Malta and Gozo with allergies

We’re just back from a wonderful, relaxing and very sunny summer holiday and I thought I’d pass on some thoughts on Malta and Gozo as holiday destination from the point of view of a family with food allergies to cater for. Whenever we go somewhere new I do a search on the supermarket availability for safe foods and allergy-friendliness of a destination, frequently coming up with nothing useful or only snippets of information. So maybe if I write my thoughts , other people may find it helps them in future.

I haven’t been paid in any way for this review, it just to help others who travel with allergies by passing on my thoughts šŸ™‚

Similar to most families with allergies, we went self-catering; even if we could easily go to stay in hotels or all inclusive I’m not sure it would be my chosen option. It is not an issue and I think I just like cooking too much, and the trip to the local supermarket is always an interesting holiday activity for me. On this occasion we splashed out on a private villa with a pool and much needed air-con. This proved to be a highlight and certainly helped us relax and cool off. See below for our beautiful villa and pool in traditional Gozitan style.We used a company called James Villas and I have to say that the whole process from booking to returning home worked like clockwork. If you’re looking for a Mediterranean villa holiday I’d really recommend having a look at their site.

The first notable feature that made this holiday so easy was the language. Although everyone speaks Maltese, the official language is still English and that made getting our message across so much easier. It’s so reassuring when trying to convey such important requests to know that the person you’re talking to is really getting the message. I should add that the Maltese people as a nation are incredibly laid back, friendly and welcoming. I’m not sure I even heard a car horn in anger.

As we were staying on Gozo which is a small island only 14km long by 7km wide, there wasn’t a huge selection of food shops, but we did come across a Lidl, one supermarket in a shopping centre called Arkadia which we used and various little convenience stores. The selection of brands available was excellent; they even had Waitrose own-brand products!

We found the range to include products from the UK, France, Italy and Malta. The free-from brands we came across included Alpro, Pure, Valsoia, Misura and Schar. A really impressive range for a small island you might visit on holiday. So we were very well catered for, for buying dairy-free margarine, dairy-free yogurts, ice cream and milks, free-from biscuits and croissants.

We don’t need gluten-free products ourselves, but that range was even better. Amazingly, even the small convenience stores had a few free-from products available.

We did however have a problem with bread. I didn’t find any sliced loaves that didn’t have ‘may contain sesame’ labels and that wasn’t a risk we were willing to take on a small island. I only managed to buy some UK produced pittas that we survived on, along with the supplies I’d brought from home! More concerning was the fact that the peanuts were bizarrely kept within the bakery cupboards – that really wasn’t a welcome sight.

A lot of the ice cream parlours advertised vegan ice cream, but again we weren’t taking any risks whilst on an island with no big hospital, so opted for very cooling, iced ‘slushies’ instead which were available everywhere.

We ate out a couple of times. Lunch whilst visiting the Citadella in Victoria, the Capital, and one in a restaurant near our villa called Il Girna by Peppe. Both occasions were successful. The staff were very accommodating and we felt confident that they took our concerns seriously. Both adapted the menu to suit our needs, and whilst the resulting dishes were fairly plain, they were safe, so we were happy customers. If you’re after gluten-free or vegan food, the provision was excellent with dishes available in all the establishments we checked.

So, all in all, it was a really good destination for a holiday with allergies/food restrictions and I’d definitely recommend considering it as an option. We only visiting Malta once to go to the excellent aquarium, but I believe it offers more of the holiday resort type holiday. Gozo was much quieter, with stunning architecture (and really interesting house names – our favourite was ‘Reality’!). It’s fairly rocky with dramatic cliffs, stony bays and always beautiful crystal clear sea and inlets. Seafood lovers will be very happy, many very simple looking beach cafes and shacks seem to be turning out the freshest seafood. Sandy beaches are few and far between, with the red sanded Ramla Bay being the favourite. It should be noted that we had some fairly hairy drives with roads suddenly ending in front of us, or being so steep that the car couldn’t make it up in 1st gear, something I have never experienced before.

There’s also plenty of culture from pre-historic temples which pre-date the pyramids of Egypt by one thousand years, to hilltop Basilicas aplenty. It seemed to me that Visit Malta has invested a lot in their tourist attractions and they were all modern and top-notch. I’d say we did everything in Gozo in one week, but then we like to be busy and you could happily stretch it out with more ‘relax time’, and that would be rather lovely in the wonderful southern Mediterranean climate.

Essential Holiday Packing Guide

Holiday Packing by Big S

Does holiday packing stress you out too? With our holidays fast approaching I’m starting to fret about what we need to take with us, so I thought it would be handy to share my holiday checklist. It might settle my packing nerves which are slightly heightened this year due to a new destination country where our command of the language is pretty feeble, and maybe it could help with your packing wobbles too.

