2021 in Review: Travel Favourites – The Sightseeing Coeliac

The last time I decided to have a round up and think about my travels was posting a 2020 travel wishlist – and well, look how that turned out!

This time, instead I am going to reflect on 2021 and my travels in past tense. A lot has changed since I wrote that post in January 2020, and I am more grateful for my trips to Europe that I took in 2021 than 2019 me would have been! Having been inspired by Sarah, who writes the blog Endless Distances here’s some of my favourite travels, and gluten free eats from the past year! – or maybe two since I didn’t write a post covering 2020!

2021 was the year of last minute travel. Having the flexibility of no children, we booked our holidays at the last possible moment. The last possible moment covid style, in that we needed about 5 days to order covid tests! This really worked for us as U.K. travel updates – bar drastic urgent changes – were every three weeks so we took our holidays in between these dates. We waited for the last update before our holiday, booked tests and went on holiday and returned all before the next up date. Touch wood, it worked and I never needed to use the work lap top that I took away just in case I had to isolate.

2020 Travel Destinations

A small paragraph but definitely one that should be added as we managed a week in Cape Town in January 2020 just before everything changed and the winter sun was amazing. My brother and friends also came, and we had the best time. I couldn’t recommend Cape Town more for a winter escape and I really should get around to writing up all my recommendations.

Steak at Hussar’s Grill, Cape Town followed by a chocolate vodka martini that is served warm!
Gluten Free Ice Cream Tasting with Cape Rebel Tours – look them up if you’re visiting Cape Town!

Cue lockdown, cancelled trips to Norway and Orlando for Paul’s 40th and a lot of time at home! In the second half of the year rates and restrictions changed frequently and we didn’t risk going abroad and instead had a long weekend in the Lake District (one of our favourite places) and a week in the New Forest and Dorset where we ate some amazing food!

One of my best finds during my trip to the New Forest and Dorset was the 100% gluten free BBQ restaurant The Smuggler’s Run. Paul loves this type of food, and I was happy to not be playing Russian Roulette whilst eating out so we both left extremely full, and happy!

BBQ feast at The Smuggler’s Run

2021 Travel Destinations

The first half of 2021 brought more lockdowns and a lack of travel! I did manage a few trips, beginning with Iceland. Our first flights and overseas holiday in over a year!

Iceland Road trip, June

In June we were due to have a ten day break and were planning to book a last minute holiday. The countries on the U.K. green list at the time were really limited – I think maybe Iceland and Portugal, or at least they are the two I remember and we were going to go to Portugal for some sunshine. However, just before our annual leave started the rates in Portugal were on the rise and it was removed from the green list and left much of the U.K. population with no travel options. However, having just been double vaccinated – earlier than many our age due to health conditions – we were eligible to enter Iceland as vaccinated passengers, something not on many people’s radar or an option for them. We debated whether to do this or stay in the U.K., but with U.K. tourist resorts busy and expensive due to a lack of holidays abroad we decided to go for it. And we didn’t regret it. Iceland with minimal tourists, and a car to road trip was a dream. The flight was pretty much empty, and became the best cheap flight we’d ever had and that’s probably down to having a full row of seats each!

Iceland at the time did covid tests on arrival and we had to stay in quarantine until our results. There was no specification on what location the hotel had to be as long as it was a registered quarantine hotel so we drove for a few hours out of Reykjavik- as much as my bladder could take with no stops – anti clockwise to start the road trip. Cramming the trip around Iceland into a week meant I didn’t have many stops planned for the part of the journey between Reykjavik and Laugabakki so it made sense to get some of this drive out the way. If we had stayed in Reykjavik and/ or travelled clockwise we would have had to stay in the quarantine hotel the whole time as the attractions are so near the airport/Reykjavik.

Iceland in June was an adventure and still covered all weather from sun to snow! We stayed in a combination of hotels and chalets that were self check in and road tripped around the country. There were hardly any tourists which meant we got to stay away from people and see Iceland without swarms of tourists. After months of lockdowns I couldn’t have enjoyed it more! 100% put Iceland on your bucket list if it isn’t already.

This trip in the summer gave us nearly 24 hours of daylight to drive and sight see in plus warmer temperatures and a chance to see puffins! Our previous to Iceland in 2013 was November trip that was very different with snowmobiling, daylight from about 11am – 4pm, snow and strong winds, potential Northern Lights (they didn’t show up for us!) and winter activities – it is still good in a different way, but for driving the ring road summer conditions were definitely preferable.

Anyway, I digress and an Iceland blog post on gluten free eats and my itinerary is on my list of things to write in 2022!

Bristol and Gloucester – U.K. , August

In the summer we were due to go to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta with friends – we love it! Unfortunately the event was cancelled due to restrictions but we decided to still use the hotel and go anyway. It was lovely to spend time with friends and Bristol is one of my all time favourite cities. I grew up visiting several times a year as it’s where my grandparents lived and the Clifton Suspension Bridge is my favourite place in the U.K. We also spent a night in Gloucester, and visited the Cathedral that was also used for some scenes in the Harry Potter films.

