Over the years France has been our holiday destination of choice, and this year we’ve returned to Corsica for the 7th time, so it’s about time I wrote up how we navigate a French holiday with allergies.
We’ve been all over France with the girls, from Paris, the Alps, the West coast, south coast to Provence, and as I say many times to Corsica. We’ve always stayed in self-catering accommodation, from Eurocamp style tents (not my favourite by a long way!) to caravans on similar camp sites and more recently in villas (my favourite!). We’ve stayed a night or two in a hotel along the way and that has never been the easiest – the breakfast has often been a basket with a piece of baguette and a croissant nestled next to each other immediately making the baguette a no go, and we find it adds to the stress when we have to find somewhere safe to eat out in a new location, besides the choices in restaurants aren’t huge and they quickly become monotonous.
For me a trip to the supermarket whilst on holiday is a bit of a highlight, I love to see the different things for sale and the gorgeous fresh fruit and veg. This is rather lucky, as we always end up going to multiple shops whilst on holiday! We find the larger supermarkets are pretty well stocked with the things we need, and this has definitely improved over the years. The range of dairy-free yoghurts is quite remarkable, but they are generally soya based so if you avoid soya then you’ll have greater difficulty finding desserts to buy.
Previously I’d never seen dairy-free margarine so always take my own, but this year found a good range (although some were may contain for milk or peanuts) and also a thorough range of Violife cheeses too. However, I’ve never found any suitable chocolate or biscuits so always take supplies of those and crisps can be tricky too as lots may contain milk. Sadly, European Haribo is now labelled as ‘may contain milk’ so sweets are also harder to find – the Lutti brand are generally ok though.
For bread we’ve always had baguette from the boulangerie as by law it must only contain flour, yeast, salt and water and you don’t often see sesame in loaves in the bakeries (but if I were to, we’d give the fresh bread a miss). We do take some pittas and wraps with us, but we’ve also found safe ready to bake baguettes as well as flatbreads and tortillas.
Although we often have grand plans to step out of our comfort zone and eat out lots, we generally only end up eating out once or twice during a holiday. Even though D is 100% fluent in French, we still feel more at ease preparing our own food (this is the same in the UK too) and sometimes you want to avoid the added stress of eating out whilst on a relaxing holiday. When we do eat out, we’ve found that brasserie style restaurants work quite well and something like steak hache frites (basically beef burger and chips) or poulet grille et frites (grilled chicken and chips) can be a reliable option. The steak hache in France is normally just minced beef and seasoning, and as long as it’s cooked on a grill or in a pan with oil (no butter – sans beurre) then it should be a good option for a meat-eating food allergy child. Do always check that the frites are cooked in a suitable oil, as there is a tendency to use peanut oil, especially in the South of the country.
Our most recent trip to Propriano in Corsica is a case in point, we only ate out on the last lunchtime when we knew we needed our packed sandwiches for supper on the plane (never trust airplane food if you have a food allergy). We could have been brave and tried to find somewhere earlier in the trip, but we were just happy eating in our lovely villa and removing some of the inevitable stress. Our meal was in a lovely restaurant right on the beach in Propriano called Le Corsaire.
It started well in that there was an allergen menu, then it looked like it wasn’t going to work out because that menu suggested the frites were cooked in peanut oil, and it was suggested that the only thing Little S could eat was melon and ham (not really a meal and besides she isn’t really very keen either!). But the staff were fantastic and took it very seriously; the manager came and spoke to us and he checked and confirmed that the chips were actually cooked in sunflower oil and all was going to be ok. We were really impressed on how they dealt with the situation – it was a very friendly can-do approach that we really appreciated. Although I have to admit that it was 100% helped by D being able to converse fluently with the staff. If I’d been muddling through I don’t think we’d have got to the stage of finding out the oil used was actually ok!
I have to say that as a vegetarian it’s almost harder for me to eat out in France – once you get past a pizza or salad there is rarely much choice, and if you’re vegan don’t expect much if anything!
When the girls were little they used to be able to have the Calippo ice lollies, but more recently these have a milk warning, so for the past few visits we’ve had to rely on cold drinks or slushies instead of ice lollies – which is a little disappointing when you’re looking for serious refreshment.
However, we made a remarkable find in Corsica this summer – sorbet sticks that are completely free-from the top 14 and utterly delicious. They called Palitos and are organic and only contain fruit, water, sugar, rice syrup powder and guar gum. Do look out for this brand in supermarkets and cafes.
So, if we don’t eat out much on a holiday in France, then what do we eat?
Breakfast will be toasted baguette with dairy-free margarine and marmite brought from home, or maybe some cereal – the chocco flakes and honey snaps in France are both good for Little S.
Lunch will most often be baguette with carrottes rapees salad from a supermarket (the Pierre Martinet brand does not contain milk, eggs, nuts, or sesame), salad leaves, cucumber, and tomatoes with a homemade vinaigrette. Then ham or cheese (for the veggie not the milk-allergic), plus I always take Tartex vegetarian pate, Oatly cream cheese, Violife slices, Plamil chocolate spread and marmite as bread fillers. This will be followed by dairy-free yoghurts and fruit.
Our evening meal range is more limited whilst on holiday (is that the same for everyone?) and will feature some of the following:
Pasta, homemade tomato sauce, sweetcorn, croutons, olives
Couscous with roasted veg and spiced chicken (halloumi for the veggie) and roasted tomato sauce
Fajitas with guacamole and salsa
BBQ with burgers, roasted veg, roasted potato parcels and salad
Spaghetti aglio e olio e pepperoncino
Risotto and salad
What we call holiday chicken (spiced and griddled) with pilaf rice and whatever veg looks the nicest
I find it useful to have brought these items from home as you don’t often find them in the supermarkets:
Safe breads like wraps and pittas that pack easily
Chilli/hot sauce (countries like France use very little chilli)
Spice rubs (flavour is your friend with a repetitive menu!)
Dairy-free margarine, cream cheese and cheese
Tartex vegetarian pate
Something homemade: A cake or flapjacks
If you do ever think of maybe having a holiday in Corsica, go for it. It’s such a beautiful island and has such lovely uncrowded, plentiful beaches and dramatic huge mountains in the middle of the island. As you may have realised from this being our 7th visit, it’s an island we have really fallen in love with!