If you have any essential that I’ve missed off, please let me know. Perhaps we could make a definite allergy-friendly packing checklist? I hope you like the added hand drawn pictures that go with this post? The girls wanted to be involved and it’s provided a useful creative activity for this rather damp and dreary summer holiday!

Essential holiday Packing by Little S

 

MY Packing Checklist

  1. Documents –Ā Well, I guess everyone knows this, but as an allergy family a few extras are necessary
    • Passports and/or identity cards
    • Travel documents such as flights and hotel bookings
    • *Travel insurance which covers allergic reactions* – Ā call the company and check.
    • E111 or European Health Insurance (EHIC) card as it’s now called (if travelling in Europe as a European)
    • Letter from the doctor to confirm the need to carry medicines (it’s also probably best to gloss over you are carrying sharp items when going through security at a provincial airport when you don’t have a great command of the language! – I have learnt this at my cost!)
  2. FoodĀ –Ā I’m thinking that it’s unlikely that non-allergy families think so much about food whilst packing for holidays, but for us it’s a BIG preoccupation. This is an example of what we’ll take:
    • Dairy-free margarine – seems to travel pretty well if kept relatively cool
    • Dairy-free milks – We prefer Oatly and it isn’t available everywhere so if possible we take a few cartons. This obviously has to be in check-in baggage on a flight and depends on weight allowance. Otherwise unless you’re going totally ‘off the beaten track’ most reasonable size supermarkets in most countries will sell soya milk
    • Dairy-free soft cheese – only if possible, but it does make great emergency dips and sandwich fillings
    • *Biscuits* – for us this is crucial. We have never come across brands we can buy whilst on holiday and we always find it’s important to have those sweet treats to keep up energy when on holiday. And I tend not to get the option to bake on holiday.
    • Savoury snacks – similar to biscuits it can be hard to find safe snacks, so things like rice cakes, crackers and bars can be a godsend.
    • Chocolate – I’ve never found any safe chocolate on holiday and everyone needs chocolate, right?
    • Spreads such as marmite and dairy-free chocolate spread. Clearly it’s not just us, as there was a news report this week that said Marmite was the most confiscated branded product at London City Airport! These spreads may not be available, the jars provided in guest houses may have cross-contamination from buttery knives and they make great standby sandwich fillings.
    • Breads – again safe breads can be hard to source so if we’ve space we’ll chuck in a few packs of wraps and pittas that won’t get squashed
    • Stock powder – I always pack some Vegan Marigold Stock powder, essential for quick magic pasta or risottos
    • Cake! – Am I only person who bakes a cake or two to go on holiday?!? I generally opt for a golden syrup loaf cake which transports pretty well in a suitcase
    • Sandwich bags or clingfilm – essential for all those picnics and food for journeys
  3. InformationĀ –Ā it’s well worth doing the research before you go, it certainly makes me feel more at ease!
    • Allergy translation cards – essential to feel at ease when the language is unfamiliar
    • Information on location of pharmacies, Doctors and Hospitals (and how to ask for them)
    • Research into suitable local food and potential restaurants – there may well be a branch of your favourite chain restaurant which you can rely on
  4. All the usualsĀ I really don’t need to give you a list of clothes, books, phone chargers, games etc!
  5. For the journeyĀ –Ā again it needs to be thought about in advance, sadly as an allergy family spontaneity isn’t part of our holidays!
    • Picnic and plenty of food for the journey – airports and ferries/trains have proved particularly bad at giving us any food options other than crisps and sweets!
    • All necessary medications to hand
    • Anti-bacterial wipes for those generally pretty grimy fold-down trays or hired car seats

Those are the items that come to mind, and are definitely in our rather over-laden bags. I think our days of taking just hand luggage are well behind us!

Holidays: Center Parcs

center parcs crystal tree

It was only after we had children that people around us started talking about Center Parcs (although, I now know it’s a destination that appeals to all demographics!) and by the time Big S started school it seemed that everyone we came across either had or was going to a Center Parcs. I have to say that we were a bit snooty to begin with – somehow (although we’re happy to go to European campsites) Centre Parcs just didn’t seem like it would be our kind of thing. It had the sound of forced jollity in a fenced in camp, a hark back to Hi De Hi!

How wrong were we! A few years ago, looking for a last minute break before Christmas we took the plunge – surely all the glowing reports from our friends meant that it had to be quite good? Besides, it seemed a good option in the cold winter months and the fact that the lodges are self-catering is an absolute must for us – dealing with food allergies effectively rules out catered holidays, not only through lack of availability but also fear and stress on our part.

