Destinations that Raise the Bar for Gluten-Free Travelers Part Two
Welcome to the second installment of our gluten-free friendly destinations showcase. In the May/ June 2015 issue of Simply Gluten Free, I covered hotel and resort chains like Hyatt, Omni, Ritz Carlton, and Canyon Ranch – all with multiple locations. In this issue, I’ll focus on some inns, bed and breakfasts, and exotic resorts that are “hidden gems” for the gluten free traveler.
W hile it’s admittedly becoming easier for gluten-free folks to get safe meals while traveling, sometimes it’s a bit of work – and often you’re left “settling” for stripped-down versions of what your fellow diners get to enjoy (hold the sauce, hold the marinade, hold the bread). The true excitement is found in discovering places that spoil their gluten-free guests – and don’t leave them feeling like they’re missing out.
These special properties are often owned and run by proprietors who know firsthand what it’s like to follow a medically necessary gluten-free diet. Take Karen Lynch, owner of the top-rated Inn on Randolph in Napa, California , who is gluten-free herself – and therefore insisted that her B&B be a completely gluten-free establishment, free of any risk of cross contamination. The historic and newly renovated Victorian inn and the small cottages situated among the property’s lush gardens offer modern luxury. Guests enjoy world-class gluten-free breakfasts and nightly hors d’oevres prepared by Executive Chef Paul Fields, one of Napa’s rising culinary stars. He uses fresh ingredients from the Inn’s own abundant garden to create innovative gluten-free fare that’s organic and sustainable whenever possible.
Gluten-free baking classes are even offered by Jeffrey Larsen, a master of allergen-free baking and glutenfree gourmand. The Inn on Randolph hosts at least 2-3 of these hands-on baking classes throughout the year, with recipes and instruction geared to people with busy lives. Karen and her staff also take a personal interest in their guests, recommending wine tours and outdoor activities – and helping them secure reservations in the wine country’s many gluten-free friendly restaurants.
Anne Barfield and her husband Joe, who own Chicken Paradise B&B in San Antonio, Texas , were motivated to start their business for similar reasons. With the perfect space to host guests in a popular tourist destination (think the Alamo, the Missions, and Riverwalk), Anne and Joe went through the proper procedures and inspections to convert their home into an inn in 2005. They already had a gluten-free kitchen, and they had a lot of experience with alternatives to dairy, since Joe is casein-free, too.
Once a reservation is made at Chicken Paradise, Anne asks for a list of any dietary restrictions and plans a custom breakfast for each guest. They have served people who are celiac, dairyintolerant, diabetic, Paleo, or have Down’s Syndrome. A typical breakfast might include fresh-squeezed orange juice, a large fresh fruit platter, an omelet with herbs from their garden, bacon or sausage, and homemade gluten-free whole-grain waffles, oatmeal pancakes, muffins, or scones. The name “Chicken Paradise” comes from the fact that they have their own chickens on the property – and thus a fresh supply of eggs for wonderful breakfast options! Anne can also prepare lunches for guests to take along when sightseeing or attending a business conference, and she enjoys referring guests to trusted restaurants in San Antonio and the surrounding area.
If a large luxury resort with golf and a full spa is more your style, you may want to consider a visit to the AAA Five-Diamond Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona . “We always try to stay ahead of our clients’ needs and try to stay ahead of best practices,” explained Executive Chef Rick Boyer when discussing the Phoenician’s approach to gluten-free guests.
When making a reservation, all guests are asked about any dietary restrictions. Chef Rick stressed, “It’s imperative that every guest is treated as royalty at our property, whether they are gluten-free, vegetarian, kosher, vegan, or have any other dietary restriction or preference.
Our absolute job is to make them feel at home.” Whether gluten-free meals are required or simply preferred, the staff takes every request seriously and prepares all gluten-free meals in a dedicated area of the kitchen with separate pans, separate toasters, and dedicated fryers. For daily breakfast and Sunday brunch, there’s a separate gluten-free buffet station for gluten-free baked goods.
The chefs prepare many gluten-free items in the restaurant’s from-scratch kitchens, while other items are sourced from a popular gluten-free bakery in Phoenix called Gluten Free Creations. This enables them to offer fresh muffins, breads, cookies, coffee cake, bagels, burger buns, pizza crusts, and scones while avoiding any chance of cross contamination. A gluten-free version of Afternoon Tea, offered daily in the Lobby Tea Court, enables gluten-free guests to enjoy an impressive array of tea sandwiches, scones, pastries, fruit, and chocolate truffles – hardly a spread that would leave anyone feeling deprived!
In addition to desirable spots like Napa, San Antonio, and Phoenix, there are gluten-free friendly places outside the United States, too. You’ll be spoiled with gourmet gluten-free meals as well as the natural beauty of idyllic locations.
Take the romantic and highly acclaimed Arenas Del Mar Resort in Costa Rica , for instance. As partner Jeremy Allen explains, nothing motivates a hotel or restaurant owner to go gluten-free more than the celiac diagnosis of a family member. When his own daughter discussed her fears of traveling because of dietary concerns, he said it was “a no-brainer for me to persuade my partners in the hotel that we had to get out in front of this customer need.” He worked with Alice Bast of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) to design the plan for a gluten-free menu, and the entire management team, kitchen staff, and dining staff have now taken the GREAT Kitchens gluten-free certification course designed by the NFCA.
They’ve also enlisted the assistance of many of Philadelphia’s top chefs to help create innovative gluten-free recipes. Jeremy summed up their progress catering to gluten-free guests by saying, “We had two complementary goals: to make the resort a top dining destination and to enable celiacs (and those with other dietary needs) to eat well and safely for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week. We have achieved both.” This, along with the fact that the resort is right near the #17 beach on Trip Advisor’s 2015 Top Beaches in the World list, makes Arenas Del Mar an increasingly popular destination for gluten-free travelers. Stunning wildlife, zip lining, white river rafting, hikes, and waterfall climbing are all nearby.
Another international getaway that beckons is Chateau Villars in the northern Dordogne region of France . Now in their ninth season, owners Bill Davies and Kevin Saunders have always maintained a dedicated gluten-free kitchen at the chateau, allowing guests to dine without any concern about cross contamination. Although neither Bill nor Kevin has celiac, they have friends who do. Guests can opt for either a full board/ all meals option, or a half-board option in a cottage stocked with gluten-free products, including fresh bakedgluten-free bread. True to the spirit of the French, the chateau prides itself on the freshness and presentation of its gourmet food, all while being safely gluten-free.
The restaurant’s menu changes daily, depending on the season and what is available at the local markets. The chateau’s restaurant also impresses vegetarian guests with plenty of tempting options. For travelers with an interest in exploring the French countryside, this property offers a magical escape. Kevin recommends traveling to the chateau between mid-April and mid-October, and says the villages and towns of the northern Dordogne region offer endless fascination and beauty.
So the question I leave you with is … how can you possibly decide among so many incredible gluten-free getaway options? Perhaps put them all on your own personal bucket list.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karen Broussard publishes glutenfreetravelsite.com and the free DINE GLUTEN FREE mobile app. Both contain thousands of GF dining and travel reviews from around the world. Karen is also the publisher of the Gluten Free Travel Blog (glutenfreetravelblog.typepad.com) and two e-books available on Amazon: Gluten-Free in London and Gluten-Free in Italy.