Travel Talk

Celebrities tend to travel rather a lot. We get their views on the good, the bad and the best experiences they've had.

I'm from Trinidad so I was used to seeing the odd skirmish outside the rum shop”

News veteran and journalist Sir Trevor McDonald loves balmy Caribbean evenings, hates airports, and describes himself as a coward in a conflict zone, writes Sasha Wood

As the leading newscaster of his generation, Sir Trevor McDonald  has been responsible for many landmark TV moments and has interviewed key historical figures ranging from Saddam Hussein to Peace Prize winners such as Nelson Mandela and Benazir Bhutto.

Born in Trinidad, McDonald worked as a local news reporter before moving to London to join the BBC in 1969, and has since travelled far and wide professionally.

He  says he travelled like a king for  his most recent documentary, Indian Train Adventure, covering his eight-day journey between Mumbai and Jaipur aboard the legendary Maharajas' Express. 

“India overwhelms the senses. It’s such a large country, so populous, so crowded and the driving is utterly mad. It’s something you have to do once,” says McDonald.

But it has not always been plain sailing. When he joined ITN in the 1970s he was sent to Northern Ireland during the height of The Troubles. “There were people being shot and bombs going off all the time,” he says. “I was from Trinidad and used to seeing the odd skirmish outside the rum shop on a Friday night, but I’d never heard a bomb explode before. I must admit there were times when I was scared out of my wits. I am very cowardly by nature so I learned to run.”

He reported from Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, and went to Baghdad before the first Gulf War to interview Saddam Hussein. In fact, he lists Beirut among the most surprising places he’s visited, partly because it managed to remain so civilized in the midst of a raging civil war. 

“People were fighting and killing each other during the week and on Sunday morning people they came out and set up little stalls selling the finest French perfume and Champagne.  I turned up to a fine restaurant and I couldn’t believe all the tables were full,” he explains.

McDonald doesn’t always get the chance to explore when he’s on assignment, so he frequently revisits places where he’s worked: “The west coast of America is one –  I love San Diego and Santa Monica. You discover new things every time you go.”

One of the places McDonald has returned to often, after working there for many years, is South Africa. He was the first person to interview Nelson Mandela when he was released from prison in 1990 and again when he became president in 1994. The two subsequently met on many occasions and became firm friends.

“It was fascinating to watch the country go through all the traumas of what it was to what it wants to be. I saw a lot of changes, but frankly, on my last visit about a year ago, I was a little distressed that some of the changes have not been greater... and quite shocked to see some of the same slums that were there 25 years ago,” he says.

As a journalist, he has always been fascinated with meeting world leaders. He was friends with Benazir Bhutto and interviewees have included notorious despots such as Libya's Colonel Gaddafi. He has also been invited to the White House on several occasions, interviewing President Clinton and the younger President Bush.

McDonald has travelled extensively in the Caribbean, to Barbados, Antigua, St. Kitts and Nevis. “My father was born in Grenada and he always boasted that their beaches are better than in Trinidad,” he says. 

“What I like about the Caribbean is that it’s always warm. Even on summer evenings here you feel you need a light sweater, but in the Caribbean you put on a short-sleeved shirt, pour yourself a large rum punch, and sit out on the verandah forever.”

Barbados is also one of his go-to places for a relaxing holiday, along with Cape Town. “The waterfront area in the city is very nice,” says McDonald.

Between travelling for work and sojourns  in South Africa and the Caribbean, the broadcaster says he has spent far too long in airports, which are his least favourite aspect of his globe-trotting exploits: “I approach them with dread,” he laughs.

That said, his time spent working in troubled destinations around the globe has nurtured a certain warmth for British aviation: “I must confess that it was always nice to get on to a British Airways flight and hear the captain’s voice – you always felt you were heading home and out of trouble.”

Once you’ve packed, take half of it out to make room to fill with lovely things from your trip!”

