My favorite part of traveling is trying new foods, without a doubt. What better way to appreciate a culture than to indulge in the local foods, right? Italian culture is centered around food. It brings family and friends together and eating is a sacred social activity (as it should be!). Hey, Italy is my favorite country in the entire world for a reason!
As someone who is allergic to gluten, traveling on a strict gluten free (GF) diet isn’t the easiest thing and it takes much more research and planning to have a safe dining experience. So when I found a gluten free food tour in Rome, offered by Eating Italy, I JUMPED on it! Ahh, finally! I decided on the Taste of Testaccio Tour with Eating Italy because I have never been to that neighbourhood but have always heard good things about it. It’s a local, colorful, and hip neighbourhood in Rome and it deserves more attention than it receives. I also learned that Testaccio is considered the birthplace of Roman cuisine! Umm, sign me up please! ♥
If you’re like me and are skeptical about forking out cash for a food tour, you will be pleasantly surprised. The food tour hits up 8 STOPS (and 12 tastings total), so make sure you skip breakfast. You will be STUFFED by the end of the 4-hour tour, guaranteed! My tour was from 10:30am-2:30pm, and it filled me up for the entire day. I only needed a light snack around 9pm, but it’s basically breakfast lunch and dinner crammed into 4 hours of yummy goodness.
(note: this food tour isn’t only for those who are gluten free and is open to everyone. However, it can be specifically tailored to those with food allergies, which is what they did with me).
So What Does a Gluten Free Food Tour in Rome Look like? Here are the highlights below!
1st Stop→ Pastry Shopping
Rich & sweet GF chocolate fudge tart
Breakfast of champions…the non Gf version below.
I’ll take one of each, please 🙂
2nd Stop→Pizza, pizza, pizza (& rice)
There’s nothing like a local pizza spot in Rome. My eyes were bulging out of my head. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a GF option and I was offered a rice dish instead (boo!). The rice was tasty, but it’s not the same. So instead, I just lived vicariously through my pizza devouring tour members.
Next stop was a cute salumeria where we were offered salami, prosciutto, and cheeses. The prosciutto was delicate, tasty and tender. The highlight was the buttery truffle cheese, an absolutely amazing surprise! I usually hate truffles (I know, blasphemous right?), but this was one of the best cheeses I have ever tried.
Balsamic vinegar tasting. Tasted like honey to me, SO GOOD!
We had some free time inside to sample and purchase any delicacies we desired. If I wasn’t at the beginning of my trip, I would have stocked up for goodies to take home. Maybe next time!
4th Stop→The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Rome
I know what you’re thinking.. a cemetery visit on a food tour, wtf? But after all that food, it was the perfect break. Not to mention, a very beautiful and peaceful place. If you’re in Rome, I would highly recommend a visit here to get away from the crowds!
5th Stop→Testaccio Covered Market ( with 3 food stops inside the market)
This was my favorite stop on the tour. It was a local market where the shops were passed down from generation to generation and everyone knew each other. It was such a great vibe inside, and not to mention some awesome food!
Nothing like fresh caprese salad. Melted in my mouth!
Bruschetta (pronounced “broo skeyta” NOT “brooshetta”) with a homemade gluten free baguette, soft on the inside and crispy on the edges. They let me take home the entire loaf for later, which was a big plus!
Caprese-garnished with the freshest basil and mozarella. The ingredients were so soft and fresh, I didn’t need to chew much.
Fried artichoke and wine-the artichoke was a substitute for the bombettos (neck of pork, pecorino, and bacon) the others got to try. Delicious!
Bonus stop: I found a little gluten free shop and got my own suppli (fried risotto and cheese ball) and it was divine! (note: this was not included in the tour and I purchased it on my own).
6th Stop→Sit-Down Restaurant with 3 Pastas & Unlimited Wine
GF pasta substitute with cracked pepper and cheese. Simple yet delicious.
