Browse Month by April 2015
Travelling with 5

Family Holiday in Limassol, Cyprus

A Cyprus family holiday - Elias Beach hotel - afreefromlife.com

This year we chose the Elias Beach Hotel in Limassol, Cyprus for our annual family holiday. By family I mean all thirteen of us, from the youngest at aged six to the oldest at 72.

It’s normally difficult enough as it is to choose accommodation that suits the five of us, so you can imagine what it was like finding somewhere for a large group.

The requests were:
Somewhere hot but not too far away
Somewhere with a beach and a pool
A holiday where we don’t have to go anywhere (this one was based on the fact that our usual holidays involve daily trips out and sight seeing)

I added to this list:
A decent sized family room
Somewhere that is prepared to cater for my son (gluten and dairy free)

Normally hotel rooms are for up to four people and not many will guarantee an interconnecting room. This is why we rarely stay at hotels because I prefer not to take that risk. I also hate the idea of the five of us squashed in a tiny room for a week. This holiday, we didn’t have to worry about that though, as my eldest daughter was sharing a room with my mum, so it meant getting a family room for my husband and I to share with our two youngest.

When we settled on Cyprus, it was time to choose the hotel. It’s a long old process, but eventually my sister in law and I found the Elias Beach hotel and it seemed to have the best option for family rooms (one of the largest that we came across). I found a review on trip advisor that said the hotel catered for their gluten free needs, so I was happy with that. We booked five rooms and got a good all inclusive deal.

I was concerned about the all inclusive bit, so I emailed the hotel nearer to our arrival to check that they would be able to provide food for my six year old and they assured me that would be fine.

After a late arrival on the Saturday evening, we were surprised to find that our first day was Easter sunday, celebrated a week later than in the UK. Within ten minutes of being out by the pool, we found ourselves doing an Easter egg hunt (most bizarre I can tell you), much to the delight and amusement of the children. We were later to discover that the entertainment team (affectionately referred to by us as the pink people, due to the colour of their t-shirts) would be out organising games by the pool at intervals during the course of the day: my twelve year old nephew was kept happily amused all week playing water basketball and polo.

Rooms


Our room was a good size, with a separate sleeping area for the children. I was under the impression that it would have bunks beds, but what we had instead were two small sofas converted to beds. I thought that the room was a little dated and the mattresses were incredibly hard. After a couple of days, the children were complaining that theirs were too hard too, so I asked the reception if they had something. To their credit, they put mattress toppers on all our beds, which made a big difference.

Food
It’s always a concern wherever we go when it comes to getting food for our little one. I was so relieved to find a huge buffet of food choices at every meal time and chefs who were able to tell me exactly what was in each dish. The catering team were so fantastic and accommodating that I couldn’t thank them enough. If the vegetables had butter on them, they would cook up a separate batch just for him, if the meat had a creamy sauce or contained gluten, they would make him a plain piece. They kept gluten free bread in the freezer and soya milk in a separate fridge and they even bought some gluten free cereal especially for us. On the day we were leaving, they also made some sandwiches to take on the plane, as we knew we wouldn’t be able to get him anything else.

Being little and cute helped and my son was given so much attention by the chefs, who seemed to take a shine to him. Of course he loved that!

In other areas of the hotel, such as by the pool or in the cafe bar, you could get drinks at any time up until 11pm, as part of your all inclusive package. Sandwiches were available in between meal times to keep you going if you needed them (not that you did given the amount of food you could eat at every other sitting!).

Staff
I’ve already mentioned the catering staff and how good they were. The same goes for all the staff we encountered. They are all incredibly friendly and on the ball and would go out of their way to help you. It’s obvious that they work hard for their tips and it’s well deserved. As I have never been all inclusive before, I didn’t expect the waiting staff to be so attentive when it came to offering drinks. But whenever you went in the café bar, they would come over and serve you and in the restaurants at lunch and dinner time, they were constantly checking to see if you needed water or any other drinks. They never minded re-arranging tables so we could all sit together either, which when there are so many of you, is a real bonus.

The entertainment team worked incredibly hard. Not only were they out by the pool most of the day, they hosted the evening entertainment as well. This included a children’s mini disco with dancing and games, a quiz, bingo and then a live cabaret show. They’re all lovely talented individuals and great sports. I say this because on a few occasions they were performing by the pool to only a handful of people and a couple of times at the kids disco, we were the only ones there. They did their show anyway and our kids loved it. It was much appreciated and certainly made a big impression on my eight year old, who wants to be an entertainer like them when she grows up!

