My Life In Travel: Katharine Hamnett

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The Independent Travel

First holiday memory?

Pentewan Sands in Cornwall when I was about two years old. I remember cooking shrimps that we caught in a bucket and hugely exciting mechanical dredgers in action, which I thought were the most marvellous things I'd ever seen.

Best holiday?

Camping on a beach at Pampelonne before St-Tropez was discovered. My family were great campers; my parents made our tent and a lavatory tent that blew down one day with my father inside it. The beach was completely deserted and there was nobody but us. Incredibly scented lilies were growing out of the sand and there were tortoises and amazing grasshoppers with orange and turquoise wings and a three-foot electric green lizard spiralling up a palm tree. I also learnt to swim. We were there for six weeks and when we came back we were so brown the British immigration werereluctant to let us back in, because they didn't believe we were British.

Favourite city?

I have recently fallen in love with Indore, the commercial capital of Madhya Pradesh in India, near where we are having our fair-trade, organic cotton T-shirts made. There are no tourists, since there is not a lot that would interest them. It is a bustling, 24-hour industrial city that just gets on with it. There is loads of hysterical, design-it-yourself modern architecture, as well as cars, buses, elephants, constant weddings and the sweetest, most enthusiastic people you could ever meet.

What have you learnt from your travels?

We all have far more in common despite our disparate cultures than we have apart; we all laugh and cry at the same things. The biggest difference is the food. I've also learnt that people are more important than beauty. It is better to be anywhere with your friends, no matter how humble the place, than in a glittering palace surrounded with people you don't like.

Ideal travelling companion?

If I did not have children, it would probably be Hunter S Thompson, because I would never be bored.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I hate sunbathing. I like to explore and to see everything. I am particularly fascinated by places you cannot get into. Once in Tokyo, some female colleagues and I got into the so-called "Homo-Bar" area, by pretending to be disaffected American transvestites.

Greatest travel luxury?

Apart from a fantastic book and great music, I have a dark blue cashmere blanket rug, pillow, comforter, friend, cocoon it turns everything into first class.

Holiday reading?

I take a sack full lots of books I want to read again such as Edith Wharton, Zola, Tolstoy, Paul Auster and Dostoevsky. Also, geology primers, to feed my new passion, and art books, seed catalogues and cookery books. The books can weigh more than the rest of my luggage.

Where has seduced you?

The world from the air, particularly places I fly over that I will never visit, like the Amur River [which forms part of the Russia-China border] where it has formed thousands of oxbow lakes; a string of volcanoes in northern Iran that looked like little Christmas puddings; and Sao Paulo with its extraordinary contrasts of hideous architecture and amazing people.

Better to travel or arrive?

My father was in the Air Force and my earliest memories are of airfields. I adore flying; I'm trying to cut down now, but when the plane goes above the clouds I feel I've come home. I can happily spend a 10-hour flight with my nose glued to the window.

Worst travel experience?

I could say being locked out of my hotel room in Rome, naked, and having to go down to reception in the lift wrapped in a carpet to get a key to let myself back in. But the worst experience must be nearly being killed a couple of times, once in Thailand by two men in a boat and the other time in India when we were all nearly eaten alive by our own private mob. Not funny, not even afterwards.

Worst holiday?

When friendships fall apart. I was once invited to stay with somebody who I thought was a friend, but she forgot to tell me that she hated me. It was a nightmare, and was very sad. I left and I don't expect we will ever speak again.

Worst hotel?

A hotel on a Caribbean island that will remain nameless. It was straight out of Psycho: they hated the guests, the atmosphere was like Death Row, and I discovered how filthy the kitchen was when I wandered down early in the morning to try and obtain a cup of coffee; it looked like the inside of a car crash. We were lucky we didn't die of food poisoning or catch a dreadful disease. We got out of there as fast as possible.

Best hotel?

A microscopic, medieval, white plastered hotel in Chefchaouen, Morocco. There is a tiny fishpond with a fountain in the entrance hall and the bedrooms are hardly bigger than cupboards, with beautiful views over the hills through the shuttered windows and with original carved and painted ceilings like the Alhambra. I loved the Paris Ritz in the Seventies, before they wrecked it; with its giant bathrooms, silk sheets, Liaisons Dangereuses decor and the most perfect and delicious room service food in the world.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

Driving from Salt Lake City in Utah, to Las Vegas in Nevada through Monument Valley, Four Corners, Canyonlands, Stone Arches National Park and the Grand Canyon. The scenery was staggering, with some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen on earth.

Best meal abroad?

In a boatyard shack on the Po River estuary in Italy. We had spaghetti alla vongole, lollo rosso salad and a bottle of local red wine that was so red it was black, and tasted of blackcurrants. It was an incredibly simple meal, but the balance of the flavours and textures complemented each other brilliantly.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

Go and explore to try to work out where I actually am.

Dream trip?

I would like to go to Central and South America to look at pre-Colombian agricultural and water management techniques apparently, they are incredible.

Where next?

I am going on a drawing, painting and photography holiday to Spain over Christmas. It will be the first time in 25 years that our whole family will be together.

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