Lake District – U.K., September

We returned to the Lake District for a long weekend in September spending time in an Air B n B located between Keswick and Penrith with a hot tub that was well used after days spent walking in the rain!

Cheddar Gorge – U.K. , October

October saw a long weekend in Cheddar Gorge and visiting Wookey Hole and the City of Wells in Somerset.

Portugal Road Trip, November

It turns out not going to Portugal in June was a blessing in disguise as we instead chose it for our last minute trip in November and that was an inspired decision. The weather was delightful and escaping the cold and grey weather in the U.K. for ten days did wonders for our mental health. It’s amazing the difference that weather can make!

We stayed in Lisbon and Lagos in the Algarve before travelling to Porto via mountains and wine country – The Douro Valley. Honestly, I really underestimated Portugal and realised how little I knew of the country outside the cities and beach resorts of the Algarve. There was some stunning scenery, pretty cheap prices for Western Europe and some mega gluten free eats. Another post that I have on my 2022 list – and yes it will include plenty of places to find pastel de nata!

2021 didn’t see any travel in the first half of the year, but we managed to make up for it to a certain extent in the last six months before Omicron was on the scene. We took many day trips from Milton Keynes including London, Cambridge, Birmingham, The Cotswolds, Alton Towers and also spent a lot of time in Peterborough where I grew up visiting family and friends.

Favourite Travel Moment

This has to be when we tested negative and could leave the quarantine hotel in Iceland with a week exploring ahead of us! After over a year in the U.K., most of which in lockdowns or with restrictions it was an amazing feeling. In Iceland there were so many favourite moments with the most spectacular of scenery. However, I loved going on a puffin tour – my favourite travel experiences always seem to be seeing animals in the wild!

Favourite New Place

Having been to Iceland before, I don’t need to choose between Iceland and Portugal for my favourite new place! I absolutely loved our time in Porto and the Douro Valley.

Favourite Place I Returned to

On our last trip to Iceland we went to Reykjavik and travelled along the South Coast so my favourite place that I returned to goes to some of the waterfalls in Iceland. I saw many new waterfalls travelling the whole way round the country, but this photo is from Seljalandsfoss- it was so nice to visit without the crowds!

Favourite Landscape

I feel like I’ve already touched on so many favourite landscapes from the year, from the Douro Valley, to the waterfalls and black beaches of Iceland. We also did some hikes in the Lake District and Cheddar Gorge that saw some of the English countryside so I’m struggling with this category.

However, I’m going to choose Asbyrgi Canyon in the North of Iceland. Scenery I didn’t know existed before researching this trip and is far away from the more crowded Golden Circle route and on a scale that no photo can capture.

Best Accommodation

Portugal has five Celiac Accredited hotels, and I stayed at three of them. I had the best food at Pena Park Hotel but I had the best service I’ve ever had a a coeliac at Purala Wool Hotel. They were so friendly and super attentive. From covering my food to wiping down my table, giving me a disposable place mat rather than the cloth table mat and giving me new cutlery, I really don’t think there’s much more that they could have done to make me feel safer. Sadly their pizza wasn’t great and I would definitely stick to more naturally gluten meals on offer next time but I loved their effort!

Worst Accommodation

This was difficult as nowhere came to mind – I either stay at treat hotels or budget hotels such as Premier Inn or Ibis and you know what you’re getting (The Ibis in Porto was excellent by the way!)

I’m going to pick for this the Inspira Liberdade Boutique Hotel in Lisbon even though my room was a mega splurge as a treat and there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the hotel. My room was a huge suite with a spa bath and it was lovely!

However, the reason I’m choosing this hotel as the worst as it was the most disappointing for gluten free options. I say this having picked it as it is also Celiac accredited and I wanted to be able to eat at the restaurant and have a chill night after driving up to Lisbon from The Algarve. However, the main restaurant is closed in the evenings and only open 12-2 which didn’t work for our travel plans. I understand things are difficult with staff at the moment so I can accept that, but there was only a quinoa dish and tomato pasta as the gluten free options on the bar menu. Nothing exciting for an accredited menu. Instead we ended up eating out, and didn’t get the value of the room.

I did order the gluten free dessert from the bar though, which I ordered and waited for at the bar as I couldn’t resist a lemon meringue pie! The staff weren’t very friendly and when the plate was brought out from the kitchen the member of staff said they’d bring it up to my room. I said it was fine but they insisted so up I headed and about two minutes later they knocked on my door with the dessert and bill. Only when I looked more closely did I see they added a €6 room service charge on (for a €5 dessert making it €11 in total)! So cheeky, and obviously why they were so insistent on bringing it up. The following morning on checkout I explained the situation and that I wasn’t satisfied with this as I’d ordered and been at the bar the whole time and they did take it off the bill, but it left a bit of a sour taste.

