Gluten-Free Quebec: Adventure, Wellness and Haute Gluten-Free Cuisine

On a snowy winter morning, I arrived at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport in Montreal ready to explore Quebec province, namely the city of Laval and the Eastern Townships. At first, I felt hesitant, because when I thought of French cuisine, I imagined sauce-heavy dishes that were often filled with flour and gluten. Additionally, on recent trips to the city of Montreal, I struggled to find appropriate things to eat and found myself opting for cheese on top of more cheese, just to be safe.

I vowed not to have that experience this time around—I was on the hunt for gluten-free and health-conscious food that would nourish my body and fuel my soul.

Within just 24 hours of exploring the region, I was pleasantly surprised by how progressive the area had become, catering wholeheartedly to the gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan communities while promoting organic and local cuisine simultaneously.


Laval Has It All

Laval, which arguably is the “New Jersey” of Quebec (with neighboring Montreal just across city limits) is coming up in the world, with impressive culinary options and tourist attractions. We decide to stay for a few nights in the city center at the Hilton Montreal/Laval that catered to those with gluten-free dietary requirements for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The hotel is centrally located next to the great shopping destination known as CF Carrefour Laval as well as a host of established up-and-coming restaurants.

Our very first stop to eat after arriving from the airport was at L’Antre-Nous, a creperie and bistro located within an outlet shopping mall. We weren’t fooled by the surroundings because once inside the restaurant, its quaint and cozy warmness coupled with the intoxicating aromas coming from the open kitchen signaled to me quite quickly that I was indeed in the right place.

The family-owned and operated restaurant moved from a smaller space to its current one so that it could expand seating capacity and be able to serve a larger crowd. The menu centers around its French crepe offerings—many that are gluten-free and made with buckwheat flour.

The waitress walked me through the gluten-free options and even suggested her favorites. I settled on the buckwheat crepe filled with smoked salmon and goat cheese and topped with grilled asparagus and fresh greens.

Another great dining destination that’s only a short distance from Hilton Laval is the incredible vegan/vegetarian dining experience at LOV. This eco-committed restaurant practices what it preaches and is committed to the environment and its customers’ health and wellbeing, which is evident in everything from the décor to the menu to the wine list. The must-try dishes here include avocado toast with poached egg; house gnocchi made of sweet potato; kimchi fries; and the chili lupeh (made with soy-free tempeh).

Chateau Taillefer-Lafon’s winery and event destination complements the food scene quite nicely—with some of its iced cider and ice wine found on local menus.

For an exceptional, fine-dining, all-out culinary splurge meal, reserve a table at Le Mitoyen, which offers an elegant, superbly executed multi-course tasting menu that can cater to a variety of food intolerances. On my recent visit, the entire menu was created gluten free. We dined on dishes like scallops, smoked ham, tender venison, tuna with citrus segments and many more. Guests may also appreciate the ambiance as much as they do the food, particularly if you’re seated right next to the wood burning fire.

When we determined we had indeed had enough to eat, we wanted to do something adventurous during our time in Laval. So we checked out the sporting complex in the area that was home to SkyVenture Montreal. For a few hours, we experienced an ultimate adrenaline rush as we went up several times in a recirculating indoor free fall simulator. Pro tips: Listen to the instructor, stay calm and enjoy the flight.

Eastern Townships

While more remote, the Eastern Townships are a must-see if you visit Quebec. The moniker Eastern Townships is given to the region within the Quebec province situated between the former seigneuries south of the Saint Lawrence River and the border of the United States.

The area overflows with restaurants, wineries and micro-breweries and is complemented by a host of outdoor activities for both the summer and the winter. One such notable restaurant is Gaia—a quaint local eatery inside of an old, rustic house. This vegan-, vegetarian- and gluten-free friendly restaurant has something for everyone. It has a fantastic juice, coffee and tea bar located at the entrance, coupled with a delicious array of food options for those who want to enjoy a leisurely meal inside during the colder months of the year.

The menu showcases a slew of hearty gluten-free crepes and specialty items like the vegan mac and chili, which was surprisingly decadent and satisfying. I paired my meal with a velvety green tea that took several minutes to steep, which made the meal all the more enjoyable when I took my first sip–it was well worth the wait.

For the traveling oenophiles, the area has an incredible wine region where guests can do a “circuit tour” that allows them to see several vineyards in the region. One that is a must-visit on the list is Leon Courville winery, which is set back on a hill with a breathtaking visit of the land and the vineyards. Due to its unique micro-climate, the winery produces some exceptional red and white varietals that it believes are the true reflection of the quality of its soil found in the region. Leon, the owner, is extremely meticulous about how he cultivates his vineyard and doesn’t mind at all taking the time to get things right. His ultimate mantra is patience, and he continues to have it while producing his sustainable wine.

Destination Spa Eastman

For the health-conscious traveler who wants an immersive vacation filled with exercise classes, spa treatments, healthy dinners and curated wine lists, look no further than Spa Eastman. The spa has a rich 40-year history.

Once a vegan culinary experience, the restaurant has since adapted to offer local, sustainable meats, fish and poultry but continues to abide by an anti-inflammatory style of cooking.

The food created here is completely gluten-free, including an incredible homemade baguette served at dinnertime, as well as dairy-free (unless otherwise specified) and mostly organic. The key to its cuisine is the low cooking temperature of 185° F, also known as Tonique Cuisine, a term it has coined.

