My Life In Travel: Professor Robert Winston, scientist, medical doctor, politician and television presenter
'I love the remoteness and beauty of the Alps'
Friday 06 April 2012
First holiday memory?
Playing on the sand in Selsey, West Sussex. I remember trying to catch lizards when I was about three and looking at the big concrete bastions which were built to prevent the German invasion.
Lake Como. From time to time, I like to stay at the Villa Serbelloni, a very nice hotel in a lovely little town called Bellagio. The lake is just utterly charming and the food's rather good, too.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
The Isle of Skye. It's green, very beautiful and peaceful, remote and a bit cut off. I used to climb there in the Cuillin Mountains when I was younger.
What have you learnt from your travels?
A lot of my travels have been to places you wouldn't normally go on holiday. I used to work for the World Health Organisation in poor countries all over the world – Bangladesh, Korea, the Philippines and India. You learn a whole range of things about how other people are living and try to connect with them to gain an understanding of where they're coming from. If you've got your eyes and ears open, you learn about language, new sites and food, what galleries have to offer and about different people, too.
Ideal travelling companion?
I like travelling on my own. It means I'm completely free to think about what's around me. I've been all over the world on my own because, as a scientist, you travel a great deal if your work is reasonably successful or published. I get invitations to go to all sorts of strange countries where I would mostly be by myself and just meet other people there, instead of having travelling companions.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
It depends on my mood and location. I'm quite eclectic in my tastes. I might want to look at galleries in Florence or perhaps see the wonderful flowers on the hills in the north of Israel that are out at the moment.
My reading is fairly broad: I read history; lots of novels; occasionally science, but not very often. I've just reread John le Carré's A Perfect Spy and Jonathan Sumption's third volume of Hundred Years War.
Where has seduced you?
The Swiss Alps. I love the remoteness, the coldness and the beauty at the top of the mountains. I go skiing there in winter and I love having the space and time to think.
Worst travel experience?
Being arrested on the Turkish border many years ago. The car I was driving was deemed to be rather suspicious by the authorities. I sat around all night in this police outpost and eventually drove off with them shouting at me at about five in the morning. I wasn't sure whether they were going to fire their guns or not, but I drove off across the border. It was not a pleasant experience.
Some of the hotels I've been put up in for work in Scotland have been shockingly bad. They're the type of hotel where the bedroom is like a cell and the internet doesn't work. I feel quite aggrieved at that because you should at least be treated reasonably well and have basic comfort.
The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, the Peninsula in Hong Kong and the Hilton in Tel Aviv. They all have a nice ambience, beautiful views, good food and are very connected with their cities.
Through the West Highlands of Scotland. Once you get beyond Loch Lomond, that coastal road is magnificent. You're surrounded by lakes and sea, hills and mountains, with open pasture and nobody else around.
Best meal abroad?
There's a chef called Luigi Gandola, who runs the most amazing family restaurant called Salice Blu in Bellagio on Lake Como. It's quite extraordinary. He's won lots and lots of prizes for his local Italian cooking and he's only in his twenties. The restaurant itself is a very unprepossessing place which was owned by his parents. He's built it up into a five-star-rated business – it's a huge joy and not very expensive.
Antarctica. I haven't been and I would love to go – for the scenery, the remoteness and the wildlife.
New York. It's got almost everything. If I had a spare day there, I wouldn't go to sleep. I'd go to The Met museum and visit some other art galleries. I'd probably go to the theatre, would eat well and find a decent hotel.
I wouldn't mind going back on the RMS Queen Mary, which is just a magnificent boat. If you really want a floating hotel which is entirely captivating for a few days, that was quite good fun. I've been on several of the Cunard boats and they're all wonderful.
Robert Winston's new book, That's Life, is published by DK, £10.99 (dk.co.uk)
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