My Life In Travel: James Martin, television presenter and restaurateur

'I've got a pilot's licence – I find it very relaxing'

First holiday memory?

Blackpool. I'm a northern lad. We used to drive across the Pennines to Lancashire and then drop down into Blackpool. I remember eating candy floss and rock, riding a donkey up and down the beach and proper fish'n'chips in newspaper.

Best holiday?

The Amalfi Coast. Every corner you drive around feels like it opens a whole new world. It's just beautiful scenery and some of the most amazing, winding roads. The region is fantastic for food, too. It's famous for San Marzano tomatoes that grow near Vesuvius, buffalo mozzarella, great seafood and Amalfi lemons.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

You can take the boy out of Yorkshire, but not Yorkshire out of the boy. If you go from Pickering, right up over the moors towards Whitby, there's an area called the Hole of Horcum. When you've got a day with moody skies, I think it's one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

What have you learnt from your travels?

There's no place like home. It's great to venture out and see things, but you've got to appreciate what's on your doorstep. We've got great galleries across the UK and the landscape along the west coast of Scotland is some of the most beautiful you'll ever see. I've learnt to appreciate home a lot more.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

The thought of jumping out of a plane fills me with horror, but I did get my pilot's licence two years ago. I find it very relaxing: the phone's switched off and nobody can contact you.

I also love going to art galleries and cultural sites, especially in Italy. You almost can't describe the beauty of the Colosseum. The sheer size is incredible.

Greatest travel luxury?

Noise-cancelling headphones. I've got a massive pair, which take up half my luggage, but they're fantastic when I'm travelling.

Holiday reading?

I'm dyslexic, so I don't read novels. Instead, I take car magazines to flick through or my iPad. I'm better with more visual things.

Where has seduced you?

St Barts in the Caribbean. I want to retire there. It has the most frightening runway in the world – you drop off the edge of this cliff, land and hit the brakes quickly before you run into the sea – but if you could draw a perfect Caribbean island, it would be St Barts. I wanted to buy a house there after being there for 24 hours.

Better to travel or arrive?

Arrive. Over Christmas, I went to Goa, which was both amazing and depressing. You can't believe how people live there and the disparity in wealth. There's a colossal difference between those who have, and those who have not. I fell in love with the locals though – they were just the most humble, nicest people you could ever meet.

Worst travel experience?

A visit to the US, which got off to a bad start at JFK airport. I took my mum for her 50th birthday and ended up spending most of the first 24 hours handcuffed to a chair in customs.

They ripped my suitcase and clothes to pieces searching for drugs. Apparently someone had been using my passport number illegally. I walked out with all my stuff in carrier bags.

Worst hotel?

A place along the coast of southern Italy where I stayed with a film crew. To say the bathroom needed a good clean was an understatement.

There was no shower curtain – just a drain in the floor. The duvet fell apart when I touched it. There were stains everywhere. I'm sure David Attenborough would've had a field day in there.

Best hotel?

The Hôtel de Crillon in Paris. I go whenever I get a weekend off from Saturday Kitchen. It's just one of those old-fashioned hotels with a fantastic lobby and opulent rooms. It's bang in the centre, walking distance from the Champs-Elysées and close to a great antiques market. It's luxury personified. Also, a country house hotel called Chewton Glen, in the New Forest. I used to work there and still love it. They've got a beautiful health club and they're just building some luxury tree houses, too.

Best meal abroad?

French onion soup followed by sole meunière at Le Fouquet's on the Champs-Elysées. I go every time I'm in Paris. Even though it's expensive, you can sit and watch the world go by while eating great food.

Dream trip?

Asia. I've never been and, as a chef, I find the region fascinating. They're very imaginative with their ingredients, especially in Japan. I'm drawn to those kinds of flavours and would love to taste them there.

Favourite city?

Naples. It's a mad place but has amazing restaurants. There's one called L'Antica Pizzeria Michele which has been going since 1870. It only does two pizzas – with cheese or without – cooked by an old boy who sits smoking in the corner. It's the best pizza in the world.

Where next?

I might be going to the States to do some TV work. In terms of a holiday though, hopefully I'll make it back to St Barts soon.

James Martin will be cooking live at the BBC Good Food Show Spring (12 to 15 April, at Bluewater, Kent) and at the BBC Good Food Show Summer (13 to 17 June, at the NEC, Birmingham).

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