Claudia Roden: My life in travel

'I've had many memorable meals in Italy. Cooking is a landscape in a saucepan'

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The Independent Travel

Claudia Roden's book 'The Food of Italy', updated with new recipes and illustrations, is published by Square Peg, £25.

First holiday memory

Driving to Alexandria [from home in Cairo], with lots of relatives in lots of different cars. I remember suddenly seeing the sea.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

Apart from London, probably Cookham in Berkshire, by the Thames, because somebody in the family has a house there and I go there a lot. We walk up to the river and go to pubs on the way. I'm very happy there.

Best holiday?

I don't really go on holiday; I go away with work. I did go on holiday with my parents when we were young; we would go for three months to Italy – my father would buy printed silk at Lake Como. We stayed by the lakes and we went to the sea and the mountains, so we had three different types of holiday. And we'd go every year, so we would meet the same people who would go every year as well.

Claudia Roden

What have you learnt from your travels?

I want to try everything; it's one of the most exciting parts of travelling. I don't look at guides – I just go. I want to be surprised and to discover things I didn't expect. And I often read about the place only when I come back, to really put the experience in context, historically and politically.

Ideal travelling companion?

I have a lot of friends that I really love who would be nice to go away with. But really my best travelling companions are my three children, because we can share the room.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I wonder whether you'd call me a culture vulture because I don't go to museums. I do sometimes when they're there, but I like getting the feel of the place just by walking in a city. I always like the old parts of cities. I really find it exciting, enthralling, to walk in Italian cities.

Greatest travel luxury?

To be shown around by somebody who lives there and who knows the place well. That, for me, is the greatest thing. It makes any place more exciting because you feel the depth of the place and what's going on now, but also what was going on in the past. A lot of people I've met by chance have become friends and they often come and stay with me; it's opened and enriched my life.

Holiday reading?

Often when I travel, I don't have enough time to really get into a book. So I bring parts of the newspapers. The kind of thing I can just read when I'm sitting in a café or before I go to sleep.

Where has seduced you?

There are so many places I think are magical. So many cities, including, for instance, Seville in Spain, or places like Fès or Marrakech. You know you are going to a place and you feel it's a new world that you're entering and you can't get enough of it. It's just extremely thrilling.

Worst travel experience?

I stayed in a terrible hotel in Alexandria. I went to sleep and it was the first time I was bitten by fleas. There were no proper sheets, just sort of rugs. It was so horrible that in the middle of the night I just packed my bags and left. I thought I'd rather sleep in the street.

Best hotel?

A few years ago I went to a hotel in Amsterdam which was called De L'Europe. I've gone there again a couple of times. I go to Amsterdam a lot. I've stayed at wonderful hotels there; De L'Europe is so grand, but they have some small hotels that are absolutely wonderful too.

Favourite walk, swim, ride or drive?

I think my favourite walks are through cities. And, of course, I also like swimming in the sea. I say "of course" because I was a champion swimmer in Egypt once upon a time, when I was 15. I swam backstroke. So, I do like swimming but I don't swim any more.

Best meal abroad?

It's so difficult. There are so many, because I'm 78 and I've been travelling for food for so long. In Italy, there has been a memorable meal in every town. There is a Spanish writer who wrote that "cooking is a landscape in a saucepan". And really it is a bit like that.

Favourite city?

Again, so many. I could say Paris because it is where I went to school and I go there a lot. I have school friends and relatives there. Just wandering around Paris is to me a very happy thing. It's all familiar but I keep discovering something else.

Where next?

I'm going to Jerusalem and then I'm going to Amsterdam again to do a masterclass. After that I'm going to Vienna.