Italy Travel Guide: Gluten Free Florence

Hi friends! Today I am recapping our amazing trip to Florence and Tuscany highlighting all of the gluten-free details you need to know. We took this trip at the end of 2019 with our best friends. One of our friends is also gluten-free/celiac {I call her my GFF; gluten-free-friend}, so together we found a lot of GF spots in Italy. In this post I am going to share where we stayed, the places we ate and how we filled our days. For my gluten-free readers, I am happy to report no gluten-tummy aches on this trip.

At the time of our trip, COVID-19 was not yet part of our everyday lives or being reported by the media. Little did we know that our world would enter a pandemic a few months after we returned home. I am so thankful we were able to go on this trip and I am looking forward to traveling again one day. By sharing this post today, I hope you can tuck it away for your future travel plans. Be sure to check out my How to Packing Guide for Italy in December (click here) and Italy Travel Guide: Gluten Free Rome (click here).

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Florence

I am not sure I can fit my feelings about Florence in a single blog post (but I’ll try my best). It was one of the most beautiful and charming places I have ever been to. I really hope to visit Florence again one day. From the cobblestone streets to the food, wine, history and people we met, it was all a dream come true. I honestly could have walked around for weeks admiring the buildings, enjoying the food and soaking in the atmosphere. It is a walkable city (in comfy shoes), and the best way to experience the city, so plan your days ahead of time and see as much as you can.

Where to Stay

I highly recommend staying in a hotel along the Arno River. It was a useful central location for sightseeing and steps {or a window view} away from the scenic river and the Ponte Vecchio. For lodging during our entire trip in Florence, we stayed at the Palazzo Alfieri. This hotel has beautiful décor throughout the lobby area, main hallways and guest rooms. Our rooms were nicely decorated, spacious and clean. Our room had an awesome bathroom with a rainfall shower. There was also a room safe and fridge which also came in handy. Keep in mind not all rooms have scenic views. Speaking of views, be sure to check out the rooftop at this hotel. We brought a bottle of wine upstairs and soaked in the beauty of Florence overlooking the river. From here you can see the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio in the distance.

The staff at the front desk were helpful in planning prior to our arrival in Florence via email as well as onsite during our stay. Take advantage of the knowledge of hotel staff regardless of which hotel you are at and ask for help when planning activities, traveling to other areas or making reservations. Other helpful resources we used and recommend for planning our sightseeing spots were Rick Steve’s Florence and Tuscany travel guide (click here) and Google Translate. The Palazzo Alfieri is walking distance to the train station {keep in mind most of the walk is cobblestones}, the Ponte Vecchio and most must-see attractions. I would recommend this hotel to friends and definitely envision staying there again in the future. To get the best rate, I suggest booking directly through their website.

Glimpse of out Hotel Room at Palazzo Alfieri
View of the Ponte Vecchio – Steps away from the Hotel

Where to Eat/Drink

Overall, we had a really positive food experience in Florence. Gluten-free options were fairly easy to find and most waitstaff had an understanding of gluten-free sensitivity. Senza glutine means without gluten in Italian. This phrase will come in handy when you are ordering. As far as drinks go, water is not served unless you ask for it. Everywhere we went there was a large selection of wine and we happily took advantage of it. For around $20 you can get a great quality bottle of wine to share with friends and family. To make the most of enjoying a glass of wine while in Italy, plan to stop for a drink during aperitivo; a pre-dinner custom where restaurants serve complementary snacks or light food.

Something to keep in mind (at least if you’re from the States) is that dinner is served later in the evening and is not rushed in Italy. Restaurants are not looking to “turn” tables over the way we’re use to in NY. In Italy, dinner is meant to be thoroughly enjoyed. The waitstaff doesn’t rush you along or stop-by to check on you constantly, so if you feel that they’re ignoring you, that’s probably not the case at all.

