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My life in travel: Cressida Cowell

‘The Loire Valley is utterly beautiful’

Children's writer Cressida Cowell is author of the How to Train Your Dragon series. Her latest book, How to Seize a Dragon's Jewel, is out now (Hodder, £5.99).

First holiday memory?

Every year, my family and I would get deposited on this tiny uninhabited island in the Inner Hebrides. There was nothing – no electricity, phones or hotels – so we had to camp and bring our own supplies. You had the whole island to yourself. My father later bought a house there, so I promised him I would never reveal the name. It became the inspiration for my books.

Best holiday?

Crete. My parents have a flat in Chania, so we stayed with them and then travelled east to Heraklion to visit the archaeological museum.

Also, a walking holiday in the Dordogne with my husband. You could eat all the time, because you had earned it.

What have you learnt from your travels?

I went on an amazing trip when I was nine with my mother and the architectural theorist Charles Jencks. We drove through France, down to Italy, stopping at churches and museums. I think I passed my A-level in art history on that trip.

Ideal travelling companion?

My husband and our three children. In 2009, we all went to Los Angeles, as I was working on the film version of How to Train Your Dragon. It's got a fantastic climate and the Chateau Marmont is a great place to stay with children. The staff are so used to dealing with difficult movie stars – they're relieved to see kids.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

It depends on whether you've been working hard. Sometimes, the beach is all you want. We went on a Turkish gulet cruise recently, which was lovely and very relaxing. The weather was hot and the sea warm enough to swim in.

Greatest travel luxury?

Flying business class to LA. I think it cured me of my fear of flying. Everyone's so nice, you think you couldn't be about to die.

Holiday reading?

Biographies and historical books. Recently, I've read Serving Victoria by Kate Hubbard and Rupert Everett's Vanished Years.

Where has seduced you?

Arcachon in south-western France. It's got beautiful architecture, lovely beaches, great food and is populated mainly by French tourists.

Worst travel experience?

Travelling back from Rome before I'd conquered my phobia of flying. I got to the airport and refused to get on the plane. Instead, I got a taxi to the station and nearly died three times because Roman cabs are far more dangerous than any aircraft. I eventually got on a train, but it took me two-and-a-half days to get back. The only salvation was a copy of Middlemarch, which provided endless comfort.

Better to travel or arrive?

Infinitely better to arrive. I haven't got to the point where I actually enjoy flying, but at least I'm not in sheer terror all the time now either.

Worst hotel?

A place in Edinburgh which my publisher booked as a treat. It was very glamorous, but there was a nightclub, which didn't close until 3am. I had to go down to reception in my pyjamas to complain.

Favourite ride?

Cycling through the Loire Valley. It's quite flat, completely beautiful and hasn't changed in years. My brother-in-law's family lives there, so I go back frequently.

Best meal abroad?

Slow-cooked lamb stew at a taverna in the interior of Crete. We had been walking for hours; it was very hot and we sat down to look out across beautiful mountains and olive groves. Eating outdoors is very special. It makes the food taste better.

Favourite city?

London. It's where I grew up and where I still live today. It's such a vibrant place, with so many different people all jumbled together. My patch is Hammersmith, but I love Portobello Market, Soho and Theatreland too. I've got a soft spot for Kew Gardens because my dad used to be chairman. We're very lucky to have such great green spaces.

Where next?

We've booked a holiday in Arcachon this summer but, before that, we'll probably go to Crete at Easter to see my parents and the incredible wild flowers at that time of year, then back to our Hebridean island with the kids. It's cut off from all television, Facebook and phones, so it's a good experience for today's children.