!) and dessert was spicy melon ice cream with handmade biscuits. You can get tram 9 to Bebop (please double check this is up to date).
Bebop, Viale Col di Lana, 4
On the whole I was impressed by how accommodating Italy was for coeliacs and how friendly people were when you ask for a gluten free meal. Admittedly I've only been to a small proportion of Italy, but it has given me the confidence and inspiration to explore it further in future. Lake Como is an incredibly beautiful part of the world and it's definitely somewhere I'd love to visit again some day...
I do hope this post is helpful for coeliacs visiting Lake Como (Lago di Como) and Milan. If you have any questions just get in touch!