Stretchy pants would have been very helpful at this point in the tour. Just about to tap out but there were 2 more stops! Oh, and did I mention endless wine carafes? ♥
3 non-GF pastas to choose from
7th Stop→Suppli (fried risotto and cheese balls) at Trapizzino.
Traditional Suppli (fried risotto % cheese). Not GF but they look oh so tasty!
Suppli is a traditional fast food in Rome and costs only about €1. This option was NOT GF so I was offered some pulled marinated chicken. I did get to taste the GF version of suppli in the covered market, so I was satisfied to say the least.
The last stop was for dessert, and what better dessert in Italy than gelato? I finished the whole thing and then I surrendered the flag. I could not physically fit any more food inside my body. I had never been so stuffed in my life.
My first food tour was a success! I had doubts about not getting enough food but boy was I wrong! It was totally worth it and food tours are going to be my new obsession. I will also say that the tour would not have been as fun without our awesome tour guide Domenico. He had a hippie style, and was whitty, knowledgable, and charismatic. The tour guide really does make or break the tour!
I was surprised at all the GF options and the variety of foods offered. The only disappointment was that they didn’t have GF pizza. Other than that, I give it an A! If you have never done a food tour in Italy, I would definitely give it a try! It was the perfect gluten free food tour in Rome.
*I was a guest of Eating Italy on the Taste of Testaccio Tour. My opinions, however are my own. I don’t bullshit and I LOVED this food tour!
Have you Ever done a Food Tour with Eating Italy? Have you done any other gluten free food tours in Rome? Do tell!
Last October, I decided to take a mini family trip to Alberobello, Italy, a destination I had been dying to visit for the past 2 years. I desperately wanted to see the unique Trulli of Alberobello, Italy with my own eyes, only to be found in a certain region of Southern Italy. So my little brother, my cousin, and I rented a car and decided to make a stop in Alberobello for a day, as part of our epic Italian road trip, which I’ll write about in a future post. If you ever make it to Puglia, don’t leave without stopping in Alberobello!
Alberobello, Italy: a Trulli Unique Experience
Where is Alberobello?
Alberobello is located in the Puglia region of Southern Italy, in the “heel” of the boot. Puglia has become one of my favourite regions in Italy, and I highly recommend a visit here. It is definitely more rugged and less structured than other parts of Italy, but that means less tourists and a more raw Italian experience.
What’s So Special about Alberobello?
Alberobello is famous for its traditional cone-shaped white-washed housing carved from limestone. The Trulli of Alberobello are so distinctive and unique that they were coined a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
Viewing the Trulli from above as a storm is brewing in the depths
Quick History of the Trulli
The Trulli originated in Alberobello back in the 14th century. The Trulli were strategically built to throw off the government to hide under the law and evade taxes, so they were meant to look like an “uninhabited settlement”. For this reason, the Trulli were built without mortar so they could easily be disassembled quickly if needed. The clever things people do to avoid taxes. Ha!
What it’s Like to Stay in an Actual Trullo
We found our awesome Trullo on AirBnb for $80/night. Today, trulli are a popular accommodation type in this region and are fully functional with electricity and plumbing. Our specific trullo had 2 bedrooms and could sleep up to 5 people. It had a super cozy feel to it and everything inside seemed a bit miniature.
It was a 5 minute drive from town so a car was necessary. I’m so glad we decided to stay in a Trullo a little outside the city because we had a HUGE yard filled with olive trees and vineyards. Plus, we had the entire property to ourselves! An added bonus.
If you’re interested, here is the Airbnb listing here. If you’re new to Airbnb, use my coupon for $30USD off!
There aren’t a whole lot of activities in Alberobello, it’s just one of those places you come to see and experience for yourself. It’s truly like nowhere else in the world and it’s fun to just wander the streets. There are a few museums, souvenir shops, restaurants, and a bunch of liqueur tasting spots. I can’t say we didn’t do a little bit of our own “liqueur crawl”. Don’t worry, we bought a few bottles as well, to support the local community.