Breakfast

Our hotel stay included complementary breakfast every morning at the Foody Farm restaurant which is located at the entrance of the Palazzo Alfieri. We took advantage of this every morning for a healthy breakfast to start the day. It was a money saver and there were a lot of gluten-free options such as eggs, fruits, meats, cheese and vegetables.

Pastries & Dessert

Starbene is a MUST for gluten-free pastries. It was honestly a gluten-free foodie’s dream. They offer a huge assortment of croissants, cookies, Danishes, muffins, breads and stuffed pastries – think ham and cheese inside a warm flakey crust. I have never come across a gluten-free bakery quite like this. The quality was amazing. I am still dreaming about Starbene.

For dessert we stopped at GROM for gluten-free gelato and gluten-free cones. Everything they serve is GF which was such a wonderful treat to look forward to after dinner. You can also find GROM in other cities across Italy.

Wine & Appetizers

Tosca Nino is a great place to stop for rooftop views and wine in the heart of Florence. We stopped there after climbing to the top of the Duomo. One of our favorite places in Florence was Signorviono. It is great for wine and food right on the Arno River overlooking the Ponte Vecchio. It’s a must visit! We were lucky enough to score an outdoor table. It was a bit chilly, but definitely worth it for the views and atmosphere. They actually had blankets and small outdoor heaters which we appreciated in December. Another favorite for a glass of wine was Il Burro Tuscan Bistro. It was in close proximity to our hotel which made it a convenient stop. I wish my house had the decor vibe of Il Burro. It was beautiful and so cozy.

Starbene
Starbene
GROM
Il Burro Tuscan Bistro

Lunch & Dinner

Le Botteghe Di Donatello is right in the vicinity of the Duomo. It’s a great place to stop before or after you do some sightseeing. I had a gluten-free pizza there for lunch. Although that pizza in particular was amazing, the best pizza and my most favorite meal of the whole trip was dinner at Pizzeria Lorenzo De’Medici. A friendly host greeted us at the door and made our short wait enjoyable. The gluten-free menu had so many options to chose from. I ordered pizza, pasta and tiramisu. I literally have not stopped talking about it! Hostaria Il Desco is a small, cozy restaurant with a lot of gluten-free options. This restaurant had a lot of positive reviews, so I made a reservation a few weeks in advance. We had lunch at Mattancena which for me consisted of meats, cheeses and warm gluten-free bread. This was the first place we tried pecorino fresca which is a soft pecorino romano cheese. It was delicious! We continued to look for this cheese on menus for the rest of our trips. Sadly it is not a cheese I have seen in NY.

Where to Play

I think the Duomo is on everyone’s must-see list in Florence and I can see why. We purchased our tickets online prior to our trip, including a climb to the top. The climb is definitely worth it for the amazing views. I got really nervous before our climb, but it was not as bad as I anticipated. Keep in mind it is a long, very narrow climb with a lot of steps, so this activity probably isn’t for everyone.

The Basilica of Sante Croce was personally one of my favorite churches to visit. We were able to purchase tickets on-sight and there was no line. It was fairly early in the morning, so the church was also empty. It is the resting place of many well known historical figures such as Michelangelo and Machiavelli. While we are on the topic of churches, another we visited was Church of Saints Michele. My husband is a history buff and this was on his must-see list. This church has Baroque-style architecture and is beautiful.

I found The Statue of David to be one of the most impressive sights we visited. Who knew David was so tall? Not me! It is amazing how David, along with much of Italy, is carved from marble with simple tools. For this stop, we purchased our tickets online and picked them up at the ticket office. We didn’t do a full tour; just got tickets to see David.

The Uffizi Gallery is a must for lovers and students of art-history. We purchased our tickets online and picked them up at the ticket office. Although many people advised me that a tour was necessary, we felt that for this gallery, a tour was not for us. I enjoyed walking around the gallery to see the various forms of art along with the view of the Arno River. I suggest going to the Uffizi Gallery early in the day because it does get crowded.