“I wanted to create meals that make people feel great. We sous vide our cuisine so that it doesn’t release any toxins,” said owner Jocelyn Dubuc. “Our food is without GMO, pesticides, and it is near to nature.”

Unlike her other competitors in the health and wellness space, she does also offer organic and biological wine. Dubuc believes that wine is part of the art of living.

Chef nutritherapeute Jean-Marc Enderlin is at the helm of the kitchen creating unique dishes.  Guests at Spa Eastman can indulge in meals like cobia fillet with red curry, coriander seed, fennel seed, coconut cream, zucchini, jade rice and spirulina tian. The chef rotates the roster of dishes he cooks three to four times per year and curates his menus around seasonality. For both lunch and dinner, the spa offers a soup and salad bar packed with vegetables, nuts, seeds and raw oils.

The chef believes in the cuisine the kitchen produces. Having cooked all over the world, from France to Switzerland to Greece and South Africa, he’s realized that it comes down to how people feel. This is in direct correlation to what they put in their bodies. “We have a different style of cooking here. We are able to blend the colors and the flavors,” he explained.

You don’t have to stay overnight at the spa to enjoy a meal or two at Spa Eastman. There are a variety of day packages where you can mix and match spa treatments and meals throughout your day. For either lunch or dinner, I suggest taking full advantage of the restaurant’s delectable salad bar and its soup of the day offering. In between meals, the spa offers a variety of workout classes—everything from yoga to meditation, along with access to a full gym and hiking trails that showcase the ethereal beauty of the Eastern Townships. Not to be missed is the spa’s own “Eastman-les-Bains,” which has a variety of thermal spas, pools and saunas at your disposal throughout your stay.

All throughout my stay at Spa Eastman, I often wondered, could this experience get any better? It wasn’t just the exquisite cuisine or the ultimate pampering in the spa but the overall sense of calmness that washed over me from the moment I stepped foot into the building itself.

The richness of Canada’s gluten-free culinary options were present not only in Spa Eastman but in and around the Eastern Townships and throughout the intriguing city of Laval—everything from gluten-free crepes to elevated vegan fare to fine-dining tasting menus at Le Mitoyen. Whatever you’re searching for while traveling, a gluten-free version is awaiting you in Quebec. You just need to know where exactly to look for it.

Ketanga Fitness Retreats: Where Wellness, Travel and Gluten-Free Living Meet

Gluten-Free Living sat down with Stacy Schwartz, CEO and founder of Ketanga Fitness Retreats, a wellness retreat firm that allows active, mindful travelers to eat well and exercise, all while exploring the world.

Stacy Schwartz, a born-and-raised New Yorker, has always loved to travel. It’s been part of her DNA since she was a little girl. As she grew up and entered the workforce, she’d constantly plan trips to destinations where she was seeking a way to keep up with her daily fitness routine while on the road. Try as she might, she wasn’t able to find a retreat or any group travel that offered the trifecta: fitness, adventure and relaxation.

It was then that she saw an opportunity in the fitness market to create her company, Ketanga Fitness Retreats. She left her job in corporate America behind and traveled alone for 100 days. It was during that time that she charted her own travel course, trying local, healthy foods, visiting local fitness studios and seeing the sights, but all the while wishing she could have this experience with other like-minded travelers.

“I had an idea to bring these kind of unique, curated travel experiences to people who liked fitness and to work with different fitness professionals and studios to host the trips, being the liaison that actually took care of the planning, organizing, logistics that often scare people away from travel completely,” Schwartz said.

Shortly thereafter, her dream became a reality. She started speaking with some of her favorite gyms and trainers about this idea, and they too, fell in love with the concept. Ketanga’s first retreat was to Florida, and now, to date, the company has hosted over 55 retreats and 150 events, all while keeping Schwartz’s “Travel Well” philosophy in mind, combining a special balance of fitness, adventure and relaxation.

Ketanga Fitness Retreats

Ketanga Fitness Retreats

The gluten-free connection

One of the core pillars of the retreats centers around healthy food and trying local culinary offerings. Given the types of people who are attracted to fitness retreats, Schwartz has no shortage of those who have dietary restrictions, namely being gluten free.

“Gluten sensitives are one of the more common dietary restrictions we see, and we are lucky to work with some incredible hotels and chefs who not only understand this restriction but are also able to create delicious gluten-free options for our guests,” Schwartz said. “In fact, we sometimes prepare gluten-free menus for all guests, who would never know the difference.”

Each retreat has its own unique location, itinerary and feel to it, as does each menu plan for the trips. Some take place in private villas or retreat centers where Schwartz liaises directly with private chefs for most meals. Alternatively, other retreats are located within cities or towns where part of the itinerary is dining out at local restaurants in the area. “While we love having variety on our trips, we always make sure there are healthy options and dietary restriction-friendly options available on any included meal,” she added.

