My life in travel: Helen McCrory

'I was a teenager in Paris and I was proposed to there. It's special to me'

Helen McCrory is an actress. She is currently appearing in BBC2's crime drama, Peaky Blinders, which concludes this Thursday at 9pm

First holiday memory?

Buying a postcard in the Seychelles of a flamenco dancer. The dress was sewn with cotton: she had black hair and a yellow dress, bright red beads and a castanet. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. It's had a huge influence on my wardrobe ever since. My father was a diplomat so we lived in Africa – in Cameroon and Tanzania – and also in Norway and Paris.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

Wales. We go to Damian's family [McCrory is married to the actor, Damian Lewis]. They have a place in the Brecon Beacons. My grandfather, who is also Welsh, used to call it "God's country". I might not be religious, but I do agree.

Ideal travelling companion?

My husband, Damian. I think that might be quite a few people's answer, but I just happen to be married to him. We travel a lot and he's ideal because he's very interested in where we go and in meeting people. He always reserves judgement. I think that's very important.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

We just got back from the north of Ibiza. I loved discovering all those little coves, the little beaches and eating really good sardines on plastic tables in huts beside the beach. We walked around the Old Town and sailed on a yacht. I was completely charmed.

Holiday reading?

I like arriving somewhere new, having done a lot of reading, but where possible, never having looked at any photographs or any images. It spoils the surprise.

Where has seduced you?

Cuba was extraordinary. I arrived in Havana then travelled around. I expected the beauty of the place, that faded glory – which I always think is much more alluring than when the gold has been polished and the brick has been cleaned. But it was such a different culture: the music in the evening, the people and the food.

Worst travel experience?

Arriving in Rome late one evening to discover that I hadn't booked the hotel I thought I had. I eventually managed to get a room in a place that resembled an office block. I locked the door, turned the lights off and I heard something happening in the corridor. It was a police raid. I pushed the wardrobe up against the door and sat in the wardrobe with my feet pushed against another bed, because people were trying to get in. I discovered I was the only one in the hotel who wasn't actually a prostitute. It was bad.

Best hotel?

I have stayed in some of the most beautiful hotels in the world, whether it's the Gritti Palace in Venice or fantastic hotels in Barcelona and New York. But I think the best hotel is anywhere actually that isn't ubiquitous, anywhere that is original and where people treat you with kindness, despite what you're paying.

Favourite ride?

My mum taught riding in Tanzania so we used to go on hacks across the bush. My lingering memory is being bucked off a horse that saw a snake.

Greatest adventure?

Iceland was otherworldly. I wasn't sure whether it was the oldest place on the planet or whether I was light-years ahead. There were lights in the sky and wild ponies running up to the car.

Best meal abroad?

I'm a really bad cook, but a real foodie, so I've got to work hard to feed my habit. The best meal is having seafood, when I've just been swimming and have sea salt on my skin. I'm not talking about whelks in St Ives here; I'm talking about lobster, preferably on the back of a little fishing boat somewhere.

Favourite city?

Paris. I was a teenager there and I was proposed to there, so it's special to me. The city is preserved in aspic. When you return, not only is the same restaurant still there, but so is the chef. It's like visiting a favourite armchair.

Where next?

I'd love to go to Burma. I'd love to go to Tibet. I'd love to go to Argentina. I'm also dying to go to India. I don't know what I'll feel about it, but I want to see Mumbai.

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