Italy is one of the most gluten-free friendly places to travel. Our family had a great time in Florence Italy and I’m going to tell you what we packed, where we stayed, and what gluten-free foods we enjoyed along the way. Oh! and how we did it all on a budget!
We started our vacation in Venice, took a train to Florence, and then another train to Rome. We spent three nights in each city and stayed in major touristy areas (in quiet hotels though).
I paid $5,000 total for the four of us for our entire vacation. Travel, hotel, food, site seeing, EVERYTHING! I’ll share EXACTLY how I did it. It’s no secret, just some searching and a bit of luck. The exchange rate when we went was high ($1.89 US for 1 EURO), so you know we got good deals.
Air – ($2400 total) Airfare was$600pp on British Airways flying out of Portland, OR. I’m not joking. I started searching for prices for June, but traveling to Italy in June was way out of our price range. I signed up for Travel Zoo and received a notice that they were having a special for March travel. I searched prices for my girls spring break, flying into Venice and out of Rome, and viola! The tickets were only $600 each with tax. And the flights were really good, we only had one two hour layover.
Train ($110)- We took trains between the three cities. I paid $25 each for my dear husband and I on one train, and $30 each on another. The girls were free.
Hotel ($1350) – We paid an average of $150 a night for our apartments and the hotel in Florence. That price includes taxes, and the exchange rate fees. The hotel in Florence included breakfast, and the apartment in Rome included a fresh made breakfast.
Food and Sightseeing ($1100) – We bought a membership to the museums in Venice to save us from having to wait in a three hour long line at the Dodge’s Palace, which was the most expensive thing we paid for ($200 I believe). We also bought tickets to see the David in Florence for $35. The rest of the money was spent on outstanding gluten-free food, tons of Gelato, and souvenirs – including a couple of glass rings that my girls accidentally knocked off of a table in Venice and broke (yes, we had to pay for them).
What we packed:
I had planned on bringing more gluten-free snacks but we limited ourselves to hard sided carry on’s and a backpack and had to pack more clothes than expected. So, instead of packing all the snacks we had planned, we packed extra warm clothes, which apparently take up more room than snacks.
We still managed to bring some of our favorites though:
- Glutino’s Pretzels and Crackers
- A box of Annies Gluten-Free Mac n’ cheese (because we had an apartment, but I’ll get to that)
- Fruit Snacks, Fruit Leather
- Beef Jerky
- Enjoy Life Foods Bars
- Kind Bars
- Udi’s Bread
Although we didn’t pack all the snacks we wanted, we discovered Schar gluten-free foods while in Venice, Florence, and Rome. Almost every grocery store carried Schar.
Tips for ensuring a food-safe flight:
I wrote a post for Gluten-Free & More Magazine that covers airlines that offer gluten-free meals and top tips for eating safe on a gluten-free diet. Here are a couple of things that I shared.
- Fly with airlines that offer allergy friendly/gluten-free meals.
- Select the gluten-free meal when you make your reservation online or within 1-4 days of your flight. If you don’t see the option try going into your reservation after it’s confirmed. Sometimes airlines give you additional options like meal type, seating, and upgrades after your reservation is confirmed. If you go to your reservation and you still don’t see the place to update your meal preference, call the airline.
- Bring your own food just in case they make a mistake – they are only human! I have heard stories where people received a gluten-free labeled meal only to open it to gluten-containing food.
- If it doesn’t look right, don’t eat it. That’s why you brought some of your own food right?
- Call your airline (or check online) in advance to make sure they have your request noted. I made a request in advance once and found out when we got on the plane that the request was “reset” because the flight number changed. It was an annoying error on the airline’s part, but I should have double checked to make sure it was still noted.
You can find the whole article on the My Life With Food Allergies site here.
Where we stayed:
When searching for hotels, always look at the location, extra amenities, and if they offer a gluten-free menu (in addition to the nightly rates, of course). When we planned our stay in Florence, we wanted to stay right in the middle of all the action, so we only looked for hotels in the main downtown area. I narrowed my search by reviews, complimentary breakfast, and luckily came across the Hotel Casci – Firenze. Not only were the rates reasonable (less than $125 a night for the four of us), they offered gluten-free options at breakfast. Score! Each of the gluten-free cookies and crackers were pre-packaged ensuring that they were safe from cross contamination.
Our hotel was located across the street from a grocery store and within a 10 minute walk to everything we wanted to see. The complimentary breakfast included fresh fruits, hard boiled eggs still in the shell, individually packaged sliced meats, cheeses, and a basket of gluten-free goodies to choose from. We felt pretty safe from contamination with everything being pre-packaged.
The staff was really nice and offered gluten-free dining recommendations. We had already planned our meals (I always do research before we leave for our trip), but we appreciated the help.
Our room was fairly large by European standards and had a full bathroom and mini-refrigerator. We stocked up on additional snacks at the store and then set off exploring the beautiful city of Florence.
What restaurants we ate at:
Every morning we ate at the hotel for breakfast. We filled up on eggs, cheese, meats, and gluten-free cookies and crackers. We loved our gluten-free picnic lunches in Venice and opted to do the same thing in Florence. There’s something special about eating meats, cheeses, fruits, and chips spread out on a stone staircase in the middle of a gorgeous city that make it seem like every bite is the BEST bite. It probably helped that my husband and I shared a bottle of wine and my girls happily sipped their fizzy orange sodas.
For dinner we ate at two places. The first I’m not even going to mention because it was terrible and we got sick, not from gluten though, from spoiled food. Luckily they are out of business now so we can move onto the restaurant that we loved so much we ate their the next two nights – Ciro & Sons!
The food at Ciro & Sons was amazing, the ambience was true Italy, the service was outstanding, the prices reasonable, AND the house wine was to-die-for. My girls and I opted for the wood fired pizza the first night, and pasta dishes the second night.
The chef came out to our table and talked to us about our options. They make their own special gluten-free pizza dough, and sell a mix for it. We enjoyed the wood fired pizza and took some of the mix home and made it a few weeks after our trip when we were craving pizza. It was just as good as it was in the restaurant. Definitely don’t miss this place if you visit Florence.
What we did:
We did everything we could in the three days were were in Florence. We:
- Saw Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery
- Visited Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiore
- Walked through the Piazza del Duomo
- Walked through the Uffizi Gallery
- Walked through the Centro Storico (bridge) and did some window shopping
- Visited the Perseus Statue (pictured below)
- Ate gobs and gobs of Gelato
We were in Florence for three nights, then we packed our bags, another fabulous gluten-free picnic lunch with sparkling water and wine, and took a train on Rail Italy to Rome (post coming soon).