With a four day bank holiday weekend beckoning, we decided to book a short break to Corfu. I’ve been there once before, about 15 years ago (maybe more!), and my husband has never been. Now that we’re both gluten free we were worried that Corfu would be problematic and it is definitely an island of extremes where GF food is concerned.
Despite our reservations we definitely wanted to go to somewhere in Greece, as I wanted to buy some thyroid medication that I can’t get prescribed here (the less said about that the better!), so we decided on Corfu!
No decent photos of the hotel, so apologies for that, but we stayed at Corfu Holiday Palace. It might have 5 stars on the picture above, but it was probably more like a 3 star! Anyway, it was fine for our stay. Located a 10 minute drive from the airport, and a similar distance to Corfu Old Town, we didn’t bother with a car, and instead used the bus that stops right outside the hotel to get into town.
If you love plane watching, this is the perfect hotel! We booked a sea-view, and had a gorgeous view out over Mouse Island and a tiny little monastery. We could also see the planes coming in to land. If we’d been in a lake view room, on the other side of the hotel, we would have had a full on runway view!
There was a mini-mart just across the road selling the basics, we bought some Philadelphia for our crackers/bread rolls we’d taken with us, along with crisps (Lays, which all seemed to be gluten free), wine, and the odd Magnum ice-cream. Perfect for the essentials!
Contacting the Hotel
We booked a cheap half-board deal, so obviously wanted to know if they could cater for us. A quick look at Trip Advisor showed a post saying there were good gluten-free options, so I was hopeful. I tried to contact the hotel via the contact section on their website, but got no reply. I then tried Facebook messenger, as they had a page on there, and they replied to me very promptly. They assured me that they could cater for people with coeliac disease, and could also deal with me being vegetarian as well.
Sounded positive, but I’m quite untrusting when it comes to these things, and so I packed a lot of emergency food too (rice pots, bread rolls, crackers, and some cakes and treats).
We flew with easyJet from Gatwick North airport. Didn’t have any food at the airport, as had packed a huge pack up, but did notice they have a Tortilla there, which look to be pretty good if you check their allergen information online.
We took some rice pots with us, and had some on the flight home. The easyJet crew were very happy to fill them up with hot water. There is no hot or fresh food sold onboard that is gluten free (and even if there was, no hot/fresh food was available on either of our flights, much to the disgust of some passengers). I did notice that they sell these Moma Porridge Pots, which are gluten free. I tend not to trust that there will be anything suitable available on flights, and pack my own!
I’ll pop a picture below of what we took, but there are lots of options available for gluten-free rice pots or pot noodle type things, and these can be great for travelling if you know you’ll have access to boiling water.
First Experience Eating at Hotel
We turned up to breakfast the first morning with high hopes, but quickly realised things weren’t going to be great. Told the restaurant host we were coeliac and needed to be gluten free, the first one didn’t really understand and had to get the other one over! She told us that we could order gluten-free bread, which we did, and asked what else we wanted.
All the food was buffet style, and there were no allergen markers at all, although there was a sign about allergens:
After having a look round, the restaurant host asked what we would like. We assumed that she would then go into the kitchen and ask the chef, but instead, she simply went to the buffet and got it. Obviously we could have done that ourselves if cross contamination wasn’t an issue for us, but it is. I tried to explain, but the host didn’t really understand. Fortunately I had downloaded a Greek language card all about coeliac disease from here, so was able to give it to her, and she took it into the kitchen.
The gluten-free baguettes were brought out, but no other food was offered, so our first breakfast was a bit of a disaster. We went back to our room and had some cakes we’d brought with us instead!
Ordering Our Food
On our way out, we were told to write down what we wanted for breakfast every morning, so that it would be cooked fresh for us. We were also asked to order our dinner. A little bit tricky when we didn’t know what the options were, but the restaurant host told us that they could do gluten-free pizza, gluten-free pasta, meat, fish and salad. We decided to order pizza, Greek salad (it would be rude not to seeing as we were in Greece!) and some French fries (or some kind of potato based dish). We also did our breakfast lists, which were similar for both of us, with the addition of bacon for my husband. I explained to the host that I was also vegetarian, but that my husband wasn’t, and we made sure we wrote it all down very clearly. You can probably guess what happened, but I’ll get to that shortly!
Dinner the first evening was great, and we got exactly what we ordered. Granted, the pizza wasn’t the best in the world (apparently we could only have margherita, so I assume it was bought in like that), but it was perfectly edible, and with the potatoes and salad was a nice meal. No dessert, nothing was offered, and we didn’t ask. This happened throughout the trip, but we just enjoyed the goodies in our room that we had packed, so no big problem.
We asked for pasta the second night, with a tomato and grilled vegetable sauce, some kind of potatoes, and a Greek salad. There was a very long wait for food, I’m not sure why as they had asked what time we’d be at dinner, and we had told them. Anyway, when the food eventually turned up there was bread (which we hadn’t ordered), and no Greek salad. We mentioned this to the restaurant host on the way out, and she had no idea why, as apparently it had been prepared for us. There were definite communication issues.