♥Have a Mini Photo Shoot♥
Alberobello is very Instagram friendly, and there are endless amounts of photo ops around every corner. We spent a good hour just goofing off and taking some silly photos.
♥Try the Local Coffee♥
Caffe Leccesse, one of the BEST coffees you will ever drink. Period. My mouth is still watering.
Where to Eat in Alberobello, Italy
Casa Nova il Ristorante-We really enjoyed this restaurant as it had a cave-like vibe being underground. We were surprised at the exceptional service as 2 waiters served us with the utmost respect. The food was really tasty, and they even had some gluten-free pastas and bread for me as well! They also gave us some appetizers for free! Oh, and the best part was the whole entire bottle of Limoncello they gave us to try at the end. I highly recommend this place if you’re in town.
Secret Find in Alberobello
As it started to storm during our day in Alberobello, we ran into this cute little shop called Il Ricardino where they had wine tastings for 1€ a cup. The owner Georgina has owned the place for 50 years and she was so friendly and awesome! She came to drink with us and played some fun Italian music so we could all dance. Then she insisted we all take a “selfie” together. Such a sweet lady!
Cheers to discovering this cute little spot with our own chill out attic
The best part of this little shop was the tiny attic in the roof of the trullo, where there was a little chill out spot where we could relax and sip our wine. It was so cozy and authentic and this was a highlight of our time there. If you’re in Alberobello, make sure to stop at this shop and take a selfie with Georgina! It will make her very happy.
How to Get to Alberobello
By Car-Having a car in this region of Italy is highly recommended, especially if you want to rent a Trullo with some land away from the city. We rented a car from Bari and it took about an hour to get there.
By Train– you can reach Alberobello on a direct train route from the 2 major ports nearby, Bari and Brindisi. It will take about 1.5 hours from Bari and 1 hour from Brindisi. Check the Trenitalia website for timetables.
How Long do I need in Alberobello?
Honestly, one day and one night is all you need as there isn’t a whole lot to do activity-wise. But I must stress, you shouldn’t come to Alberobello without staying in your own Trullo! It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime unique experiences that you shouldn’t pass up. When in Rome, right?
Book ahead as they to sell out in the high season.
When to Visit the Trulli of Alberobello
Going to Alberobello in October means you have the whole town all to yourself 🙂
Early spring or late fall is the best time to visit the Trulli of Alberobello, Italy, when there are virtually no crowds. We went in October and had almost the entire town to ourselves, which made it extra special.
Have you been to Alberobello or stayed in a Trulli? Was it everything you expected? I want to hear your thoughts!
One of my dreams has always been to learn the Italian language. Every since my very first trip overseas to Italy, it’s safe to say that I was romanced by the romance language. Pun heavily intended. The words flow like music, like poetry. The Italian language is just so rhythmic and passionate to me. A few years ago, I took a few Italian courses in Southern California. However, I hadn’t been practicing and forgot most of it. In my attempt to revamp my Italian skills, I looked into doing a language homestay in Italy. I figured this would be the best way to (re) learn the language I once had a fundamental knowledge of. Since I’m the kind of person to take action, I was going to make it happen one way or another! So I did lots and lots of research and chose the region of Puglia to participate in my language homestay in Italy.
What Exactly is a HomeStay?
A language homestay is a complete cultural immersion where you stay and live in the same house with the family of native speakers.
lasts anywhere from one week to several months, depending on the program
meals are usually prepared for you (depending on program)
you interact on a daily basis with a local speaker
you participate in intensive daily lessons to improve your skills
A homestay provides you with real-life situations in order to force you to use the targeted language. In my opinion, this is the best way to learn a language, daily interactions with speakers of the mother tongue.
Why Did I Choose Puglia?
