Celiac? Why Italy Needs to be Your Next Vacation Spot!

Taking a trip is usually an opportunity for adventure, relaxation, and discovery. But for people living with celiac disease, like myself, it comes with a unique set of challenges and an extra dash of anxiety. Learn why Italy can be the perfect gluten free vacation spot.

A Bit About Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a lifelong autoimmune disorder that is triggered by the ingestion of gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. For a celiac, it’s not just about steering clear of obvious foods like bread and pasta, because gluten can be hidden in so many  things. Gluten is often a hidden ingredient in sauces, processed foods, and worst of all…medications. 

One of the biggest challenges individuals with celiac disease face is our extreme sensitivity to gluten. Even minuscule amounts of gluten cross-contaminating our meals can trigger an auto-immune reaction. This is why so many restaurants are a no go for celiacs. The meal might not contain any gluten, but it can still contain tiny amounts from being prepared in a kitchen which contains gluten. Using the same cutting boards, kitchen equipment, etc. can to cross contamination.

For someone suffering from celiac disease, managing it can become second nature, especially in the comfort of our own homes. At home we can control the ingredients in our meals, take the time to understand the labeling on products, and have trust in the cleanliness of our preparation spaces. However, on the road, this control is gone. We’re dependent on strangers to understand the seriousness of our condition and can only hope they will provide safe, gluten-free options.

Taking a gluten free vacation adds the challenge of navigating foreign languages along with unfamiliar food cultures. It can turn the joy of travel into a stressful experience. On top of this is the risk of cross-contamination which can ruin a vacation by keeping us sick in the hotel room.


Why is Italy a Great Place for Celiacs?

Another insidious aspect of celiac disease is the fear of getting glutened while on vacation. This worry can overshadow the excitement of adventure and exploration. However, there are places where worries can be eased enough to enjoy an amazing gluten free vacation. One of these places is Italy! Let’s explore why Italy has become a paradise for gluten-free travelers. 


You don’t have to bring your own food on vacation!

Italy, is a country where celiac disease is widely recognized and understood. It is treated as an autoimmune disease rather than a fad diet choice, like in the United States. 

Obviously with any gluten free traveling, those with celiac disease should still take precautions. Always communicate your dietary restrictions clearly, double-check all food before eating, and consider using gluten free travel cards.

There are quite a few reasons why Italy is so good at handling celiac disease. These include early screening for celiac disease, healthcare policies, education and awareness of the disorder. Overall, Italy seems to take it more seriously and is supportive of their gluten free populations.

However, it’s important to note that while Italy might be ahead in terms of celiac disease recognition and accommodation, progress is being made in many other countries, including the United States, to improve diagnosis rates and societal understanding of the disease.

Everyone is Screened for Celiac Disease

In Italy, celiac disease isn’t just recognized—it’s understood, and accommodations for those affected are woven into the fabric of Italian society. Italy has implemented widespread screening for celiac disease from an early age. All children are tested for celiac disease by the time they’re six years old. 

The proactive nature of this screening program has significantly reduced the number of undiagnosed cases, and because of this, Italy has one of the highest diagnosed rates of celiac disease in the world. In fact, research suggests that the overall prevalence of celiac disease is 1.65% in Italy rather than the usual 0.5%-1% found worldwide.

This has bolstered Italy’s approach to providing resources and accommodations for those with celiac disease. Since celiac disease is diagnosed so frequently, the country as a whole tends to be quite adept at handling the needs of people with gluten intolerances, making it a great gluten free vacation spot.

This early detection of celiac disease leads to a prevention of side effects, a reduced number of negative health outcomes, and greater overall awareness of the disease.

The widespread recognition of celiac disease in Italy also means the need for gluten-free options is more understood in the non-celiac population of Italy.

Italy’s Healthcare Policies are A Game Changer

Italy’s progressive laws and healthcare policies regarding celiac disease are worth noting as they have been instrumental in creating a safer environment for people living with celiac disease. 

One policy involves providing financial aid to celiac patients for gluten-free products, since they tend to be more expensive than their gluten-containing counterparts. I can attest to the exorbitant cost of living gluten free. My food and grocery budget has easily tripled since going gluten free.

Unlike America, Italians diagnosed with celiac disease receive a monthly stipend from the government to help offset these addition food costs. This policy is a great example of Italy’s commitment to supporting the health and safety of its citizens.

In an effort to ensure that celiac patients can access gluten-free options regardless of where they are, Italian laws mandate that all public food services—including school cafeterias, hospitals, and even prisons—offer gluten-free meals. 

Unfortunately in America, many hospitals aren’t even safe for those of us with celiac disease. Personally, I have had hospitals repeatedly serve me food containing gluten.