Nicole Carrea, a recent Ketanga attendee, lives a gluten-free lifestyle and was so thankful she was able to take a vacation that suited her dietary needs. Initially, she was hesitant to take the plunge as she was worried about communicating her needs with a language barrier on her trip to Latin America, and she felt anxiety over traveling. “A phone call with the Ketanga team prior to booking the trip put my mind at ease, and once in Costa Rica, Ketanga’s insider knowledge of the area and personal relationships with local businesses ensured I had all of the accommodations I needed. I ate delicious, fresh, gluten-free food all week and even had the courage to safely try some local specialties,” she noted. “Their attention to detail and focus on guest experience will ensure food is a highlight of your trip and never a source of anxiety.”

When guests sign on for a retreat, they are asked to provide their personal information in advance so that Ketanga can accommodate gluten-free meals or any other dietary restrictions. Then, Ketanga gets to work marrying local food vendors and restaurants with their itineraries.

“In addition to building special menus at local restaurants for group meals, we have had cooking classes where guests get a hands-on look into how local specialties are created and then have recipes they can take back home,” said Schwartz. “Last year, we started working with a chef in Costa Rica who provided a local fruit workshop where guests tried about 10 different fruits they have never before seen in the U.S.”

Ketanga’s food philosophy is simple: It is not there to tell people what and how much they should be eating, but it does offer balanced and healthy options so that everyone feels welcomed, comfortable and satiated.

Fitness for the future

Schwartz’s company philosophy of “Travel Well” really boils down to two complementary meanings. One is to be mindful of including some wellness into your journey, which can be as simple as opting for a walking tour instead of a bus tour. The second is to make the most of your travels. She believes that if someone is interested in doing something or trying a new thing, it’s imperative for them to make it happen, because you never know if you will be back there again.

As for new launches, Ketanga is unveiling a host of unique destination retreats this year, including themed ones such as “Boxing and the Beach” and “Fitness, Food and Fun” in Costa Rica, as well as “Winter Escape Yoga Retreat” in Nicaragua and “Ride + Flow” in Ireland. It has also begun to offer a line of customized bachelorette retreats for bridal parties who are looking to feel their best before their big day as well as cannabis and yoga retreats that will dive into the healing effects of cannabis in a thoughtful way.

It is also offering 55 and over wellness retreats that focus on empowering adults to make healthy and appropriately active choices as they age alongside like-minded individuals.

As Schwartz looks to the future of Ketanga, she plans to launch new retreats with exciting activities and meals in destinations such as Portugal, Colombia and Denver.

A Long Gluten-Free Paris Weekend: 48 Hours in the City of Lights

I’m not sure if there’s anything more romantic than a long weekend in Paris. A brisk stroll along the Seine River, a stop at the Eiffel Tower and a picnic in the Jardin des Tuileries are the stuff that dreams are made of. But when we think of the City of Lights, we often have visions of croissants and artfully, painstakingly crafted French pastries that are nothing if not gluten-filled.

I didn’t let the idea of gluten and wheat overload prohibit me from having a culinary-fueled 48 hours in one of the most beautiful cities in all the world. Instead, with a bit of careful planning, I charted a course for me and my husband to eat, drink and enjoy gluten-free delights in a city that becomes more progressive about food sensitivities every day.

From a range of dedicated gluten-free patisseries recently opening to seasoned hotel chains ready to cater to those with gluten intolerance, what once may have seemed like an impossible feat is now quite achievable.

We planned our entire three-day weekend around our hotel. While sometimes Airbnb is the way to go, we were looking for luxury, romance and a place that would offer spa options and cater to our every whim. (After all, isn’t that why one goes to Paris?) For those reasons, we chose the Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg in the 8th Arrondissement, only steps from the Champs-Élysées.

As part of my pre-trip planning, I reached out to the hotel to let them know I was gluten free, and they assured me there were many options on all of their menus to accommodate me. While I was at it, I booked a couples’ massage for the day we landed to help us refuel without taking a nap.


We arrived, checked in and had lunch at the hotel’s Blossom restaurant, where I had a deconstructed chicken club served with gluten-free bread, chicken salad, sliced tomatoes, hardboiled egg, crispy bacon and a side of fresh greens and coleslaw, paired with a lovely, light glass of French Chablis. With satiated palettes, we went for our indulgent massages in the hotel’s wellness center, where I also took full advantage of their sauna and steam room.

Feeling rejuvenated and refreshed, we went to the ever-popular Buddha Bar for cocktails and dinner. To my absolute delight, I found that the restaurant lists all of their gluten-free options on the menu and offers plenty of things to choose from, like delicious pork dumplings, tuna with avocado, salmon dishes, sashimi and more.


The next morning, we made a quick stop at our hotel buffet breakfast that had a lovely gluten-free display filled with baked goods, breads, crackers and exquisite madeleines, as well as a host of naturally gluten-free items, like hard-boiled eggs, green juices and bacon. We figured we needed the fuel, as our second day was all about touring the city on foot. 

Paris is similar to New York City in the sense that it is perfectly made for walking. Long strolls are a requirement here, specifically alongside the iconic Seine River. We took in the sights of the busy streets with shoppers and sightseers as we headed in the direction of the Eiffel Tower.

Our first food stop was at my favorite macaron maker, Ladurée, on the Champs-Elysées. While I have eaten there before (enjoying a very light chicken salad dressed with a flavorful vinaigrette), we decided to stick to the basics and get an assortment of our favorite macarons that we would save to enjoy in one of Paris’ many beautiful parks.