Michelangelo’s Piazza and the Ponte Vecchio are both walkable areas that should be on your list of must-sees. The view from the top of the Piazza is beautiful; it looks over all of Florence. The Ponte Vecchio is full of shops and connects one side of the city to the other. I HIGHLY recommend stopping at The Gold Market if you’re interested in Florentine gold jewelry. The shop is located on the Ponte Vecchio. Fadi oversees multiple locations throughout Italy and he made our experience buying jewelry so memorable. I cannot wait to go back here one day! I purchased earrings and a bracelet from their diamond cut collection, and have honestly worn both almost every day since then. You can follow them on Instagram.

View from the Top of Il Duomo
Basilica di Santa Croce
Arno River

Tuscany

While planning our Italy trip I really had my heart set on staying in the countryside of Tuscany. We opted for an Air BnB for this part of the trip. Our selection was based on Air BnB reviews as well as ease of travel between Florence and Rome. We settled and agreed on a small town called Castiglion Fiorentino. It is about a 1 hour train ride from Florence to Castiglion Fiorentino (and later on in our trip, about 1 hour 45 minute train ride from there to Rome.) We did not have to transfer trains for either trip. When we got to Castiglion Fiorentino I quickly realized we in the true Tuscan countryside.

Our specific Air BnB was about a 20 minute walk from the train. However, we did not know this walk would be almost entirely up hill. The walk was totally do-able for us but may not have been for everyone. We couldn’t figure out how to get a taxi, but I do think they were available. The walk definitely caused us to stop for few belly laughs along the way. It was probably comical for locals watching us trek up the hill with luggage that morning. The Air BnB was very nice and had all of the amenities we needed.

This timing of our stay in this area made our planning a bit tricky. We were traveling Christmas day through the new year, so with the way our travel plans turned out, we were in Tuscany for NYE. Unfortunately, this meant a lot of businesses were closed and restaurants booked during our visit. Although our planning definitely could have been better, I enjoyed this part of our trip. We had a couple mellow days to recharge before heading to Rome.

In Castiglion Fiorentino we had an incredible dinner at Ristorante Da Muzzicone – known for its Fiorentine steaks. We saw our steaks chopped directly off the rack and then brought to our table (raw) for us to inspect (similar to how a server will show you a bottle of wine). It was really cool to experience an authentic Tuscan steak house. The staff was friendly and did their best to accommodate language barriers. Our dinner was one for the books.

The highlight of this stay was the afternoon we spent in Cortona. It is nearby town that was only a train stop or two ride away. From the train we took a bus (thanks to some info from our Air BnB host) up a windy mountain to Cortona. The views from the top were unbeatable. Although Cortona is similar in size to Castiglion Fiorentino, there was much more to do. The town had many shops, restaurants and local street vendors. Cortona is actually where the movie Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed. I highly recommend adding Cortona to your travel plans if you will be staying or visiting in this area. If we ever visit again, I think I would prefer staying in Cortona than Castiglion Fiorentino.

Tips for Tuscany

When you travel to Tuscany, I definitely recommend doing your research and having a pretty good plan but remember to be open to suggestions from locals. An area like Castiglion Fiorentino is a bit off the beaten path which has its limitations. I would recommend being aware of holiday schedules and how this may impact your stay. It is also a good idea to make all of your reservations (dining and tours) well in advance. If you’re staying in an Air BnB, I would also recommend stocking your kitchen with food upon arrival. This will come in handy if your plans change or you’re not able to get a dinner reservation. You can find amazing meat and cheese in these small towns along with wine tasting and tours. If you visit the Cortona area they are known for their Syrah. My last tip is to be prepared for locals to speak little English if you visit a small town. You should bring a book of Italian translations or use Google Translate (planning ahead will also help).

