My favourite holiday: celebrities on their most memorable trips

Leanne Best, actor

A Rockie ride, Colorado

I was tired. Really tired. It had been a while since I’d taken a break for more than a long weekend. I wanted to see a big sky. And horses. I hadn’t been on a horse since I was a kid and had no idea what I would do with one when I found it, but that was the plan. That was it. Big sky. Horse. I settled on Colorado. You can swing between beautiful towns like Lyon, Loveland and Boulder, and smaller places with family-owned ranches along the way. For a girl from Walton Vale in Liverpool, names like Eagle Rock and Crested Butte leapt off the page and reignited a childhood fascination with the culture and history of the West.

I hadn’t given it much thought before I got there, but to my relief, I discovered I still loved to ride. Being around the animals was restorative. I kicked around, travelling from place to place, and picked up trail rides along the foothills of the Rockies, often by word of mouth. You can get around by shuttle bus or the Lyft car-sharing scheme if driving isn’t for you. The landscape was breathtaking. Riding on trails through mountain ranges was easier than I’d thought, bar a sore backside and a few mosquito bites. I stayed at the Sylvan Dale ranch (a family-owned business that has offered room, board and a cowgirl school for generations) and cabin-style places (Estes Lake Lodge was a cracker). I hiked the foothills, visited hot springs, camped out and hung out. There was everything and nothing to do. I spent almost as much time reading in coffee shops (Boulder’s Pearl Street was boutique everything heaven) as I did in the saddle. I found my dream hat in a gas station on Route 36. I indulged my love of crystals at roadside gem and jewellery stores. It’s important to check where traditional pieces are from, but it’s fairly obvious which stores are authentic and have relationships with indigenous artists.

I came away from the trip rested and invigorated in equal measure. Even though I didn’t venture completely off road, I wandered far enough to have a fair few Cheryl Strayed moments that will stay with me forever. It’s a place I hope to return to again and again. My own little piece of big sky.

Leanne Best appears in Carnival Row, on Amazon Prime Video from 30 August

Simon Reeve, author and TV presenter

Spaced out in Copenhagen

I went on holiday with my mates in our early 20s. We thought we were going somewhere hot. I’m not sure who was to blame, but we arrived for our flight and discovered somebody had booked us a trip to Copenhagen. Four of the guys only had shorts, one had flip-flops, and none of us had a guidebook. When we arrived it was bitterly cold, so we went to an army surplus store and bought some long, heavy, 1970s grey coats for about a fiver. We looked like escaped prisoners of war.

The only thing we could really do in that situation – being youthful and fairly inexperienced at life and travel – was to get very drunk. One bar, Woodstock, which I’ve since been to as a more sober older person, was like something from Star Wars in an off-world colony – particularly after a couple of hash cakes. It was in Christiania, the anarchic, free-love area.

One of the guys decided to ring his ex-girlfriend, who was working on the Öresund bridge and tunnel project, connecting Denmark with Sweden. She took this group of drunk British men down to the tunnel, a building site at the time. We were in hard hats and tripping. There were lights coming at us – and me and a mate got it into our heads that there were aliens attacking, so we ran out of an emergency exit and security was called. They had to stop construction, but decided not to press charges. That’s what I think holidays should be about – not a vanilla-beige experience but a memorable one. Bonding over weirdness and adversity is a wonderful thing to do.

Obviously I want people to have deeper experiences and have their eyes opened. But I also think it’s OK to have a weird experience – and a hash cake – with your mates.

Step By Step by Simon Reeve is published in paperback this week, available for £8.79 from guardianbookshop.com

Ruby Wax, comedian and writer

Seduced by Brazil

After I first saw pictures of Trancoso, near Porto Seguro in the state of Bahia, Brazil, I fantasised about it for over a decade. I finally visited two years ago. From São Paulo, you have to take a internal flight, then a two-hour drive along a dirt road. All around the Quadrado, the main square with its church, there’s a real sense of community. There’s football, weddings, funerals, rituals … there’s even a horse that wanders in and out of bars. All you need do is sit in the cafes looking out and you’ll see life.

Suddenly a coffin will go by in the back of a Chevrolet, and everyone’s singing. At night, all the trees sparkle with little lights and people open up the front of their homes as bars, sitting there with their chickens. As you go by, someone will grab you and do the samba. In the next bar there’s capoeira (the Afro-Brazilian martial art that’s like ballet).

It’s not a place that’s locked in tradition, it’s playing with tradition. There’s one ritual where everyone dresses in white and they take a long pole and shove it through the window of the person they feel is the most fertile.

