My Life In Travel: Cherie Lunghi, actress

'The Chinese harp sent me into a world of cherry blossom and bamboo'

First holiday memory?

A holiday in Whitley Bay in North Tyneside with my mum when I was about five. We used to visit her cousins up there. We stayed in a B&B and went to the fairground at The Spanish City; my favourite ride was the helter skelter with the scratchy mats. I remember the thrill of buying brightly coloured buckets and spades and my excitement when the bus reached the top of the hill and there at last was the vast, glittering sea before me. It was probably the first time I saw the English seaside.

Best holiday?

Italy and India, which are countries that I revisit. I particularly love southern India and Tuscany. I had my first spa holiday at the Fonteverde Terme Hotel in Tuscany, where you can soak in thermal waters; the view was beautiful.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

At the beginning of my acting career, I worked for two seasons at the RSC and spent a lot of time in the Cotswolds exploring Shakespeare's countryside. It's my kind of English landscape, with its tiny villages and one-room thatched pubs.

What have you learnt from your travels?

That war is good for absolutely nothing, because no matter how far and wide apart we may live we're all the same under the skin. We all want to live, laugh and love.

Ideal travelling companion?

A good friend or lover with a sense of adventure and humour; someone you can get the giggles with and who will go with the flow if things go awry. That's a particular requisite if you're travelling in India.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I enjoy art, architecture, museums, churches and temples; anything that gives me insight into the history and soul of the place I'm in. I can also be a beach bum – I like to laze in the shade of a palm tree with a good book or float in a warm sea at sundown.

Greatest travel luxury?

Getting an upgrade on a long-haul flight so that I can sleep horizontally.

Holiday reading?

Holidays are the only time I read as intensely as I like to. I take novels I've been meaning to read for ages and a good guidebook so that I can choose what I want to see.

Where has seduced you?

Thailand, from where I've just returned. I was staying at Chiva Som, which is a spa hotel in Hua Hin. I started meditation there and my teacher was a delightful, wise and happy Chinese man. Every morning we discussed life and the universe and he'd play haunting music on a Chinese harp, which would help me to switch off my chattering brain and tune into a world of cherry blossom and bamboo.

Better to travel or to arrive?

I like to arrive at night so I can wake up and something completely new is revealed to me. At night, you only have the smell of a place. I love train journeys, particularly in India.

Worst hotel?

I've slept in a couple of hotel rooms where you couldn't swing a cat and the towels were like thin sandpaper.

Best hotel?

I do like five-star luxury and the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc at Cap d'Antibes is a particularly lovely hotel where I've had the pleasure of staying. I really enjoyed staying at an encampment at the top of a hill in the Samburu Reserve in Kenya. You reach it on a small plane; there is no electricity, no city noises and you sleep and shower under the Milky Way, with moths fluttering around a kerosene lamp, knowing that there are elephants and lions roaming free in the valley. It was there that I understood what Kipling meant when he said that "the dawn comes up like thunder". I very much like sleeping out in the open.

Favourite walk/swim/ ride/drive?

I did a month-long art course in Florence and early every morning I would walk along the bank of the River Arno to get to my school. At the weekends I'd get up at dawn and walk around, feeling as if I had the city almost to myself. The odd street cleaner would be out and the markets would be just setting up their stalls. The light is just beautiful there.

Best meal abroad?

I spent a day on a rice boat on the backwaters of Kerala with an old school friend. We stopped at a fisherman's hut and bought fresh crayfish, which the crew curried. We moored at the side of the river and we had the most delicious meal. The setting was unique and the food sublime.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

Dunk myself in the sea if it's warm enough, or seek out the nearest art gallery.

Dream trip?

I'd very much like to go to Brazil, especially at carnival time, and explore the country by road and sea.

Favourite city?

Florence or Venice, the latter especially out of season when it's dank and mysterious, and I can get lost in the labyrinth of alleyways. It's very atmospheric.

Where next?

I'm going to Turkey with a friend that I do a road trip with every couple of years. We're going to Istanbul and then we are going to drive down to visit her father, stopping off on the way to visit some ancient sites.

Cherie Lunghi stars in 'Casualty 1907', on BBC1 this spring