I also think every celiac in America has experienced being surrounded by food, but not having a single thing that is safe to eat. This leaves us in a position to go hungry or to eat gluten and risk becoming ill.

Italy’s policy not only provides ease and convenience for individuals with celiac disease, it also fosters a society-wide understanding of the disorder which sets Italy apart as a world leader in celiac awareness and accommodation.


Where is it safe to eat in Italy

Italy, renowned worldwide for its rich culinary tradition, seems like an unlikely paradise for gluten-free travelers. After all, the country is famous for pasta, pizza, and bread. Initially, I assumed Italy would be a nightmare gluten free vacation destination for those with celiac disease.

However, thanks to the country’s proactive approach towards celiac disease, Italy has become a safe place for those seeking a variety of gluten-free options. A place where you don’t have to carry around snacks and meals every time you go outside. Gluten-free versions of traditional Italian dishes are abundant and easily available. You can even find gluten-free pasta and pizza cooked in a separate pizza oven) in most restaurants, with the quality often rivaling their gluten-containing counterparts. Even small, local bakeries and gelaterias frequently offer gluten-free breads and treats.


Cross Contact Risk in Italy Vs. U.S.

When comparing Italy’s approach to gluten-free dining with that of the United States, there are several key differences that make dining out in Italy easier and safer for individuals with celiac disease. In Italy, many Italian restaurants and food establishments are more experienced and adept at handling gluten-free food preparation and avoiding cross-contamination.

Restaurants in Italy that offer gluten-free options usually take strong precautions to avoid cross-contamination. These can include using separate cookware and utensils for gluten-free food preparation, having dedicated fryers and ovens for gluten-free dishes, and thorough training of kitchen and serving staff on handling gluten-free orders. Some restaurants are even officially certified by The Italian Celiac Association (IAC), ensuring they meet stringent standards for gluten-free food preparation.

My experience with eating out in the United States is that you are risking getting glutened anytime you eat out, unless it’s a dedicated gluten free eating establishment. While awareness of celiac disease and the demand for gluten-free food is growing in the United States, the approach here is much more unpredictable. Some restaurants and food establishments are excellent at catering to gluten-free customers and avoiding cross-contamination, but many others do not fully understand the necessary precautions, which leads to cross-contamination.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that restaurants use terms like gluten friendly, naturally gluten free, and made with no gluten containing ingredients for meals which are cross contaminated and unsafe for celiacs.


One of the many joys of traveling to Italy as someone living with celiac disease is the opportunity to indulge in the country’s renowned cuisine. 

Imagine tucking into a plate of fresh Penne alla Norma—a traditional Sicilian dish, or crunching into a crisp, thin-crust Neapolitan pizza, or enjoying a savory risotto. For dessert, you can enjoy a scoop (or two!) of creamy gelato or an authentic Tiramisu Senza Glutine. 

These examples are just a small taste of the wide array of gluten-free dishes that await you in Italy!

Imagine being able to sit down and eat at a cafe with your loved one. Being able to enjoy your meal together and not having being limited to only one or two choices on the menu. As a celiac, it’s delightful to sit down with loved ones, without anxiety, and eat a meal out.  

Yeah, But Where Exactly Can I Eat ?!

Italy is a paradise for people looking to eat out while diagnosed with celiac disease, or any other gluten intolerance. From north to south, the country has many gluten-free restaurants, bakeries, stores and markets that offer safe and delicious choices for individuals with celiac disease.

Mama Eat

Mama Eat, in Rome, is a restaurant with a mission to serve up traditional Italian dishes with a gluten-free spin. They’ve earned rave reviews for their authentic Neapolitan pizzas and pasta dishes.

Pasticceria Napoleoni

Pasticceria Napoleoni, also in Rome, is well worth a visit. It’s a completely gluten-free pastry shop that sells delicious ice creams, cakes and fine pastries.

Be Bop Pizzeria

Be Bop Pizzeria, in the fashion capital Milan, is a great stop while vacationing in Italy. They offer more than 15 types of gluten-free pizzas and have a separate gluten-free kitchen to prevent cross contamination.


GluFree, also in Milan, is a gluten free bakery with a wide variety of gluten-free products including both sweet and salty treats.

La Masardona

La Masardona, in the picturesque city of Naples, is famed for its gluten-free fried pizza, a traditional Neapolitan dish.

These examples are just a glimpse of the incredible gluten-free culinary scene in Italy. Italy is a great choice for a gluten free vacation because it has so many safe places to eat. However, whenever you’re dining out, it’s a good idea to confirm with the restaurant about their gluten-free policies on preventing cross-contamination.

How Italy supports People with Celiac Disease?