I travel a lot, but Trancoso is a Dalí painting. Every house around the Quadrado is a different, blindingly bright colour: turquoise, fuchsia, lime. Inside, there are carved native masks with tribal feathers and religious icons lit up with fairy lights, all mixed with modern elements.

The back of the Quadrado drops off to the ocean, and it’s surrounded by the sexiest jungle I’ve ever seen, with lots of exotic birds. People live in the jungle and there are indigenous tribes who’ll invite you to their villages. It’s a neighbourhood, and it’s inclusive. My favourite hotel in the world is here – Uxua, where everything is made out of natural materials – even the sinks are in hollowed-out tree trunks. There are a lot of backpacker places, too.

I became friends with someone who was about 20, an artist. We didn’t speak the same language but would dance together at night – and we wept when we had to say goodbye.

Ruby Wax: How to be Human is at the Pleasance Grand, Edinburgh, from 18-24 August, then touring the UK until 30 November

Marcus Brigstocke, comedian

Laughter in the Alps

Every year for the past decade we’ve been skiing in Mayrhofen in Austria. It has a nice mix of easy slopes, a few challenging fast runs and some excellent off-piste. The Tirol has flat valley bottoms with spectacular cliff faces on either side. You can ski or snowboard for miles, ending up at the top of the valley in very remote and beautiful spots. On several occasions I’ve got lost and had to find a ride back to town.

One year, Rachel (now my fiancee) and I went walking and found a tiny church perched on a rock. It had some of the grisliest depictions of Christ’s end that I’ve ever seen – weird and interesting.

Strictly speaking, because we go for the Altitude Comedy Festival, it’s a “work trip”, but it feels like a holiday to me. It’s a bunch of comedians up a mountain making people howl with laughter. The après-ski gigs start around 5pm and go on until late. It’s a pretty resort and it turns out that the straightforward, plain-speaking, efficient Austrians are also daft, funny and generous.

They also like meat. Pork mostly but meat in general. It’s all a bit fleshy if you’re a vegetarian. Particularly the spa, I suppose. They insist that you spa naked – so if you want to see comedians having the time of their lives on stage and on skis, but also wonder what they look like naked, this is the place.

Marcus is writer/director of The Red, at the Edinburgh Festival until 26 August

Deborah Frances-White, comedian and writer

On the juice in Portugal

At the beginning of last year, when it was clear I had already spent the advance for my book, The Guilty Feminist, before I’d finished writing it, each new (over-optimistic) deadline haunted every moment of my fretful sleep. So I went on “holiday” to a juice-only retreat up a mountain near Rio Cimeiro in Portugal. A friend overcome by a similar anxiety-inducing writing challenge swore that, taken exclusively, juice is “cocaine for healthy people”. Here are some excerpts from my diary …

Day one: A perky woman called Tamara gives us juice and says: “Your friends all think you’re mad coming on this, don’t they?” “No,” we reply, mystified. “Well, they’re probably saying it behind your back. But you’re not mad. Don’t listen to them. They think it’s a cult. It’s not a cult. Repeat after me: Your friends think you’re mad but you’re not in a cult.”

Day two: I am overcome with a crippling headache. Not only can I not write my book, I cannot hold my head up or look directly at light. Tamara claims it’s caffeine withdrawals. I believe it to be “everything withdrawals”. She recommends napping in a “womb basket” or a caffeinated colonic irrigation. I cling to the womb basket with both hands.

Day three: I am dying. Tamara tells me I can have one official juice-based power bar. I have three. I see now there can be no book-writing without food. There is no food. There is no way off the mountain.

Day four: I wake up at 3am like a meerkat on amphetamines. I write for four days straight, like Jack Nicholson in The Shining except all the words are different and in a very pleasing order. I need to run each day to burn off the excess energy. I now believe myself to be only two-thirds human and one-third Black Mirror app.

Day seven: The mountain is spectacular. The air is bracing. The book is finished. Tamara schools us in hosting a party for our friends back home. The theme of the party is: “Juice is Good and This is Not a Cult”. I’m converted. Juice is good. This is definitely not a cult. I am tempted to throw such a party.

Day eight: I’m home. I remember bread.

