Toby Stephens: My Life In Travel

'The plane was full of Italian women screaming and blessing themselves'

First holiday memory?

Portugal, when I was about five years old. I remember it being idyllic and extremely exotic. My mother [Dame Maggie Smith] probably remembers it being a nightmare, because I was a hyperactive child and she was always on the lookout for me in case I drowned or got stung by a jellyfish.

Best holiday?

My wife is from New Zealand and for the millennium I went over there for the first time. I wasn't particularly adventurous before I met her, but it completely blew me away. I am now completely in love with it.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

I love Scotland, mainly for its landscape. I like walking and it's a great place to go hiking.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Whatever one sees, there is always so much more. Whenever I come back from being abroad I yearn to go somewhere else.

Ideal travelling companion?

My wife. Being an antipodean, she has a real desire to travel. She also speaks lots of languages, which is useful.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I'm fair-skinned, so beaches are a bit boring for me. I'm either smeared in lotion or under a shade. However, I do love the sea - diving, swimming and snorkelling.

Greatest travel luxury?

I love travelling with my laptop because I get a bit nervous if I can't access my e-mails.

Holiday reading?

Holidays are my catch-up time for reading, so I take loads of books. When I'm working I'll read biographies that I can dip in and out of, and I take fiction on holiday.

Where has seduced you?

Venice. It is one of the most enigmatic places on earth. I have been back several times and I never tire of it.

Better to travel or arrive?

I used to hate the travelling process, because I was slightly neurotic about flying. However, I've now got over it so I use the time to catch up with things on planes.

Worst travel experience?

Flying back from Italy when I was about 14. One of the wheels wouldn't come down before landing. There were fire engines waiting on the runway and we had to assume the brace position. The plane was full of Italian women screaming and blessing themselves. Thankfully they managed to bring it down manually, but that triggered my neurosis of flying.

Worst holiday?

Going to St Lucia in between jobs. I had about two weeks off and all my friends were working so I went on my own. When I arrived I discovered that the hotel was a package joint. I had to dodge all these really irritating staff who kept trying to drag me off to volleyball. It was hideous.

Worst hotel?

The hotel in St Lucia.

Best hotel?

The Cipriani in Venice, where I spent my honeymoon. It was a gift from my mother and it was the most extraordinary week I have ever spent in a hotel.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

The Humpback Trail on New Zealand's South Island is really beautiful. It is a 70km walk over about four days and is fairly arduous. You go through prehistoric forest and up to the top of Humpback Mountain, where there are amazing views down to the Tasman Sea.

Best meal abroad?

I love anything Italian. Any decent restaurant in Tuscany is hard to beat.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

If I've just arrived from a long-haul journey I normally go for a run, then I'll check out the hotel.

Dream trip?

I really want to spend a couple of months travelling around South America. It holds a special place in my imagination.

Favourite city?

I'm a huge fan of New York. My sister-in-law lives there, so we tend to go quite a lot.

Where next?

To Paris this weekend for a little jaunt, then I'm hoping to go to New Zealand later on in the year.

Toby Stephens stars in 'The Best Man' on ITV1, Monday and Tuesday at 9pm

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