It wasn’t even that great in the end, with a lack of crunchy biscuits or pastry, and the meringues being the hard cheap kind rather than marshmallowy. It wasn’t what I was expecting and I wouldn’t order it again (the sorbet was the best bit!) or go out of my way to return to the hotel. Such a shame as I love to support places that make an effort with gluten free. However, I didn’t feel like they did despite being APC accredited. Maybe my expectations are too high with what could be done but they also brought canapés to the room and didn’t tell me if they were gluten free and had sweets at reception that could have been labelled. Don’t get me wrong I know this type of thing isn’t the norm but I would love accredited hotels to be that but better! I didn’t bother trying the breakfast and instead headed off early towards Porto. I hope they are better outside of a pandemic and that their food choice or service towards coeliac guests is far better than what I experienced as I’ve read good reviews from others.

Best Meal

The Orbis – Stamford, Lincolnshire

This was ridiculously hard to choose but I’m going to pick The Orbis – a 100% gluten free restaurant in Stamford for my best meal. Stamford is a beautiful small town in Lincolnshire just outside Peterborough so upon its opening I was tagged on Facebook posts so many times by friends and family!

However, it was already on my radar as they also have a branch in Oakham so I was desperate to visit and a branch opening in Stamford made it that much easier as cue a girls catch up at The Orbis with some school friends. Everyone raved about the food and would happily return despite not needing to eat gluten free.

However, like Sarah in her post, as I had so many good eats (and as that’s what you mostly follow me for) I’m going to pick some runner ups!

Bonjardim – Lisbon, Portugal

It may have been from a long day of pounding the streets and climbing the hills of Lisbon, or possibly aided by the wine but this peri peri chicken and chips at Bonjardim tasted amazing. Maybe we just didn’t expect much but it was ridiculously good and we loved being able to eat outside in November! An absolute must eat in Lisbon. Make sure you order your chicken spicy rather than plain if you go!

Ugly Dumpling – Soho, London

Working in Central London was made much better on a day that I discovered that my hotel was right next to Ugly Dumpling! Perhaps cheating as I was there for work, but as most people would be there for travel I’m definitely including it! I was just so happy to discover gluten free dumplings.

They are prepared separately and have separate utensils etc and the owners partner has a severe gluten intolerance so they understand cross contamination. However, they do have a disclaimer that whilst doing the best they can to keep everything separate they operate in a small kitchen and are upfront about that so you’ll need to decide if you feel comfortable eating there.

El Pollote – Camden Market, London

Gluten free fried chicken should always make its way onto best eats lists, and with a bit of a kick this fried chicken from El Pollote is delicious. I had mine at Camden Market but they do feature elsewhere in London so follow them on Instagram for details of where to find them or visit them at Seven Dials Market in Covent Garden.

Best Sweet Treat

Batardas – Outside Lisbon, Portugal

I may have added a couple of food based categories to Sarah’s post – this being one of them but I just had to feature pastel de natas and it doesn’t really count as a meal. The best one I found was from Batardas, a 100% gluten free bakery just outside Lisbon. I [perhaps controversially] found these far better than Zarzuelas the well known gluten free bakery in Lisbon. The custard was just so much smoother and silkier and looked closer to the real thing that Paul was eating!

Utter Waffle – Herne Hill, London

Utter Waffle is an absolute dream with so many awesome flavour combinations topping sweet or savoury waffles. For dessert I picked the mamas little bakery – a sweet waffle topped with raspberry, vanilla cheesecake, white chocolate and shortbread. It tasted insane and I savoured every bite.

Chouxly Scrumptious – Milton Keynes

There’s several places to order gluten free treats in Milton Keynes. My favourite places are Oh My Cakery, T.Sweetmap and this chosen feature Chouxly Scrumptious who make melt in the mouth choux doughnuts and eclairs. With a coeliac owner you know you don’t need to worry about cross contamination and look at the novelty treats that are created!

Most Liked Post on Instagram

Ok, so I may have added this category purely to add gluten free Mc Donald’s to my post without having to claim it as a best meal! I was never that bothered by McDonald’s and would certainly never have chosen to visit abroad but having coeliac has changed that – when you can’t have something it just makes you want it!

Unlike the U.K., many countries in Europe do provide gluten free options (with buns!) and in Portugal they are accredited by their celiac association making it so much easier to eat on the go when needed!

We actually went twice in the ten days – once in Braga where we stopped during a day of driving and I didn’t have any planned gluten free eats and once in Lisbon after several large sangrias on the Saturday night! They both tasted unreal!! Highly recommend as a one off treat during European travels (or more than once in my case!)

It’s definitely been a strange year and who knows what 2022 will bring. Hopefully lots of travel and great gluten free finds – fingers crossed! I hope you’ve enjoyed this round up of 2021 (remember though it’s just a highlight reel of travel and food and doesn’t show the hard times in the year that I don’t share online), and it’s certainly highlighted how many blog posts I have to write up. I have some great finds to share with you so hopefully I will pull the information together soon. I try and keep up but my full time job frequently takes over my time! I do have a mega U.K. guide coming soon though.

In the mean time, I’m wishing you all a very Happy New Year and thanks for following my blog!

Rachel

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