My Life In Travel: Niamh Cusack, actress

'I'm a country girl, I like being in natural places'

First holiday memory?

We used to go to Donegal with a family called the Gaffneys, who had eight girls. We would play rounders on the beach in the rain and swim in the freezing Atlantic water. The mother was a great baker; we used to come back and she'd have made these flapjacks – we called them "chicken food". They were rationed rigorously and there were always fights over them. The father would do quizzes around the dinner table. To be around a huge, bustling family was great.

Best holiday?

About 18 years ago, my husband [the actor Finbar Lynch] and I went on a three-week holiday in southern India. A gentleman in Wembley, Mr Dhandapani, put us together an itinerary. We arrived in Mumbai and took a train down to Chennai in Tamil Nadu then a bus to a temple town called Mahabalipuram, where everything went wrong. My husband got very ill with gastro-enteritis. But amazingly, that was when India really opened up; people were incredibly kind. The manager of the hotel, on his day off, took a four-hour bus trip up to Chennai to change our train tickets, because we had to stay longer.

Worst hotel?

Because everything went wrong in Mahabalipuram, we ended up arriving in Kerala without anywhere to stay. The first place we got was really dirty. Dirty toilets are never good, especially when my husband had been ill.

Best hotel?

The Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel in Mysore – a beautiful, white, gleaming place. Having had not had such a good experience prior to arriving there made it even more luxurious. The bedroom was amazing

Favourite place in the British Isles?

I've grown to really love the Cotswolds. The villages, the stone and hilliness of the countryside – it's a terribly soothing place. My husband and I are great walkers. Something I really admire about England is the public footpaths – you can roam for hours following them. They invite you to explore.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I'm definitely not a beach bum; perhaps a bit of a culture vulture, but at heart I'd say I'm a country girl. I like space and being in beautiful, natural places.

Holiday reading?

I always bring a huge tome – something like a Joanna Trollope. On my next trip I might bring Jonathan Franzen's latest book, Freedom. Also some short stories and always some poetry. I think books are a necessity.

Ideal travelling companion?

My husband. He's really organised and I'm not. He loves going online and doing lots of research. The only thing we battle over slightly is that he'd rather go to a museum and I'd rather go to an art gallery.

Greatest travel luxury?

I think a nice bar of soap, if you're travelling, is really very special.

Better to travel or arrive?

I love knowing I'm going on holiday – that moment when I close the door of our house is very exciting.

Worst travel experience?

When I was a student, my boyfriend and I intended to go to Sardinia. We took the train from London to Southampton, through France, into Italy down to Civitavecchia, where we were going to take the boat to Sardinia. By the time we got there though, we'd missed it. Tired and depressed, we ended up in a campsite close to the port. It was really dirty and it was not my idea of what Sardinia would we be like. We never left, because we'd lost all our energy on the journey down, so we just flew straight home.

Where has seduced you?

Cuba, when I visited about 13 years ago. I thought the people were fantastic and back then it felt like a time-warp. It's a beautiful country and the sea is amazing.

Favourite walk?

We climbed the highest mountain in Ireland, Carrantuohill, with friends. It's so beautiful and we had great weather. It was a very humbling experience.

Best meal abroad?

A place called Bindi in Cochin, India, which served traditional Keralan food.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

Check the toilets.

Dream trip?

There's a route that Robert Louis Stevenson travelled along on a donkey through the Cévennes mountains in France, which I'd love to do by bike. We cycle a lot, but we haven't done a cycling holiday yet, and France has such beautiful countryside.

Favourite city?

It has to be Paris. Maybe it's the language, the food, the architecture – it just has an aura. The smells wafting out on to the pavements from the restaurants – it's quite a pungent city. I've travelled there through different phases in my life since I was 17, when it was very romantic for me.

Where next?

We've started trying to go to France each year. We have a friend who has a beautiful house in the Côtes du Rhône. I love going to the same places; there's something about going to the same café and the same grocery shop to get your croissants – feeling at home abroad.

Niamh Cusack is appearing in Cause Célèbre at The Old Vic, London, until 11 June (0844 871 7628; oldvictheatre.com)

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