Angela Sara West talks to Great British Bake Off judge, restaurateur, chef and author Prue Leith, about her prolific travels and culinary adventures

Well-travelled cookery queen Prue Leith enjoys a good bake-off in Berkshire. But when not filming for the hit BBC baking show, she’s on the road promoting her books and new eye wear for Ronit Furst, or her itchy feet whisk her overseas.

“I’m in Scotland – where I am Chancellor of Queen Margaret University – three times a year, all over England, Ireland and Wales for food and literary festivals promoting my cookbooks or novels twice a month, and I visit Europe a couple of times annually.

“Since I met my husband, John, eight years ago, we’ve been to Oman, the Far East, India, Bhutan – from where I famously tweeted the winner of ‘Bake Off’! – Latin America, Dubai for their famous Desert Literary festival, and many more places
"We discovered Segways in Savannah, Georgia, which was a great way to see all the 18th-century colonial houses along streets which would have taken ages on foot.”

Leith’s also journeyed to Lesotho, taken a walking trip in Transylvania, visited Uruguay after an Argentinian riding experience, cruised the Med and the Nile, and been ballooning in Turkey. She’s also relished extreme climates, with road trips through the Arizona desert, California and Utah.

She says Laos (where she slept in a tribal chief’s hut) surprised her the most. Any other places that score highly in this cook’s book? “Bhutan, because it was so very different from neighbouring India. It was very underpopulated, the people are still largely in national dress and devoted to their royal family; the Buddhist temples dominate life.”
Leith describes her recent trip to Tokyo and Naoshima in Japan as “the experience of a lifetime”, which took 50 years for her to “dare visit” due to it being so different and a place where English is barely spoken. “But that is the attraction,” she adds.

As a child, Leith sailed with Winston Churchill, who disembarked at Madeira. She recently visited the island’s famous Belmond Reid’s Palace, following in his footsteps. “Reid’s holds a food festival, The Art of Flavours, and we just missed it. I’ll be back!”

Her time spent studying at Cordon Bleu in Paris hugely inspired her career. “France taught me that food was to be taken seriously. Everyone talked about food… something no-one did in South Africa.”

Leith returns to her birthplace, Cape Town, every year. “As a child, I hated what was then called the Game Reserve (now the National Park) but now I love a safari. Best of all is Baroque in the Bush, a combination of classical music and safari, and then a braai with a lot of beer and wine,” she says. 

This summer saw her set sail on a river cruise along the Rhone, discovering the gastronomic heart of France and giving a demonstration for Good Housekeeping. “It was brilliant, especially considering I was in a wheelchair with a busted Achilles tendon!”

Glamis Castle and Ballindolloch were highlights of her honeymoon (second time around) aboard Belmond’s Royal Scotsman train for a grand tour of Scottish castles. And Scotland is back on the menu for Leith’s milestone 80th birthday next year. “Fly-fishing on the Naver with a dozen friends. We’re also going around the west coast on the Puffer, the only remaining steam-powered boat."

So, where can we find the world’s best food? “For France, I’m out of date now. Sadly, the famous routiers where you used to get amazing food, cooked from scratch, now turn out indifferent baguettes.

“But Italy and Japan, obviously; Southern India; and, surprisingly, parts of America. I had the best grilled octopus in a Greek restaurant in Atlanta, and we were knocked out by all the local breweries making really cool beer.”

Her top travel tips? “Once you’ve packed, take half of it out to make room for an empty fold-up bag to fill with lovely things while you are away! I constantly bring back cooking equipment; I have a hopper pan from the Maldives, a chapati iron from India, and teppanyaki tools from Japan.”

When not cooking, judging, writing or promoting, where rates highly for relaxation? “My idea of R&R is a nice beach, a hammock and a piña colada. I once risked one of those expensive Austrian medical spas that feed you hayflower tea and little else, make you eat stale biscuits, and believe in colonic irrigation. I hated it!”