After a few stops to check the map, we arrived at our lunchtime destination, Café Constant. This typical French bistro was a perfect respite from all the walking we had already done, and the quiet atmosphere helped us regain our strength as we plotted out the rest of the day. This restaurant was not specifically gluten free, so I stuck with the French basics: escargot, a duck and liver pâté with cornichons and a roasted duck with potatoes paired, once again, with a bright Chablis.

We walked off lunch underneath the Eiffel Tower, stopping for an obligatory photo shoot, before heading back to the hotel to change our clothes. We wound up meeting a good wine and travel friend of ours at a local bistro before our dinner. We sipped on a carafe of wine, catching up on our lives and chatting about local Parisian politics, swapping stories about the state of the union in the United States at the moment. Our conversation moved from politics to wine, where we were brought up to speed on our friend’s winery that she owns in Lebanon.

After a heartwarming reunion against a quintessential Parisian backdrop, we said au revoir to our friend and headed off to one of Guy Savoy’s famed restaurants, L’Atelier Maître Albert. We choose this one specifically due to its simplistic cuisine. This rotisserie, located in the heart of old Paris, makes the most amazingly flavorful roast chicken, veal, duck and several others. Having spent the better part of the day eating and drinking, we longed for the warm, rustic, simple meal that we found here.

We dined on a spit-roasted veal T-bone as well as the free-range chicken. Sides of our choice accompanied the meals, so we decided on some greens and potatoes. The mixed green salad came with tender chicken livers, and the potatoes au gratin were decadently cheesy and delicious. We paired our meal with a French Bourgogne Pinot Noir and politely declined dessert when the time came.


After a quick breakfast, we did some shopping at Chanel, where my husband spoiled me for our three-month wedding anniversary. While it’s hard to miss a Chanel storefront in New York City, where we live, we wanted to purchase a bag from the source and make sure the item we bought could only be purchased in Paris. The whirlwind, over-the-top shopping experience had me embodying the Parisian spirit, and then, suddenly, I found myself hungry once again.

For our final lunch before heading to the airport, we stayed close to the hotel and checked out local hotspot Bistrot Francois Felix, filled with people who worked at the American embassy located directly behind the Sofitel. The place was packed for the lunch rush, so I decided to keep my order simple: a plate of steak cooked medium, green salad and house red wine.

In a perfect world where we stayed a few more days, I would’ve stopped by Little nonna for a gluten-free pizza to satisfy my Italian food cravings while in Paris and BigLove for gluten-free brunch, pizza and other gluten-free Italian dishes.

But, then again, we had to save something for next time.

Gluten-free patisseries worth checking out:

Helmut Newcake: Stop by for a light lunchtime baguette or a simple pastry run. 

Boulangerie Chambelland Paris: This spot goes as far as to make all its pastries using rice and buckwheat flour produced from its very own mills.  

Noglu 69: This beautifully decorated spot offers quiche, pastries and lunchtime treats. You can also find it on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. 

Bears & Raccoons: Enjoy handmade gluten-free sandwiches at your service at this quaint spot that also boasts a killer Instagram account.

Confessions of a Gluten-Free Destination Bride

For as long as I can remember, I dreamed of getting married in Italy, the home of my father’s ancestors.

The country is filled with magic and romance—particularly in the Tuscan hills. That very region has been beckoning me since I first traveled there in my early 20s. After being diagnosed as gluten intolerant in 2009, I made my first gluten-free pilgrimage there, where I discovered how gluten-free friendly the entire country had become.

I was told by numerous locals that many of the children and adults in Italy were experiencing a rise of celiac disease and gluten intolerant cases. So as a country, they adapted. They produced gluten-free pasta, bread, pastries, anything you can imagine, and did so with great pride and pleasure, as is done with all that they create.

When my then-fiancé Phil asked me, “Where should we tie the knot?,” not a moment passed before I shouted, “Italy!”

He replied kindly, “With one caveat: We should have a New York reception for those who can’t attend abroad.”

So from there on out, we set off on a series of wedding-related destination events, including my bridal shower, my bachelorette party, our city hall nuptials, our Tuscan castle wedding, our Venetian honeymoon and, finally, our New York reception.

Given that I, the bride, was gluten free, an additional layer was added to our already relatively complex festivities. But it was totally worth it when the final result was beyond our wildest dreams.

Operation bachelorette 

Given that almost everything involved in our wedding had a travel element, I decided on an April bachelorette bash on Hilton Head Island ahead of our September Italian nuptials. I have spent the last several years getting to know South Carolina and the areas of Hilton Head and Bluffton, and I knew it was everything I wanted in a destination bachelorette party. We had it all: a beach, great weather, amazing rental properties, and the ability to cook our own food and reside in an area that has an incredible restaurant scene with some of the freshest seafood around.

Step one was to book a vacation home to house the 14 girlfriends who so generously agreed to celebrate with me. We worked with The Vacation Company to find an incredible property in Sea Pines that overlooked a golf course, complete with our own pool. Step two was ordering from grocery stores and liquor shops to stock up on gluten-free wine and groceries (think Udi’s gluten-free pepperoni pizza and Ian’s gluten-free chicken nuggets for late nights) and a plethora of healthier options like lean meat, fish and tons of vegetables to get us through the trip.

