My Life In Travel: Martin Shaw, actor

'If it's possible for a building to convey sensuality – then the Alhambra does it'

First holiday memory?

Looking out at the sea on a trip to Margate. I remember enduring the greatest discomfort when the weight of the water pulled my nappy down. We also used to go to the Golden Sands holiday camp in Rhyl and stay in a caravan. It was the late 1940s, so it was almost a wartime experience.

Best holiday?

Newquay, when I was about 10. I learned to surf on a very flat wooden bodyboard. You could lie down and fly right up to the shore. The weather was great too, so we spent all our time on the beach.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

A tie between south-west Scotland and Mid Wales. I love any elevated scenery and that particularly beautiful green colour that we get.

Ideal travelling companion?

I'm a huge fan of the Patrick O'Brian series of Aubrey-Maturin novels, so I'd like my companion to be Stephen Maturin. His mind and understanding of natural history are just so attractive – it would be a great learning process.

Greatest travel luxury?

A first-class ticket. I've done years of slumming it, hitchhiking and discomfort in the past. Then you experience first-class travel and think "why would anyone ever do anything else?", especially if you're in a plane. I certainly wouldn't go economy any more, unless I absolutely had to.

Where has seduced you?

The Alhambra in Granada. If it's possible for a building to convey sensuality, then that's it. It's a deeply seductive, beautifully crafted palace. You've got the wonderful shrine and gardens, but it's really the colours and the architecture that are very sexy indeed.

Better to travel or arrive?

Unless I was journeying on some beautiful, old-fashioned luxury liner, I'd much rather arrive. Every time I go to New York City, I have the same experience on landing. It's a sort of involuntary excitement, like having a very strong cup of coffee.

Worst travel experience?

A nine-hour train ride from Delhi to the Punjab. It was very hot, uncomfortable, not particularly hygienic and seemed like the longest journey I'd ever known.

Worst hotel?

I spent three months in Prague in 1975 making a film. At that time, the city was part of a front-line Communist state and I was billeted in a hotel, which had been Gestapo headquarters during the Second World War. The windows were welded shut so you couldn't get any air, and there was no word in Czech for vegetarian – which I've been since 1971. Living in that hotel made me realise who Franz Kafka was.

Best hotel?

The Bath Spa and The Royal Crescent – both in Bath. The latter for the old-world elegance of the service , the wonderful rooms and the building itself. The former for all the same reasons, plus the beautiful grounds.

Favourite ride?

There's a ridge along a hill in the Home Counties, where I was once given charge of a retired racehorse. Together we rode back and forth along this narrow path at a full gallop and it was one of the most exciting, beautiful rides ever.

Best meal abroad?

I was in Spain filming The Golden Voyage of Sinbad in 1972, when vegetarianism was still a very strange, misunderstood thing. I was in a restaurant with the rest of the cast and I asked the waiter if he had anything that didn't have meat, fish or eggs in it. He looked at me as if I was mad, then reappeared 10 minutes later with a bowl of beautifully arranged fruit, with every kind you could imagine, and little cubes of ice in between. It was the loving care with which it was served that made it so memorable.

Dream trip?

A flight in a Second World War plane. I've flown in a Lancaster before, but I'd love to go on a proper trip in a really big old aeroplane, ideally a Transatlantic flight, with a stop on either Greenland or Iceland.

Favourite city?

Anything you want to do in any city in the world you can do in Sydney. It has a fabulous climate, lots of culture and that glorious harbour. You could sail all day and not touch the same spot of water twice.

Where next?

To my retreat in Scotland for the wilderness and some quiet.

Martin Shaw stars in the new series of Inspector George Gently, which returns to BBC 1 later this month

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