Willie Harcourt-Cooze: My life in travel

'I'm a doer. If I'm on the beach, I've got a fishing rod in the surf and I'll catch fish'

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The Independent Travel

Willie Harcourt-Cooze is a chocolate maker and was the subject of the documentary, Willie's Wonky Chocolate Factory (williescacao.com)

First holiday memory?

I grew up in Southern Ireland. We had the only sandy beach for about 20 miles and so we didn't go on holiday, we just had holidays on the island. I have an early memory of a yacht coming in whose skipper obviously knew about the beach, where we were all skinny dipping. I remember everybody running up and down the beach completely naked and the yacht gently turning round and going away; we were left in our peaceful serenity.

Best holiday?

It was probably with my ex-wife. We lived in a tent on a beach for six months in Venezuela. Six months of fishing. When we tired of fish I'd go and find a chicken. And I'd pick coconuts and make coconut milk and soup. It was great.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Communication. Hopefully I'm a better communicator for having met so many different people from so many different countries.

Ideal travelling companion?

My kids. I've got three and they are 10, 14 and 16. Two girls and a boy in the middle. We have a farm in Venezuela, so we go there. And then, because I'm quite busy, sometimes we just do quick nips over to Europe.

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Willie Harcourt-Cooze

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I have to be doing something, I'm a doer. If I'm on the beach, I've got a fishing rod in the surf and I'm catching fish. I can't lie on the beach and do nothing. And I always try and gain some culture from a country; I think food is one of the best ways, so I'm always looking for something that's authentic, that truly represents the place. And I don't mean expensive or fancy, I mean a salt-of-the-earth kind of restaurant.

Greatest travel luxury?

I travel with a case of chocolate cylinders and a tiny bottle of organic chilli oil so wherever I go I can have a hot chocolate in the morning. I've made it everywhere. I went to China recently and I never went anywhere without my flask. I drank it in some unusual places.

Holiday reading?

The other day, I was reading The Science of Chocolate by Stephen Beckett, which I tried to read many years ago. It's very technical so I re-approached it. It was a good read actually. I think experience has meant I understand it a lot better.

Where has seduced you?

Choroni in the Henri Pittier National Park in Venezuela. I've bought a farm there. It's got three per cent of the world's plants and animals, 6.5 per cent of the world's bird species and the top of the park is cloud forest. I stopped in my tracks when I went there in my twenties.

Worst travel experience?

Undoubtedly, it was arriving at the airport and finding they'd oversold the flight and not being able to get on. That was going to New York. It's incredible how it instils a sense of panic.

Worst hotel?

It was called the Hotel Europa and it was a dollar a night. It was in Lima and it had plywood walls, hence the dollar a night. It was the only place I could find.

Best hotel?

Well I didn't pay, let's make that clear. It was The One&Only in Cape Town. It was just built for luxury; you even had your own butler, although I had no idea what to do with mine.

Favourite walk, swim, ride or drive?

My favourite drive is from Caracas to Rio Teatro Caribe in Venezuela. It must be about a 10- or 12-mile drive, all along the coast. You go through jungle, you go through mangroves with pink flamingos, and you go through desert. I've done it quite a few times.

Best meal abroad?

One very memorable meal was when we were on the beach and we'd taken a dorado along to cook on the barbecue, but we'd forgotten the grill. So, we built a huge fire and heated up this rock and placed the fish on it and it cooked on its own. We had no plates but there was an almendro tree on the beach so we used leaves as plates and we ate so well.

Favourite city?

London. It's just so multicultural, multiracial, multi-everything. London is the world, isn't it? I love all the different people, different cultures, and all the different food. I don't think there is a capital city in the world like it.

Where next?

Italy with my kids next summer. I haven't been back to Italy since I was 18 and went InterRailing, so I'm really looking forward to it.

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