Cyprus family holiday - Elias Beach hotel - afreefromlife.com

This was a holiday of relaxing by the pool and enjoying the sunshine. Unfortunately, the first few days were cloudy and cool and because the pool isn’t heated, it was too cold to go in. My younger two found they were at a loss for what to do, so they asked to go in the kids club (yes they really did). We have never put them in a kids club before and I was surprised to find that it was put on at no extra cost. For two hours on a morning and two hours in the afternoon, the children could go along and take part in the daily activities of crafts and games.

The hotel was very busy during the first weekend, but by Tuesday numbers had reduced. We arrived at the same time as a wedding party of around 60 people and other than a group of German tourists that appeared in the restaurant in the evenings, we were practically the only ones there, which was lovely. This meant that the little ones had the kids club to themselves almost everyday, so they were very lucky.

Facilities
As well as the outdoor pool and splash pool for the little ones, the hotel also had a small indoor pool. It was handy to make use of this when the weather wasn’t so good. It was certainly useful to keep the older children entertained.

For those who feel inclined, there is a gym at the hotel too. I never even took my trainers, but my husband did and he went a couple of times. There is also a path that runs along the beach front that is popular with runners. The beach itself was dirty when we first arrived – full of litter, but after a couple of days was tidied up. The hotel has its own private beach area and beach bar (although it wasn’t open at the time when we went). The beach is man-made, with dark, volcanic sand, not the prettiest, but I have it on good authority that it makes great sandcastles. The only problem was, that three of the children reacted to something on the sand, whether it was the sand itself or something that bit them, but they each had a rash all over their feet and had to stay off it.

We all (well the girls, at least) took advantage of an offer in the spa to have our nails done. Again another friendly member of staff, who made a lovely job of them using the Shellac gel polish. I also had a back massage, as did my husband, which was excellent. There were many other treatments on offer that you could take advantage of if you wished, all reasonable priced.

With a tennis court, indoor squash court and also the opportunity to try out archery during the week, we found there were plenty of activities on offer. Our eleven and twelve year old contingents were kept suitably amused and what was great about the hotel complex was they could have free run of it. Whilst there is plenty there, it’s not too big, so you know they’re never too far away.

A Cyprus family holiday - Elias Beach hotel - afreefromlife.com

The aim of this holiday was that there would be something for everyone, whether that meant relaxing and doing nothing or being actively involved in activities that were on offer. We certainly got that and it was a success all round.

I’m still not a fan of resort holidays. We got lucky in that it was so quiet in the hotel. I can imagine at peak season, having to fight for a sunbed and queue up every mealtime would be a different story and I’m not sure I would enjoy that at all. Having said that, when you go away with a large group, it’s the perfect solution and no doubt we will do it again next year.

Health

What Food Do You Miss Most When You’re Away From Home?

Simple green salad - afreefromlife.com

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We have just returned from a week staying all-inclusive at a hotel in Cyprus. I know this sounds like the ideal holiday for anyone and it was great (more about that in another post), but there is, of course, the issue of what to eat if you suffer from intolerance and IBS as I do.

Fortunately, the buffet food on offer every night was varied and tasty, with plenty of choices to satisfy most palates. I will be writing plenty more about this trip, particularly from the point of view of my gluten and dairy intolerant son, but for this post I am concentrating more about how changing your diet affects you.

I tried to stick to white meat or fish, always with vegetables like brocoli, carrots and green beans, sometimes pasta with a creamy sauce and sometimes stir fry noodles. I’m aware of what I can’t eat, so I stayed well clear, which meant no potatoes or chips, nothing with a tomato-based sauce and no mixed salads or anything containing peppers or aubergines.

Everything I ate was tasty and I was never left wanting, but my diet for the week was so different to what it is at home, that I have returned from my week away feeling sick, as though I have over indulged.

I didn’t eat any sweet desserts, but I did have cheese and biscuits and that along with a couple of creamy pasta and vegetarian dishes makes me think that I over did it on the dairy front. When I am at home, I eat pretty much the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day. It’s only my evening meal that’s varied. I have a slice of my homemade gluten free bread with almond butter first thing and a green salad of spinach, cucumber and avocado with cooked Turkey and a pitta bread at lunch.

This might sounds dull to some but it works for me. There is no way I could eat a full English for breakfast each day, as was possible on holiday. I did eat a boiled egg with some rye toast or some halloumi cheese with omelette and grilled courgettes and carrots on most days though, followed by a plateful of meat, salad or veg and pasta for lunch and then another meal later in the evening.

