This review covers our ten night stay at the Iberostar Cristina Hotel on a half-board basis, as well as gluten-free suggestions for the surrounding area. Spain is generally regarded as catering really well for coeliacs, so how would we get on? Read more to find out!
Research Prior to Our Trip
The trip was booked quite a while prior to travelling, yet another rearranged trip as a result of the pandemic! My main criteria when looking at hotels was those that dealt well with gluten free needs, but also hotels that had reviews that mentioned rooms being quiet. I’m quite a light sleeper, so hotels where you can hear every single thing through the walls are a no-no for me! Another consideration was being fairly close to the airport, as our flight into Majorca was pretty late at night, and I didn’t want to have to deal with a long transfer.
In hindsight, this research meant that I didn’t really look at the area we stayed in in terms of restaurants catering for GF. I mistakenly thought that we’d find a lot of places in Palma (and got a bit mixed up thinking Palma and Palma Nova were very close to each other), when the reality was that we struggled a bit. I’ll cover where we did eat a bit later in the review.
As always, a standard google for “Majorca Gluten Free” gave good results, with lots of different blogs coming up, and restaurant recommendations. For anyone that doesn’t already know this, at the time of writing (June 2022) you can also safely eat in McDonalds and Burger King in Spain, as they have specific gluten-free menus accredited by FACE, which is the Spanish coeliac society.
We flew on easyJet, and it was a relatively short flight at around 2 hours and 20 minutes. On the way there, we took a pack up from home, and also visited the Aspire Lounge at Luton Airport (click here for a link to their allergens page), where we actually found some gluten-free food, so we were well fed for the journey (good job, as we didn’t get to our hotel until midnight, so way too late for dinner!). On the way back we had rice pots with us, which the crew were more than happy to fill with boiling water. There was pretty much nothing gluten free for sale on board, they didn’t even have the GF porridge pots which we’d seen for sale on our Easter trip to Corfu. It’s definitely good to be prepared with food/snack options.
Iberostar Cristina is a 4 star hotel in S’Arenal (sometimes referred to as just Arenal), located very close to the beach. We booked a garden view double room, and this was perfect for our stay. There was a small fridge in the room, but no kettle. As reviews I’d read had stated, our room was very quiet (with the exception of one evening when some drunk people had come back and were shouting in the corridor at 01.30am!), and this is a definite plus for me.
The pool area is great, and we always managed to get a sun lounger, no matter what time we went out there. The entertainment staff work really hard, and there were plenty of activities on during the day if you’re into that kind of thing, although they were mainly fitness based (yoga, aqua-aerobics, water volleyball and normal aerobics), as well as bingo in the afternoon. Each evening of our stay there was a show of some description on straight after the mini-disco, this was a mix of outside entertainers coming in and the entertainment staff doing some kind of show.
Young children seemed to be well catered for, with ‘Star Camp’ running for 4-7 year olds, and the aforementioned mini disco every evening. There was also a play park for children, and tiny paddling pool next to the main pool.
Gluten-Free Experience at Iberostar Cristina
Before our trip, I had contacted the hotel via email, and they assured me that they could cater for coeliacs. I’ve heard that before (see my Corfu review here), but knowing that Spain is regarded highly for dealing with gluten-free diets, I had high hopes that our experience would be a positive one.
Having arrived at midnight, our first meal at the hotel was breakfast (we were staying on a half-board basis, so had breakfast and dinner included). At the entrance to the restaurant, we told the person on the door that we were gluten free, and he immediately took us in to the restaurant to a member of staff, who then went and got a chef out to speak to us.
The chef that came out was so helpful, and as a bonus he spoke pretty good English too. I would highly recommend when going anywhere that you don’t speak the language to make sure you have Google translate on your phone, and consider a printed out translation card as well (there are various paid and free ones around, I use this one, which is a free app on your phone and you can also print out from the website. It only covers a few languages though, so you may need to look around for something else if the language of the country you’re going to isn’t on there).
Another tip to get over language barriers it to take photos of any packaged bread/cakes/cookies that you like. Not all the chefs spoke English (in fact the majority didn’t), so it was helpful in the morning when asking for our “sin gluten” bread to also be able to show photos of other things we might like. I did this many times!
