'I love visiting Italy and plan to retire there'

First holiday memory?

Seaton Valley; we used to go with the parents and grandparents. I remember the coloured doors on the chalets and people saying good morning to each other, which I wasn't used to growing up in Peckham.

Best holiday?

I love visiting Italy. The whole country's one fantastic restaurant. I love it all: the south for the simplicity and beauty of its food, the middle for its history and the north for its style. I am going to retire there.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

I'm a passionate Londoner. It's a fantastic city and people who don't like it just don't know it. There are such vast differences. Standing by the Serpentine in Hyde Park, you wouldn't think that Clerkenwell wasn't far away and from Blackheath you can be at Tower Bridge in 15 minutes.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Learn foreign words rather than phrases. If you reel off a phrase, people will reply thinking that you understand what they are saying back to you.

Ideal travelling companion?

My fiancée, Heidi, because she is resourceful – she can read a map and keep a running budget.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I'm a cross between a beach bum and a culture vulture. The best holidays start with a city and end with a beach. I'm not an adrenalin junkie. I've done a bit of zip wiring through rainforests and I ski, but I'm a fat old dad – chocolate pudding junkie is more like it.

Greatest travel luxury?

I can go anywhere in the world but I like coming back to a smart hotel. I don't do roughing it. I'm happy as long as I've got quality room service and plumbing to come back to at night.

Holiday reading?

I don't understand why people read trash on holiday, because it's the one chance to catch up on something quality. I enjoy history books – I found myself reading about Stalingrad when I was in Dubai.

Where has seduced you?

I have recently discovered the most beautiful place in the world – Lake Como. I've never seen anywhere so beautiful and serene. The atmosphere impacts on the people; everyone is chilled out and speaks slowly and softly. It's beautiful.

Better to travel or arrive?

I like the thrill of travelling, although I'm not a comfortable flyer – it's an awful way to travel. Cruising is good because every couple of days you're somewhere different. As a dad cruises are absolutely brilliant, because as any parent will know, if the kids aren't occupied then you don't have a good time.

Worst travel experience?

Flying to the Caribbean on a plane that you probably wouldn't have wanted to fly to Scotland on. Also an hour on an elephant in a ruinously sweltering day in Jaipur. They don't go that fast; it seemed a really good idea at the time.

Worst holiday?

Tunisia a couple of years ago with my kids. It was Easter and freakishly cold and all the other children were French so my kids had nobody to play with.

Worst hotel?

A hotel in Guatemala where you basically locked yourself in an iron cage when you went to bed, because the country had just come out of civil war.

Best hotel?

The Grand Hotel Tremezzo on Lake Como and the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. You walk into the Captain's Bar at the Mandarin Oriental and get your beer in a pewter jug and you can feel your wallet shivering in fear.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

I live by the sea in Seasalter, Kent, where I walk the dogs along the beach. It's lovely in autumn when the tourists have gone.

Best meal abroad?

A little restaurant in Basilicata, southern Italy, where the vegetable is king. It was the first time I'd eaten broad beans with chicory – the bitterness and sweet tastes were so simple but absolutely lovely.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

I unpack, so I know where everything is. Then I go and explore and get my bearings, even if it's just to find where the restaurant is. Then I find someone important and tip them.

Dream trip?

I hope to be married soon so I'm looking forward to a honeymoon hideaway with a pile of books.

Favourite city?

Florence – there should be a picture of it next to the word decadence in the dictionary. There's all that unbelievable art just lying around. Even the police station is hundreds of years old. You're just blasé about it in the end.

Where next?

I'm skiing and messing around in the snow in Italy.

Gregg Wallace presents MasterChef on BBC One at 8pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays and 8.30pm on Fridays. The MasterChef Cookbook is published by DK (£20)