My digestive system needs a holiday and I was looking forward to coming home to simple food again. What have I missed the most when I’ve been away? Well it’s the two things I mentioned above – a fresh spinach salad and a chunky slice of toast.

Post holiday detox - afreefromlife.com

I started my day (today) with a cup of hot lemon water and an avocado, as I couldn’t face anything else. Then I made a loaf of bread, ready for later. My simple salad lunch was a welcome relief from all the rich food I’ve had this week. Made up of fresh spinach, cucumber and cooked turkey, sprinkled with pumpkin and sunflower seeds and drizzled with avocado oil, it was just enough for my poorly tummy.

Simple green salad - afreefromlife.com

As we had a late flight back last night and I felt too sick to eat on the plane, I missed dinner. That’s not a bad thing, considering I didn’t need to give my digestive system any more work to do. Today has been about plain and simple food to get me back on track again.

Seen as though I didn’t have any ready this morning, I had my slice of toast as an afternoon snack. Oh how I missed this!

Gluten free bread - afreefromlife.com

See my gluten free bread recipe here.

Health

What Are FODMAPS?

What are FODMAPS - afreefromlife.com

FODMAPS is a collective term given to a group of carbohydrates. It stands for (wait for it) Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols.

Australian researchers at Monash University in Melbourne developed the FODMAP diet following studies conducted amongst self-diagnosed gluten sensitive individuals. The research indicated that in patients whose diets were low in FODMAPS, gluten did not produce a specific negative effect. Since many FODMAP-containing foods also contain gluten, they concluded that it’s possible to control symptoms by reducing these carbohydrates in the diet.

So what are they I hear you cry?
This group of carbohydrates are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and when eaten they alter the fluid content of the colon. Bacteria in the colon ferment undigested material, producing gases such as hydrogen and methane and this can result in symptoms such as bloating, constipation etc.

Oligosaccharides (such as fructans and galactans)
These are found in wheat, beans, pulses and vegetables such as onions. They also come in the form of inulin and fructooligosaccharides (both food additives).

Disaccharides
These include lactose found in cow’s milk and goat’s milk, cheese and yoghurt.

Monosaccharides
Fructose is a monosaccharide – found in fruit and honey and added to many processed foods (high fructose corn syrup, for example).

Polyols
These are sugar alcohols found in diet and sugar-free foods in the form of sorbitol and xylitol. They occur naturally in peaches, plums mushrooms and cauliflower.

I first came to hear about FODMAPS via the consultant who treated my husband. He has a hiatus hernia and suffers from gastrointestinal reflux. An alkaline diet partially controls his symptoms, along with prescribed medication, but he has also found that reducing FODMAP foods from his diet helps enormously.

As an IBS sufferer, I am very interested in FODMAPS. I put up with my symptoms for a long time because there never seemed to be anything specific that triggered them. It’s so difficult to pinpoint the problem foods and I didn’t consider it a problem that required medical attention. I didn’t think a doctor would be interested to be honest and back then, they probably wouldn’t have been.

Since then, I’ve found that avoiding nightshade foods, namely tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and aubergines leaves me symptom free. There are some foods on the FODMAP list of no-no’s that I can’t eat but there are others that I’m fine with, for example onions and mushrooms. Unfortunately, these don’t agree with my husband at all and neither does cauliflower, which I love as an alternative to mashed potato. You can’t win when you are trying to cater for different food avoidance issues!

My thoughts on FODMAPS?
I have a poster stuck on my fridge door and I use it as a guide. As far as my husband is concerned, following a low FODMAP diet significantly reduces his symptoms. The key is to consider it as a reduction of these foods not a complete elimination. After all, with so many foods on the list you could end up with a very limited choice for your diet. This is never a good thing. It’s possible that not every food on the list will aggravate your symptoms, so it’s best to try omitting a few at a time and see how you get on. In my husband’s case, if he fancies eating a cooked breakfast and it comes with grilled mushrooms, he will eat them. As long as he sticks to a restricted diet most of the time, the occasional break doesn’t do any damage. It depends whether you are prepared to suffer the consequences of falling off the wagon, so to speak.

Have you come across FODMAPS and if so, does it work for you?

Baking

Gluten and Dairy Free Granola Bars

Gluten and dairy free granola bars - afreefrom life.com

Gluten and dairy free granola bars - afreefromlife.com

I have a weakness for Granola bars. Packed full of oats, seeds and fruit, they should be a healthy treat and one that sustains your energy levels for a long period. However, shop bought varieties are often so full of sugar that it tends to ruin the overall ‘healthiness’. Continue Reading