My Life in Travel: Prue Leith, cookery writer, television presenter and restaurateur
‘I love architecture, art and museums - but with stops for food and drinks
Saturday 26 May 2012
First holiday memory?
A family holiday to the Marine Hotel in Hermanus, South Africa. My brothers and I spent hours on the beach. The sea was freezing and the wind was like a knife. We'd scamper back to our nanny, Kate, who would wrap us in towels and dish out Marie biscuits. As each biscuit came out of the packet, she would slowly butter it, then sprinkle hundreds-and-thousands on top. I suffered intense anxiety lest one of my brothers should get the last one.
A wonderful walking holiday in Sicily. It was late spring; there were flowers everywhere and we trekked from the middle of the island to Catania, visiting churches, eating al fresco in medieval village squares, sleeping in B&Bs and being welcomed everywhere we passed. We also visited the hot spots of Palermo and Taormina, too.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
The rivers Naver and Carron in Sunderland. Both are exquisite salmon rivers, unbelievably pretty and narrow enough for less than expert fishermen to cast across. The Carron is marginally more beautiful, but I've only ever fished it for a day and didn't see a flicker. The Naver gets my vote by a whisker, because it delivered me two good salmon when the conditions were all wrong and my much more expert fishing companions gratifyingly caught nothing.
Ideal travelling companion?
Someone who is cheerful, up for anything, never bored and likes both luxury and lumping it. Also, someone who likes good food and wine.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
All three, but I'm less keen on adrenalin as dotage looms. I love architecture, art and museums, with stops for food, drinks and a siesta.
Greatest travel luxury?
A tiny book light that clips on and allows you to read in a tent, B&B or five-star hotel without waking your companion.
I like novels set in the place where I'm holidaying or accounts of earlier travellers. I have just been to Burma and my reading included Not Out of Hate by Ma Ma Lay, about the clash of Burmese and British culture; a wonderful book of photographs, The Vanishing Tribes of Burma by Richard K Diran; an early Englishman's account of Burmese life, The Burman by Sir George Scott; and the Traveller's History of Burma by Orchid guidebooks.
Where has seduced you?
Most recently, Burma. The former capital Yangon [Rangoon] is still low rise and distinctly Burmese. The Shwedagon pagoda is a glittering gold dream. The ancient city of Bagan, halfway up the Irrawaddy river, was astonishing. We were on the Orient Express Road to Mandalay river cruiser when the water was too low to go north. Instead we moored at Bagan and had three days there. I would have liked three weeks. The people are endlessly charming, helpful and happy. They are so deeply Buddhist that away from the tourist hot spots it is difficult to force a tip on anyone. And there seem to be festivals everywhere.
A riding safari with Sarah Jane Gullick's African Horseback Safaris was unbeatable. Good horses, comfy saddles, great people, long rides. One day we were cantering through the Okavango swamp and were joined by giraffes on one side, zebra on the other.
Worst travel experience?
Skiing. The first time, I cracked my coccyx and spent the week lying on my stomach getting a taste for whisky. The second time, I booked a fortnight in the Swiss resort of Wengen, which lacked nursery slopes. My instructor was a 17-year-old Valkyrie, so I spent my time crashing down the mountain and eventually gave up after a week.
A huge modern horror of a place in Prague. I kept losing my elderly Mum, who ended up in the kitchens at one stage. The concierge had a deal with crooked taxi drivers who took you all round the houses before dumping you gracelessly at your destination and extorting a fortune.
The Cipriani in Venice. It's completely magical, with a staggering view of St Mark's and the lagoon, a huge swimming pool, lovely rooms and one of the few places in Venice where the food is any good.
Best meal abroad?
Grilled seafood fresh from the ocean at a ramshackle restaurant on Jimbaran beach, Bali. The diners choose their seafood from tanks and then everything gets cooked on a fearsome barbecue.
Better to travel or arrive?
It's great to whip through the jungles of South-east Asia by train, hop between safari camps in Botswana by plane, or walk through the hills of Cappadocia. But equally, it's bliss to find your tent set up for you with a delicious mezze laid out after a long day's hike in the Atlas mountains, or to fall into the pool after a sweltering day spent exploring the Valley of the Kings.
San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, which is more like a big town, but has wonderful Spanish houses, exotic gardens, delicious restaurants, great arts and very good margaritas.
What have you learnt from your travels?
That you almost never allow enough time anywhere. And the longer the stay, the more you want to see.
A sailing holiday around Croatia's islands, the Greek islands, the Turkish coast or the Great Barrier Reef.
Back to Burma. This time I'm going north of Bhamo, through the Irrawaddy gorges, and then over the border into Assam to see the annual great gathering of the Naga clans from all the surrounding countries.
Prue Leith will be talking about her memoir 'Relish' at the Borders Book Festival in Melrose, Scotland, on 14 June at 7.30pm (bordersbookfestival.org).
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