Holidays in Greece with allergies

View over Nidri, Skorpios and Meganisi

We’ve considered Greece as a holiday destination for years but usually opted for the safer (for us) option of France (D is fluent in French), but this year Greece it was, specifically Lefkada, one of the Ionian Islands. It was a long awaited holiday, postponed twice due to Covid and so we had high expectations. In fact, Lefkada delivered exactly what we’d hoped for from a Greek island holiday – wonderful sunny weather, stunning crystal blue sea, fun on beaches and boats and hillsides adorned with ancient olive trees and vibrant green Cypress. It was relaxing, restorative and just perfect, but……

It really wasn’t the easiest destination in  terms of allergies, and remember we’re concerned about milk, eggs, peanuts and sesame seeds. The different alphabet and our inability to understand Greek was a real problem. We self-catered in a villa (as is our choice even without allergies factored in) so had to visit plenty of supermarkets. The main Lefkada town had a couple of bigger supermarkets which were well stocked and had an impressive selection of some free-from products. There were plenty of dairy-free cheeses, butters, a few Alpro yoghurts and lots of dairy-free milk choices.

Bread was really difficult, as we’d expected. Luckily, I’d packed lots of wraps, pittas, bagel thins and focaccia as we only found some safe pittas on the last few days. As you might imagine with Greece, sesame was the biggest issue. We did find one loaf of Scar gluten-free bread, but only in the bigger AB Supermarket in Lefkada Town. The other supermarkets we visited were much smaller and certainly had no suitable bread, yogurts or cheese. We even found the selection of safe crisps was limited, no safe biscuits and even most sweets were not an option as European Hairbo now all seem to have a may contain milk warning. I’d definitely recommend making a trip to the bigger supermarkets and taking a list so you don’t forget anything!

Lovely quality fresh fruit and veg were available in all small scale shops but far more limited in the availability of more ‘specialist’ items.

The biggest problem was definitely having little understanding of the language. On the first day the girls saw a pina colada juice that looked tasty. They compared the highlighted ingredients with the words on our Equal Eats cards and it looked fine. Little S, being a cautious type took a small sip when we were at the villa, she thought it tasted odd. I tasted it and thought it was fine, so she had another sip and her allergy-senses went into overdrive – something made her stop and download a photo translation app to check the ingredients. This is when we noticed a little asterisk and an additional note saying the ‘powder’ contained 3% milk. Our hearts dropped as the villa was miles up a winding mountain road. Little S felt pretty bad, her throat tightened and she felt extremely uncomfortable. Luckily a double dose of anti-histamine was all that was needed, but it was a close call and a nasty start to the holiday. But we learnt a lesson, never presume, always double check, especially when you don’t fully understand the language.

The next tricky incident was in a restaurant when we wanted to order some chips and drinks to go along with our sandwiches. We asked what oil was used and the waitress looked bemused and said ‘the usual oil’, we pressed her further, again she said ‘the usual one’. So we had to get her to check in the kitchen, where she returned saying ‘the classic oil’. We did some google research and it turns out that olive oil in Greece is called classic oil – makes total sense in the land of the olive, but you have to check and it still didn’t feel comfortable!

We ate out twice, both in more touristy locations. The first was an Italian restaurant in Nidri called Pomodoro – we chose this one because Trip Advisor had rave reviews about how helpful the waiter Spiros was, and also we tend to find Italian restaurants generally have something the girls can eat. Indeed Spiros the waiter was extremely friendly and accommodating; he double checked items and made sure we had a really tasty and safe Italian meal. The pizza was a no-go because the base contained milk, but there were a few pasta options, or grilled meats the girls could choose from. Big S had simple pasta pomodoro and Little S when for the l’amatriciana, the same as the pomodoro but with the addition of ham and bacon. They both declared their meals delicious, so it was a big hit. If you’re in Nidri I’d really recommend Pomodoro as a restaurant worth visiting.

We also had lunch at Nikiana Beach club – again it was more touristy so English was widely spoken and the chicken souvlaki and chips was entirely safe once the tzatziki was removed.

Safe souvlaki

Maybe we could have been more adventurous with eating out, but we like to play it safe and stuck mainly to good old packed lunches and eating in the villa. In fact, one day I had a complete allergy-parent fail. I’d made our picnic to take to the beach and had left it in the fridge until the last moment to try and keep it fresh. What did i do? Yep, that’s right, half-way to the other side of the island I remembered it was still in the fridge. It was too far to go back, so we went via the bigger supermarket and cobbled together a just about ok lunch!

 

Ice cream didn’t feature at all – we didn’t see any suitable and the only ice lollies we saw were Calippo which are may contain milk and so off the menu for us. Luckily fresh, delicious fruit juices seem to be a big thing so we opted for nice drinks instead of icy treats.

What would I do differently? Well, definitely download a photo translation app and double check all ingredients on packs. Although, even some products looked safe but when we double checked (extra cautious after day 1!) the may contains hadn’t been added to the English ingredient list. (Such as this choc cereal).

I’d also pack even more bread, as well as spices and sauces which we found in short supply in Greek shops. I’m pleased I took some breads, biscuits, chocolate, and things for sandwich fillers (Tartex vegetarian pate, marmite, Oatly creamy spread, chocolate spread and violife cheese slices) as none of the cooked meats were safe.

So all in all it wasn’t easy on the food front, we definitely needed to cook ourselves and bring plenty of food, but it was worth it for the idyllic scenery and sea. Greece, you are a stunning holiday destination 🙂

West coast

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