'My husband and I lived the Tom Cruise life for two weeks in Hong Kong'

First holiday memory?

Frinton-on-Sea in Essex – it was absolutely the quintessential British seaside holiday, and usually freezing cold. My memory is of standing on the beach with blue knees. It was nothing like the hot, comfy holidays we all expect nowadays. Chill is the overriding memory.

Best holiday?

For the last few years, we've rented a house in Provence and taken the family. They have been our favourite holidays ever: the markets there are sensational, you go to them twice a week and buy amazing tomatoes, onions and lettuces for nothing – and they turn themselves into amazing meals. You just add olive oil and it happens. It's also the only place where I really enjoy rosé wine – it's delicious down there.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

I love Dorset. We used to visit quite a lot when my daughter was small. I'm a sucker for Thomas Hardy. I can't remember what came first, whether it was going to Dorset or reading Hardy, but certainly when we used to go there for the holidays I would work my way through all his books. It's that sort of beautiful, but rather moody, countryside: very different from the Home Counties. There's something about Dorset that has this slightly dark edge to it, which I utterly adore.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Just to do it more, especially now there is Eurostar – it's so wonderful to be able to nip over to Paris for a few days. The British tend to be quite insular, so it's good to get out there and realise that there are other fish in the sea.

Ideal travelling companion?

My husband [the illustrator Gerald Scarfe]. You want someone you can just relax with, and not feel you've got to be on your best behaviour – or pretend you don't drink as much as you do!

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I'm a beach bum, provided I can sit under an umbrella with a pile of books; I can't lie in the sun, which is very annoying. Perhaps there's also a touch of adrenalin junkie – maybe some very safe whitewater rafting.

Greatest travel luxury?

I seem to take loads of stuff, it's absurd. I love the idea of travelling light, but I always seem to have masses of things. My travel luxury would be to be allowed to take a big case and not have someone moaning about having to carry it.

Holiday reading?

A novel by one of my favourite authors: Paul Auster, or Iris Murdoch in the good old days. I've just read Mark Haddon's book A Spot of Bother, which was fabulous.

Where has seduced you?

Paris is the obvious one, but recently Riga. I'm filming in Vilnius in Lithuania, at the moment, and Gerald came over for a few days and we drove over the border to Riga – I thought it was beautiful and the painted buildings are charming. I'm so bad about history and my awareness of political change, so going into the Occupation Museum of Latvia was a real eye-opener. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have gone through so much.

Better to travel or arrive?

Better to arrive, although I love trains because you can read – and nowadays, of course, you also have less carbon guilt.

Worst travel experience?

I've had my luggage lost four or five times. But when we were filming Brideshead Revisited [in 1980], we shot quite a big section on the QE2, and once we were on the ship we opened the suitcase and it wasn't ours. We had to dress our daughter – who was then about four – in a kilt, because there was a Scottish tourist shop on board; I was dressed in 1930s outfits from the wardrobe from Brideshead, and they gave Gerald a 1930s jacket. It was interesting, but awful at the moment of opening the suitcase.

Worst holiday?

Malta. I'm sure it wasn't Malta's fault, but we were in a hotel with masses of building work going on, and we didn't find any nice beaches. It was probably just bad luck.

Worst hotel?

I've stayed in some of those big-brand hotels when I've been working, which appear to be full of drunk salesmen. I tend to creep past the bar, feeling depressed and miserable, and do nothing but order room service. As a genre, I regard those hotels with grim depression.

Best hotel?

Gerald was flying round the world promoting the Disney film that he'd animated called Hercules, and we were given the real limo treatment. We stayed at the Shangri-La in Hong Kong and that was amazing and wonderful. They had thought of every little luxury: I remember bowls of fruit on a lacquered table, and there was a drawer under it with china, and silver knives and forks, a plate and a napkin – just for the fruitbowl. Everything was immaculate and they looked after us beautifully. We led the Tom Cruise life for a couple of weeks, which was fantastic.

Favourite walk/swim/ ride/drive?

I like long swims; I love getting into the sea and swimming for a long way and then thinking, "Oops, time to go back."

Best meal abroad?

A little seafood restaurant in San Remo, northern Italy, which had been recommended to me; it was the sort of place you'd never know to go to if you hadn't been told about it. We started with little langoustines and then we had cold sea-bass salad, with vinaigrette and sweet onions – it was sensational. I love it when you go to a restaurant and they don't give you a vast menu, but say, "I caught this today, you've got to have it."

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

Unpack. I have learnt from long experience that it's great to get it out of the way. I'm not a tidy person, but I know I'll feel so much better if I get it all done, instead of leaving it all in a suitcase for a few days until I can be bothered.

Dream trip?

I'm aiming to visit St Petersburg – I've never been and I'd love to see the Hermitage Museum. Obviously, there's some culture vulture in me, hiding.

Favourite city?

Paris. I do love it. It's so easy to get there and the food is amazing. The difference in Paris is that you know you can go in to a little brasserie or bistro and get something good and home-cooked and delicious, whereas in London you have to think about where you're going.

Where next?

Back to Vilnius to film a series for ITV called The Palace, which is the same sort of concept as The West Wing – it's set in Buckingham Palace but with an entirely fictional royal family, and they've built a Buckingham Palace – or most of it – out in Vilnius.

Jane Asher stars in 'Death at a Funeral', in cinemas nationwide from 2 November