My Life In Travel: Meera Syal

'I would love to explore Kerala'
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The Independent Travel

First holiday memory?

Butlins at Clacton-on-Sea when I was four. I remember swimming in the pool with my dad and wearing a red-and-yellow rubber ring that was shaped like a fish.

Best holiday?

The first was a trip to the Maldives with my daughter and my best friend. We went to a tiny island called Ihuru, which you could walk round in 10 minutes and had the most amazing spa and restaurant.

We also spent a few days at Center Parcs in Elveden, Suffolk, recently with some friends and had the most brilliant time. I didn't quite know what to expect because my early Butlins experience had scarred me somewhat, but we felt as if we'd stepped into an Enid Blyton childhood contained in some sort of idyllic woodland park. We swam, breathed fresh air and most importantly had some real outdoor quality time.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

It has to be the Suffolk coast. We've been going to Aldeburgh, Walberswick and Southwold for a few years now. Every year we have a week with the entire extended family in a big house: babies, grandparents – the lot. Nothing has yet beaten it. It's a beautiful, unspoilt bit of the Suffolk Coast and how you imagine the seaside was in the 1950s, with no funfairs or arcades, just beaches, walks, crabbing, and fish and chips.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Do your research; it's handy to have some idea of where the great day-trips, restaurants and wet-weather options are before you get there. Personal recommendation is always good, so I always ask around because there may be little gems that the travel agent won't know about. Most importantly, go with the flow; it can be not quite what you expect or plan for and sometimes, being open to "plan B" brings unexpected delights.

Ideal travelling companion?

I love travelling with my husband [Sanjeev Bhaskar]. We have the same approach: eat, walk, explore, nap and chat. Neither of us is too over-scheduled. I'd hate to go travelling with someone who wanted to sit in the sun by a tree all day, or who had an itinerary sorted before you'd unpacked your case.

Greatest travel luxury?

Travelling first class – not that we do very often, but oh boy, it does make you feel happy before you've even arrived.

Holiday reading?

Reading is the only thing I plan like an obsessive. I panic if I haven' got at least a dozen books of different genres to suit my mood. I'll take the "I-ought-to-read-but-never-have" book, which was Anna Karenina last holiday; the easy-read chick lit; the autobiography; and something Ruth Rendell-y that I don't mind dipping in and out of when in the mood.

Where has seduced you?

The Amalfi Coast. It's so ridiculously beautiful that you want to keep rubbing your eyes to check it's still there. There are so many delights in one area, from Pompeii to Naples, Positano and Capri. And with limoncello under the stars, it's perfect.

Best hotel?

The Santa Caterina in Amalfi. It's perched right on the rocky coast with a glass lift down to a private deck where you can dive into azure sea. The food and service are exemplary.

Worst holiday?

A very cheap package trip to Corfu many years ago when I was a student. You do get what you pay for and I paid very little. The room was a windowless dank cell, the beach was gritty, the food was terrible and it rained for half the week.

Worst travel experience?

Having to travel back from filming in India with suspected amoebic dysentery.

Better to travel or to arrive?

For me, a holiday starts when we pull out of our driveway.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

The drive from Naples to Amalfi is really spectacular, but you do take your life in your hands on those winding mountain roads.

Best meal abroad?

It was always my grandmother's spinach and gram-flour chapatti when I arrived at her house in Delhi.

Favourite city?

For sheer audacity, because it really ought not to be so beautiful and aquatic, it has to be Venice.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

Unpack, subject the bathroom to a rigorous examination, approve the view and check out room service.

Dream trip?

To my shame there is so much of India that I still haven't explored. When you have relatives in a country, you end up sitting in their homes having tea rather than touring and seeing the sights. I still haven't seen any of South India and would love to explore the Keralan coast.

Where next?

I am feeling a bit homesick for India – I haven't been for four years since getting pregnant with my son and feel this year would be the time to introduce him to the huge family he doesn't know yet.

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