My Life In Travel: Michel Roux

'My dream holiday would be to cross America on a Harley Davidson'


What is your first holiday memory?

What is your first holiday memory?

I was born during the Second World War, so I didn't have a holiday until I was about eight or nine. We went to the Vendée region of France, to a little fishing village called St Gilles. It was a real eye-opener for me because it was the first time I'd seen the sea and the sand. We had no toys but we did have the waves and the beach and we built sand castles. The house was a long walk from the sea because we couldn't afford one by the shore, but it was a fantastic - one of the best holidays of my life.

What has been your best holiday?

The first time I went to the Banyan Tree in Phuket, because it was so quiet and isolated. I stayed in a villa with a pool - for me, a holiday means silence and not seeing too many people, so in this respect it was perfect.

Where is your favourite place in the British Isles?

I haven't got a place, I've got an area, which is Scotland. I can never find enough time for it and I can't even say which bit, as there are so many places I like. I like the solitude and the wildness and I also like the climate, wet and cold or beautifully sunny, which you often get in one day. I also love Scottish people.

What have you learnt from your travels?

My biggest and best discovery is learning about people. I love travelling because when I get to a part of the world that I haven't been to before, I listen and look and see what people do and how they do it. You can learn so much.

Who would be your ideal travelling companion?

My dog, a cocker spaniel called Baron, because he doesn't talk. He can stay on a train for six, eight or even 10 hours without wanting to go for a pee. He's a happy dog - the ideal companion.

Are you a beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I'm more culture vulture, as I like to see the vestiges of the past. There are some places that just have to be seen, like the Great Wall, the Taj Mahal and the Grand Canyon - they are so beautiful. I'm not a beach bum at all; after about five minutes I've got to move.

What luxury would you never travel without?

My greatest luxury was Concorde. For me the luxury was not getting jet lag when I arrived. It was a dream - a dream that has sadly gone.

What do you read on holiday?

I usually read magazines, just a few pages about one subject. I like Condé Nast Traveller or magazines about food and wine. I also do a lot of writing - more writing than reading.

To where have you lost your heart?

Without doubt it was Thailand, but more recently, Vietnam. I think Thailand has become a bit too touristy and I imagine that Vietnam is a bit like Thailand was 30 years ago. If I was 30 years old, I would go and work there.

Is it better to travel or arrive?

I love travelling because that's when I can think about where I am, where I've been and where I'm going - it's a good moment for reflection. But I also find a lot of excitement in arriving somewhere too.

What has been your worst travel experience?

Flying on Olympic Airways from Athens 15 years ago. We had some heavy turbulence and dropped 1,000ft - all the oxygen masks came out and one of the stewardesses passed out. There was no announcement from the pilot for three or four minutes. Everything was OK and we landed almost immediately at Heathrow, but it's not an airline I will fly with again.

Where is the worst hotel you've stayed in?

I've never stayed somewhere bad, but I have walked into a couple of hotels, realised it was the wrong hotel for me, and walked out.

And the best?

The Mandarin Oriental - I've stayed at the one in Miami a few times and I've known the Oriental in Bangkok since the early 1970s - it's magical.

Where is your favourite walk?

It's boring and it's also linked to one of the next questions, but it would be a food market. I also love walking in the mountains - the Alps are my favourites.

Where have you had your best meal abroad?

At Michel Guérard's Les Prés d'Eugénie in Eugénies les Bains, France. It must have been around 20 years ago, but it was the meal of my life - a total revelation. So much so, if I knew it was my last meal, I'd go again.

What's the first thing you do when you arrive somewhere new? If I'm staying in a luxury hotel, I'll ask to meet the executive chef. Or if I haven't been there before and am staying a couple of days, I'll enquire where the wholesale food market is. If there isn't one, I'll visit a small market.

To where would be your dream trip?

Crossing America on those long and boring roads through the desert riding a Harley Davidson. I'd probably do it on my own and I'd just take one credit card and a few clothes.

What is your favourite city?

I have two. In Europe, it's Paris for its beauty, its food and wine, its romance and all the attachment I have to it. But I also love New York; each time I've visited, I've been happy there and also sad to leave.

Where are you going next?

I consult for Celebrity Cruises and I'll be joining one in Venice developing new dishes, training staff and monitoring the quality.

Michel Roux is the chef/patron of The Waterside Inn, Bray, Berkshire (01628 620691)

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