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You've booked the holiday of your dreams - luxury hotel on the beach, long evenings in the spa, lazy days listening to the waves crashing, and an endless supply of food - and most importantly - cocktails.
But when you're a coeliac, the all inclusive buffet can turn the perfect holiday into a nightmare. Each hotel differs completely, but in my experience there is nearly always a way to avoid getting glutened and have a safe and happy holiday.
I've recently just returned from a week at the Sentido Letoonia in Belek, Turkey, which I booked for Steve as a surprise for his 30th birthday. It was the perfect week of just doing literally nothing, and I was really lucky with the food, with plenty of gluten free options.
I've stayed at a few all inclusives now, including in Mexico and Cuba, and had some really great experiences (as well as some bad ones!) - so how do you avoid getting glutened at the hotel buffet? Here are my top tips for all inclusives for coeliacs.
1. Do your research
Yes, sometimes when family or friends are involved, you don't get so much of a say in where you're going on holiday - but needing a gluten free diet is important.
If you know the country or region you're visiting, have a search online before you book and see if any hotels in particular stand out with good reviews. If a coeliac has been there before and rates it, there's no better recommendation.
2. Contact the hotel in advance
When I visited the Grand Bahia Principe in Mexico, I did a quick google of 'Grand Bahia Principe gluten free' and was delighted to find some positive TripAdvisor reviews. I sent the hotel a quick email explaining I was coeliac and they told me that wasn't a problem at all.
They ended up giving me a letter to present at each buffet and restaurant, and I was surprised to learn most of the food was gluten free anyway. They even had gluten free bread! It's a true testament to the fact you never know unless you ask.
3. Get in there first
Cross contamination is one of the biggest issues when it comes to an all inclusive buffet, and while you may recoil in horror at the mere idea of crumbs on the butter, to many it wouldn't even warrant the bat of an eyelid.
One of the best ways to avoid cross contamination is to be the first into the buffet. Luckily for me, Steve and myself are always famished by the time dinner opens, but I know some may prefer to eat later. Getting in first to the buffet will ensure clean spoons all round and a chance to serve up your own food before everyone starts slopping gluten all over that 'safe' food.
4. Fresh is always best
If you've got the option of either ready-cooked food being kept warm on the buffet, or freshly cooked meat and veg, I'd always go for the fresh option. For starters, in general hygiene - you don't know how long it's been sat there, or whether the food is being kept hot enough.
With freshly cooked food you can usually watch it being sizzled in front of you, allowing you a bit more control. You can ask to avoid marinades, clean down the area of the grill you're using, etc, and there is less chance of cross-contamination.
5. Don't risk the gluten
Not sure about something? Don't eat it! There will always be the no-go foods such as the delicious-looking bread table, the sizzling burgers (bound to be bulked out with flour) and those desserts that you're not quite sure what they are.
But if you don't know they're gluten free, and you can't find out, don't risk it. It's not worth feeling ill the entire holiday just for a moment of eating something dodgy.
6. Fruit is your friend
I know, I know, the coeliac always gets the friggin' fruit salad. You might be fed up of eating bland fruit salads, but often when you go abroad the fruit is incredible.
If you're desperate for a dessert and everyone else is scoffing cake, try some of the local fruit on offer. I think you'll find it a lot more tasty than the stuff in the supermarket at home.
7. An egg-sellent breakfast
Ouch, sorry about the awful pun. But seriously, eggs are a great option for breakfast, if of course you can tolerate them. Boiled eggs are served in their shells so no chance of cross contamination, and definitely a safe bet.
There's normally a choice of fruit and yoghurt too, but just make sure you don't get it mixed up with the cereals - they're normally close by.
8. Don't stress too much
Remember that you're on holiday - the point is to relax! Do your research, make sure you ask as many questions as you feel you need to, and always go with your gut feeling.
Stock up on essentials in case you do fall ill, and remember to enjoy yourself. Hopefully you'll find some delicious new foods!
Do you have any top tips for coeliacs visiting an All Inclusive hotel? Have you had any really good - or really bad - experiences eating gluten free abroad? Please comment below and share your top tips too - the more the merrier!
I print out a restaurant card in the language of the country I'm going explaining what I can & can't eat as often things can get lost in translation from the waiter to the kitchen this is very useful particularly if eating outside the hotel.
We are off to Turkey in a few weeks. Also Letoonia, but the hotel in Fethiye. Been last year too & they do look after you. Got printed translation cards ready. Always do homework in advance like you say search gluten on trip advisor under potential hotels.
By far the best GF all inc we stayed at was Atlantica Aegean Blue in Kolimbia in Rhodes. Meals made especially, gluten free toasties, pizza & pasta, all prepped & cooked separately. All food labelled with allergy advice & lots of individual salads, yoghurts, fruit etc in sealed dishes to grab & go. Also hotel & staff were amazing! 😊