Steps three and four included picking our two main restaurants for group dinners out. For an inventive, cutting-edge meal that included a killer cocktail list, I chose Lucky Rooster. Headed up by Chef Clayton Rollison and his wife, Leah, the restaurant has a menu that goes beyond the boundaries of typical Southern cuisine and serves up dishes like the bone-in ribeye with blue cheese butter and red wine au jus and the classic shrimp and grits. Chef Clayton knew what my gluten-free options were ahead of time, and there were many of them. On that evening, I paired my meal with an expertly executed negroni.  

For our final culinary outing, I wanted the girls and me to have a true Southern experience with a low country boil on the docks of family-owned and -operated Hudson’s. Our group was seated in the old packing room-turned-events space overlooking the water. We indulged in a gluten-free crab and avocado salad to start, followed by the main event: the low-country boil. This naturally gluten-free meal included shrimp, oysters, red bliss potatoes and corn on the cob, all topped off with a healthy dose of Old Bay seasoning.

Amidst all the eating, we squeezed in a few other activities, including morning beach walks, in-home yoga, poolside massages and late-night dance sessions down in the BarMuda Triangle.

Beach-themed bridal shower

Throughout my childhood, my parents took my sister and me down to the Jersey Shore. It was a short drive from Staten Island, where I grew up, and we loved everything about the area, from its beaches to their local restaurants and great boardwalk activities. So when my mother and sister, Erin (my maid of honor), were deciding on where to host my beach-themed bridal shower, they settled on Jack Baker’s Lobster Shanty in Point Pleasant, New Jersey.

From a gluten-free menu perspective, planning was a breeze. The gluten-free guests were given beautifully grilled salmon, vegetable medleys and baked potatoes, with a side of homemade tartar sauce.

For dessert, we opted for everything to be gluten-free. We started with an ice cream sundae bar in the back of the room, and right up front and center were platters of fruit and Trader Joe’s gluten-free mini cupcakes and trays of Amoretti cookies from Bruno’s Bakery in Staten Island.

The main event was a “cheese cake” comprised of three wheels of gourmet cheese piled high from Murray’s Cheese in New York City, assembled by my mom and bridal party.  They delicately placed strawberries and blueberries surrounding each layer to make a stunning display. My guests marveled at the beauty of the structure itself and didn’t even realize they were missing a gluten-filled cake. Everyone was happy with their savory and sweet ice cream and cheese plate.

My parting gift for our guests was a pretty bag of homemade organic blue sea glass candy created by my college roommate and bridesmaid, Katy, a perfect complement to my bridal beach bash.

Let’s make it legal

Ahead of our Italian nuptials, we were encouraged by our monsignor in the United States to make it legal in New York City ahead of our wedding in the Catholic church in Tuscany. Being tried-and-true New Yorkers, we thought there was something so romantic about getting married legally in our beloved city.

So, late on a Friday in the middle of August, we invited both sets of our parents, and we took a number down at city hall in Manhattan. We were married within the hour and were on our way to celebrate at one of our favorite New York City Italian pizza spots: Adoro Lei.

We reserved the party space to invite a few of our closest family and friends to share some pizza and wine with us. Partners Michael DiBugnara and Chris Feeney have been perfecting their gluten-free pies for quite some time and offer two styles: Neapolitan and New York, both gluten-free.

We had Chris fire up several gluten-free pies (baked in a dedicated gluten-free oven) as well as some regular pies and salads for our group and paired them with outstanding Italian red and white wine. For dessert, my aunt surprised us with a gluten-free wedding cake, which she brought in from Tasty Pastry Shoppe in Brooklyn. It consisted of white cake, cannoli cream filling and a whipped cream outside.

An Italian affair

 Our actual wedding was not just a one-day affair. Rather, it was a three-day weekend extravaganza. We hosted 80 of our friends and family at Castello di Montegufoni, a historic castle located in the town of Montespertoli, in the heart of the Tuscan countryside.

We had a weekend of events scheduled, including a welcome barbecue, a relaxing yoga class, a guided wine tasting and pizza party, a lasagna dinner and a wedding day complete with an hour-long Catholic mass with our two bridal party cantors, Dino and Joanna, a garden aperitivo accompanied by a cellist and violinist, a three-course meal under the stars and an evening of dancing and after-dinner cordials in an underground cave.

Our planning centered around my dietary needs. We had a few other guests who were also gluten free, so it was easy enough for the castle to prepare all of our meals. Every buffet breakfast had hard-boiled eggs, gluten-free pastries and bread, fresh fruit and yogurts. For all our lunches, there were gluten-free pasta options alongside gluten-free pizza made to order and delicious gluten-free sandwiches (read: Italian tuna salad all the way).

The staff at the castle understood my needs from the beginning, and they so kindly provided me with a pre-wedding tasting comprised of six different gluten-free pastas for our wedding menu. When I met with the chef and understood all the work he put into making sure I was kept well-fed, I knew we had found the right wedding venue that could execute everything I needed.

Our welcome barbecue was a dream for a gluten-free individual. We had a variety of meats, cheeses and melons to begin with as well as simply grilled meats topped with salt, pepper and olive oil. For dessert, we offered fruit alongside a lovely spumante.

