My life in travel: Virginia Wade, former Wimbledon champion

'I love to stay in small, luxury hotels, but I don't need flashy restaurants'

First holiday memory?

Taking road trips in South Africa, where I grew up. We used to pile in the car at five o'clock in the morning and head off on long two-day drives. My father was the Archdeacon of Durban, so we would wait until his services had finished at Christmas and take off for these incredible holidays. We would end up on a farm in the Eastern Cape near Queenstown, which was owned by a family friend. They had a pool and a tennis court too, so I think I probably learnt to play there.

Best holiday?

Italy. I always have the best holidays there, whether it be Capri, Florence or Venice. My ideal holiday is a bit of culture and history, with time on the beach and good food.

Favourite place in British Isles?

I love Scotland, especially driving around the West Coast past all the lochs and the Isle of Mull.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Be prepared and don't take too much stuff. I quite like doing the planning myself and cross referencing my sources to avoid all the really dodgy places. Even though you might want to adjust and change plans, I've also learnt you do need to make some reservations in advance.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

A mixture of a culture and a beach. I travelled to Croatia last year, because it covered both angles. I went to Dubrovnik first, which has an unbelievable history, and then the island of Hvar for the sublime weather.

Greatest travel luxury?

I love to stay in small, luxury hotels. I certainly want to be comfortable, but I don't need the flashy restaurants that come with big five-stars. The nicest place I've been to recently was La Bastide de Moustiers in Provence, which is owned by Alain Ducasse. It's small, they look after you perfectly and the food is divine.

Holiday reading?

It has to be interesting, perhaps marginally historic, but not too heavy. Ideally something I already know a certain amount about that fills me in a little more.

Where has seduced you?

With my South African background, there's nowhere like the Cape. I haven't been back for a long time, but I still hanker after it. I also love the Mediterranean climate and absolutely adore spending time in Greece, especially the islands.

Worst travel experience?

Moscow. I first went in the late Sixties, when I was playing tennis. At that time, during the Soviet era, they would always confiscate your passport and refuse to give it back until you left the country. It was a scary experience. There were wardens on each corner of the hotel and they watched everything you did. The food was inedible, too. The only thing you could eat was chocolate and champagne. I went back 20 years later and it was probably even more depressing.

Best hotel?

Gleneagles in Perthshire, Scotland. When I was touring professionally, we did tennis clinics there every summer for years and years. I also stayed in an unbelievable place in Amsterdam called the Seven One Seven, which is a small boutique hotel on the banks of the Prinsengracht. For tennis, I also like the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna, California, because it's got tennis courts that look down over the beach.

Favourite walk?

I love roaming around Capri, especially when you get away from crowds, up into the pine trees, where there are fantastic views, little restaurants and very few people. You can sit and have lunch and then put your head down on the table afterwards for a little snooze.

Best meal abroad?

A place in Valparaiso, Chile. I was in Santiago during their winter time and the weather was a bit dull and grey, so I decided to head to the coast. I asked some locals where I could find the best fish from the Pacific and they pointed me down to this place near the harbour. It was a complete dump from the outside, but they cooked a sublime soup, which probably had 20 different kinds of fish in it. I can remember the flavour even now.

Dream trip?

It would start by avoiding the airport, so perhaps flying in a nice private plane from lousy miserable weather to arrive in perfect blue sky. I'd like to be looked after somewhere secluded with beautiful soft sheets. The destination might even be one of the remote safari camps in Africa. I went on a fantastic safari when I was younger in Kenya where the nights spent sitting out under the stars were divine, but I'd like to go to a real luxury camp.

Favourite city?

Rome. It isn't huge, but you can't walk for 10 minutes without seeing something beautiful in the way of ancient architecture. You can always find great food and I like the Italian people.

Where next?

My next plan is to go back to Buenos Aires. I was there once in the early Seventies and I just thought it was fantastic. It's been way too long since I've been back.

Virginia Wade is a former Wimbledon champion. She is a BBC commentator for the Wimbledon Tennis Championships 2012, which start on Monday.

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