Italy’s proactive stance towards celiac disease is enshrined in its laws, making it a pioneer in recognizing and supporting people with celiac disease. These laws are a testament to the country’s commitment to inclusivity and care for its citizens with dietary restrictions.

Universal screening and generous subsidies for gluten-free products, has created a ripple effect throughout the restaurant industry. Restaurants, both small and large, have successfully adapted to meet the dietary needs, not just from a legal obligation, but also to cater to the growing demand from customers. Whether in a big city or a small town, it’s common to find eateries that have dedicated gluten-free menus or that can adapt their dishes to be gluten-free upon request. 

These policies and industry changes has effected the general public as well. Not only are people more aware of celiac disease, they also understand the importance of gluten-free food preparation and the need to avoid cross-contamination.

This awareness and understanding can make a huge difference in the everyday lives of those living with celiac disease. It can help lower stress and anxiety associated with dining out and can make a gluten free vacation in Italy adventurous and fun.

Gluten Free Vacation Snacks in Italy

Italy’s food labeling laws are rigorous. Any packaged food labeled senza glutine (gluten-free) adheres to strict gluten-free standards. This makes shopping for groceries and grabbing a quick snack easy, allowing those with celiac disease to cook and snack confidently.

More importantly, Italy’s pharmacy network often carries a wide selection of gluten-free products, and pharmacists are typically well-informed about celiac disease. As someone who was put on a medication which contained gluten, I can tell you how frustrating it is to watch your doctor and pharmacist go back and forth about who is responsible for prescribing medications that are gluten free. 

From high-end restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and pharmacies, Italy’s commitment to offering an abundance of gluten-free options is clear. This, combined with the society-wide understanding of celiac disease, allows gluten-free travelers to enjoy Italy’s culinary heritage worry-free.

The Italian Celiac Association

The Associazione Italiana Celiachia (AIC), also called the Italian Celiac Association, is an amazing resource for anyone navigating gluten-free living in Italy. It’s a national organization dedicated to improving the lives of those with celiac disease, advocating for our rights, and spreading awareness about the disease across Italy.

The AIC maintains a comprehensive, up-to-date list of restaurants, cafes, and other eateries across Italy that offer gluten-free options. These eateries have been vetted to ensure they meet strict standards, avoiding cross-contamination and that their staff is knowledgeable about gluten-free food prep. To use this list, you can visit the AIC’s website, select the region and the type of establishment you’re interested in, and there you’ll be presented with a list of celiac-friendly options in your chosen area. This can be an invaluable tool in helping you to dine out with confidence while vacationing gluten free in Italy.

In addition to the AIC’s resources and App, there are other tools that can be useful for a gluten-free traveler in Italy. For instance, another useful app is the free Schär Gluten Free app which has replaced the Gluten Free Roads app. It provides a worldwide directory of gluten-free restaurants, stores, and more, including numerous options in Italy. This app also helps with directions and routing to these locations.

Another great resource is the Gluten Dude app. This is a paid app but it has valuable features like vetting restaurants before they get listed. It also lets you search by dedicated 100% gluten free eateries, places serving both gluten and gluten free dishes, or both.

Other Resources For Celiacs

Finding celiacs who have vacationed in Italy can be another great resource. If you’re looking for testimonials or want to connect with fellow celiac travelers, social media can be a great resource. Facebook, Instagram, and travel blogs all have members from around the world who share their travel experiences and advice about living with celiac disease. Some have specific threads about gluten free travel where you can get up-to-date recommendations and tips from others who have navigated a gluten-free vacation in Italy successfully.

These resources combined can significantly ease the stress of finding safe and delicious food options while exploring all that Italy has to offer.


Italy is the Best Vacation Spot! 

I hope it’s become clear just how welcoming this beautiful country is for people with celiac disease. With its impressive national awareness, stringent food regulations, and comprehensive restaurant listings from the AIC, Italy stands out as a forerunner in gluten-free accommodations. It’s a country where you can fully immerse yourself in the local cuisine and enjoy the culture without the constant fear of cross-contamination.

Italy’s embrace of the gluten-free lifestyle goes beyond simple accommodation, making it an environment where celiacs can thrive. From the cobblestone streets of Rome to the vineyards of Tuscany, you’ll find gluten-free versions of every delicious dish this country is famous for. 

So, why not let Italy be your next gluten free vacation destination? It’s not only a chance to experience one of the world’s most beautiful countries, but also a journey to a place where celiac disease is understood and catered to. It’s a place where you travel the streets without filling your pocket with a days worth of snacks and you can enjoy the freedom of savoring your meals without worry. Vacationing in Italy can bring spontaneity back into your life. 

Buon viaggio celiac adventurers. Italy awaits you with open arms and an abundance of gluten-free delights!