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News & Advice

My Life In Travel: Sam Neill, actor

'In Sardinia I met Harrison Ford on the beach, of all places'

First holiday memory?

Camping in New Zealand's Alps courtesy of our Bedford Dormobile in the mid-Fifties. My father, in spite of his considerable experience fighting the Wehrmacht, was terribly impractical, and most years we'd get flooded or blown away. But we loved it, and I learned to fly-fish, which I do to this day.

Best Holiday?

In 2000 we sailed for two weeks with friends and family in a gulet around the Turkish coast and the Greek islands, with some attention to archaeological sites and much more attention to fun. We liked the Turkish part the most.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

Well, London, of course, for all the usual reasons, not least because there are so many people I love there. But for all the other reasons, the Outer Hebrides because they are bleak, empty and beautiful.

What have you learned from your travels?

You can't beat a flat bed. It's hardly a profound thought, but if you can sleep on a plane, you can function at the other end. And also, make sure your luggage comes with wheels – it can be a long walk between planes. I know I should be waxing lyrical about other cultures, but the bed takes precedence, I'm afraid.

Ideal travelling companion?

I always think I want to travel on my own, but when I actually do, I find it isolating and rather desolate. So companions are critical. What they need is a sense of enquiry and wonder. There is no substitute for enthusiasm – or a joke when it's all going pear-shaped.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I've always thought the beach the dullest place on earth, and a little mild skiing occasionally is quite enough adrenalin for me. So, if food and wine count as culture, then culture vulture it is.

Greatest travel luxury?

My iPod. At last count I had 12,500 songs on board, which is ridiculous, I know, but most of my life is stored in that little machine. This is a bit sad, now I come to think of it.

Holiday reading?

I try to find a novel or two set where I am, so Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, for instance, when in Jamaica. I've just had a holiday in Malaysia, so I picked up Somerset Maugham. I have to say it was creaking a bit, unfortunately. I wish I'd been in Leningrad when I read David Benioff's City of Thieves.

Where has seduced you?

In the Seventies I lived for three or four months in a village in Bali, which was the most overwhelming experience of my life. It's barely recognisable now, sadly, and an entirely different experience. Still, I can't stand nostalgia, so I'll shut up about that.

Better to travel or arrive?

We travel so fast now that we seem to have forgotten the journey itself. I'm very fond of trains, and on the right train (they still have steam trains in parts of Asia) I'm as happy as Larry, and twice as happy as Larry on arrival.

Worst travel experience?

Getting bumped off an overbooked British Airways flight after the Rugby World Cup and spending a grim 24 hours at Heathrow. The wretched airline reluctantly finally promised a free ticket in compensation, which proved impossible to redeem. BA: a formerly great airline. I remain, yours truly, embittered.

Worst holiday?

A very expensive and dull trip to Sardinia a few years ago. It was compensated to a large extent by a couple of funny and rather drunk nights with Harrison Ford, who we met on the beach, of all places.

Worst hotel?

I detest grand hotels, particularly in France – uncomfortable, patronising and with hideous furniture.

Best hotel?

I like the Soho Hotel in London, the Hotel du Vin chain and the Shangri-La in Sydney. A good concierge goes a long way.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

I walk everywhere, but given a choice I'd take a horse any time; an agreeable horse, that is. A horse tried to roll on me once, which I thought a little excessive. A stuntman called Dinny Powell saved me from a wheelchair, bless him.

Best meal abroad?

Hands down, my last great dinner with my father, at Lucas Carton in Paris. But some of the most enjoyable meals I've had have been on the street, particularly in Asia.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

I head for the cathedral if there is one. You can't beat a bit of Gothic, but I'll settle for Christopher Wren, if necessary. I don't pray, but I do gape in astonishment. I think it's sad that some – such as St Paul's – have to charge now.

Favourite city?

The trouble with favourite cities – Prague, Rome, Venice and New York – is that everybody else loves them too and are there in their legions unless you go there mid-winter, which I like. So if I had to choose, it'd be Prague, maybe in March.

Dream Trip?

Since you're offering, a month on a boat big enough for all my friends in the Caribbean, with unlimited Dom Perignon and Two Paddocks wine, entertainment by perhaps BB King, Lily Allen, Rufus Wainwright and Jools Holland, food by Peter Gordon, with maybe a stop or two for the cricket or a carnival. If I can't do that, I would just like to go home, please. I'm not there enough.

Where next?

Toronto. See what I mean?

Sam Neill stars in 'Skin', an ICA Films release, which opens 24 July