We also paid special attention to the wine we served. For white, we cracked open a double magnum (a 3-liter bottle) of Ferrari’s Perle sparkling wine, which a friend of ours in the wine industry so expertly sabered off with a cake knife. For our red wine drinkers, we had an amazing Toscana Rosso Amore & Follia from Podere Le Ripi, an organic Montalcino wine producer that we’ve come to know and love.

We weren’t done with the red wine just yet, and we saved our Balthazar (a 12-liter bottle) of the good stuff for our rehearsal dinner. We began with traditional Tuscan appetizers: meat, cheese and bruschetta (on gluten-free bread) and then moved on to two different kinds of lasagna. One was a traditional meat-filled one, the other with a béchamel sauce. The chef prepared both versions gluten-free as well, prepared in individual dishware. We ended the meal with a tiramisu where they also made a gluten-free version for me.

By the time the actual wedding day was upon us, we were stuffed. But we knew we had to save room somehow.

Following our church wedding mass, we hosted a traditional Italian aperitvo in the garden on the grounds of our castle. While some of the cocktail hour items did contain gluten, there were naturally gluten-free items throughout the garden, such as Italian meats, cheeses, grilled vegetables and olives. For the sit-down dinner, we began with two different types of pasta (both available gluten free) including a gluten-free ragu over penne and a pecorino pear ravioli. Following the pasta course, we served a traditional Tuscan steak with a side of potatoes, vegetables and salad.

Included in our wedding package was a traditional Tuscan wedding cake that did have gluten, so I decided not to have a separate wedding cake for me. Instead, I had something that everyone could enjoy: a gelato cart. I choose four flavors that were gluten-free: pistachio, stracciatella, hazelnut and lemon sorbet. The cart was a great way for our guests to transition into the dancing portion of the evening.

Honeymoon heaven

The morning after our wedding, we packed up our car and drove to the Venice airport, where we were picked up by the concierge from the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa. We were taken by private boat to the beautiful, grand entrance on the property’s private island, where we settled into a romantic junior suite.

After a quick costume change, we were on our way to the property’s gourmet restaurant: the Michelin- star Dopolavoro Dining Room, a true culinary tour de force. Given the high level of quality and service at this Italian oasis, being gluten-free was never considered an issue. After a refreshing aperol spritz, we settled into a quiet table where we chose a five-course tasting menu with wine pairings. All of my dishes were modified to suit my needs, each dish more innovative and flavorful than the next, with fresh gluten-free bread out of the oven any time I wanted a nibble.

The next day, we spent the afternoon at the property’s Sapori Cooking Academy, where we were greeted by the jovial chef Luigi Delia, who created an entire gluten-free cooking lesson just for us. We spent four hours with the chef, crafting a classic Venetian menu with a gluten-free twist. We sliced up beautiful rings of fresh calamari, smelled the incredibly fresh produce from the bunches of vegetables that arrived in the kitchen and even selected the most perfect squash blossoms that we would later stuff with homemade cheese and coat with gluten-free batter.

Chef Delia walked us through his favorite types of gluten-free flours and which ones he prefers for baking or frying. We saw the nuances first hand when we baked a variety of gluten-free loaves and fried beautiful nuggets of polenta and calamari to go in our fritto misto plate.

With our appetites satiated and armed with newfound culinary knowledge, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the JW Marriott’s GOCO Spa Venice, where we received a couples massage and enjoyed the heat and water facilities. With that extra pep in our step, we were onto our next culinary adventure, this time on yet another private island at the San Clemente Palace Kempinski Venicea Leading Hotels of the World Property.

We arrived just in time to have a cocktail overlooking Venice, watching colorful gondolas and boats glide by in the distance before settling into our perfect table for two at Acquerello Restaurant, located on the grand lawn facing the water. Then we were in the hands of Chef Giorgio Schifferegger, who crafts a menu night after night that is reminiscent of the beautiful sights and sounds that surround him on the property’s own island.

The service was outstanding from the moment we sat down and I mentioned that I was gluten free. Not to worry, I was assured on multiple occasions, as the delectable experience began to unfold before us. We tasted a beautiful array of appetizers, including a rich and creamy foie gras with gluten-free bread. For dinner, we indulged in artfully crafted beef that melted in our mouths, followed by a gluten-free chocolate peanut butter dessert that had me speechless.

New York, New York

If the city hall and Italian nuptials weren’t enough, we decided to celebrate—one more time—with our friends and family who weren’t able to join us abroad. This time around, we chose to revisit my hometown of Staten Island for our wedding reception at The Historic Old Bermuda Inn. Since Italy was a three-day, multi-course, magnums-of-wine kind of experience, we were looking for simplicity: a scrumptious yet casual dinner buffet and great live music.

The staff at the Old Bermuda Inn intrinsically understood what we were looking for. We chose a cocktail hour with passed hors d’oeuvres and a buffet dinner that was filled with an abundance of proteins and Italian comfort foods that would be great to eat in between dance numbers. They prepared a special gluten-free menu for me that included gluten-free penne topped with vodka sauce; sliced, tender prime rib; and a plate of grilled salmon, a baked potato and steamed vegetables.

This was the time for us to really enjoy ourselves when it came to music and entertainment. We walked into beautiful bagpipe music to celebrate my Scottish and Irish heritage, and danced all night long to a well-known local band, Screaming Broccoli, which played the best of the ’80s, ’90s and all of our classic rock wish list.

