My Life In Travel: Joan Bakewell, journalist and broadcaster
'I'll always come back to India. It is bewitching'
Saturday 31 December 2011
First holiday memory?
Bournemouth. No one went abroad during the war, so we used to drive to the coast every summer for a family holiday. I remember being terribly excited. We would stay in a boarding house set back from the seafront and spend hours on the wild, sandy beach.
India. I've been numerous times, but my trip through Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh was particularly memorable. I flew to Delhi before moving on to Agra, Varanasi and Jodhpur, which I though had as much beauty as you're ever likely to find in one place.
Indian people have extremely generous temperaments – perhaps something to do with the Hindu faith. And then, of course, there's the colour and the wonderful food, too. I also stayed at the Taj Lake Palace hotel in Udaipur, which is built in the middle of a lake. It was just completely ravishing.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
The Lake District. We had a very good family holiday near Cockermouth, where we walked and climbed a few hills with my children and their children. Some managed to get further than others; some walked higher; and some didn't walk at all.
We went to Dove Cottage, Wordsworth's former home near Grasmere, which is now a museum – I went all romantic and started discussing poetry. We also went on a boat trip one day and got soaked to the skin, but it was a very amiable family holiday.
What have you learnt from your travels?
That you can get by on very little. My children always make the "kitchen sink" joke whenever I leave for the airport, because my luggage is always too heavy to lift.
I forget that you can actually buy toothpaste in India or that the Maldives does indeed have sun lotion. The young do it so well: two T-shirts and a pair of jeans is all you really need.
Ideal travelling companion?
My grandchildren. They're terrific because they're a captive audience. I've taken several of them to Paris, which lets me rediscover places through their eyes. They do sometimes glaze over and say: "Yes Grandma, that's enough history." But I still get a thrill from showing something I love to someone I love.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
My ideal holiday would be staying in a nice villa outside an Italian hilltop town. Somewhere near Cortona, Lucca or Arezzo – where the surrounding countryside is lovely and you can drive into town for a nice meal each evening.
Greatest travel luxury?
A good book. Whenever we go away as a family, there's always a great bag full of them. We all pitch in with our selection. I haven't got a Kindle yet, but I suspect it's on the horizon.
A recent joint-family endeavour was the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson. We were all passing the books round the pool. I always like to take a classic, too. My copy of Byron's Don Juan has got sand from Venice between the pages. I never get time to read it in London, but if I'm idling away an hour of two on holiday, it's very entertaining.
Where has seduced you?
I'll always come back to India. Its ways, its people and its culture have bewitched me. It's strange and exotic, yet is always very welcoming.
Before that, it was Italy, where I've travelled since I was a teenager. I know just enough Italian to say "I'm sorry, I can't answer your question." However, I adore being mistaken for a local. I'm very fond of Lucca in particular, and Perugia too.
Better to travel or to arrive?
Anticipation is one of the great pleasures of travelling. Scouring websites to find the right villa for the family holiday; exchanging suggestions; poring over the pictures. I even like the airport – it's full of promise.
Worst travel experience?
Corsica. I hadn't realised how popular it was and thought we could just busk it. We hired a car but actually never ended up in "just the place" because we hadn't made any preparations.
I was more worried than I should have been about where we were going to sleep that night. It was an unplanned route and didn't work out satisfactorily.
A place near Izmir in Turkey. The main hotel was full so they put us up in what was little more than a beach hut. During the night, dogs came and sniffed round outside. We heard people prowling around the car and had to chase off a burglar. It was a deeply unhappy night.
Château de Feuilles in the Seychelles. It's in the middle of a hilly, very lovely island called Praslin. I loved the informality: the basic use of natural woods and that wonderful smell of flowers you get in a tropical country. It was simple but had everything I needed.
The coastal road between Dubrovnik in Croatia and Kotor in Montenegro. You drive along hairpin bends overlooking the lovely islands and the beautiful Adriatic waters.
Best meal abroad?
Any kind of street food in India. You risk terrible tummy trouble, but I always go for it. When your train stops at a station, local vendors arrive with baskets and walk along the platform. You hang out of the window and buy all sorts of amazingly sticky and juicy stuff – usually deep fried and terribly bad for you.
South-east Asia. I've never been to that region, so a trip to Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam would be ideal.
Rome. It's got traffic jams, but it's just a thrill to be there. If I had a day spare, I would just walk – call in on bars, churches, basilicas and restaurants. I'd probably go to see some paintings and I might even make the Vatican, though it's terribly tricky due to the crowds.
I'm thinking of making a sudden dash with a friend for New Year, though I haven't decided where yet. I'm waiting to see what bargains crop up.
Joan Bakewell's new book She's Leaving Home is published by Virago, £17.99
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