Tips for Train Travel

If you’re traveling by train in Italy I definitely recommend packing light (My Packing Guideclick here!). The train platforms are at ground level, so you will need to quickly hoist your luggage up and down. We found it helpful to buy our tickets ahead of time. Our hotel staff helped in explaining tickets too. Some tickets must be printed and others must be validated at machine. Be sure you know what type of ticket you have before getting to your train. Once you’re on the train, familiarize yourself with the name of the stop before your destination. The trains do not wait at each station for a long time, so you may have to act quickly to gather your luggage. And my last tip is of course to bring snacks for long train rides!

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Butcher Box Review

Hi Friends! Today’s blog is all about Butcher Box. The waitlist that was implemented earlier this year due to the pandemic has been lifted, so new customers can sign-up now. I am going to share all that I think you need to know before you first order. Speaking of first orders, Butcher Box is currently running a $15 off promotion for new customers (click here – I’ll get $15 back with this code too). If you’re on the fence about trying it out, I hope this post helps. We have ordered from Butcher Box a few times a year for just about 2 years. Overall we have been really happy with the quality!

If you take a peak at their website, you will learn that Butcher Box has quickly grown from a start-up company to one of the nation’s top online sources for grass-fed beef. They have very high standards when it come to product sourcing, sustainability and humanely raise animals (click here to read more on BB sourcing). This means that customers are getting high quality beef, pork and poultry. Butcher Box beef is 100% grass-fed!

Butcher Box is a subscription service for grass-fed beef, free-range and non-GMO organic chicken, heritage pork and wild seafood. Although it’s a subscription, you have the option to delay or change your shipment days. This means you don’t have to commit to it every month. We order roughly once per quarter to supplement our grocery store purchases. Usually we save our BB items for weekends when we have more time to dedicate to cooking a nice meal. It’s also a great option for a home date night.

Source: Butcherbox.com

You start by selecting your box type (custom or random) and size (classic or big). There is currently a $20 difference between the custom classic and custom random boxes. The random selections do allow you some preferences (see below), but you don’t have full control over your order. We are a family of 2 and have enjoyed the custom classic option. It allows us to pick 6 selections of our choice. I feel that this ensures we get our money’s worth and truly look forward to cooking each item. Something I also like about Butcher Box is that on their website they provided suggested uses for each selection along with more detailed recipes. You order will be shipped to you with dry ice. All of the items are frozen, so you should transfer them directly to the freezer upon arrival.

Although the pricing may initially seem high, think of it this way. The custom classic box is currently $149. Let’s say you chose 6 orders of organic chicken breast, you will receive roughly 18 lbs of chicken. That comes out to about $8.27/lb which I feel is pretty on-par with my local grocery store for organic chicken breast.

When it comes to quality, Butcher Box is top notch. We have loved just about everything that we have tried. My husband {who is not a picky eater} can always tell when I cook with Butcher Box. That’s how noticeable the quality is in comparison to organic brands you find in the grocery store. For the quality alone, I can’t recommend Butcher Box enough. I also like having the option to try beef or pork cuts that I wouldn’t typically pick up in the grocery store. It’s a great way to try new recipes at home.

Items that we have tried and loved:

  • Boneless Skinless chicken breast
  • Chicken party wings
  • Boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • Whole chicken
  • Ground beef
  • Steak tips
  • Stew beef
  • Sirloin steak
  • NY strip steak
  • Flat iron steak
  • Filet mignon
  • Boneless pork chops
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Ground pork
  • Ground breakfast sausage
  • Babyback ribs
  • Bacon
  • Whole turkey (available around Thanksgiving)

The only item we were not crazy about has been the pre-made beef burger patties. Otherwise, everything has been fantastic. There are few negatives I want to share to ensure you get my full and honest opinion. Since everything comes frozen, you do have to plan ahead to ensure you properly thaw you selection in time for your meal. Additionally, since everything is frozen it can be hard to tell how many pieces of chicken, wings or steaks are in a package. For chicken breast specifically, there have been times that I felt I did not get a full 3 lbs of chicken in my selection.

