My Life In Travel: Griff Rhys Jones
'I hate tourism – if I arrive at a place organised for tourists I'll turn around'
Saturday 29 September 2007
First holiday memory?
Going to Gorran Haven near Mevagissey in Cornwall. My father used to rent a holiday home from a fisherman who kept all his crabbing gear in a shed underneath the house. I remember running down a hill from the house and on to the beach. I was about five, and it was the only beach holiday I got at that time because after that my father bought a boat, so from that point our family holidays were spent in a state of panic. Now, I have a boat of my own. A boat is a middle-aged, middle-class man's alternative to a garden shed.
I have never taken a holiday when I've laid on a beach and read books; it's a waste of time. However, I did enjoy renting a boat near Tropea in Calabria and sailing to the Ionian Islands. That was a very good holiday – there was a storm and we climbed up a volcano. I'm very restless, so I like going to places that require a tiny bit of involvement in the actual journey, as opposed to just getting on an aeroplane.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
I have a base in Suffolk and a base in Wales, where I go quite frequently. But I think my favourite place for holidaying in the British Isles is Pembrokeshire. I like the slightly wild coastline between St David's and Fishguard, where the cliffs are overpowering granite monsters. Consequently, there doesn't seem to be the ruination there that low-grade tourism brings to Britain's beaches elsewhere. Britain's seaside is only gradually dragging itself out of the torpor brought on by the retreat to the Balearics. I also like the Essex and Suffolk coasts, although I'd advise people to avoid the Notting-Hill-on-Sea places like Southwold and Walberswick, unless they want to feel like they're attending a Channel 4 script meeting.
What have you learnt from your travels?
I always go away at the last minute, because I can never make a decision about where I want to go. I live the sort of life that most people would describe as a permanent holiday, because I have no routine. I really object to the routine of holidays. I just turn up and do whatever comes up. The idea that you go for a holiday which is circumscribed by a series of rules put together by a resort strikes me as crazy.
Ideal travelling companion?
Probably my wife.
Beach bum, culture vulture, or adrenalin junkie?
None of those. I find the idea of trundling around and ticking off buildings really tedious. I'll go and look at a few cathedrals and things like that, but I'm a variety junkie.
Greatest travel luxury?
A lot of books, which take up half of my luggage. You can usually buy new clothes abroad, but can find yourself stuck for good reading material. I read a lot of travel books.
Better to travel or arrive?
It's nearly always better to travel, as long as it's an interesting form of travelling – I don't enjoy flying. The current state of British airports is an absolute disgrace. However, I did enjoy renting an apartment in Rome recently, when I stayed in writing during the day and wandered around the city later on.
Driving around Brittany with my children when they were very small. It was utterly pointless. Every time we got to a hotel, we were heaving stuff out of the car to get it into the room, then going out and looking at some crappy French development that had ruined a perfectly nice bit of coastline and then moving on. It was freezing cold, too, and sat on a park bench staring out at the sea with the wind whipping around me and the children moaning, I could think of nothing better than getting back to work.
A hotel in Orvieto, Italy that was converted from a former palace. There wasn't anything like chocolates on the pillow or air-conditioning, but there was still a marble bath and a painted ceiling. It's a hotel that people who travel a lot probably fantasise about finding, because it wasn't fussy or intimidating, but straightforward with great space and huge rooms.
Favourite walk/swim/ ride/drive?
I don't have any – the word "favourite" implies that I would go back and do it over and over again, but I don't. I like going out in my boat, though.
Best meal abroad?
In Bangkok we were recommended a fish restaurant by our hotel. I ate a crab curry there and then I spent the rest of my time trying to order it in other places and eat it again, but without success. None were as good as that first one.
I'd quite like to explore the Black Sea coast and do a trip around the Great Lakes of North America. I sailed to St Petersburg and what I loved about the route I took was that I found myself not far from home, but in a world that seemed to be undisturbed by British tourism. I hate tourism; if I arrive at a place that has been organised for loads of tourists I'll turn around and leave, however far I've driven to get there. I don't quite get the point of Venice if all you do is wander around with a mass of people, because ultimately that's all you remember.
I think Palermo in Sicily is probably my favourite, because it has a lot of stories and if you go out of season you pretty much have it to yourself. All the buildings are falling down because the Mafia have stolen all the money to restore them, but it has a certain seedy glamour about it.
If I can get some time off, I'll hopefully go to the Mediterranean.
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