While the country isn't in a great financial situation at the moment, its performance in diagnosing and treating coeliac disease is much better. Italian children are screened for coeliac disease at around 6 years of age and the average time time between the onset of symptoms and diagnosis for Italians of any age is usually only 2 to 3 weeks. As a result Italy is up there with Australia, Ireland and Finland as the top four countries for diagnosis of coeliac disease.
At the same time you can't presume that everyone in Italy will be aware of coeliac disease and understand what gluten-free means. So a coeliac's best friend in Italy is the restaurant guide on the Italian Coeliac Association (Associazione Italiana Celiachia) website. To get to the guide, click on the menu item ''dieta senza glutine' and then click on 'Project Power Away'. The information is organised by region so you just have to select Tuscany or Sicily or Veneto etc to find somewhere suitable to eat.
I would highly recommend taking an iPhone or device that allows you to look up GF places to eat as you go. When we were in Italy in the middle of this year, we didn't bring a laptop or any sort of portable device with Internet access. This meant traipsing off to Internet cafes to find a GF restaurant instead of being able to look one up on the go or as we were approaching a new destination.
At the same time you can be pleasantly surprised in Italy like the night we arrived in Castiglion Fiorentino, a small hill-top town about half an hour from Arezzo. When I explained my senza glutine needs the waitress went to the kitchen and returned with a packet of GF pasta.
Another great resource is Maria Ann Roglieri's The Gluten-Free Guide to Italy which is available at www.gfguidetoitaly.com. Unfortunately I only discovered this book just before we set off for Italy so I didn't have it with me. It is packed full of GF eating-out options and is a handy back-up when you don't have Internet access. Here are a few of the coeliac-friendly places we found in Rome, Florence, Cortona and Siena.
Osteria del Gallo, Roma
This is a cute little restaurant in one of those typical narrow Roman streets not far from Piazza Navona. While it was a bit windy the night we dined there we persevered in sitting outside as it was fun watching the passing traffic and taking in the atmosphere in Vicolo di Montevecchio.
Perhaps the most delicious part of this meal was the bruschetta served on toasted GF bread. The traditional tomato and garlic bruschetta was nice but the eggplant and zucchini one was sensational.
For the main course I chose one of my favourite sauces - pesto with GF spaghetti.
There were plenty of GF choices for dessert including panna cotta and torta al cioccolato (gf chocolate torte). Osteria del Gallo is at 27 Vicolo di Montevecchio, Roma.
I Quattro Amici and Il Portale Trattoria-Pizzeria, Firenze
In Florence we enjoyed a nice GF meal at I Quattro Amici which is close to the city's main Santa Maria Novella railway station The staff were very knowledgeable and all the GF options were highlighted on the menu. My main course choice was the grilled sea bass with potatoes,olives and red pepper, followed by creme caramel for dessert.
The next night we dined at Il Portale Trattoria-Pizzeria. Around the corner from I Quattro Amici, at 29 Via Luigi Alamanni, it turned out that this restaurant shared the same kitchen. The entree servings of pasta were huge and easily served as a main meal. I enjoyed the spaghetti allárrabbiata with garlic, olive oil, red pepper and tomato.
Osteria Del Teatro, Cortona
On a day out in the hill-top town of Cortona with our friends at Villa Rossi Mattei in Arezzo, we came across Osteria Del Teatro. As well as being a historic town, Cortona is known as the location of the movie Under the Tuscan Sun.
It's a delightful place and it was great to stumble upon a coeliac-friendly restaurant like Osteria Del Teatro.
For lunch I chose the GF gnocchi which was very nice but quite rich, washed down with a chilled white wine. The GF dessert option was oven-roasted pears with cinnamon, drizzled with chocolate. As you can see from the photo, the chocolate was more than a drizzle, which I endeavoured to work off climbing the steep cobble-stoned Cortona streets.
Il Ghibellino Osteria, Siena
On a day trip to Siena with our Villa friends we enjoyed a pleasant lunch at Il Ghigellino Osteria.
About a five-minute walk from the Piazzo del Campo and close to the Duomo, this is a quiet place to escape the tourists. For lunch I had the leek risotto which fuelled me up for exploring Siena.
Villa Rossi Mattei, Arezzo
And during our week at Villa Rossi Mattei I was more than well-catered for by our host Liliana at our two group lunches and dinners with GF risotto, pasta, meats, salads and sweets.
Grazie Italia! Arrivederci.