My life in travel: Alastair Stewart, broadcast journalist

'I'm an erudite beach bum – I like to relax'

Interview,Laura Holt
Saturday 20 August 2011 00:00

First holiday memory?

Torquay in Devon when I was four. I remember my father washing my swimming trunks in the sea and them being swept away. A few years later, we went to the Channel Islands. It was the first time I'd been on a plane – a beautiful silver BEA propeller aircraft. My dad was in the Air Force, but we had to wait some years before we could afford to fly.

Best holiday?

We rented a farmhouse in the hills above St-Tropez with our four children. In the day, we visited the beaches; in the early evening, we explored the bright lights and big yachts; at night, we relaxed en famille with a barbecue back at the villa, eating in the lovely countryside with the smell of the surrounding vineyard about us. We've done much more exotic things since, but that was undoubtedly a very happy time.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

The Scottish Borders. There's nothing better than being out in the countryside, among the rolling hills, surrounded by horses. I'm Scottish by birth, but first got to know the area when I was covering the 1983 general election and was shadowing David Steel, who had his constituency there. Every weekend, we used to drink and eat around Selkirk, Peebles and Hawick, and I fell in love with it.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Don't scrimp because it will end in tears. Think about the maximum you can spend without going bankrupt and pay as much as you can afford. Holidays tend to be a once-in-a-year luxury for families. If you blow it trying to save a few hundred quid, it's been a false economy.

Ideal travelling companion?

My wife, Sally. She's a former television production assistant, so is brilliantly organised. She asks all the right questions several times to make sure the answer isn't changing, and marshals everybody. It's always nice having your life partner with you on holiday, but particularly useful to have your highly organised life partner with you.

Beach bum, culture vultureor adrenalin junkie?

An erudite beach bum. As a journalist, the hours can be long. So eventually, when I prise myself away from it all, I just want to relax. I love walking along the beach, turning stones up, looking for crabs and just spending time with my family.

Greatest travel luxury?

A power adaptor. It means I can take my laptop and phone along. I have to be aware of what's happening, just in case I have to come back suddenly.

Holiday reading?

Over the years, I've taken so many books with me and come home without the dust cover disturbed. I really do like to do nothing.

Where has seduced you?

Venice. I went there with Sally a few years ago. I love the history of the place from the Doge's palace to the fantastic Basilica. It was one of those rare occasions when nothing disappointed. It's a magical, romantic and historically intriguing place.

Better to travel or arrive?

Travel, if I'm up at the front end in business or first class; arrive if I'm with my family.

Worst travel experience?

Bermuda. We loved the island but stayed in a hotel that the guidebook author clearly hadn't visited in a few years. There was rubbish on the beach in the mornings that nobody had bothered to clean up. The exterior of the villas hadn't seen a lick of paint for ages. The buggies that they had to drive you around looked like they had been in collisions. The tennis court was covered in snapped palm branches.

I never take brochures at face-value now. Always find someone who's been recently to ask for advice.

Best hotel?

The Cipriani in Venice. Its whole philosophy was absolutely ours. My wife enjoys eating as much as I do. Before we went, she had scoured the Michelin Guide and come up with about four restaurants she wanted to visit. After the first night at the Cipriani, we decided we wanted to keep eating at the hotel. The grounds and the garden are just perfect, and we had a room that looked out across the lagoon, towards St Mark's Square.

Favourite drive?

Through the Cognac valley. The manicured vineyards are a joy to behold. The Hennessy houses in the town, where the smell just hangs in the air. At the end, you find a place called Angoulême, where we stayed in this small, almost Spanish-style hotel.

Best meal abroad?

On the Greek island of Skiathos in my twenties. I was travelling with a girlfriend at the time and we'd been out on a boat trip. As we arrived back at the harbour, the fishermen had caught a load of fresh squid.

They put it between two very hot bricks for about three minutes, whipped it out, drizzled it in olive oil and served it with a fresh green salad. We sat there with a glass of wine, looking out at the beautiful sea, enjoying that bit of slightly charred squid. I can taste it now.

Dream trip?

I'm a keen amateur photographer, particularly when it comes to wildlife. I'd like to visit one of the great national parks in South Africa or Namibia and take some picture of the great beasts.

Favourite city?

Washington DC. I lived there when I was ITN's Washington correspondent. It has Georgetown's affluence, much like Chelsea in London; great monuments and fantastic galleries; and some really quite wild, rough parts down in the south east. It's a fascinating city and the hub of global power. I go back there whenever I can.

Where next?

We're toying with Cuba. I think we would find it interesting and the beaches are good enough to keep the kids happy.

Alastair Stewart presents ITV News at 6.30pm:

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