Celebrities’ festive travel tales
The festive season is upon us, so we’ve gathered a few starry friends around the virtual fireside to reminisce about happy memories of Christmases abroad, from beaches in Jamaica to a surprise Vienna jaunt. Prepare for your heart to be well and truly warmed
Who? Gabriel Byrne
I’ve always been a huge admirer of Oscar Wilde and the Christmas I remember most vividly is from many years ago, in 1988, when I was shooting A Soldier’s Tale in Normandy. After we wrapped, I decided that, rather than return to New York or London, I would spend every cent I’d saved from four months of filming and book the room in L’Hotel Paris, where Wilde lived during the final days of his life. It was a tiny room, but beautiful. It looks out over the roads of Paris and I would go down every day to a different restaurant or café and walk in the Tuileries Garden, then sit for a while. I suppose what I wanted to do in that room was not just experience Christmas there, but to feel something of Wilde’s spirit. I stayed there for three weeks.
Who? Isla Fisher
Where? New Zealand
In a country as beautiful and ecologically diverse as New Zealand, you need to drive to enjoy all its wonders. Enter ‘Mabel’, a motorhome that’s not as fancy as some of the more luxurious models, but kitted out with three beds, a kitchen and loo and our family home for four weeks. We began our travels in Queenstown on the South Island, camping on the first night by the shimmering Lake Wakatipu with the dramatic snowy peaks of the Remarkables behind her. From there, we drove North with squabbles, toilet stops, ‘I spy’ games and the Moana soundtrack blaring. We drank in incredible sights such as Fiordland National Park and its Milford Sound virgin rainforest, we passed craggy mountains poking through the mist, explored glacier ice caves, hiked national parks, dug in hot water beaches and marvelled at thermal springs. We had lunch in a Hobbit village, rode horses on a deserted beach, befriended a duck, spied on glow worms at midnight, showered and washed dishes in various caravan parks run by friendly locals, and celebrated Christmannukah with Champagne in Christchurch. It was heaven, like the people and like the place.
Who? Joanna Lumley
Where? Kuala Lumpur
I was six, my sister was eight and we had never seen snow. In Malaysia, Christmas Day was just as hot and humid as any other day of the tropical year: boiling hot, with a sudden thunderstorm blackening the sky every afternoon and sweat running down our backs, long hair tied into plaits to keep cool. The fans spun silently in the ceilings of our army bungalow as we glued splodges of cotton wool onto the windows while my mother helped our Chinese cook, Ah Feng, to decorate the Christmas cake with white icing (snow!), small fir trees and Donald Duck in a sleigh. We were excited to go to the cinema in Kuala Lumpur to see the new Disney film, Alice in Wonderland. Thrill of thrills! We’d both received beautiful Alice dolls – complete with blue dress, white pinafore and a hairband in her yellow hair – in the top of our stockings. We set off in the Wolseley, all the windows open as air conditioning was unknown, in our party dresses that Mummy had made on her sewing machine during the long nights while my father was away with his Gurkha regiment. Now we were all together. And when we walked into the cinema with our new dolls, I don’t think there were prouder girls anywhere in the Far East.
Who: Gordon Ramsay
Where: Los Angeles
A few years ago, I wrapped filming late in December and so the family and I decided that we would stay in LA for a family Christmas. America does the ‘holidays’ brilliantly and, from pop-up ice rinks in Santa Monica to a full-on festive grotto at The Grove, it was pretty magical for the kids to experience. I remember driving around the neighbourhood to look at all the stunning decorations, each house decorated even more extravagantly than the last: giant candy canes, inflatable gingerbread men and all those lights (I swear you would see them from space!). Christmas morning was very different from the cold crisp awakening back in the UK. The sun was up and it was going to be a scorcher of a day. After a beautiful brunch, we prepped the traditional turkey with all the trimmings and then headed to Malibu for a walk on the beach. Wishing you all a happy and healthy Christmas.
Who: Emilia Fox
Where: The Bahamas
My best friend and I thought all our Christmases had come at once as we jetted off to Paradise Island in the Bahamas. They had! Pink and white sand beaches for a Christmas walk; clear, warm aquamarine water for a Christmas dip; eating turkey while looking out over the harbour, or was it drinking a piña colada? Our luggage with all the Christmas presents took a diversion on the journey out, but was returned with enormous Christmas bows tied to the handles of the suitcases, which made them all the more special to open on Christmas Day. We flew home on the 31st and toasted in the New Year in the air. If you’re going abroad at Christmas, leaving disgruntled family behind, it’d better be worth it. And it was. Christmas in Paradise!
Who? Eamonn Holmes
One of my favourite Christmas memories was last year, when I received a surprise 60th birthday and Christmas present combined. I arrived at Heathrow not knowing where I was going until the surprise destination was revealed at check in: Vienna! What wasn’t apparent was who would be waiting for me in the British Airways Lounge. It was very early in the morning and I couldn’t trust that my eyes had woken up yet, but bit by bit it dawned on me that there were my four children, my daughter-in-law and my daughter’s boyfriend. What a surprise, what a present and what a destination. Christmas had definitely come early.
Who: Denise Lewis
My first Christmas in Jamaica was magical. I was nine years old and travelling with my mum, who hadn’t visited in her adult life. As we came in to land over Montego Bay, my face was excitedly pressed against the glass. I’d never seen anything like it before: the sea, the beach… everything! I was meeting some of my family for the first time and remember being embraced at the airport by these amazing, strong women who I didn’t really know. On Christmas Day, we got spruced up for church (a long, hot, process!) before heading back to the house for present opening and a mid-afternoon ‘dinner’: chicken (not turkey) and trimmings, rice and peas, fried fish – different from a British Christmas, but still with roast potatoes. With family, food and a mix of Christmas songs by Bing Crosby and local reggae artists, it was a real fusion of Caribbean and traditional Christmases. Just magical.
Who? Rumaan Alam
I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas, and didn’t really understand it until a few years ago, visiting my in-laws in Northern California. It was about more than the big day: that frenzy of unwrapping, an indulgent breakfast courtesy of my father-in-law. Though the mythology of the season has a lot to do with snow, there was some magic about being in that famously idyllic climate. We lingered outside in the winter sun, the kids in a daze of sweets and new toys, a gang of cousins teetering on new bikes, the warmth of the afternoon capturing the warmth of the moment.
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