Gluten-Free Travel Experience: Skopje, Macedonia (FYROM)

In June this year I was lucky enough to travel to Macedonia with my boyfriend for some much needed Vitamin D. We were inspired to visit this “off the beaten track” destination after watching Jason Billam’s Youtube travel diaries (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYmFIzp31GE). Temperatures were amazing and often over 35C/95F so we spent much of our stay sunbathing but we managed to fit in some sightseeing too.

Prior to visiting Macedonia, I reached out to a Macedonian Coeliac Group via Facebook. Surprisingly they advised NOT to eat out at all while staying in Skopje, and that the only food I would be able to find would be a limited selection from Schär. Due to the language barrier, and the fact that Macedonia is not part of the EU (so I assume therefore not obliged to follow EU allergen labelling laws) we decided to self-cater for the vast majority of the trip. We stayed in an AirBNB with a kitchen.

Trips

  • Matka Canyon – this is a must-see if visiting Skopje. I recommend taking a long boat trip through the canyon to enjoy amazing views. You also have the option of kayaking or hiking along the side of the canyon. There are a couple of restaurants inside the canyon, and about three restaurants prior to entering the canyon by the car park. None offered GF options.
  • Millennium Cross – situated on Mount Vodno and easily accessible by cable-car (they don’t run everyday of the week though). We visited on a Monday when the cable cars don’t run so we took a difficult 45 minute uphill hike to the cross. The views of Skopje at the top are breathtaking. There is a cafe next to the cross but it wasn’t open when we visited.

Supermarkets

Food in Macedonia is pretty cheap, and this included the GF food too.

  • Small Ramstore (convenience store close to Porta Macedonia in central Skopje) = no specific gluten-free section but they did sell Nestle gluten free cornflakes (plain, honey or chocolate flavour) and Nesquick milkshake (labelled GF). Fruit, vegetables and meat also sold which are obviously naturally GF.
  • Large Ramstore (supermarket in Ramstore Mall, walking distance from central Skopje) = I was pleasantly surprised that this Ramstore was home to a modest gluten-free section! They sold various cereals and mueslis, flour mixes, biscuits, corn/rice flour pastas, soups and rice cakes. Brands were mostly Schär and Vitalia, as well as several Macedonian and imported Italian GF brands I hadn’t heard of.

It is also worth mentioning there is a Vitalia Health Food store within the Skopje Mall which mainly sells pick-n-mix muesli (which is not gluten-free!) but they have a small selection of GF Vitalia foods towards the back of the store.

Eating Out

I took the aforementioned advice from the local Coeliac group and didn’t eat out during my stay in Skopje. I did however get grilled corn from street sellers, who are dotted around Skopje city center. This was a bit risky on my part due to potential cross contamination risks with the grill (corn seemed to be the only item that was being grilled – though I couldn’t confirm this due to the language barrier) but I didn’t get sick. Life is tough when you’re hungry and out on a day trip with only melted snacks.

In summary, I enjoyed visiting Skopje but I spent a lot of my time here being hungry. Bring a suitcase full of snacks if you’re a coeliac and visiting FYROM.
Have you visited Skopje? I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

Hannah

 

 

Gluten-Free Travel Experience: Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland has been on my travel bucket list for some time, and I was lucky enough to travel there recently. My top tips for a gluten-free visit to Iceland:

  1. Pack snacks!! To be honest, I would advise this to anybody travelling to Iceland – not only those who have to follow a restricted diet. Food in Iceland is expensive.
  2. Invest in a translation card explaining your dietary requirements. Particularly if you are going to be travelling away from Reykjavik. In my experience, Icelanders are very knowledgable about veganism but Coeliac disease isn’t super common.
  3. Skyr Skyr Skyr. Skyr is a delicious Icelandic yoghurt which is naturally gluten-free. I ate it for breakfast everyday and it can be bought in most shops throughout Iceland so it’s handy to eat when there are no other GF alternatives.

Trips:

Blue Lagoon – This is a must-visit to anybody travelling to Iceland – a luxorious man-made geothermal spa. The only dining choices are the cafe or the restaurant as there is not much else nearby the Blue Lagoon, and we opted for the cafe. There were no gluten-free lunch choices in the cafe (to be expected), so instead I opted for a tub of fresh fruit and a Skyr banana smoothie. If you are planning to dine in the cafe, I’d definitely advise bringing additional snacks.

Golden Circle – The Golden Circle is a popular sight-seeing route in South Iceland. I was most nervous for not being able to find anything to eat during the 9 hour day trip we took exploring the Golden Circle. For that reason, I came prepared with snacks bought from a 10-11 convenience store, as well as snacks bought from home. However, I was pleasantly surprised. A small rest-stop in Pingvellir National Park offered a gluten-free flapjack (though be suspicious of cross-contamination as it was placed next to vegan cake), the rest-stop at Gulfoss waterfall offered gluten-free Skyr blueberry cheesecake, and the Geyser rest stop offered small selection of gluten-free goodies in a mini supermarket including crisps, rice cakes (plain and chocolate), corn snacks, GF Nature Valley bars and also some dense-looking GF bread. Almost all rest-stops sold Skyr.

Shopping:

10-11 convenience stores – I wasn’t able to find many GF foods here other than Continental Bakeries chocolate rice cakes, packets of Love Corn and of course Skyr.

Bonus supermarket – they had a modest GF section containing mainly products from Semper (a Scandanavian manufacturer of gluten-free foods) including baking mixes, various types of pasta, bread rolls and also some delicious chocolate flavoured wafers. I was also able to find Dolmio cooking sauces which I remembered were GF from home.

Restaurants:

Ostabudin – a tasty fish restaurant where the waiter informed me that most of the mains are GF. I ordered plaice which came served with prawns, new potatoes and vegetables.

Reykjavik Chips – they only sell chips so no need to worry about cross contamination in the fryers. The chips are served with a selection of dips – most of which are GF (I opted for the garlic dip – delicious!). I would especially recommend eating at Reykjavik Chips, it definitely makes for a cheaper evening meal in comparison to the prices elsewhere in Reykjavik.

Kopar – another fish restaurant close to the harbour. They were very happy to accommodate me as a coeliac and offered to alter most of their main dishes so I’d be able to eat them. I ordered the catch of the day (common ling) which came with creamy mashed potatoes and vegetables. They didn’t serve me the fried artichoke due to cross contamination issues. I highly recommend this restaurant, the portion sizes are decent plus they have amazing views over Reykjavik harbour.

To summarise, navigating the gluten-free world in Iceland wasn’t too much of a challenge and it was made a lot easier by friendly waiting staff/chefs who were more than happy to make meal alterations according to my dietary restrictions.

Are you planning on visiting Reykjavik any time soon? Or have you been and had similar or different experiences to me? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Hannah