Thursday, 18 April 2013

A Coeliac abroad.

I'm pretty good at English and relatively articulate, yet still  it feels like I'm speaking a foreign language at times when I'm trying to explain what Alex can and can't eat. So heading to a foreign country where they really do speak a foreign language (which I don't speak) and having to explain things to real foreign people filled me with more than a vague feeling of dread.

When we decided to go to Portugal for a holiday last year I had hardly finished clicking 'confirm' on the flight bookings before I started trying to work out how much of my luggage allowance could be taken up with gluten-free staples, what was the best way to pack pasta without it being crushed and whether it was worth taking fresh gluten-free bread or just the vacuum packed variety.
When I broke the news that we would only have room in the cases for one change of clothes and some swimming togs each, my lovely hubby pointed out that there were bound to be people with Coeliac's in Portugal (it's definitely not a disease that's confining itself to the UK!). Really all we needed to do was learn the Portuguese word for 'gluten', work out a few hand gestures related to putting food in our mouths and shaking our heads and we'd be fine. Cue a frantic internet search for Portuguese-English medical dictionaries.

54 ways to say 'I have Coeliac disease'!
Well, the wondrous world wide web did better than translating a mere word- I stumbled across a website that has got 'gluten-free restaurant cards' to download in 54 different languages (seriously-54!!).  The cards explain that the holder has Coeliac disease and briefly what they can and can't eat. Not only that- but it's free!! (although if you can leave a donation to support the running of the site it's appreciated.) The cards can be downloaded here:

To our absolute joy, the card we downloaded worked perfectly. Every single person we showed the card to nodded their head and was able to show us what was on the menu that Alex could eat- and if there was nothing on the menu, they made something especially using fresh ingredients. Contrary to our fears, it was actually less of a problem to eat out in Portugal than it sometimes is here in the UK and I would absolutely recommend Albufeira to anyone on a gluten-free diet.

Additionally we found a couple of supermarkets which had gluten-free ranges of food, so we could have survived without the wheelie bag load of supplies, although I would still always pack some GF carbohydrates just in case....

It's a matter of insurance:
We had heard that having Coeliac's shouldn't affect your insurance premium for travel insurance as it isn't an allergy and hospitalisation shouldn't be required if gluten is consumed. This may be true for some of the larger insurers, but we took out a policy with a  company called 'Holiday Safe'. When we disclosed Alexandra's condition, they added £20 to her premium and increased the excess payable if she were to require any care abroad. Luckily, they were still cheaper than most other insurers, so we didn't make too big a deal,but it was a bit irksome it must be said. In future I'll definitely be checking if the insurance company adds to the premium once we've disclosed about the Coeliac's to make sure we still get the best deal.

We Are Sailing:
The only other place that we've travelled to abroad since the diagnosis is Ireland where (although my hubby wouldn't always agree) they speak English. We had a fantastic experience on the way with Stenaline ferry company. They have well marked gluten-free options on the menu and when Alex turned her nose up at what was on offer the chef made her something from scratch. Thumbs up Stena!

I have to say I still have some shadows of concerns lingering in the back of my mind at thoughts of travelling too far from home and having to untangle what's in every dish we come across, rather than just enjoy the experience. But maybe it would be like that with kids anyway, regardless of the gluten-free requirement. Given the results of our recent adventures I'm certainly not going to let the GF factor stop me!

I would love to hear of any other experiences of gluten-free eating in other countries.



  1. Italy is great for coeliacs, most restaurants have a GF pasta or pizza option, as well as lovely salads and meats. Every pharmacy has a great range of GF products...I found it very easy in both Rome and Lake Garda.

    1. Wow, thanks Kate! I've only been to Italy in my pre-gluten-awareness days, and I wouldn't have expected it to be easy because there is so much gluten in a typical Italian meal. Will definitely put Italy back on the holiday list! :-)

    2. Lanzarote is also a great place for Coeliacs. Went a few years back with the GF cards you mentioned and had no problems in any restaurant we wnet to. We even managed to find a place then mage a GF pizza especially for my wife from scratch. The first real pizza she had had in years. Very enjoyable. Also living as we do in ireland Letterkenny and the surrounding area is really good for Coeliacs. It seems to be quite an issue in the surrounding area so pretty much all restaurants offer a good selection of GF options. Also Albuferia in Portugal has a great place called the English kitchen. They were fabulous and super friendly offering many great GF options including sunday roast dinners. Yum.. We went to Amsterdam a few years ago and also found some great places to eat. With a little investigation before traveling it is not hard to find something or somewhere good to eat. have fun travelling.