Yes, that is what I said! I found a 100% gluten free hotel in Italy, not far from Rome. I will have to warn you. If you go to Relais Borgo Gentile, you might not want to leave. This “agriturismo” is situated about an hour northeast of Rome. An agriturismo is defined as:
“‘…synonymous with free time spent in the open air, at one with nature, immersed in a social-rural environment abounding in culture, authentic traditions, and quality agricultural food products.”
In my experience, these are usually in the countryside, may provide breakfast and dinner, and do not have regular hotel services. Consider it a step up from a bed and breakfast, usually with rooms separate from the main house. We have stayed at only a few and these have always been both unique and beautiful. Borgo Gentile is both. To make it easy, I will refer to Borgo Gentile as a hotel.
Once you arrive, you can relax. My advice to you, especially if you have never been to Italy, is to plan to not have a plan for at least a day or so. Most likely you will need to unwind and rest; Borgo Gentile is the perfect place to do this. If you do not over schedule, you will actually be getting a true Italian experience. The pace is slower and the services are not the same as what you might expect in the U.S. (not every place has wireless or internet; that’s just how it is). Again, that is part of the lifestyle so embrace it.
The hotel does not serve lunch so we stopped at a grocery store called Conad along the way to pick up what I consider essentials; meat, cheese, and some gluten-free products.
When we finally arrived after our long journey, we immediately felt at ease. Our hosts, Sabrina, Antonio and their daughter Martina, were warm and friendly. Antonio helped us with our bags and showed us to our room. We met Sabrina and Martina who were, to no surprise, in the kitchen. They greeted us like family who we had not seen in many years.
So why did this family do this? The idea to create the hotel came from talking with other people who have celiac disease (CD). It was very difficult to travel. They understand because they had the same experience with their own daughter.
Sabrina is a dietitian who has worked for 25 years in hospitals and schools; a lot of private hospitals in Rome and in some big public ones which are specialized.
Martina discovered she had celiac disease when she was 7 years old. 15 years ago, even in Italy, they were only testing for CD when someone complained of stomach aches, not for leg pain. Her mom knew something was wrong. She had to ask the doctor to run the test and sure enough, Martina tested positive. Now it is different. There are more specialists; they know the relationship between the symptom and the disease.
Martina is 21 years old now (as of June 2016). She is going to school for Engineering but helping her mother. It is a family business and everyone helps.
While we unpacked, we were greeted with some freshly made cookies which were similar to a shortbread filled with jam and nutella. And you won’t have to ask; everything is gluten-free. The mini fridge was stocked with water and soda. When I asked if there was a cost, they told me it was included in the price which was such a pleasant surprise. They said they did that on purpose. Many hotels offer cheap prices then charge for every little item. This is not their philosophy.
We had a little snack, ate some cookies, and relaxed as we had a few hours before dinner. The room is comfortable (modern with a touch of the old stone style), the bathroom big by European standards, there are lounge chairs outside, grass for the children to run around on, and a beautiful countryside to view. At the time we were there, there was no wifi. I didn’t mind taking some necessary downtime and just catching my breath from what felt like 24 hours of travel. Before we knew it, it was time to eat…at 7:30pm.
This is also something to get used to; Italians (and many Europeans) eat dinner later than what many of us in the U.S. would consider normal time. Dinner at the hotel is usually served at that time (or 19:30, since they use military time). The only downside for it being late is that I ate a big meal and then felt quite full (but that’s my own fault for wanting to try everything!).
So, what did we eat?! It was difficult because we were able to eat everything on the menu! The choices for the antipasto were lightly fried vegetables, breaded fried eggplant pieces, or a calzone with spinach. Before any of those dishes came out, fresh (yes fresh!) bread was brought to the table. We were just in paradise. The next course, called primi piatti (first plate) was a choice of ravioli, gnocchi, or soup. I loved the gnocchi. The second or main course consisted of a choice of sautéed veal medallions with potato, pork chop encrusted with pistachios, or chicken with tomato and olives. We only chose two since we were pretty full; the chicken and veal. Both were delicious. But, of course, we saved some room for dessert! One was a chocolate cake with orange and the other a sort of pudding of mascarpone with chocolate, nuts and a wafer cookie.
Besides being full, we slept well in the country and actually adjusted to the time difference quite quickly. The room was very comfortable and the area quiet.
In the morning, before our departure to our next destination, we were treated to more gluten-free delights. This was when my daughter said to me “I wish I could never leave”. It occurred to me that besides eating very good tasting food, meals that are safe are important to a 10 year old. I wish the same, that it was always this easy. A continental breakfast in many European countries consists of a combination of meats, cheeses, and pastries. However this time, we could actually eat everything. When we were offered orange juice, they grabbed a few from a nearby table and made fresh juice for us. How often does that happen? We had cookies, pies, a lemon sponge cake, and even fresh bread.
Needless to say, if you are gluten intolerant (and really, even if you are not; it’s a gorgeous location) and are visiting Italy, you might just want to book a room here. We wish there were more places like this, especially in the U.S. where we live. For now, we will have to dream of Relais Borgo Gentile! Grazie di tutto.