My Life In Travel: James Purefoy

'I got mosquito bites so big I thought I'd caught the plague'

First holiday memory?

Camping, in wet places, in wet tents, in wet sleeping bags. But the fried-egg sandwiches were ace. We hired a narrow boat once on the Norfolk Broads, but my sister fell in a lock and nearly drowned. High drama indeed!

Best holiday?

I spent three weeks driving around the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico a couple of years ago, with my girlfriend and son. It was a great road trip; breathtakingly beautiful. My boy did himself proud by not asking "Are we there yet?" once. As for those Mayans and their cities, well, they knew a thing or two, didn't they?

Favourite place in the British Isles?

Apart from my bed it would have to be the Somerset Levels, because that's where I'm from, followed closely by the Western Isles of Scotland which have a wildness and majesty that I love.

What have you learnt from your travels?

To never dress an individual with your stereotype of a country. Take each person as they come and, more often than not, they will surprise and delight you.

Ideal travelling companion?

My son and girlfriend – we all get along just dandy.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I am all three; variety is the spice of life.

Greatest travel luxury?

An 18-year-old bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey.

Holiday reading?

My better half would say that it would have to be something with a large font and lots of pictures. There may be some truth in that because I spend so much of my down time reading scripts that I need something even more mindless to get over it. This summer, however, I will be researching the Templar Knights, as I start a film in October playing one.

Where has seduced you?

I've just spent seven months filming in Cape Town, which was incredibly seductive – with the exception of the terrifying disparity between the lives of the rich and the poor that a lot of the wealthier people there do their best not to see. I spent a day with ActionAid meeting some women who worked on farms picking apples for Tesco. Their living conditions were truly appalling, which is hardly surprising as they are only paid about £20 for a full week's work. It's disgraceful when Tesco posted profits of £3bn this year. How can you face looking at yourself in the mirror, Sir Terry? Shame on you.

Better to travel or arrive?

That depends on the mode of travel. If it's easyJet, I want to get away from the experience as fast as I can. But generally speaking, we all spend way too much time thinking about the destination and not enough time experiencing the journey.

Worst travel experience?

The ironically named Venezia Express, which offered standing room only for 72 hours to Athens, with no food, no water and no air-con. When it went uphill, passengers would jump off at the front and get on again at the back to stretch their legs, it was that slow. The toilets overflowed down the corridor, so people were reduced to doing their number twos out of the window. And I got mosquito bites so big I thought they were buboes and I'd caught the plague. Never again.

Worst holiday?

Taking a girlfriend to a Greek island when any idiot (except this one) could have seen that the relationship was on its last legs. Torrential rain kept us in our room for six days out of the seven and glittering conversation was somewhat elusive. I don't expect she had much fun either.

Worst hotel?

We didn't choose well last year. We stayed in a truly dreadful hotel in Sardinia that was clearly not for us. "O Sole Mio" sung, or rather squawked, by the inept house band below our balcony was vaguely charming the first night, but like something from the Seventh Circle of Hell by the 10th.

Best hotel?

I loved the Riad el Fenn in Marrakech. It's an oasis of bohemian cool in the middle of a crazy city. You hardly ever see another guest or staff member, but find that breakfast has magically appeared outside your bedroom door, or tea and cakes have been left for you in one of the internal courtyards. Bird song mixes with the call to prayer and the sound of trickling fountains. That's not to mention the pools, the spa and the insanely sexy rooms with sunken baths, steam rooms and buckets of roses. Richard Branson's Kasbah Tamadot in the Atlas Mountains is pretty extraordinary too.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

My favourite walk would be anywhere on the Isle of Skye. My favourite swim – in the streams and rivers in Yosemite National Park. My favourite ride – on a well-trained film horse over Exmoor (they go on "action" and stop on "cut" and nothing will stop them in between). My favourite drive is either the Pacific Coast Highway from Big Sur to LA, or the Westway home.

Best meal abroad?

At the Hotel Punta Rossa in San Felice Circeo on the coast south of Rome, they do this sublime buffet by the pool. It practically makes me dribble just thinking about it. The mozzarella alone is the stuff of many a daydream.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

If it's a hotel then I'll tip the bell-boy and the concierge, swiftly followed by changing the room.

Dream trip?

To the moon and, with a bit of luck, back.

Favourite city?

By all means, Rome.

Where next?

Canoeing down the Wye Valley, then San Diego, Rome, Ibiza and – depending on the job – Rio, Morocco or Cardiff.

Actor James Purefoy is an ambassador for the international development charity ActionAid and is supporting its WhoPays? campaign to ensure British supermarkets play fair overseas (actionaid.org.uk/whopays)

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