'I always stay in the best hotels! I'm very particular'

First holiday memory?

In Romania with my parents, on the Black Sea. We used to go to Romania most summers to a resort called Mangalia, which is just near the Bulgarian border. I have memories of going there from the age of about five.

Best holiday?

St John, in the US Virgin Islands. I've been going for quite a few years; it's a fantastic place with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It's my idea of a vacation – beaches, the sea and the sun. It's also easy for me to get to.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

Gifford, which is a little village outside Edinburgh. I often went to stay at Yester House, which is on the estate of the late maestro Gian Carlo Menotti. When I had to learn a new piece I'd go there for 10 days to learn it, because it is such a quiet and peaceful place.

What have you learnt from your travels?

I will never be able to pack lightly! With all the travelling I do through work, you'd think I'd be a pro but I still pack three suitcases for a long weekend. I pack for all eventualities.

Ideal travelling companion?

My sudoku book.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I'm definitely a beach bum.

Greatest travel luxury?

Flying on a private plane is the ultimate luxury for me, because flying is just not fun these days with the airports and security being so much more stressful. However, I don't fly private all the time – it would be hard to justify.

Holiday reading?

Restaurant menus! I do like to read but I don't have much time when I'm abroad. The only time I have to read is just before I go to bed or on a plane, but I tend to fall asleep after reading a few pages. I don't read as much as I'd like to.

Where has seduced you?

French Polynesia. I like the islands that people are less familiar with, such as Moorea, Bora Bora, the Marquesas and Tetiaroa, which was owned by Marlon Brando. It really feels like paradise there.

Better to travel or arrive?

It's better to travel on Singapore Airlines' new First Class Suites. I could live on that plane. It feels like the best place in the world.

Worst travel experience?

When my luggage doesn't arrive with me. Considering the amount I travel, it hasn't happened too often. It's more difficult when I'm on tour, because I'm moving from one city to the next and if the bag hasn't caught up with me when I'm leaving for the next place, then it becomes very complicated. There has only been one time when my luggage never arrived, on a trip to Russia in 2001. Of course it had all my scores in too, which was a real tragedy.

Worst holiday?

I'm very choosy and I do a lot of research to make sure I get it right. I can't really afford to have a bad holiday because I don't have much time off.

Worst hotel?

I always stay in the best hotels! I'm very particular about where I stay.

Best hotel?

The Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. I stayed there a couple of months ago – it was obscenely decadent. The Oriental in Bangkok and the Peninsula in Hong Kong are two more great hotels.

Favourite walk/ swim/ride/drive?

I loved horseback riding on the beach in Moorea with Belle Epoque, my white Arabian horse. Sadly I don't do it anymore because it's too much of a risk and my insurance wouldn't allow it. I learnt to ride in Moorea as a child.

Best meal abroad?

A meal at the China Club in Beijing two or three years ago. It's a fabulous member's club in an old palace that is about 400 years old, so it feels like you're going back in time. The food was wonderful and so unique. The dishes just kept arriving and they were all unbelievable.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

I unpack all my luggage and tidy my hotel suite so that I feel at home.

Dream trip?

Egypt, the Himalayas and Patagonia are places I would love to visit. I'm fascinated by the culture in Egypt and would like to see the Pyramids and temples and go down the Nile. I'm not a climber so I'd like to see the Himalayas from Tibet or Nepal, and the tip of South America looks fantastic.

Favourite city?

Los Angeles, where I live. The weather is great, and when I come home from a tour I love the fact that I can sit by my swimming pool. The quality of life there is great. I feel relaxed and happy in LA. The minute I touch down at LAX I have a smile on my face.

Where next?

To the Maldives but I'm still deciding which island to go to. Obviously I'll be doing my research but at the moment I'm thinking about the Four Seasons' new resort.

Interview by Sophie Lam

Jean-Yves Thibaudet appears at the Lucerne Festival performing Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F, with Lorin Maazel and the New York Philharmonic on 2 September, and Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony with Mariss Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra on 7 September