Traveling to Italy with food allergies is often less daunting than people expect. I’ve helped at least three dozen or so families and individuals travel their safely over the years. As many of you know, Italy is my European home after living there for years and it holds a special place in my traveling heart, especially with my food allergies.
For the majority of the time I lived in Italy, I had a gorgeous one bedroom apartment to myself. However, the first year I moved there I had a sunny two-bedroom apartment with my roommate, Abby. Even though we had never met before moving to Italy, we became fast friends and favorite travel buddies. Abby was there encouraging me through my first ever coffee and the time I decided to try gelato. I remember saying something like, “I think I’m ready to try gelato,” and a moment later I saw Abby at the door, ready to help me find a safe way to do it. Even better, she was just as elated as I when I had my first safe bite. Abby is also used to my requests to describe every delicious meal or dessert so I live vicariously through her experience. She has refined this skill over the years and I don’t even have to ask anymore. She does it automatically. That’s true friendship, right there!
Since our time as roommates, Abby and I have stayed close and I consider her and her family a special extension of my friend-family. When we are together it is like no time has passed. Abby and her husband Luke are two of the most caring, loving, fun, and kindhearted people you will meet. They have this beautiful map-making business called Wayfaren in Dallas (basically where all of my wedding presents come from). Since living together and having many European travels back in 2009-2010, we have visited each other in Boston, NYC, Texas, California, and now back in Italy.
When Abby told me that her and Luke decided to take their two young daughters on a family trip to Rome and we realized that my work conference would coincide, we knew a visit together was a must. After all, being back together in Italy was like a dream!
(Side note: They wrote an excellent blog post about how they made it affordable for their family. Check it out here!)
Although I have been to Rome many times, the last real memorable visit was back with my then-boyfriend during my first year living in Italy. For this trip, I was looking forward to visiting Abby with no agendas. Just time for all of us to enjoy la dolce vita together again. And that is exactly what we did!
Where did we stay?
Renting apartments is typically a more authentic experience wherever you are traveling. For food allergies, it also tends to be the easiest option. Abby and Luke rented an Airbnb apartment in the Trastevere neighborhood for the month. It’s an area of Rome I was unfamiliar with and excited to learn more about. With two sweet girls under three years old, these brave parents wanted to expose them to a new place but didn’t feel they needed to traipse around the whole country to do it. This is one reason why they chose to stay in this Roman neighborhood for their entire holiday.
The Trastevere neighborhood is easily accessible to all the sites and attractions in Rome, but without the hustle and bustle of the crowds of tourists. It was easy to feel like a local for the month. Abby and Luke made friends at the restaurants they frequented on their stay. The apartment was a great size for their family with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a pullout couch. Something that made this apartment even more ideal for them was that it had kid friendly toys, a highchair, and the other necessities they needed for the girls. This was a significant help since this meant less for them to carry and an easier adjustment upon arrival. One other feature that is basically unheard of in Italy was AC units in the living room and master bedroom. I know that may sound pretty basic, but in Italy and much of Europe that is worth noting.
What did we eat?
Italy is the easiest place by far that I have ever lived when it comes to my food allergies. The ingredients are so straightforward and simple. They know what is in every dish. Food is such a significant part of the culture that they want to please you and make something you will enjoy, which is why eating in Italy is something I love to do and never worry about.
Abby and Luke both know my food allergies well and I know that they “get it.” From living together, to visiting each other, to traveling- they always know how to make it seamless for me. We went to the grocery store for most breakfast and lunch items and ate one meal (usually dinner) out. We bought fresh fruits and veggies, pasta, etc. (See Allergic Living Instagram Highlights for more details).
Fun Fact: Abby was with me the first time we ventured to the grocery store in Italy. Back then, we didn’t have working smart phones so we were navigating the beginning of our Italian language understanding with a paperback dictionary. I think Abby and I spent a good hour going through ingredients. The best part was that I had Abby with me, so I didn’t have to play detective alone. She was my partner in crime, deciphering one ingredient at a time. I will forever be grateful I had her for those initial trips. Want to see a trip to the grocery store in Italy? Click here to see what you can find in a typical Italian grocery store.
Coffees and dinners were typically spent out in the city. I did not call restaurants ahead. Even with speaking enough Italian, it is still often difficult to be understood over the phone.
I’ve done it before, but it is rare that I can’t eat, so I don’t usually call. One of the restaurants we went to did use peanut oil with their dishes, including pizza. I think that is likely the second time I have ever encountered that in Italy. It happens but it isn’t common. They were still able to make pasta with olive oil for me, which I felt comfortable with. This is why you can’t let your guard down though because you never know and can’t assume.
Did I Try Gelato on this trip?
Yes, I did! When it comes to trying gelato though in Italy and anywhere else in Europe (outside of maybe the UK and Ireland) I always stick to the fruit flavors. I would never try chocolate because I can never find safe chocolate in Italy, therefore I don’t trust that any chocolate flavors would be safe. Even if they told me there were no nuts, I would still remain skeptical. I think that gelato is probably the riskiest food that I eat because of the potential for cross contact. It is definitely important to trust your gut with this one. If it doesn’t feel right, then don’t risk it. There have been plenty of times in Italy and the U.S. (as well as other countries abroad) where I have walked away because it didn’t feel right. There is no shame in keeping yourself or your child safe. Never feel bad about that!
The gelateria that we went to appeared to be trained in cross contact and had allergens labeled, so I felt comfortable eating some of their fruit flavors. Even without nut labels, I still would not consider chocolate flavors. I definitely feel confident about that decision and recommend that to anyone with a peanut or tree nut food allergy.
Overall, this trip was unplanned magic and my favorite kind of travel. Every second of it. Great friendships and Italy together are one of my favorite combinations!
Looking for more details about this trip? See below!
- Neighborhood: Trastevere
- Accommodations: Airbnb
- Restaurants in Rome:
- Ristorante Arlu – Located outside Vatican City. They do use peanut oil in their food, but were able to accommodate me with safe pasta using olive oil and tomato. The food was good, but there are probably other restaurants nearby that don’t use peanut oil at all. They didn’t have a wait, had good ratings online, and we were hungry.
- VyTA Santa Margherita – Located in Villa Borghese gardens. It has a lovely outdoor patio and the food was excellent. They were good with my food allergies and I had the traditional cacio e pepe dish.
- Dar Poeta – Abby and Luke were raving about this pizzeria before I even arrived. The pizza did live up to my lofty expectations. It is in the Trastevere neighborhood.
- Gelato: Fatamorgana Gelato
- Places (from this trip & a one of my Rome faves):
- Villa Borghese – A large park that we chose for the girls because we thought there was a carousel (unlike what we read there is not one that we found). They have a playground, an arcade (not the best), and a mini-train ride (overpriced). It also takes two buses to get there from Trastevere. I probably wouldn’t go again but we did have a great time there. The restaurant was delicious and is in a lovely setting, which was definitely a fabulous find!
- Pantheon – I’ve been a few times and every trip I find the ceiling even more incredible. Absolutely worth it!
- Trastevere – Roam around Rome (sorry, I can’t help it)! This is a great area to just take in the scene and enjoy wandering.
P.S. There are so many places and I can’t name them all here. However, if you’ve never been to Rome, I suggest looking up Rick Steves. He gives context to the sites and history. He also breaks down days for your trip. I have used his audio guides and recommend those as well!