So we went and had the most fabulous time – those glowing reports made sense, it really is a fantastic family destination topped off by the most fun, exciting swimming pool one could hope for. Picture if you can, bobbing around in a deliciously warm outdoor pool, beautifully lit, under the icy cold night sky – it is blissful. It was so good we’ve now been three times with another already booked for next weekend – and i seriously cannot wait!! I think I’ll have to admit that we should eat our words over it not being for us!!

So why did we enjoy it so much? Well, the whole place is very cleverly designed – it’s apparently always full ( we went to the Longleat one) but somehow it doesn’t feel too busy. The lodges are orienteered in such a way that you don’t feel hemmed in, you really do have a sense of peace and tranquility in the middle of a forest -clever huh? There are obviously activities for everyone and every age to enjoy, all topped off with the stunning subtropical swimming paradise (and it really is!)

But for us one of the aspects that really makes it for us, as a family with food allergies, are provided for. The accommodation is of a great standard making self-catering easy. The ‘parc market’ on site supermarket amazingly sells dairy-free milks and yogurt; the sweet store even sells ourĀ beloved Kinnerton chocolate, which was a really welcome surprise.

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We have even found numerous safe eating out options. All theĀ restaurants we’ve tried have gone out of their way to accommodate our fairly extensive requirements. Our needs have been taken seriously and with respect and as such the meals we’ve eatenĀ out have been a bit less stressful than often is the case. The Grand Cafe in particular went out of their way to produce a safe meal for my daughters.

One big highlight was eating at the Pancake house – as you can imagine our eating out options are limited and being dairy and egg free, pancakes never feature in the options, but at Centre Parcs the pancake house serves light and fluffy American style vegan pancakes – how cool is that!

So if you’re like us with restricted diets, or just someone who fancies a really fun holiday, do do think about Center Parcs, I would thoroughly recommend it – in fact we may even see you there šŸ˜‰

center parcs crystal owl

 

Holidays: Glorious South Devon

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This last half term we needed a break. We really needed a break. Some friends at work recommended Wowcher for great deals on family holidays, so I spent hours browsing, but even that led to my stress levels rising ( not the idea with a holiday!) – all the family friendly options were catered or all-inclusive. And as ever all inclusive holidays just wouldn’t be possible for our family with allergies to consider. Each meal time would be a supremely stressful occasion with us hoping our requests had been taken seriously ( or simply understood if given in a language we are not familiar with) and then examining the food for any anomalies, following by a lengthy period of watching like a hawk for any reactions. It’s hardly the relaxing time you want to have on holiday and I would have returned from any such holiday a frazzled wreck! Besides, as you may have noticed, I do quite like to cook!!

So self-catering it had to be, and in the absence of owning a lovely villa somewhere warm, we were looking at a 3 days getaway in the UK. And that’s how we came to be in South Devon. Doesn’t sound terribly exciting does it? Well it was absolutely beautiful and such a wonderful ‘get away from it all’ holiday, that even after just three nights we returned fully recharged and ready to face life again.

We stayed in the tiny little town of Buckfastleigh just on the southern edge of the stunning windswept Dartmoor. It was seriously tiny and picture-postcard pretty but also with more than you could possibly need. Oddly perhaps. I long for such a well stocked and friendly health food shop as The Seed just a few yards down the road. And what we would give for an outdoor lido, which this tiny place also boasted. There was even a vintage steam train that went directly to Totnes. In fact the steam train was so much fun that Big S, who is no train fan, claimed it was the best part of her holiday.

The Seed, Buckfastleigh

Totnes was indeed a great town to visit, one place where being a veggie is not unusual! There were plenty of lovely looking veggie places to eat, but sadly many not suitable for us due to an over abundance of nuts and seeds. That’s often our problem, places where you think we’d be able to eat aren’t suitable due to another item on the menu! Anyway we had a filling and tasty cafe style lunch at The Brioche, fitted in some shopping in the ethnic inspired and crystal shops, and got a big haul of interesting tasty ingredients from the massive health food shop.

While we had eaten safely at the Brioche, it wasn’t without its stresses and issues so the rest of the time we ate in our lovely little cottage or took picnics with us on days out. Slightly dull, yes, but also far far less stressful. As I mentioned at the start, self-catering seems to be our only real option, although I’d love advice of other possibilities.

The weather played ball and we also visited the lovely seaside port of Dartmouth, traipsed over the windswept moor and played with the beautiful shiny pebbles at Blackpool Sands. And we only managed to fit in a fraction of the things there are to do. If you haven’t been, I wholeheartedly recommend it – the rolling hills and wild flower-lined country lanes are England at its idyllic best, with beaches and interesting towns. There is so much to do and you’ll definitely feel like you’ve had a break.

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dartmoor