Deborah Frances-White hosts The Secret Policeman’s Tour at Edinburgh Playhouse on 24 August. The Guilty Feminist is available for £7.91 from guardianbookshop.com

Candice Carty-Williams, author

Three go mad in Lisbon

The first holiday I went on after a pretty major depressive episode in my twenties was to Lisbon. Me and Hannah, one of my best friends, went to stay with another best friend, Morwenna, who was teaching abroad for a year. I’d barely left the house in two years, but as a determined person I forced myself to go.

In the five days of laughter, faffing and catching up on who’d done what, and with whom, we visited a castle, Castela de São Jorge, one of the highest points of the city, each ate at least 100 pasteis de nata (Portugal’s famous custard tarts), and stayed up dancing in a nightclub, Esquina da Bica, that to the untrained eye looked like someone’s house. Sitting in a sunny square writing postcards to everyone back home, I was reminded of who I was when I wasn’t trapped in my bedroom in Lewisham.

None of my predictions of panic attacks or Candice-imposed drama came true. The only mini-drama came when we hired bikes and took the ferry over to Costa da Caparica, a quiet, pretty stretch of coast that seemed like it had been almost abandoned to nature. We were chased by a pack of feral dogs and I fell off my bike. I didn’t mind, though. We just laughed, as we’d done all holiday. I was out of the house, I was with my best friends, and I remembered what it felt like to be happy.
Candice Carty-Williams’s novel, Queenie, is available from guardianbookshop.com for £9.99 inc UK p&p

Kim-Joy, baker

On another planet, Iceland

Iceland is one of my favourite places, because it is so different from anywhere else. It feels like being on another planet. A planet with a volcanic landscape, black sand beaches and steaming geysers. It also feels distinctly different in terms of its culture and food.

Despite freezing temperatures, people here love ice-cream – we even discovered a shop in the town of Akureyri that was open until midnight. People also love swimming in the cold sea. We didn’t try this, but we did swim in the Silfra fissure – between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates in Lake Þingvallavatn.

We wore dry suits – the water is around 2C! But once I was in I got distracted by the incredible views and didn’t notice the cold. I floated in the dry suit, and the current gently moved me right through the rift. The water was crystal clear, so I could see everything – both sides of the tectonic plates, beautiful rock formations and plant life. I never thought that being in a dry suit in freezing water would be peaceful, but it was exactly that. It was so quiet and the blueish green hue of everything was very calming.

Many people in Iceland have outdoor hot tubs too, which are cheaper to heat thanks to geothermal energy. This has also led to Iceland creating its own unique bread called hverabrauð (volcanic bread). It’s non-yeasted, but unlike most British tea loaves the dough is enclosed in a well sealed metal pot, buried underground and baked for over 24 hours using the natural heat from the ground.

We visited an underground bakery in the Lake Myvatn area. Being a baker, this was one of my highlights of the trip. We didn’t get a chance to make any, but we did visit several cafes to try some. I loved the taste – full of dark rye, wholemeal flours, plus golden syrup to offset the bitter grains. It’s very rich and flavoursome. I had mine served with butter and soup – another thing that Icelandic people love. It was delicious.

Baking with Kim-Joy: Cute and Creative Bakes to Make You Smile, is published by Quadrille on 22 August and available for £15.84 from guardianbookshop.com

Hardeep Singh Kohli, comedian

Reach for the Skye

While the younger Hardeep might have sought holiday haven in the bright lights of Brooklyn or medinas of Marrakech, the greyer, hopefully wiser version of me has come to realise that Scotland is the most beautiful country in the world. And while the weather may be as unpredictable as Donald Trump’s tweets, the warmth of the people and breathtaking west coast scenery await you around every bend.

I left my beloved Glasgow in 1992 for what was meant to be three months in London. Three months became three decades: children were born, London lives were led and Glasgow felt each and every one of those 500 miles away. Yet still, I knew I would return. I had a plan: one day I would find a wee ramshackle place up on the west coast, grow vegetables and raise pigs. So, when I think about holidays, for me it is so much more than a fortnight of fun; it’s my future.

My perfect break means a drive up the west coast of Scotland, past Loch Lomond and beyond Glencoe, heading for the incredible Isle of Skye.

The island takes it name from ancient Norse, meaning “isle of cloud” for its mist-crowned mountains and hills. Overhead, a big, bold, beautiful sky. Ahead, ever-changing, dramatic vistas. One minute silken moors, then jagged mountains, followed by sheer sea cliffs.

If you have yet to visit, my best advice is to practise not being able to breathe. The scenery and the wild nature of Skye will take your breath away – repeatedly.