To be completely honest, I googled places where they speak the least amount of English in Italy. The information I found pointed mostly to the Southern region of Italy. Since I had already been to Sicily before, I wanted to experience somewhere new. Hence I chose Puglia. And, it’s freaking gorgeous! Have you seen it? Just look at the photo below.
Overlooking Torre Sant’Andrea in Puglia, Italy
Where is This Puglia Place I Speak of?
Puglia is the name of the region located on the Southeast part of Italy, in the heel of the boot. It is situated on the Adriatic and Ionian seas and not very popular with outside tourists by any means. After extensive research, I thought to myself, how could I have missed this region after all the numerous times I have visited Italy? The pictures were absolutely mesmerizing and I could not wait to get there and explore it myself. This seemed like the perfect place to do my language homestay in Italy.
What Program Did I Attend?
I chose one particular Italian school called Scuolo Mondo Italia and Homestay. There were a bunch of other schools to chose from, but I chose this one based on a few factors. The teacher had great reviews, the price was reasonable, the location was perfectly situated in the middle of Puglia, and especially the fact that private classes were offered. This was extremely important to me as I tend to learn better in a one-on-one environment, where I can get the special attention that I need.
My language homestay in Italy
My room at Scuola Mondo Italia and Homestay
I had the choice of staying with the teacher, Maria, in her home in Lecce, or her family’s home in a nearby smaller city. I chose to stay in Lecce in the home of my teacher and it was a great experience. The apartment was nice and spacious, my bedroom was huge and included a desk to study, wifi, and full access to the kitchen and rest of the house. The house was also in a perfect location, less than a 5 minute walk from the historical centre of Lecce, a 10 minute walk to a nice gym, and on the same block as several markets, as well as a butcher shop. But my favourite part about the home stay was Maria’s little pug Maya. I grew attached to the cute little thing and it was hard to say goodbye. My next animal might be a pug, and I’m not even a dog person. Crazy cat lady for life!
Holiday picture of Maya, sent to me by Maria
My Italian Teacher
Maria was wonderful from the start. We chatted for 4-5 months through emails before the class started and she was always so responsive and helpful with any questions I had. When I met her, she was just so outgoing and happy that it was contagious. She made me feel right at home from the start. In terms of her teaching abilities, she was great. She had a very student-centered approach and encouraged lots of conversation, instead of just book work. Her credentials really impressed me as she passed her proficient exams in both English and German and could speak both fluently. She also holds two Masters degrees, a Master DITALS and a Master ELIIAS. She couldn’t have been more qualified and it definitely showed in her teaching style. I really had a nice time interacting with Maria and her method of teaching worked very well for me. Grazie Maria!
My awesome teacher Maria and her adorable pug Maya
Pricing varies depending on how long you stay and what type of lodging you prefer. I stayed in the house of my teacher in Lecce for one week with breakfast only included + private lessons 2 hours per day and I paid a total of 375 euros. If you stay longer, the price per week is cheaper. Also, keep in mind that private lessons cost more than standardized group classroom lessons. Overall, I found these prices well below the average of costs for classes in Tuscany and Umbria (my other options I looked into for a homestay).
The City of Lecce
Lecce is well-known in the Puglia region for its Baroque architecture. Honestly, I had to look up the definition of baroque as I wasn’t 100% sure what that meant. Baroque style, according to Wikipedia, is defined as:
“a period of artistic style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, architecture, literature, dance, theater, and music. The style began around 1600 in Rome, Italy and spread to most of Europe.”[
The Church pictured below is a perfect example of Baroque architecture. Now I know!
Typical Baroque church in Lecce
After a day walking through the historical city centre of Leche, your neck might feel a bit sore from looking up at the towering Baroque churches and monuments. I must say they really know how to build a spectacular church in Italy. Being a predominantly catholic country, there is no shortage of magnificent churches scattered about the country.
In Lecce, they really take their riposo (siesta) seriously as the entire city completely shuts down between 1-5pm. You may find one or two cafes open in the center, but other than that, don’t expect to go inside any shop, restaurant, or market during this time. After 5, the city becomes alive again and life in the center resumes. What a relaxed lifestyle!
