Portugal: a glutenfree and family roadtrip
We went to Portugal this summer for a memorable 8 days long roadtrip, which, of course, was glutenfree, as I am coeliac.
Before leaving I always note down the spots where I’m sure I’m getting something that is safe to eat. I look up in the Italian Facebook group dedicated to the matter and, when I travel in a foreign country mostly, I make sure to study the “Find me glutenfree” map app. This combination usually covers a good number of meals overall, but still, on several occasion there’s the need to take a leap of faith, to quote a great singer and composer.
In this article I will show you our itinerary, note that we travelled as a family of 4, with two kids, one 7 y/o and the little 2 y/o. We rented a car when leaving Lisbon. It was in fact a mistake that I chose the wrong option between those I was contemplating, but in the end that turned out to be the most convenient thing. First tip is: buy a Lisbon Card, it takes you on pretty much every mean of transport included in the price.
Second bit of advice: buy the Lisbon Card, you can skip part of the queue at the Belem Tower.
Third bit of advice: buy a Lisbon Card because you get discounts on many visits, if not a free visit.
Did I sound convincing enough? I hope so. There are city cards to be bought all over Europe, not all of them are really worth the price (ugh, I still remember the burning disillusion of the Zaragoza card back in 2015) but IMO this one is totally worth the price.
Like that time when we went all the way till the last stop on the famous yellow tram (and our daughter felt asleep during the ride…) and got back halfway to visit the upper part of the city.
Portugal glutenfree roadtrip, Lisbon
We landed in Lisbon and, as foreseen, this was the safest and richest place, as far as it goes for gluten free food. I tried:
- el Rei Dom Frango, I don’t know if it was the dinner past our midnight, or the delicious first impact on a new cuisine and ways of cooking the famous bacalhau, as a matter of fact, we returned for another meal in the following days. They have a small place and they were extremely nice to turn down the a/c as we were directly below (the room was really extremely warm) the powerful blow of air. All we tasted was simple yet delicious, prices were more than honest too! Highly recommended. (Get an octopus salad!!). Tell them you are coeliac and they will illustrate what you can and can’t eat.
- Zarzuela: wow a glutenfree pastry shop and snack bar/luncheon place! I bought a great deal of the famous pastel de nata here, loving them for an afternoon treat and for breakfast. A must for me.
- Dear Breakfast: we stopped there as we were very hungry and it seemed to be the only safe place in the heart of old Lisbon, I read they served glutenfree bread for their sandwiches. A little digression at this point: my husband and my son both have allergy to nuts. Well, we specified that, as we already had problems. They both ended up sick after a couple of bites. We asked if they were sure it was nut-free and they answered yes. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to them, but service didn’t seem convincing to me.
- Oficina do Duque: we had a delicious last dinner here, their kitchen proposed more elaborated stuff compared to El Rei Dom Frango, deliciously combined, I still remember my spectacoular veggie pouree.
It struck me when I asked a guy from a place that had good reviews on the FindMe Glutenfree app, if I could eat there and he surpised me saying that he could offer me only a couple of dishes because of cross-contamination. Oh my God. He said “cross-contamination” knowing what he was talking about? I loved him for that.
As a general note there aren’t really a lot of “certified” places as we’re used to here in Italy, but if you’re clear on saying what’s your need, there’s a chance people know what you are talking about.
After Lisbon we collected a car and headed west, Ericeira bound for a couple of days. This was probably my favourite part of the trip. A big role in that was played by the ocean of course. Just being close to it feels energizing to me.
I think winds were a little stronger than the average, I saw a lot of red flags. We walked few kilometres on our first day on a quite spectacular trail with amazing views over the ocean. You can download the gpx track here for free, or you could make a contribution as a thank you for sharing such a valuable blog article and maybe support me with a cup of virtual coffee 😉 Just note we got the wrong path in the last bit to go down at the Praia da Ursa, you’ll notice us getting back and doing a last “up and down the hill” to the beach, that’s the right path (or at least the easiest).
For this trip I decided to be quite light, photographically speaking, except for an evening stroll in Ericeira where I had the heaviest camera on me (oh, don’t worry dear, you have all my love no matter your weight, I will add on those particular pictures in the next weeks, as soon as I get more film developed.
In all other occasions I had a little point and shoot film camera, the Olympus xa2, I wouldn’t even notice having it on me most of the times. I love how the combination with Kodak Ultramax 400 worked, P E R F E C T I O N.
I halso had a digital camera with me, my trusty Fuji x100f that I have reviewed in the past here), that most of the times ended up in my daughter’s hands, with some cool results, I think 🙂
Sometimes I used the TCL on it and sometimes not. I’m not a fan of the portability of the camera itself when carrying the teleconverter as well, I’ll need to come up with a way that is comfortable for me.
Of course my daughter photographed every last tile in the city of Lisbon with that camera.
