Paella in Benidorm

Eating Gluten Free in Spain: the good, the bad, and the onions…

It’s been a couple of weeks since Craig and I returned from our week-long jaunt to Altea, a bustling fishing town on the Costa Blanca. As Craig recently gave up meat (he’s still eating the odd bit of fish) and I have given up red meat, limited my chicken in-take and relying mainly on fish, (all while still being gluten free) we knew eating out would be a tough one in Spain.

The Hotel

We stayed at the Hotel Cap Negret on a half board basis – the 4-star hotel is perched right on the edge of a peaceful stony beach a short walk from the centre of Altea. I won’t dwell too much on the hotel as, quite frankly, the service was poor and I’ve already given my two cents to TripAdvisor on that one.

I will give a brief overview of the hotel’s food offering since we ate there two meals a day, most days, and it’s worth demonstrating the way in which a 4-star hotel deals with our awkward dietary requirements. Breakfast was a typical hotel breakfast buffet, the usual eggs, beans, bacon, sausages etc were all on offer as well as the usual continental choices such as croissants, bread rolls, ham, cheese slices etc. Most days Craig settled with a veggie cooked breakfast of eggs, beans, tomatoes and brown toast. One great thing about the hotel’s breakfast offering is that they did their eggs differently every day (although never poached!) but there was a variety of fried, scrambled and even pancakes during the seven days we were there.

For me it was a little harder, on the first day I found myself having a plate of fresh fruit – not comparable to my usual porridge with almond milk and peanut butter! By the second day, I had plucked up the courage to make use of my Spanish degree and ask the chef if he had any gluten free bread, it turns out he did and from each day forth he baked me a mini gluten free baguette, which I had with cheese and tomato followed by some fresh fruit.

The evening meals at the Hotel Cap Negret varied in quality but one thing was sure – they always had freshly grilled fish! We were chuffed with that and most of the time we opted for the fish with chips, sometimes rice, and a spoonful of everything from the salad bar. Craig was pretty gutted on the couple of nights they served pizza as there was never a veggie option, the margharita is clearly not popular amongst the Spaniards!

As for lunch, we had virtually no choice. The hotel had a poolside bar serving ‘snacks’, every one of which was bread-based. One day they did have a sign up for ‘nachos’ so I gave them a go and was pretty disappointed to be served a plate of cold tortilla chips (no salsa or cheese) with a small pot of jarred guac. Poor show.

The Local Shops

We discovered one local supermarket about a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel. It felt like quite a bit longer when trekking down a busy roadside in 30 degree heat but I was determined to find something to have for lunch as the nearest restaurants were a 20 minute walk in the opposite direction and some days we just wanted to sit on the beach or by the pool. I hit a jackpot in the little local shop, which stocked gluten free breakfast cereal and rice cakes – no fresh bread though, all gluten free bread in Spain seems to be frozen and not of much use to me in my hotel room.

Snapeas on the beach!
Snapeas on the beach!

One of the larger supermarkets in the town stocked Daura Damm, the gluten free lager, for just 0.69EUR a can – we carried a six pack back to our room and kept it in the fridge. A holiday’s not a holiday without an ice cold beer.

Eating Out

Lobster salad
Lobster salad

Finding suitable places to eat out was by far the hardest part of the holiday. Even vegetarian options were few and far between and Craig went for fish most of the time when we were out and about. Some of the worst meals I had included an anchovy and tuna salad, which was literally a tin of tuna, a few anchovies, plenty chopped fresh tomato and a big pile of sliced raw white onion. For real. Another salad I ordered was smoked salmon and gorgonzola, it came drenched in an over-powering cheesy dressing. Not my cup of tea.

Paella in Benidorm
Paella in Benidorm

As for the best meals, we had a couple of cracking paellas. The first was in a restaurant on Altea harbour, where we ordered the chef’s special menu and requested no gluten or meat. The waitress completely understood our request and we were served a fantastic four course meal that included a smoked salmon salad (done right), a salmon tartar, a fish paella and an ice cream and plum dessert. Big thumbs up for that one!

IMG_2745 IMG_2744 _MG_2754

When in Benidorm, we expected there would be more choice but this wasn’t the case. There were plenty of pizza places and fish and chips, but not much authentic Spanish food. We finally stumbled across Artegas II on the seafront after an hour-long trek around the city for something to suit our specific needs. Craig and I ordered the seafood paella and it was HUGE! Chock full of fresh seafood including clams, mussels, prawns and squid – absolutely delicious. By chance, Johnny Vegas and the Benidorm crew were also in this restaurant so Craig got a pic and the waiters were in great spirits too.

Seitan burger

Saving the best ‘til last, our favourite restaurant we visited during our break was Mamarosa. Located at the top of the hill in the heart of the old town, this fantastic little place is real gem in Altea’s crown. This was the only restaurant we had researched before travelling to Spain, as we had scoured the Altea Tripadvisor page for great gluten free and vegetarian food and this is what had popped up. Mamarosa is ran by couple Grego and Allan, who were both incredibly friendly and welcoming.

Gluten free chicken burger
Gluten free chicken burger

It was very pleasant to take a break from speaking pigeon Spanish to chat to Allan, who was from rural Scotland. He recommended a couple of fantastic wines (although we are not wine connoisseurs, we do enjoy a tipple or two). I had a gluten free chicken burger, which had a tropical twist and came with homemade chips. Craig had a seitan vegan burger, also served with chips

The whole meal was a absolute pleasure and a welcome break from the many tourist traps in the area.

All in all, the holiday was hit and miss for gluten free but we did have a couple of corking meals. I’m looking forward to seeing what Rhodes brings later on in the year, plenty of gyros, greek salads and cocktails I imagine!



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