My Life in Travel: Mark Durden-Smith - News & Advice - Travel - The Independent

My Life in Travel: Mark Durden-Smith

'I had to go to hospital wearing red Y-fronts after falling into a geyser'


First holiday memory?

In Vale do Lobo, which translates as "valley of the wolves", in the Algarve, where my parents [the travel presenter Judith Chalmers and sports commentator Neil Durden-Smith] now have a house. I learnt to swim there. There were floating discs in the swimming pool that I learnt to jump on to; I'd want to do it 85 times a day with my sister Emma. My mum arrived late because she had been on a trip to Yugoslavia and my dad made me perform this stunt for her; she was terrified that I'd drown, but I jumped in and swam.



Best holiday?

My honeymoon. It was Christmas time and we had a month of spoiling ourselves: we went to the Pangkor Laut Resort in Malaysia, where we stayed in a villa over the water, and also skiing in Austria with my wife Rachel's parents. We also met up with my parents in Cape Town; Rachel and I went on safari at Leopard Hills and learnt to play polo in Plettenberg Bay.



Favourite place in the British Isles?

St Enodoc in Cornwall. You can sit on the top of a hill near where John Betjeman died, and it's absolutely beautiful. However, it's being overtaken as my favourite by Bantham in Devon. My sister has been secretly going there with her kids for years; I discovered it the year before last. You can totter down the estuary to the beach on a little boat, and when the sun is shining it's stunning. I also love the Gower Peninsula. I didn't realise how pretty Wales was until Rachel took me, particularly Three Cliffs Bay.



What have you learnt from your travels?

I've learnt that I like travelling and I like the world. Also, I always take my training shoes, because the best way to see a place is to jog around and get lost. I'm quite rotund, so I don't go too fast and I can take things in. Finally, if you're at an airport and you're asked if you want to skip the queue to take the new X-ray security screening, say no if you want to keep your dignity intact. They can see everything. I never knew I had back fat until then.



Ideal travelling companion?

I would like to travel with Winston Churchill to get to know a bit more about him, but he'd be quite fat to sit next to in an economy seat. Mahatma Gandhi would be more lithe and wouldn't take up much space. Otherwise, Bruce Forsyth he could teach me how to dance.



Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

All of them, but mostly an adrenalin junkie. I used to try and climb one mountain a year. When I got fired from my job on the TV programme Rise I went to Cape Town to learn how to skydive.



Greatest travel luxury?

I haven't got any slinky silk pyjamas or cashmere blankets, so it's probably my computer or iPod.



Holiday reading?

Can you ask Stephen Fry to write another novel? I love reading his stuff and he's been quite quiet on the novel front lately. I'm also a proud Harry Potter fan.



Where has seduced you?

Cape Town. It's my favourite place in the world and I've spent a lot of time there. Everywhere you look, you see that incredible mountain. The sea is horribly cold, but it's a small price to pay for such natural beauty.



Better to travel or arrive?

I definitely prefer to arrive; I love it when the plane doors open and this wall of heat hits you; it makes you wonder what this place has to offer. I used to go to Australia every year for I'm a Celebrity and loved that I could veg on the plane and watch films for 24 hours. I also quite enjoy being frisked at airports.



Worst travel experience?

On my gap year I visited the hot mud pools in Rotorua, New Zealand. I asked my friend to take a picture of me looking cool, wearing a poncho and sunglasses, with the spray behind me. I moved slightly to get a better effect, the bank caved in and I fell into a geyser. I spent a month in hospital with second-degree burns. I was mortified because I usually wear boxer shorts, but that day I was wearing red-and-white jockey Y-fronts and had to go to hospital in them, with skin flapping around my ankles.



Worst hotel?

When I was backpacking, I think I must have stayed at a rat sanctuary on the border of Thailand and Malaysia. I could hear scuttling all night.



Best hotel?

The Kurland Hotel in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. It's like a little country-house hotel with log fires in the rooms and you can watch the sun go down over beautiful valleys.



Best meal abroad?

We sat down at a brilliant restaurant called Tristan in Puerto Portals, Mallorca, without knowing it had two Michelin stars. There was a water menu; we chose a bottle from Fiji which cost 16.



First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

Even though I'm not a smoker, I like to light up a cigarette it makes me feel that I'm on holiday. Then I'll go for a run.



Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

I went on an amazing kayaking trip with my mate Simon. He is obsessed by the explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley and followed his route across East Africa. I joined him at Lake Tanganyika. I was terrified that we'd be eaten by crocodiles. We spent two weeks kayaking and camping; it was an amazing experience. I also did Operation Raleigh when I was younger. We walked from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast in Panama through jungles, which was fantastic.



Dream trip?

I've always wanted to go up Everest. However, I'm getting rather fond of my fingers and toes, and it's probably an irresponsible thing to do when you've got three children. I'd also like to go to Bora Bora. I don't know much about it, but I like the sound of it.



Where next?

To my parents' house in Portugal at Easter. And my sister-in-law has just moved to Dubai, so we might go out and visit her before then.



Mark Durden-Smith presents 'Wish You Were Here...? Now and Then', from 14 January, ITV1

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