The second evening in Ericeira we decided to go out for dinner, after a stroll by the ocean of course. GiG was sadly opened only for lunch, I read nice reviews about it. We ended up at Prim’s which served really tasty grilled food after asking a few questions that usually give me an idea about the staff knowledge. Unfortunately there was a little imperfection that night after we had been made at ease with our concerns. They noted I was coeliac when taking the order and they told me something had gluten so they would avoid serving it to me, but they lost that info somewhere along the line. I did eat a spoon before realizing it was exactly what they mentioned before and make the waitress aware of their mistake…that hurt a few hours later.
Our next stop was really all about our kids, in a beautiful house in the countryside of the Centro region in Portugal. On our way there we stopped in Obidos, nothing memorable in my book, except the veggies/bookstore, which I, of course, LOVED the idea of.
That day we had lunch by the ocean with some hummus and bread bought in a local supermarket (hummus is an easy gluten free find here and in many other places, it’s very energetic and belly filling to me). My son suffered again, for some cross-allergy after one bite, I’m sorry to say he had probably more problems than me, poor thing!
Back at Batalha…oh it was glorious for both us grownups and the kids.
The kids had fun feeding the animals and we cooked our own pasta and ragù, I always bring bread, some pasta and a couple of sauces if I ever find myself not close to a big enough village/town or maybe it happens it’s too late to go out to have dinner or do grocery shopping. This could be a place where we could have stayed a night more, knowing then that Coimbra wasn’t going to be the best stop travelling with the kids. The following day we visited the beautifl monastery of Batalha, which I liked more than the Jeronimos monastery in Lisbon, while my husband declared the opposite. I don’t know, I felt so much more poetry in it and also the much smaller crowd made the visit much more enjoyable.
Oh, the beautiful morning light in the Founder’s chapel…an emotional moment for me.
After the visit we stopped at “Batalha do Sabores” to eat, pretty much opposite to the more central part of the village where I would probably have found more choices. They showed themselves to be pretty aware of coeliac desease and my choice was limited pretty much to salads only.
In the afternoon we reached Coimbra. We had dinner in a place that we noticed again on the app, which was probably our “fanciest” meal: “Sete”. The waiter spoke some italian too, but even without him speaking italian service was really great. This is a place I’ll suggest going knowing you pay noticeably above the average, mostly for the quality of service. I had octupus that night, nothing unbeatable. Dessert list is indeed a big YES.
We loved being out at night, a lot of young people partied until late under our window, but before that we loved having a walk along the narrow streets of the old city, full of fado bars. We were almost going back to sleep when we noticed a group of people outside the district house (I’m not sure this is the best english term for it). Turned out that was rehearsal night for a big event coming up in the following days. I was curious about the instruments and at a certain point a guy invited us in, offering even a couple of chairs and we were the only tourists in the room. The rehearsal was truly incredible, it was dances, music and choir making for one of those nights I’m sure the kids will remember, as it’s the kind of thing I remember of the holidays with my parents at their age now (you’ll have a little taste in the reel I linked above).
The next morning we set up for Guimaraes (which wasn’t our final destination for the day, that was in fact Porto). Along the way we stopped at a McDonald’s where I had one of the most memorable moments of a coeliac’s life. I ate my first glutenfree Big Mac, lol!! Happy kiddo.
Later on that day, Guimaraes surprised us, showing another version of Portugal, a medioeval town that gave us the idea of being very active too. Also: we had some great medioeval mojitos in the main Cathedral’s square. They served delicious fries too, which were cooked in a dedicated frier to go with delicious homemade mayonnaise…which sadly turned out to be containing gluten, but as the waitress ran to inform me I already ate some of it. At that point I kinda got used to this portuguese type of “carelessness” :/
We stayed two nights in Porto…in a boat! The kids were SO over the moon for it. A tad too much, really. (Again hints in the Reel above…)
While in Porto we had dinner at Club Life, which offered a limited list at dinner (I wanted to try their tortillas!), I had veggie meatballs and the kids had too. We took one of their last desserts to divide between me and the kids. We asked three times if it was nut-free and guess what…my son immediatly started having an allergic reaction after the first bite. WTV.
If only had I know then about “Com Cuore” where we had lunch the last day and brought a few pastel de nata with us, too. It’s a totally gluten free snack/lunch place serving typical portuguese food with bread as well as without it. Really tasty, I recommend!!
Last note is about the airport…there’s quite literally NOTHING for coeliacs in there, so be prepared to have food before arriving at Porto airport.
I hope this article will help a lot of other people visiting Portugal on a roadtrip. I’ve taken on the habit of reading a book about he place I’m about to visit, so of course I read “Journey to Portugal” by José Saramango. I encourage you to read this book, I really enjoyed his ironic yet profound way of writing about a trip. I’d like to end up with one of his lines in the book:
“…when he contemplates and is moved by what he’s contemplating, the traveler performs a peculiar kind of prayer: he admires and loves.” J. Saramango
(I hope my translation from the italian is appropriate!)