My Life In Travel: Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, interior designer and broadcaster
'I have rediscovered my Welsh roots'
Saturday 06 March 2010
First holiday memory?
Probably a rather dull but fascinating driving holiday through Wales looking at Edward I's castles. My siblings were appalled at the idea and I think they were dumped in a variety of adventure playgrounds while my parents and I – in a very irritating and precocious way – wandered round churches and castles.
I like rabbit tracks: going back to the same place and getting to know it quite well. My wife Jackie and I spend a lot of time in Venice, probably two or three weekends a year.
For family holidays, we have a house in Port Isaac in north Cornwall, but the girls are getting towards teendom so we've started renting it out. We've recently discovered the Dinarobin resort in Le Morne, Mauritius. I like Le Morne because it's a bit quieter than the east coast and it's very easygoing.
We've got a long-standing relationship with Barbados, too. For years we'd hire a villa in the Sandy Lane estate; now Jackie and I stay in Little Good Harbour, right out of the scope of the paparazzi.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
I've just finished a television series called Hidden Houses of Wales during which I rediscovered my Welsh roots. I loved Llandudno, and Anglesey was fascinating. I like Aberdeenshire, where I spend a long shooting weekend every year. I also did a series in Northern Ireland and was amazed how stunning and undiscovered it is. There are some incredible restaurants there, too.
What have you learnt from your travels?
You have to be so patient; there's absolutely no point in being irate. It was interesting spending a whole day at Heathrow trying to get on a delayed, then a cancelled, flight. It's annoying when airlines won't give you proper information, but getting cross doesn't help. Gentlemanly patience is a good asset because you usually end up getting put on the flight first. Enter the hiatus, get used to the beige ceiling tiles and you'll find it a recharging experience.
You can unwind just as much being delayed at an airport as you can in a dark, candle-lit spa – without the embarrassment of being touched by people.
Ideal travelling companion?
I enjoy travelling with my wife enormously. It's lovely when we're given the opportunity to travel together because she's great fun to have dinner with on a plane. I also love travelling with my daughters.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
After many years of doing the Holiday programme, travel is something I like to keep familiar. I don't really like the adventure of holidays. I travel an enormous amount for work, so the deal is that we have a two-week family holiday on the beach. I do love culture, too so we're going to pop over to Paris as a family. Jackie and I did a lot of our courting there and our daughter Cecile is very into Paris and fashion at the moment.
Greatest travel luxury?
Not flying economy or on budget airlines. I don't get on well with budget airlines – it's like being in an old people's home. I like walking about, going to the bar and having dinner opposite someone on a plane, it's so civilised. You've got to save up for your holidays and justify the damage you do by flying and I like the flight to be part of the whole experience, so you might as well do it as nicely as you can.
A series of sketchbooks comes with me; I use time on planes to design my collections so I welcome the peace of travel. I'm not keen for airlines to let us use mobile phones. I want to be able to stare slack-jawed out of the window or to be able to get on and do things I can't do in the office.
Where has seduced you?
Somewhere which really surprised me was Lisbon. I was filming there one January and it was exquisite: great restaurants, wonderful culture and beautiful buildings. Sintra is a wonderful fairy-tale complex of castles.
Worst travel experience?
I have had quite a few disappointments. We once hired the most amazingly beautiful palazzo in Ischia. It was a disaster. We were a big group and it was a bit like Big Brother, it just didn't work. The staff weren't great and lots of stuff was closed because it was Easter. It reaffirmed the value of familiarity in travel for me.
A so-called country-house hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon. I can't remember the name, which is probably just as well. It was bloody awful. They had the supreme cheek to charge about £400 a room and I thought it was crazy. The rooms were very indifferent, not very clean and the design was dreadful. Hotels need to watch their laurels. You can have a spa and golf course but how does the actual hotel measure up? I'm not prepared to pay a premium for that sort of thing.
I love The Danieli and The Europa & Regina in Venice, and the Ritz and Le Meurice in Paris. They're good because they've had a lot of practice at it. Hotels like The Dorchester keep their reputation very fresh and alive rather than trading on past glories. I like hotels that have a bit of history and grandeur.
Walking from Port Isaac to Port Quin in Cornwall is a lovely experience and just pottering around Sestiere and San Marco in Venice. The Marais in Paris is lovely around the Place des Vosges, too. I haven't cracked walking in Rome yet – it feels like a series of disconnecting delights. It's a fractured experience.
Best meal abroad?
The food in Mauritius is fantastic. The Dinarobin has some really exciting ideas about food. The atmosphere was great with the French cultural influence mixed with Indian roots.
First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
Unpack, then drink gin.
I am really looking forward to the idea of taking Jackie around the palaces of Rajasthan. It'll be her first time there and sharing it will be great. Travelling in India is not necessarily always a comfortable experience, even on a luxury level, but it's incredibly stimulating. You're constantly beguiled by things you've never seen before and won't see again.
It's a close call between London and Venice, depending on my mood. I do enjoy Moscow as well. There's a really high-octane, very dangerous glamour to it. I wouldn't take the children but there's a real edge to it.
We'll be in Paris, then maybe Venice, Mauritius, Tuscany then Rajasthan. Nothing major really.
Decorating with Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen (Quadrille, £20) is published this week
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