The chef took us all round the buffet, and explained what was and wasn’t safe. There are allergen cards displayed for most things on the buffet, and these are quite helpful (although particularly at dinner, we did find some that said gluten free at the top, but then had a gluten symbol at the bottom. When we asked the chef, it turned out that these were for ‘may contain’ items). He also told us we could get gluten-free bread and baguettes, along with various GF cakes and cookies. You also needed to ask for gluten-free cereal if you wanted some, they had individual packets of cornflakes and muesli. The sweet items we were given definitely varied each day depending on who we spoke to. One day we were given croissants (which weren’t great!), and we were also given a chocolate pastry a couple of times, which wasn’t bad at all when warmed up.
We had a little look round the buffet ourselves, and asked for some baguettes, which they warm up in the oven for you. I did have some sliced bread the next day, but it didn’t seem as if they had a GF toaster, as the slices were also put in the oven like the baguettes were, so I didn’t ask for the sliced bread again!
It was easy to see on the buffet what was and wasn’t safe due to possible contamination, and the chef had told us that he could get us things directly from the kitchen if contamination was likely to be an issue. An example of this was the bacon and fried egg cooking station. There was a large grill, split down the middle. On one side, fried eggs were cooked, alongside toasted sandwiches, so clearly the eggs were contaminated. On the other side, bacon was cooked, along with sausages. Some days, the sausages were not marked as gluten free, which meant that the bacon wasn’t suitable. I didn’t bother with the fried eggs, and my husband just avoided the bacon when the sausages weren’t GF, but we know that the chef would have been happy to cook them in the kitchen for us.
The omelette station was completely gluten free, and there were also scrambled eggs there (GF) and boiled eggs. The bread station and cakes/pastries were completely separate from the area that had cheeses, meats, yoghurts, fruit etc, so we felt safe eating those things. They had a variety of non-dairy milks on offer as standard, which was nice to see, and these were all marked as GF.
There was also a microwave available in the restaurant, and this was actually used by one of the chefs to heat up our GF brownies one evening! I suspect the main purpose of it being there was for baby food, but it could be useful for anyone wanting to heat up some gluten-free food. I also noticed a toaster in the bread section, next to the usual hotel style toasting machine. Whilst I wouldn’t advise anyone to use the toaster for their GF bread, if you had toasting pockets with you, people may consider this if desperate for toast.
At the entrance to the restaurant, we again told the person there that we were gluten free, and they took us to the chef. It was the same one as we had spoken to at breakfast, so that was great. He went through the buffet with us, starting at the top where there was a themed area that changed every evening. That area wasn’t as well allergy signposted as everywhere else, but he told us what was safe, and offered to get us anything we wanted from the kitchen (there were poppadoms being used as decoration in some of the dishes, and after checking, the chef said they weren’t safe as they were a may contain).
Other than that, everything had allergy signs. The chef told us that in general, the evening buffet was around 80% gluten free. There was always a salad bar, which was completely GF, a meat/fish section, and then other sections dotted around. He also told us that always available was gluten-free pasta and gluten-free pizza, both of which we could just ask for and would be cooked fresh, and gluten-free brownies and ice cream (only lemon sorbet and white chocolate flavour though). Also, the fries were not marked as gluten free due to how they were cooked, but they were happy to cook us fresh ones in the kitchen, which we did have a couple of times.
Overall, I’d say the buffet was pretty good. As a meat eater, my husband was able to get plenty of gluten-free choices from the buffet. He did have a pizza one night, and also GF pasta by mistake (I ordered some, but they brought out two platefuls!). Even for me with the added complication of being vegetarian, I found it really easy. Some days were better than others, and I think out of a total of 9 nights (we were too late for dinner on the 1st night) I ate just buffet food for 5 of them, and ordered pizza 2 nights and pasta 2 nights, so it was a good mix. I was fully expecting to live off pasta and pizza for the whole holiday, so was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t need to!
I really loved the salad bar, and the potato selection that was at the meat/fish counter was generally gluten free (I think there was only 1 night that it wasn’t). There were various vegetable dishes, as well as some rice things and even some soya chunks (that were actually vegan and gluten free). We did have the brownie a couple of nights, the first time it wasn’t warmed up and wasn’t great, but the next time it was warmed up for us, and was a lot better. It was also easy to ask for the same cakes and cookies that were available at breakfast.
I know from being in a few coeliac groups on Facebook and reading comments, that the availability of gluten-free beer on holiday is very important. I totally agree with this… sometimes only a beer will do! We did have a slightly strange experience with this though.
On our first morning, we asked at the pool bar if there was any GF beer. We were told no, only that they had alcohol free beer. We were a little bit disappointed (only because we know that in general, Spain is so good at dealing with gluten free), but didn’t think much of it, and bought some GF lager from the local supermarket and kept it in the fridge in our room.
