My Life In Travel: Denise Lewis, British athlete and Olympic gold medallist

'I visit Jamaica to get a sense of going back to my roots'

First holiday memory?

When I was about nine, my mum, aunt and cousin and I went to Jamaica. It was the first time my mum had been back since she left as a child. I met my mum's brother and my great grandmother and her three sisters. We went for about four weeks and it was amazing. I remember thinking "this is hot" when we got off the plane; as we came out of Montego Bay airport I nearly fell off my feet from the heat.

Best holiday?

My happiest memories are in Jamaica with family. It has a sense of going back to my roots and it's always nice to see where my family grew up and how things have changed. I took my children for the first time last year. Only my uncle and his wife and children are living there now, so it's quite emotional. The kids loved it; it's important for them to have a connection there.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

I'm from the Midlands so I do like going up to Birmingham and Wolverhampton to see friends and family. I've also spent some time in Cardiff and I think it's absolutely beautiful. I love the Welsh accent, too.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Preparation is key. I'd rather pay a bit extra for my baggage allowance, especially now I've got kids. I need to cover every eventuality.

Ideal travelling companion?

I should say my husband Steve, but he's either snoring or with his head in the papers on the plane, so I'd have to say my best friend – we can chat and gossip.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

Beach bum. I'd like to do a bit more culture when my kids are a bit older. I spent a week in Berlin for the World Championships in Athletics last year and I think that's a great city.

Greatest travel luxury?

I always take face creams, such as La Prairie's Caviar cream and a little bag of peanut M&Ms.

Holiday reading?

I only read on the flight, particularly if I'm travelling with my husband. I love Psychologies magazine. Books are difficult with children.

Where has seduced you?

St Lucia. I'd always wanted to go because I'd heard how beautiful it was. I finally went last year. It was every bit as peaceful, relaxing and picturesque as you could imagine. The people have a wonderful temperament: they are very chilled. I stayed at Cap Maison, which was very indulgent.

Better to travel or arrive?

I don't mind travelling now that airports are getting good at facilities – although the food still leaves something to be desired. Because I've travelled so often, I've got used to it.

Worst travel experience?

We flew to New York for five days with my middle child and he was an absolute nightmare. He was the child you pray is not on your flight. He didn't sleep until we descended into JFK and in the meantime he was kicking the chair in front, ripping the headrest and playing with the person in front's hair. I was exhausted when we arrived.

Worst hotel?

It's one in Russia many moons ago, which I still have the scars from. We were there for an under-23 GB athletics competition and we stayed at what we thought was a half-decent hotel. All the food was in aspic, there were cockroaches, holes in the wall and dirty towels and bed sheets. We didn't sleep at night. In the end, two of my team-mates came in and shared me and my room-mate's single beds. It wasn't the best preparation for the competition.

Best hotel?

The Trisara just outside Phuket, which was our honeymoon hotel. I was sceptical that it wasn't going to be as good as it looked in photos on the internet but it blew me away. It was so beautiful and luxurious – there were fresh petals on the bed. The food was incredible and we learnt to make the recipes on the menu in the kitchen.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

I have family in Switzerland and we once drove from Basel down to Lugano, which was breathtaking, with the lakes and mountains.

Best meal abroad?

I love eating in Jamaica because I don't indulge in a lot of West Indian food at home. I love curried goat and white rice with plantain and steamed cabbage with black pepper.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

Unpack and then run straight into the bathroom. I love bathrooms.

Dream trip?

St Petersburg is somewhere I really want to go. It seems completely out of this world with all that history and culture. It looks like a very romantic place.

Favourite city?

I really like Stockholm – and Amsterdam, where I lived for about four years. I love the fact you can get around on bicycles – there's a real sense of freedom and liberalness. The Dutch have a great sense of humour, too.

Where next?

I'm going to India for the 2012 International Inspiration programme in conjunction with Unicef and the British Council. I've never been before so I'm really looking forward to it. It will be a great trip; it's about inspiring young people so we'll be going on lots of field trips.

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