Through social media I have seen others highlight some packaging issues upon arrival. I did not notice any packaging issues with my orders until this year. One of our selections had a tear in the packaging. Fortunately, Butcher Box’s customer service has been great and they quickly made good on the issue. I carefully inspect each piece before putting in my freezer to ensure it’s fully sealed. I would encourage you all to do the same.

To see how I use Butcher Box in my kitchen, be sure to follow me on Instagram (@redroseandhoney). Don’t forget to use THIS LINK to save $15 on your first order – I’ll save $15 when you sign-up too!

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Pupdate: Henry Turns 2!

Hi friends! Our crazy goldendoodle Henry turned two years old last month. In today’s post, I am sharing a quick pupdate about how we celebrated his birthday. I am also going to breakdown why I love having a dog, a few things you should consider before getting a dog and some of Henry’s favorite products. Let’s go!

Henry weighs in at his second birthday around 50 lbs and 36 inches long. He is a pretty big pup which I have grown to really love. Although I thought he was done growing around his first birthday, he grew a bit more until about 1.5 years old. He still loves his crate {42 inch} and that is where he sleeps at night or when we leave the house. Overall, he is a great dog, but we are still working on some behavioral issues. His focus has slowly improved and he has been doing great on the leash. I really enjoy taking him for walks. We are still working on counter surfing and eating/stealing things he’s not supposed to have {pebbles, twigs and dirt are among his favorites}. I hope in time we can work through these things. If you have any tips, let me know in the comments!

To celebrate his birthday I made him homemade pancakes with oatmeal, banana, peanut butter and raspberries. This dog cannot get enough of bananas and raspberries. He literally comes running into the kitchen when I crack the peel of a banana. We’ve tried to limit Henry’s toy stash because he has accumulated so many, but he got a new toy for his birthday. I opted for a large heavy rope toy; so far he has loved it and it’s very durable. One brand of dog toys that I have continually purchased from Target is Boots & Barkley. Not only are these toys affordable, but have proven to be durable as well. And let me tell ya, Henry really puts his toys to the test.

Top 5 Things I Love About Henry

  1. He is the best snuggle bug.
  2. His goofy personality always makes us laugh.
  3. He waits for me at the window when I come home from work.
  4. He follows me around the house.
  5. He is always excited to go for a walk.

Top 5 Things You Should Consider before Getting a Dog

  1. Dogs are A LOT of work and he will be part of your life for many years. Time and patience are super important.
  2. Dogs are a large additional expense; even past the first year of puppy shots. Vet bills, the basic necessities, flea/tick/heartworm pills, training and grooming add up. Henry gets groomed every 6-8 weeks for about $100.
  3. You have to shift your life and schedule to make sure they are cared for. This may mean getting a dog walker {we love ours} or using a doggy care facility. Henry’s “grandpawrents” are helpful too!
  4. Despite your best efforts, you may run into some difficulties training your dog. All dogs are different and not all are perfect.
  5. Your dog will become your best friend…even when his muddy paws are all over the house and he chews your throw pillows.

Top 5 Favorite Products

  1. Safari Comb: The best tool to keep doodle coats matte-free
  2. Grooming Scissors: For trimming around his face and paw pads.
  3. Soft Frisbee: His favorite for fetch outside.
  4. Hips & Joint Supplements: These have made a HUGE difference on Henry’s mobility. Read my full review of them here.
  5. Slow Eater Bowl: Forces Henry to eat slower so he doesn’t upset his tummy. This shape can be hard to find, but has been the best I’ve tried.

Top 5 Favorite Bandanas

  1. Baseball Bandana (pictured in this blog post)
  2. Orange Plaid Bandana
  3. Patriotic Bandana
  4. Holiday Plaid Bandana
  5. Sprinkles Personalized Bandana

Don’t forget to follow along on Instagram, Pinterest and Liketoknow.it