Happily ever after 

A little gluten-free planning went a long way in the case of our wedding and all of the events surrounding it. Every moment of each experience, I felt special and well taken care of. I never had to worry or get stressed; I only enjoyed and savored each moment.

Planning a gluten-free wedding for myself wasn’t an easy feat, but the year-long preparation and attention to detail resulted in one of the most magical years of my life, a true fairy tale from beginning to end. 

How to Cruise Gluten Free

Cruises have become such an incredible way for people who have celiac, gluten intolerance or food allergies to feel safe while enjoying extensive travel both domestically and abroad. From the moment you step on board a cruise ship, you can be assured your dining experiences are all laid out for you. To get the most out of your voyage, check out this ultimate guide on cruising gluten free.

On n top-tier cruise lines such as Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania Cruises, the food and beverage teams go to great lengths to find out each passenger’s dining requirements and will make arrangements days in advance to allow for the best gluten-free dishes available.

With that all being said, the onus is still on the traveler to take control of the vacation and to make sure he or she can actually enjoy the adventure in the moment instead of worrying about each meal as it comes.

The gluten-free cruiser’s checklist

  • Do your homework. Before boarding, make sure all dining preference documentation indicates that you are gluten free.
  • Have a face to face. Once on board, ask to meet with the food and beverage director or restaurant manager. It never hurts to put a face to the name. Explain that you are gluten free and looking for the best options available.
  • Up your culinary game. Scout out the specialty dining experiences and tasting menus. The more high-end your experience, the higher the likelihood that the cruise line will bend over backward to please you. Putting an order in for a gluten-free tasting menu with wine pairings will go a long way.
  • Plan your activities. Prebook excursions to determine which meals you will be eating on land. Sit down with your excursion concierge while on board to make sure any land meals are gluten free. In the case of cruising with Azamara, staff can make a gluten-free meal to go.
  • Buffet beware. When in doubt as to what’s in something on the buffet, ask! If you’re at the morning buffet and are unsure of a dish’s ingredients because it’s not properly labeled, ask for the manager on duty. He or she will have a list of each food item on the buffet, including ingredients. Better safe than sorry.

Cruising spotlight

While many cruise lines have upped their gluten-free game, Azamara Club Cruises, with its small ships and high-quality approach, has emerged as a leader in championing the gluten-free onboard experience. This boutique upmarket cruise line, which traditionally had two ships, has expanded its fleet with its newest vessel, the Azamara Pursuit. The company has added three new land-and-sea experiences in South America, coupled with its exclusive partnership with Celebrity Cruises in the Galapagos.

Azamara’s signature Destination Immersion program offers travelers the option to stay longer and experience more—that means everything from the sites to the food in unique global destinations, including 200 ports in 70 countries. The cruise line takes pride in its onboard and off-ship culinary and gluten-free experiences.

For those dining on board, the ships have two specialty restaurants, Prime C and Aqualina, along with a range of culinary experiences, such as chef’s table meals and five-course menus with wine pairings. Each of those menus, alongside specialty ones, can accommodate gluten-free orders and clearly indicate gluten-free items on all of their menus as well as buffet items.

Staying on track

Given customer service is at the forefront of their offering, Azamara takes food intolerances and allergies seriously. “At the beginning of every voyage, we invite those guests who during their booking mentioned they have any intolerance for a meet and greet with the restaurant manager and discuss their needs,” said Robert van Rijsbergen, corporate executive chef. “We also give those guests our dietary menu, which gives them an indication of what we can offer or prepare.”

Keeping track of guests who need to be gluten free at all times is no easy feat, which is why Azamara utilized a restaurant tracking system. “In order to keep track of those guests, we work with a restaurant system called SilverWare POS,” said van Rijsbergen. “In the system, all those special requests or dietary needs are mentioned there by guest name, so when a guest makes a reservation, we’re aware.”


Safe and delicious

Oceania Cruises, too, strives to make its gluten-free experience seamless. Bernhard Klotz, senior culinary director, believes that hospitality at its core means that everyone should have the best experience they possibly can. “The core tenant of any hospitality organization is to make people feel welcome and cared for,” he explained. “So you could say, we do gluten-free experiences because we want to; we want to ensure everyone that travels with us can focus on their destination experience and creating new memories.”

Within reason, Klotz believes pretty much any dish served on board can be made gluten free. When speaking with guests, the food and beverage team gathers as much information as possible about intolerances, allergies and preferences before the dining begins. Oceania also trains its staff to be aware of those who are gluten free. This way everyone from the waiter to the kitchen staff is ready and able to execute a gluten-free order. “We brief all the galley and dining rooms staff in all the restaurants so that [they] are aware, no matter where on the ship the guests are dining,” he added.

The kitchen staff also prides itself on the array of gluten-free desserts available for guests. Specialties include gluten-free cakes, pies, tortes and cookies plus a wide assortment of items like ice creams, sorbets and puddings.

Want more information, tips and destinations for gluten-free travel? Check out our Travel section! Here are some of our most popular travel resources:

Cabo’s Grand Solmar Showcases Gluten-Free Dining

Mexican cuisine is highly regarded for those following a gluten-free diet, with many corn-based dishes and recipes that steer clear of main culprits like flour or wheat. And for those seeking copious healthy and safe travel options, Mexico—in this case, Cabo San Lucas—provides the ideal setting, with the bold flavors of the Baja peninsula on display at all times.

Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort & Spa in Cabo San Lucas is an exquisite hotel with 10 dining options, offering a variety of dishes to patrons avoiding gluten. At the helm of its food and beverage program is executive chef Alberto Collarte, who believes a successful and memorable vacation hinges on patrons feeling relaxed and at ease, particularly when it comes to their food.

“This is the key,” Collarte began, “to make the guests feel comfortable, secure and happy. Most of our kitchens are open-air for ‘show-cooking,’ so visitors can see exactly what we do.” To ensure that no cross-contamination occurs and that gluten-free food is prepared in a safe area, Collarte is adamant about the cleaning of his kitchens and facilities, including temperature control and all food handling. “We have different colors for our cutting boards and we have separate frying oil for any gluten-free food. We also make sure there is excellent supervision on the cleaning and the food handling,” he added.

Collarte also appreciates that corn, a staple ingredient in Mexican cooking, is inherently gluten free and tries to incorporate it as often as possible. “Corn makes it easy for me to design any version of a taco,” he explained.

Tuna Medallion with Chickpea and Plantain Sauce

He gets to flex his creative culinary muscles when making bread or baked goods that need to be free of gluten. While many establishments simply eliminate such options for gluten-free guests, Collarte is inspired to offer even more. The Grand Solmar property hosts many wedding receptions, and Collarte and his team can even bake a gluten-free cake for a couple’s special day.

Beyond cakes, he has a soft spot for soufflés and creates a trio of them in lemon, berry and chocolate. Also on hand are gluten-free pasta, flours, soy sauce and bread. They will also go the extra mile to customize specific menus beyond particular items if asked in advance.

Collarte has embraced the gluten-free movement because it aligns with his overall food philosophy of using the freshest ingredients possible to create the highest-quality dishes.

Grilled Portobello with Carrot Puree

“When I started my career, it was unusual to find so many people with food allergies, and I think it goes back to the food industry. It is hard to find a product that is pure—even organic products are not 100 percent organic,” said Collarte. “So we, as chefs, have a personal responsibility placed in our hands to serve the most sustainable products we can find and to respect great products, since they give us the chance to make art.”

In addition to gluten-free options, the hotel can cater to vegetarian and vegan guests.

Want more information, tips and destinations for gluten-free travel? Check out our Travel section!

You can make WHAT with Irish oats?!

From sushi to risotto, Flahavan’s Oats is leading the way in
developing innovative dishes utilizing gluten-free oats.

Tucked away in County Waterford, Ireland, lies Flahavan’s Oats, a family-run business with roots tracing back to 1785, making it the country’s oldest family-run business. Now in its seventh generation, the family is devoted to producing gluten-free oats in a dedicated facility and making many varieties of oats to be consumed in the most creative of ways. From traditional Irish baked goods to oat-rolled sushi to oat risotto, this naturally gluten-free item can be weaved into many scrumptious recipes.

Flavahan’s Today

John and Mary Flahavan and their children James and Annie pictured at the Flahavan Factory in Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford.
Pic Tom Honan.

Heading up Flahavan’s operation today is managing director John Flahavan, the great-great-great-grandson of Thomas Dunn, who took over the mill in 1785. Flahavan has spent many years researching his family history and uncovered records from the 1656 Civil Survey of two mills in the village of Kilmacthomas that are believed to have been Flahavan’s mills. John, alongside his son James, remains committed to keeping the family tradition alive, ensuring that they are utilizing the most sustainable milling processes possible. John believes that the Irish climate the world’s most conducive for growing oats and that it helps develop the oats’ natural creamy flavor.

“We respect the environment and countryside that we are in,” said James Flahavan while explaining why his family has always utilized the nearby River Mahon for its main energy source. “The boilers burn the husks because we roast our oats in the husk. There are no fossil
fuels used in our process.”

It’s All In the Technique

The Flahavans practice traditional milling techniques that result in small-batch oats. The process is simple: the oats are heated in the kiln with their outer shell intact to retain their natural color. Then the kernel is cut into three to four individual pieces and steam-cooked. Flahavan’s produces a variety of oat products found today throughout the United States and across Europe, including steel cut organic oats and quick-cook oats.

So Much More Than Just Oatmeal

While the most natural expression of oats might be oatmeal or porridge in its many forms, oats now have a place in a variety of dishes that can stimulate the most creative of culinary minds. The Flahavan family is fast at work developing new recipes, many of which are gluten free, to engage consumers and oat lovers alike to think outside the box when cooking and baking. It’s also a chance to utilitze oats in more savory dishes in lieu of quinoa or a rice grain, for instance. The family believes in mixing their tried-and-true tradition with creative ideas to consistently reinvent their product, their recipes and their own history.

Check out these scrumptious recipes courtesy of Flahavan’s Irish Oats:



Turmeric Steel Cut Oats with Kimchi and Fried Egg

Turmeric Porridge With Kimchi








Flahavan’s Steel Cut Oat Sushi








Beet Root Porridge with Toasted Almonds, Pickled Beet Root, Goat Cheese and Basil








Food writer by day, financial journalist by day-job, Kristen Oliveri is a career journalist with a passion for food, wine, nutrition and luxury travel. To view her body of published work, visit