One evening, we decided to take down a beer to enjoy whilst watching the nightly show. After a while, a member of staff came over to us, and told us that we couldn’t bring our own drinks down. We explained it was gluten-free beer, and that we’d been told the hotel didn’t sell it, so she went off to speak to her manager. In the meantime, I went to reception to try and clarify the situation (it had made us feel a bit uncomfortable), and a guest relations officer came out to me and told me that of course the hotel served GF beer! She came back with me to the bar, by which time the other member of staff had come back and also confirmed that they had gluten-free San Miguel. We were given 2 free bottles, which was very kind, and the guest relations officer also sent 4 bottles to our room a couple of days later, which was really nice of her.
No-one could explain why we’d been told they didn’t stock it, we’d used “cerveza sin gluten” when asking, just to avoid any language issues, so it was a bit of a mystery. Luckily, it was all resolved happily in the end!
Poolside Ice Cream
On our first day, we were lying round the pool, and at about 4pm, a trolley came round with various different ice creams/lollies. They were giving these out free, which was a nice touch given that we were only half-board, so would normally have to pay for them (I believe if you were all-inclusive then they would be included within that). We weren’t sure there would be anything suitable, and when we asked if there were any “sin gluten”, the guy in charge of the trolley didn’t know. However, I asked someone near us if I could look at their empty packet, and it had “sin gluten” written on the back, so I went chasing after the trolley to grab a couple! It was similar to a magnum, and very welcome in the hot sunshine.
Other Random Food Information About the Hotel
Sadly, we never saw the ice cream trolley come back round for the rest of our holiday. However, on other days, there was a waffle cart that was pulled out at around 3pm, and seemed very popular. This was free for everyone. We didn’t go and ask any questions about it, but could see it from where we sat, and there was nothing to suggest that it would be gluten free. Fresh waffles were available at breakfast, and these were not GF, so I assume these would be the same.
Next to the pool bar was a mini snack area for all inclusive guests (although this wasn’t policed in any way). Very limited options, and other than a bowl of fruit, all were either bread or cake based. No sign of anything gluten free.
We didn’t have lunch included, as we weren’t all inclusive. However, I did sneak in one day just to have a look round, and the buffet set up was very similar to the evening buffet, so it would have been easy to safely eat gluten free.
After we’d already been there for a week, we were contacted by the same guest services officer who had dealt with the GF beer saga asking us what we wanted for dinner in the restaurant that night. It was a bit random seeing as we’d been there a week, and already knew the system for looking round and speaking to a chef with any queries. I do wonder if she maybe should have spoken to us when we first checked in, but because it was after midnight when we checked in we got missed? Anyway, we did order through her that particular evening, but went back to our usual way of doing it the next day! After the beer incident she had given us a card, and told us to contact her directly in case of problems, so if anyone does stay at this hotel and has a problem, I’d suggest going to reception during the day and asking for a guest services officer who can help.
S’Arenal Area Food Options
When looking up the area before we came, I didn’t really find anything to suggest there was much nearby where we staying. This included checking the Find me Gluten Free app. We did look at all the restaurants close by when walking to the beach and round the area, and didn’t find anything obvious. No signs indicating gluten free options were available, and nothing on any menus that were on display. We didn’t go any further than this, so it could be that if we had actually gone in and asked, we might have found something, but given that the hotel food was ok, and we stocked up at the supermarket, it wasn’t actually a problem.
One place that was close by to us was Burger King. I know from many blogs that I’ve read that they do a gluten-free menu in Spain, but I’d also read that the fries were not GF. This meant that for me, as a vegetarian, there was little point going there, as it is only the meat burgers that are on the GF menu.
However, it appears that this has changed fairly recently (not sure when), and gluten-free fries are now available. The GF menu is accredited by FACE, which is the Spanish Coeliac Society, and there is a special Sin Gluten menu on the ordering points, which you need to make sure you order from (I’ll put photos of the screen below). Click here for the Gluten Free menu in Spain.
Whilst I was excited that would actually be able to have some fries while my husband enjoyed a burger, I did end up having a bad experience in that there was something that wasn’t a fry in amongst my packet of fries. I had to use Google translate to go up to the counter and explain what the problem was, and whilst they were apologetic, I don’t actually know what went wrong. Quite disappointing, and I’m sure I was just unlucky, but it is something to be aware of.
