The BBC newsreader and Antiques Roadshow presenter on early intrepid travels, family adventures – and why she never forgets her sunhat
We all get a bit softer as we get older – I was definitely more intrepid when I started at the BBC. As a researcher on Panorama in my early twenties I had to travel alone to some fairly dodgy places around the world with no idea of any kind of risk assessment. Spending weeks on my own in a military zone inside Kurdistan was pretty challenging.
There are certain scents that immediately take you back to a particular time and place. I was born in Singapore, and the scent of frangipani instantly transports me back to my childhood.
The family of elephants that gathered by the swimming pool at our villa in Chongwe, by a tributary of the Zambezi river in Zambia.
I backpacked around Thailand as a student and loved it. We recently went back as a family, 30 years on. It felt very different, much busier, but I managed to show the kids the Bangkok I remembered when we took a boat along the quiet canals and backwaters. The food was just as delicious: the mango and sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf was exactly the way I remembered it.
My earliest memories are the sights, smells and tastes of Singapore. When I ate papaya for what I thought was the first time in my late teens, I suddenly remembered that unique taste. It was like déjà vu – or rather déjà goûté.
San Francisco is the only city I’ve ever visited as an adult where I could imagine living. Buzzy but laid-back, fun, sophisticated, good culture, wonderful restaurants, easy access to great countryside – and you can walk around it. I hate having to drive everywhere.
Our favourite family holidays involve physical experiences or adventures. My daughter is up for that too, but the rest of my family not so much – so it’s always a compromise. A couple of years back, we did a sailing course holiday in Croatia, which felt pretty intrepid. We spent a week training for our sailing licence. It was hard work but honestly one of the best family holidays we’ve ever had.
I have so many favourite views and journeys, but I think the view from the Rocks café on a ski slope at the back of Flims in Switzerland takes some beating. Mountains all around and not another building to be seen.
I love bringing back authentic crafts or fabrics from my travels – the kind of things that aren’t touristy and that local people would have in their homes. When I was last in Thailand, I hid some pork floss in my suitcase that I found in a street market in Koh Samui. It looks disgusting but to me it’s manna from heaven. My family wouldn’t touch it so I ate every delicious last bit myself.
There are so many places I long to visit. Japan is at the top of my list, followed by Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, Patagonia, Uruguay, Madagascar, Antarctica... I’ll hopefully get to them all eventually.
The one thing I absolutely have to take with me when I travel is a hat. I hate the sun on my head!
My most memorable travel experience is probably travelling in a motor boat the length of Venice’s Grand Canal under a brilliant cloudless sky with not another boat on the water. There was a general strike at the time and nothing was running. An unrepeatable experience in the world’s most beautiful city.
Good food is one of my key demands on holiday so I have lots of favourite places. A definite would be a restaurant in a tiny Tuscan hamlet called La Piazza where they make their own biscotti and you can watch the sun sink behind the vines stretching out before you.