Huw Edwards shares his travel memories

As the presenter of the BBC’s News at Ten, Huw Edwards is a familiar face to millions. The affable Welshman, who will host the corporation’s coverage of the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony in July, took time away from the newsroom to chat about his travel experiences, from family holidays in Wales to getting lost in Cairo.

What’s your first travel memory?

Huw Edwards interview - TenbyHuw spent many summers in Tenby, Wales as a child
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Family holidays in Pembrokeshire, Wales, as a child with my sister, mum and dad. They were very much in the mould of the classical 1970s family holiday. We would spend a couple of weeks every summer in Tenby, Saundersfoot, St Davids, New Quay or a very nice little place called Llangrannog. You’d leave the small hotel in the morning and spend all day on the beach, no matter what the weather. We’d play in the rock pools and look for crabs. There are some fantastic tourist sites in the area, such as St Davids Cathedral (one of the best preserved medieval cathedrals in Europe), Pembroke Castle, and some prehistoric monuments with huge stones. Of course, lots of the stones at Stonehenge came from northern Pembrokeshire.

Beach bum, city dweller or adventure-seeker?

Huw Edwards interview - BarbadosBarbados is perfect for a relaxing holiday
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Beach bum. If you go on holiday with a strict timetable to see this museum, that museum, it’s all very interesting, but actually a holiday for me is switch-off time. It’s lying on the beach with a good book and relaxing. My favourite beaches are in Portugal on the Algarve, which can be crowded in some parts, but there are also some quiet beaches – similar to the Canary Islands. I also like the beaches in Barbados; they’re generally busy, but there’s lovely white sand and a relaxed feeling.

What’s been your most memorable encounter while abroad?

Meeting Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg in 1998. I don’t want to overstate it, I didn’t have a one-to-one with him, I was with a group of 12 other journalists and Tony Blair, but we did get a chance to shake hands and say hello. How could that not be the top of the list? You’re probably talking about the most respected statesman of the 20th century; someone with enough presence and charisma to fill a room. My abiding regret is I didn’t get my photo taken with him.

What’s been your most unexpected experience?

Huw Edwards interview - CairoGetting lost in Cairo wasn't fun
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Getting lost in Cairo - not for the fainthearted! I was there for an international summit and the hotel was right on the Nile, so you had the sense of being in the centre of town. One evening a work colleague and I decided to go for a walk, and within 10 minutes of leaving the hotel we were in a completely unknown part of the city to us, which was clearly not the city centre. We couldn’t find our way out as it was like a warren of streets. We were lost for around two hours and that’s a long time to be lost. When getting lost in a city you don’t know, where you don’t know the language, in a different culture, it’s interesting how quickly you become anxious.

Where’s the most dangerous place you've been?

It’s probably not fair to say Afghanistan or Iraq because they were in conflicts, so by definition they are dangerous. I spent three months in Moscow in the mid-1990s, which was not long after the Soviet Union’s collapse, and I met some fantastic people and had some good experiences there. The highlight of my visit was having a guided tour of the Kremlin, which was fantastic. But the city was very much in a state of flux, the problem was it was lawless. It was a perfectly ordinary event to have somebody killed on the street – even the manager of my hotel was shot. That was 16 years ago and I know Moscow has moved on and has changed a lot since then. I really should go back to have a look, if only to compare.

Where has given you the biggest culture shock?

Huw Edwards interview - BeijingThe Forbidden City is right in the middle of Beijing
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Beijing. On lots of levels. I’ve made a few visits; the best was in 2008 for the Olympics because I was there for two weeks. It’s not until you come face-to-face with the size of China, the power of the Chinese economy and the sheer vibrancy of it, that you realise what the country’s about. You walk around Beijing like you walk around Cardiff, there are lots of Western shops, but then you have the Forbidden City in the middle of it all. I absolutely loved it and I’d love to go back there. I think it’s somewhere that’s worth exploring a lot more and I didn’t even see 1% of what’s on offer. A quick trip to the Great Wall of China, and a quick trip here and a quick trip there was all I could fit in around work. Really, you need to go there for a whole month.

What are your top three favourite destinations?

Take it as read that the best of Wales is in there already – the best of industrial South Wales, the old mining valleys, the coast of west Wales and Snowdonia, which is pretty unbeatable. I’d have to include London as well because I love the city. My roots are in Wales but I consider myself a Welshman and a Londoner, I’ve lived in London for 27 years, so it’s not surprising.

Huw Edwards interview - RomeCould Rome have more to offer culturally than Paris? / Temistocle Lucarelli
I did have Paris on my list, but I think Paris has changed a bit. It’s still got its amazing culture, and I’ve been there twice this year so it can’t be that bad – but when I went to Paris as a student in 1981, it was up and vibrant and happening, while London felt grimy and a bit depressed. But to be honest there’s now been a bit of a role reversal; London feels really good and looks great.

I’m in love with Rome because it has, if anything, more to offer culturally than Paris – and that’s saying a lot. The people are great, it’s relatively easy to walk around, the food’s fantastic, there are some nice hotels, and the transport links are pretty good too. You can also drive out of Rome for an hour or take the train and you’re suddenly in glorious countryside.

I’ve only been to Cape Town twice, but I’ve loved both occasions. I loved the feel, the weather and the vibe. The food was fantastic and the people were very friendly. I spent three weeks there making a series about the Boer War and we drove down the centre of South Africa, it was an amazing trip and Cape Town was a great climax.

What's the most inspiring place you've visited?

Huw Edwards interview - Vatican CityVatican City exudes power and history
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Vatican City. It exudes power, influence, and many ages of history. Whether you agree or believe doesn’t matter, actually. For me it represents the train of human thought for over 2,000 years – I find that an exciting thing to be grappling with. The experience of being in Rome when the Pope died and then anchoring the coverage of his funeral is one of the most memorable things I’ve done in my career. When I turned around and looked into the square and I was told there were three million people in the square and the surrounding streets – all the way down to the Tiber – it was absolutely unforgettable.

What's the best place you've stayed in?

Probably the Hôtel Métropole in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, which is now sadly closed. It’s where the wealthy English upper class and nobility would take their holidays in the South of France. Beaulieu-sur-Mer is a delightful little town on the corner before Cap Ferrat, about 40 minutes from Nice by car. The hotel was a beautifully built, turn-of-the-century building (which still exists) with a limited number of rooms – the best were on the front overlooking Cap Ferrat and the sea. It was old fashioned, and a bit faded – not a 5-star American-style hotel – but that was part of the charm. The service was really good and the food was excellent. But it was a bit haphazard in the way it did things. I liked the combination of an emphasis on quality and the fact they would leave you alone. That’s where I think a lot of hotels get it wrong, where they’re so keen to give you a good service they actually end up hassling you.

What’s the most unusual food you've tried abroad?

I steer clear of 'unusual' food.

If you could live anywhere else in the world where would it be?

Huw Edwards interview - ProvenceHuw would love to live in a village in Provence
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If I didn’t live in the United Kingdom, there are very few places in the world I would happily live. I absolutely love New York, but my first choice would be living in the South of France, close enough to be near the beaches of the Mediterranean coast and the ski slopes of the Southern Alps. I know it, the weather is nice and I like the lifestyle. The book A Year in Provence is the best example of the fantasy of living in a ramshackled place in a little village in Provence. It’s highly romanticised, but you can travel there and if you move inland 25km (15 miles) or so, there are these villages and they’re delightful. I’d want to be within easy reach of travel though, I’m not really a person to be stuck in the wilds. The ideal for me would be to live on the outskirts of a small town there.

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