We had two supermarkets that were around 10 minutes walk from our hotel, and visited both to look at the GF options. Neither were huge superstores, but they were certainly large enough to have varied options. The one we used the most was Mercadona, and the other was an Eroski City. There were differences between the two in how they displayed gluten-free goods on the shelves.
Mercadona had no separate GF area, and everything was in with the normal items, so cakes were in the cake section, GF bread was in the normal bread section, etc. Some people might not like this, but it didn’t bother us, and we found it easy to find everything we wanted. We didn’t find much branded stuff in there, for example no Schär products. However, their own brand, Hacendado, were very well marked with sin gluten signs. Lactose free items were also widely available and clearly labelled, which I thought was good. Below are some examples of the food available in Mercadona. We bought stuff from here for our lunches at the hotel, it was lovely to sit out on our balcony and enjoy a little picnic!
Eroski City was a little bit different, as it had one main display as you went into the store, which had all the bread, cakes, crackers, biscuits, cereal etc, then things like gluten-free pasta was on the shelves with the normal pasta. The GF display was more branded goods, as you’ll see from the pictures below. There was also a different selection of beer compared to Mercadona (see the beer section above for photos!).
Eating Out in Palma
As I said near the beginning of this post, I got a little mixed up, and didn’t realise quite how far Palma was from Palma Nova and Magaluf (so don’t make my silly mistake!). It meant that the list of places I’d carefully found from my research weren’t really any good. If we’d had a hire car, it would have been no issue at all. And we could have got another bus from Palma (there wasn’t one from S’Arenal all the way to Palma Nova), so it wasn’t impossible. However, I have some mobility issues, and the buses were really busy, so we didn’t chance it. For anyone that might be staying at this hotel or close by, the number 25 bus goes to the Cathedral, and the number 23 bus goes all the way to Plaça d’Espanya, which is a bus terminal where you can change to other lines if necessary.
This did mean our eating out experience was fairly limited. We went to Palma twice, once to look round the cathedral (which is stunning), then once specifically to eat at a completely gluten-free place I found.
On the corner of the street near the entrance to the cathedral is a gelato shop called Rivareno Gelato. I think I found this place on the Find me Gluten Free app, and seeing as the weather was glorious, we decided to have gelato after going round the cathedral. As you can see from the picture below, all of the gelato flavours have allergen signs (and the website gives details about this in it’s FAQ section). Each pot of gelato was in a lidded container, with the lid kept on except for when not in use, and there was a scoop contained within each pot. No gluten-free cones unfortunately, but we went for a cup. I can highly recommend the Bacio and the Cioccolato flavours, they were delicious!
We also paid a visit to McDonald’s on this trip, but only had a portion of fries each. Fries are coeliac safe in Spain, and McDonald’s has a whole gluten-free menu.
Another Find me Gluten Free app find was the reason for our second trip into Palma. Il Capriccio is a completely gluten-free restaurant, and it was amazing! From the outside, there is nothing to indicate on the menu on the wall that it’s gluten free, and even inside, it isn’t clear (to the point where I had to double check when we went in!). It’s nothing special to look at inside or outside, but the food was brilliant. My husband had a pizza, and it was probably the best gluten-free pizza he has ever had. Indistinguishable from a standard gluten filled one! Most of the reviews on the app say this as well. I had gnocchi, which was lovely, and we shared a gluten-free crepe for dessert. The only gluten containing thing on the premises was beer, but they also had a choice of two different gluten-free lagers. I would highly recommend going here if you’re ever in Palma.
All in all we had a brilliantly relaxing holiday, which was just what we wanted (we had both recently recovered from having Covid, so lazing about all day really helped our recuperation!). S’Arenal is a nice area, especially for the beach, although I think if you wanted to eat out a lot it’s a little bit limited. You’d definitely have to go into individual restaurants and speak to them to ask if they could cater for you or not.
Iberostar Cristina was definitely a positive experience. Of course there was the odd niggle, which I’ve mentioned (I like to give as full a description as possible of our experience), but these were dealt with well. Being anywhere abroad means there is always the chance of language barriers, so having something like a printed or app based coeliac card is very useful, and Google translate is a must! The chef we spoke to the most spoke pretty good English, but the others didn’t really speak it at all. Knowing a few phrases is handy, even if it’s just “sin gluten”, and taking photos of any foods you like from breakfast is a handy tip. Overall though, I was very impressed with the food and care taken with it during our stay, and would certainly recommend Iberostar Cristina.