My life in travel: Greta Scacchi

'I can't bear leaving Sussex in summer – why go to the Med?'

First holiday memory?

My father was an art dealer and a real adventurer. In the early Sixties, he took us to Cyprus, Sweden, Germany, Morocco and Italy. I have vivid memories of being put on a camel in Cairo when I was four years old, and the feeling of its movement and that it nibbled my brother's hair. My parents bought us all lovely, striped cotton djellabas, which I've still got. We were wearing them as we ran around a market one day and were told to stop pestering the tourists!

Best holiday?

My last holiday, at Christmas. My daughter is 16 now and after a series of accidents and failures, we decided to splash out on a safari. We went to the Serengeti and stayed in beautiful lodges and camps for five days, followed by eight days in Zanzibar. We sat by the pool while she revised and I learnt my lines for a play; it was so relaxing.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

From having family in the West Country, being at school in Bristol and taking drives up to Scotland via the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, I have seen quite a bit of the British Isles. But I am still gobsmacked by the beauty of the South Downs, where I live. If it's a sunny day, the hills and dells look like sculptures of sleeping bodies.

What have you learnt from your travels?

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When I'm in Germany, I eat salami and cured ham and cheese for breakfast, which I would never do anywhere else. In Italy I have coffee and a sweet biscuit, and in India I have a spicy omelette.

Ideal travelling companion?

My husband, Carlo, because we're so used to each other and know each other very well. We can talk when we want and completely ignore each other at other times. He's a very good driver, too.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

It's great to do all three. If there are cultural places where you can nip to a natural environment, then all the better. I love beautiful, historic places and adventure, too. Those accidents that interrupt your plans can also be quite exciting.

Greatest travel luxury?

A pillow, particularly if I'm filming, because I need something to support my neck and help me sleep properly. Also, it's fantastic to travel and not have to worry about being photographed when I haven't done my hair. I love not having to groom myself.

Holiday reading?

I don't get much time to read when I'm at home, but I love to find the right book for the right place – it's wonderful if you can marry the atmosphere. I read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy in Kerala, which really sharpened my experience and perception of things around me. On the train through the Peruvian Andes I read Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Where has seduced you?

Gulmarg in Kashmir, where I filmed Heat and Dust in 1982. As the snow thawed and wild crocuses carpeted the ground we came down from the mountains, past bright-green rice paddies and stayed on houseboats in Srinagar, which were scented with sandalwood. The woods were carpeted with giant pansies. The whole place was absolutely magical. Srinagar has an atmosphere of another century; there are Tudor-style gables, fortune-tellers and little match girls selling fake watches.

Better to travel or arrive?

The bane of our lives is flying. Through my childhood, we'd get the ferry and train to Italy, and I miss that real-time, overland aspect of travel. Flying is so unnatural.

Worst travel experience?

On a long-haul flight with a toddler when everyone was sleeping, including the air hostesses. I was struggling with a completely wide-awake beast who wouldn't stop moving and grabbing the person in front's hair, while I could hardly keep my eyes open. I tried to tire her out by walking her up and down the stairs but an air hostess popped up and told me, "This is a staircase, not a playground." So I asked her where the playground was.

Worst hotel?

A number of British hotels. I remember a particular hotel on the Isle of Man, which was like Fawlty Towers without the humour.

Best hotel?

The San Giorgio on Lake Como. I don't have a populist idea of what luxury is: there are no televisions and the furniture is the same as it was 100 years ago. They haven't butchered it to accommodate fire-safe doors and mod cons. It has a beautiful view on the most picturesque setting and a very good restaurant.

Favourite walk/ swim/ride/drive?

Taking the train anywhere around Switzerland and northern Italy. You can't read a book because you have to lap up the most dramatic view before you shoot back into a mountain tunnel.

Best meal abroad?

Mozzarella in Paestum, near Naples. It's surrounded by buffalo meadows, where real mozzarella comes from. You have it as a dish on its own and you don't need any condiment because it's so tasty. It's impossible to describe the consistency. By the time it's travelled anywhere further afield, it's had it.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

I feel a bit confused until I know my bearings.

Dream trip?

As a teenager I relished accounts of sailing round the world, so I think I'd like to sail around the South Pacific or the Galapagos Islands.

Favourite city?

Naples. It's so full of life and you can get to all sorts of fantastic places from there. The climate and views are the best and it's home to the most likeable Italians. It has a complete lack of snobbery that exists in other parts of Italy. Neapolitans are open, funny and they'd steal anything off you! They embrace life.

Where next?

I can't bear leaving Sussex during the summer. Why go to the Mediterranean when everyone else does? I'm not going anywhere until I go to Sydney in autumn, when I have a job. We're going to visit China on the way.

Interview by Sophie Lam

Greta Scacchi is starring in 'The Deep Blue Sea' at the Vaudeville Theatre in London, until 5 July (box office: 0844 412 4663)

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