My Travel Diaries: Skye Gyngell

Originally from Australia, Skye Gyngell has worked in food and restaurants for over 40 years and is one of Britain’s most respected Michelin-starred chefs. She rose to fame as head chef at Petersham Nurseries before opening her own restaurant, Spring, in Somerset House in 2014. Today, she’s also culinary director of Heckfield Place in Hampshire and has three cookbooks to her name. Aside from food, one of her biggest passions is travelling – which is why we asked her to share some of her favourite destinations and most memorable trips.

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How much I travel depends on how my year looks. I do try to get away if I can, as I think it’s important to see and experience new things. I generally go somewhere in Europe in the summer and somewhere further afield in January/February. I also try to get home to Australia at least once a year and we sometimes stay with friends in Cornwall if we’re looking for a UK staycation.

The most memorable place I’ve ever visited was Brazil. It’s also the most recent place I’ve been to. I went to Belo Horizonte, the sixth largest city in Brazil, to cook dinner for an event organised by the Brazilian Embassy, where they brought together ten chefs from all around the world. I was apprehensive as it was a very quick trip – just five days – but we saw and did a tremendous amount, ate in lots of restaurants and visited art exhibitions. We also went to Inhotim, a giant open-air art gallery set in 500,000 acres of botanical gardens two hours from Belo Horizonte. It’s one of the largest foundations of contemporary art in Brazil founded by mining magnate Bernardo Paz to house his personal art collection. The grounds are dotted with sculptures, art pavilions and thousands of plant species. Although a flying visit, I really loved it.

The family holiday from my childhood I remember most is probably the time we spent travelling around Australia. As a family, we tended to holiday at home and would often go up the north coast of New South Wales to Byron Bay, which was then a sleepy beach town with one main street. It’s very different now. 

The most remote place I’ve ever been to is the Himalayas, in Nepal. It was in the mid to late 80s, I was in Kathmandu then Pokhara, and then went on to Tiger Tops in Chitwan National Park – an incredible wildlife experience and home to over 540 species of birds; you can also go out into the jungle with the resident elephants to spot the rare one-horned rhinoceros. I’ve also been to Shimla in India which is on the edge of the foothills of the Himalayas and was once the summer playground of the Raj. 

My favourite kind of trips are adventure holidays. I like to see and do things rather than lay by a pool. That said, Ibiza is probably the place I’ve returned to most. I’ve got lots of friends there and we went there most summers when the children were small. My ideal holiday day is probably a combination of culture, dinners and lunches with friends and a swim in the sea. 

Patiki Beach

My favourite city for a weekend away is Paris. I stay in different places, sometimes in a hotel and sometimes with friends. I like the Pigalle area and the Marais – some of the most interesting things in food are happening in the 9th and 11th arrondissements. There has been a huge revival in food in Paris in particular – Paris (and French cooking in general) had got so lazy for a number of years, so it’s a really lovely to go for that reason. One of the best restaurants in the world is Septime – it’s almost impossible to get into as they only open up reservations every day at 10am for the next three weeks, so you’re lucky if you ever get in! I’m about to go to Paris with my daughter and we’re staying at Le Pigalle – we’re hardly going to be in the hotel as we’ve got a busy itinerary. One of my main reasons for going is to go to the Pinault Collection which opened a few years ago in the transformed Bourse de Commerce in Les Halles.

In Europe, my FAVOURITE PLACES to visit are SOUTHERN ITALY and SICILY in particular – I’ve been LUCKY ENOUGH to spend quite a LOT OF TIME there.
Patiki Beach

If you want to go somewhere with friends for a week, make it Deià in Mallorca. When we go we rent a house called Son Ru, so I don’t really know the hotels there apart from La Residencia. There’s an amazing restaurant in Soller, which is not far, called Patiki Beach – I know the chef, Grace Berrow, and the food is wonderful. In Deià itself, there are a few little places to eat – mostly health food restaurants. It’s not really a high foodie destination and I prefer to cook at least one meal at home every day when we’re there, but there are lots of lovely shops where you can buy great tomatoes, aubergines, peppers etc. 

Heckfield Place
Heckfield Place

For a weekend away with girlfriends, I love New York. I always stay in a hotel downtown and one of my favourites is Nine Orchard in the Lower East Side; it’s got a really lovely bar. My youngest daughter used to live in New York and my other daughter lives in LA so I visited a lot and it was the perfect place for all of us to meet up. I also have a lot of friends there, so I know the city well and feel comfortable. But I never want to stay more than three of four days as it’s so exhausting, so high octane, but it reinvigorates me and gives me an injection of energy. There are so many restaurants I love and many of the chefs are friends. Estela is one of my favourites and I always go there. I also love the southern Italian restaurant King and Via Carota in the West Village.

I love to search for CERAMICS, PAPER and FABRICS and tend to bring SOMETHING BACK from almost EVERYWHERE I TRAVEL to.

In Europe, my favourite places to visit are southern Italy and Sicily in particular – I’ve been lucky enough to spend quite a lot of time there. I go to a place called Ragusa – it’s one of the most picturesque towns on the island and I stay with friends in a beautiful villa up in the hills with breath-taking views. In terms of food, Sicily is a real destination for me – the seafood is fantastic. A long lunch in Sicily at a friend’s house cooked by their housekeeper Dora was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had. I know everyone goes to Palermo and I’m sure it’s going to become the number one holiday destination after the second series of White Lotus, but I actually prefer the area around Catania and Noto, too, which is a beautiful city and much quieter.

For me, the best hotel in the UK is Heckfield Place – where I am the culinary director. It’s a beautiful Georgian house in Hampshire and is surrounded by acres of gardens, forest and meadows. It is just so comfortable, and I know it so well. It’s the hotel where I feel the most at home – the rooms are incredibly beautiful and thoughtful, and the team that work there is the best. 

The best hotel I’ve ever stayed in was the eco resort Cuixmala on Mexico’s Pacific coast. It’s still owned by the Goldsmith family and was originally built as a private family home by Sir James Goldsmith. It’s set in 30,000 acres of nature reserve with miles of private beaches. It’s incredibly beautiful and has its own biodynamic farm. I also think it’s the most romantic hotel in the world.

In London, the best hotel is Claridges, though it’s been a very long time since I have stayed in any hotel in London. The Fumoir is my favourite bar anywhere in the world.

I don't really shop for clothes when I'm on holiday, but I love to search for ceramics, paper and fabrics and tend to bring something back from almost everywhere I travel to. I have three very beautiful ceramic dolls that I bought in Kyoto and a very old confit pot from the Languedoc.

Next on the itinerary, I’m going to Sydney this month and am planning a trip to Costa Rica in November where I’ll meet up with my family from Australia. It’s been great to be able to plan more trips again after the chaos of the last couple of years.

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