Streets of Lecce
My favorite part about Lecce was the speciality iced coffee that you can’t find anywhere else in the region. It goes by the name of Cafe Leccese and is simply an iced espresso made with homemade almond milk. It sounds simple, but oh my gosh it might be the best iced coffee I have ever tasted! It’s worth going to Lecce just for this coffee alone. The absolute best place to get the Cafe Leccese is a cafe in the main square called Alvino Cafe. Do not miss this if you’re ever in Lecce, trust me.
Another great aspect of Lecce is its location, not far from the sea and other fairly unheard of, but truly amazing, cities. I was able to visit some of these cities including Polignano A Mare, Monopoli, Ostuni, Alberobello, Torre Sant’Andrea, and Matera. I will touch on these cities in a future blog post.
A Day in the Life
So what did my typical day consist of during my time in Lecce? I decided to do 2 hours per day of private tutoring, and upon arrival we picked a schedule for the week that was very flexible. My typical day went a little something like this: wake up at 9 or 10am, coffee and breakfast, look over some Italian phrases, relax, 2 hours of class, off to the center for a coffee (cafe Leccese of course), attempt to chat with the locals in my funny Italian accent, go to the nearby gym for a workout, go to the local market and order some fresh meat, cook dinner, book some upcoming trips, have a glass of wine, and review Italian lesson. Rinse. Repeat. Overall, the schedule was pretty relaxed and offered a lot of flexibility and free time.
Dialects of Italian
In case you are unaware, there are countless dialects of the Italian language being spoken in Italy. Stemming from a historical perspective, Italian territories were dispersed into different independent States for about 1000 years, up until the unification in 1861. As you can imagine, these dialects could almost be recognized as completely separate languages. After great efforts to unify the country with a common language, an education system came into place that would encourage all Italians to speak some form of standard Italian. The Tuscan version of the Italian language is the one most commonly spoken today, known as the standard language, and is probably what you will learn if you take Italian classes.
That being said, in my experience travelling to the different regions over the past years, it is apparent that dialects are actually still being used, especially in the South of Italy. This made it a little more difficult for me, since the Italian that I had once learned was not being used as much down South. In the past, I have used certain words that I know how to perfectly pronounce and it allowed me to successfully communicate with Italians in Rome and Florence. These same words were not as affective in the South and I was often met with blank stares. At times I felt helpless because I couldn’t properly communicate and at other times I wanted to cry. Bottom line: dialects are still being used today and knowing Italian fluently might not help you in certain off-the-beaten path places.
Don’t expect to learn Italian in one week. That’s impossible. I came in with what I thought was a solid foundation; however, I quickly realized that I had so much more to learn! My only regret is that I didn’t stay longer. I believe a full month would have gotten me to a comfortable speaking level that I had once spoken. You get out what you put into it. And I believe that if you are fully dedicated, it is possible to make vast improvement in a little amount of time. Just don’t expect to come out speaking fluently. I highly recommend having some base foundation of the language first before engaging in a homestay.
No one spoke English in Lecce. This would be very difficult for a tourist, but Lecce served as the perfect environment to fully immerse myself in the language and culture. I learned to order my coffee and food in Italian, I learned to successfully ask for directions in Italian, and I learned to order local produce in the Italian market. It was a bit frustrating at times as I’m still a very beginner when it comes to the language, but it forced me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to practice real Italian with the locals. Overall, it definitely helped me improvement my skills in a quicker time than any standard classroom teaching could have. And lets face it, who wouldn’t want to go to Italy and learn Italian? I can’t wait for the next one!
Here is a little video from my awesome teacher to show you a little more of what to expect:
Note: This homestay was NOT sponsored in any way. I paid for it out of my pocket and decided to write about it since I enjoyed it so much.
Have you ever done a Homestay in another country? What was your experience like? I want to hear from you!