For our final night, we asked for pizza again. Due to our experiences at breakfast, my husband decided not to order anything meat based for himself, as we didn’t trust them not to cook it for me as well. Unfortunately, when we got to the restaurant, the host told us that the chef hadn’t been able to get gluten-free flour. We were offered pasta, and she told us she’d ask the chef to make a grilled vegetable sauce (after checking with us that we liked a long list of vegetables). Our expectation was something like the night before. However, what came out was pasta with a plain tomato sauce. Again, nothing wrong with it, but not what we were told was being cooked, and another example of communication issues between the restaurant hosts/waiting staff and the kitchen.
First morning wasn’t great, but after writing down our (simple!) orders for the remaining three breakfasts, there surely couldn’t be any issues? Unfortunately there was. Day 2, and both our breakfasts come out with bacon on, even though (1) I didn’t write it down on mine, (2) I’d highlighted that I was vegetarian, and (3) also the restaurant hosts knew and said they would tell the kitchen. It was contained to one side, so I was able to quarantine anything that was touched by it, and eat the rest. Not ideal, but I was starving as it had taken a while. Feedback was passed on to the restaurant host, and she assured us she would tell the kitchen. I also mentioned it at dinner that night as well.
Day 3 breakfast comes, and yet again there is bacon on both plates, this time all over. I got a little bit upset, I’ve been a vegetarian for 38 years now, and the bacon was all over. The waiter serving us was very apologetic (clearly not his fault in the slightest), and the restaurant host came over and saw what had happened. She didn’t say much, but I was given a replacement breakfast (about 10 minutes later!), and an unexpected complimentary bottle of wine at dinner.
Things like this do make you worry about how safe your food is. The hotel had no idea if I was vegetarian due to allergies or for some other reason, and if they can’t get something like a simple written down breakfast order correct, the concern is that they also don’t know what they’re doing with gluten-free food.
Day 4, our final breakfast, was a complete success, with no bacon on my plate! We were served completely different bread, and knowing the communication issues that we’d already experienced, simply chose not to eat it.
I took a video of my husband trying to cut the baguettes we had been served both at breakfast and at dinner. Looked nice, but almost impossible to cut, and just as hard to eat. Definitely gluten-free based on this!
One area of the breakfast buffet was sliced meats and cheeses. We did (very carefully, from the middle of the platter and using our own fork we took up to the buffet) take some cheese slices each morning so that we could take them up to our room and have them for lunch (we took GF crackers with us). There was also boiled eggs in their shells which would have been safe to eat, as well as fruit (sadly for me I’m not really a fruit eater as I don’t like it, I really wish I did).
The hotel has a snack bar round the pool, as well as one down at the beach (along with a really cool funicular to get down to it!). There was absolutely no allergy marking on the menus, and we didn’t want to ask about it due to communication issues, so we just didn’t bother. However, we did sneak some sachets of ketchup and mayonnaise from there to take to dinner and breakfast. The sauces at the buffet were in a big bowl, and cross contamination was rife, so it was good to have the sachets. This is the first trip we haven’t taken our own bottle of brown sauce, as we had no spare luggage space!
We managed fine for lunches with the food we had brought with us, supplemented by what we bought in the shop (and the cheese slices pinched from breakfast!).
Da Giovanni Aglio e Olio
I came across this Italian restaurant mentioned a few times when I searched the various coeliac groups I’m in on Facebook. It had really positive reviews from people, and was also on the Find me Gluten Free app with good reviews. We were limited to Corfu Old Town due to our short stay with no car, so decided to go and eat here on Sunday.
It was definitely worth a visit, and I would recommend anyone staying in or near Corfu Old Town to give it a try. They even had gluten-free beer on the menu (we hadn’t been able to find it anywhere else), and although they didn’t have the GF Peroni that the menu listed, we were brought out another Greek branded bottle, that confirmed it was GF on the label. The English translation of the beer’s name is Nisos (pronounced knee-soss).
My husband, being the wonderful caring man he is, was happy to continue eating vegetarian so that we could order a pizza and pasta between us and I could try both.
They’re obviously used to serving Coeliacs there, as the server confirmed that they are very careful with their preparation. The pizza was a much better offering than the hotel one, and the pasta was delicious as well!
I’d seen mixed reviews of Corfu when researching online, and our experience backs that up. Apparently, coeliac disease and gluten-free eating isn’t really that well understood in Greece, although things are improving. I know that when we were walking through town on Friday, we looked at menus for places we passed by, and there was no real mention of GF.
If we returned to Corfu (which is a possibility if I need to do another medicine run!), then I think we would definitely have a better time if we booked somewhere with self-catering facilities. For us, even forgetting about the bacon issues, there were just too many communication issues between restaurant staff and the kitchen to make us feel completely comfortable there.
My advice for travelling anywhere where they speak a different language to you is make sure you have Google translate. Invaluable, especially the part of it where you can use the camera to hold up to the ingredients on packets, or menus, and it will translate for you. Also make sure to have some kind of print out or app on your phone (or both!) in the language of the country you’re going to, explaining exactly what coeliac disease is in terms of what you can and can’t eat, cross-contamination issues etc. And finally, always be prepared with some emergency food just in case!