Hardeep Singh Kohli’s Edinburgh show, It’s Hard to Be Deep, is on at the Assembly, until 24 August

Naga Munchetty, BBC Breakfast presenter

Tees and tipples, Scotland

When I drive north and see the sign “Welcome to Scotland”, my shoulders relax, I breathe a little deeper and I can’t help but smile. The first time I visited was for work experience as part of my postgraduate course in newspaper journalism. I went to Edinburgh, celebrated Hogmanay and marvelled at just how cold it was compared with London. Still, I loved the energy and vibe of the place, and the big sky. For the past six or seven years I have taken a break there annually, to play golf and, more importantly, to feel more free.

In fact, by the end of the summer I’ll have been four times this year alone. The most recent was a dream golfing holiday with my husband. We started with friends in the Borders, near the village of Cardrona, then hopped over to the Isle of Islay to play at Machrie. Within minutes of sitting outside in the sunshine – yes we always get good weather when we go to Scotland! – I felt so relaxed. To be honest, we did have one day of inclement weather, but it was so beautiful on the beach that we went for a two-hour walk in the warm rain and revelled in getting drenched as we soaked up the endless dramatic views.

A whirlwind tour of amazing golf courses and cities followed. And the whisky flowed. I’ve previously always shied away from that particular tipple. Now though, with a little bit of help from my Scottish friends, I have been won round to the non-peaty types – and there are so many: with beautiful clear, clean water on tap, why wouldn’t there be? I’m always surprised when I meet people from England who have never been – it’s so close. Even when it’s cold, it’s one of the warmest places on Earth because the Scots are simply lovely. Belly laughs and great grub … don’t get me started on the seafood.

Tom Walker, singer-songwriter

On one knee in Sri Lanka

Our friend owns a house in Sri Lanka, and when I mentioned that I wanted to propose to my girlfriend, he offered it to us for a week last August. It was an amazing location in the south, inland from Unawatuna, which is near Galle. The house is about five miles from the beach, up a big hill and surrounded by trees.

It felt as though it was in the middle of the jungle. Just as it was getting dark each day, the monkeys would come swinging through the trees and stop for a minute. They’d look at us, we’d look at them, and they’d be on their way. It was on the first day that I proposed to her, surrounded by candles and fairy lights under the pergola. The ring was burning a hole in my pocket. I was really nervous. So I had about six beers, got down on one knee … and she said yes. After that we relaxed at the house a lot, and hung out with Frank, the most chilled-out dog ever.

We went to the beach and visited a wood-carving workshop, where a man had been making statues of elephants for over 30 years. We also went to the local markets in Galle. They were colourful and super-vibrant, and had pretty much everything you could imagine food-wise. We ate curry for a week. It was full of fresh flavours, like pineapples and sweet potatoes … the best curry I’ve ever eaten.

Tom’s Walker’s latest album is What a Time to Be Alive. His current world tour includes UK dates in October/November

Jack Monroe, food writer and activist

A family feast in Plymouth

When I was a young girl, every summer we would take a trip to my Auntie Helen’s in Plymouth. She was my grandad’s sister, a tiny Greek-Cypriot woman with a huge sprawling house and a generosity to match. She had a secret walled garden filled with fruit trees, a well and two geese, Charlie and Geraldine, who would chase me around the garden. I’m not sure who made more noise, me or the geese, but Helen would appear at the back door, waving a tea towel at us to signal that we were interrupting her peace.

Dinner was always a communal, enormous affair. A dozen assorted cousins and relatives would sit around a table heaving with koupepia (stuffed vine leaves), roast chicken, salt-and-pepper potatoes, fat marrows cooked in plum tomatoes and olive oil, and sticky juicy plums from the garden. I would sit in her galley-kitchen, built into the conservatory with a glass roof and a vine growing up the inside, as her aged fingers deftly peeled potatoes and rolled koupepia. I’d watch as she sat in her large wicker chair crocheting the heavy blankets that would keep us snug at night.

Auntie Helen passed away several years ago now, and a photograph of her with her precious geese sits in my kitchen. When I grow up, I’d like my family, no matter how loosely attached, to have the same memories of hospitality, endless dinners and a perpetually open door. If I could relive one holiday for the rest of my life, it would be those carefree summers of my childhood, roast potato sandwiches with lukewarm avgolemono soup, and a cup of tea snuck upstairs to bed by an elderly Greek goddess, with a heart as deep and beautiful as the Mediterranean Sea.

Tin Can Cook: 75 Simple Store-cupboard Recipes by Jack Monroe is out now, and available for £6.15 at guardianbookshop.com

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