My Travelling Life

Big snakes & opium pipes: celeb chef Raymond Blanc's travelling life

No matter what sort of unexpected adventures happen while travelling, the Michelin-starred chef's motto is to 'keep calm and carry on'

12 May 2019 - 00:00 By Telegraph

I've just bought a flat in France, between Villefranche and Nice in Baie des Anges, so I've been spending a lot of time there. It used to be an American base so the bay is very, very deep - you can watch the huge ships come in and beautiful sailing boats float by - and it's only an hour from the Italian mountains.
I'll never forget the moment I first heard Vanessa-Mae, the violinist, in Beijing 28 years ago. I was walking through a very dirty, noisy, high-rise area of the city when I heard this beautiful violin. I moved away from the road and went to where the sound was amplified, and stronger and even more beautiful. Then I saw a lovely little marquee with maybe 50 people inside. The sound was just divine: it was the music of a genius. I entered and saw a little girl with a huge violin. Everyone was crying because her music was so wonderful. I started to cry too, because it was so extraordinary. In that moment, I vowed to invite her back to my restaurant in Oxford, Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, to play in my first ever festival of music. She was still undiscovered then.
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I had a lucky escape in Borneo during a trek through the lowland rain forest. We were looking for orangutans - Borneo being one of the few places in the world where you can find them - but we ended up coming across a huge snake instead. It was only about 30m away. Fortunately, our guide handled the situation well and we all lived to tell the tale.The hospitality in Kyoto was second to none. I had a geisha who did everything for me. She prepared the bath, she filled the room with aromatherapy oils, she prepared vases of flowers and delicious food. It was extraordinary.
The most remarkable gardens I've ever seen were in Bali. After a 2.5km mountain trek, suddenly I arrived at God's gardening miracle. There were tropical and subtropical trees, and, on the side of the mountain there were these nurseries with beans, peas, strawberries, raspberries and gingers. I've never seen so many gingers in my life: yellow, zebra, spotted, green. I couldn't believe so many microclimates could coexist. I was completely dazzled.
I couldn't ordinarily afford to stay in Belmond's Hotel Splendido Portofino but I saved up and it was worth it. Everything was handmade and local, including the food. We had a tiny little pool, looking over the harbour of Portofino - just beautiful.
I came face to face with a 1.8m manta ray on holiday in the Maldives. I did a scuba-diving trip there about 20 years ago. I'd only had three hours of lessons in a swimming pool and there I was free-falling into this beautiful ocean. On reflection, it was a little bit reckless but I was younger then and had no fear.
I took a dozen opium pipes from China to Oxfordshire but they're not for personal use. I collected them from all over the country and they're now in one of the rooms at Le Manoir. I get obsessed with collecting beautiful objects and artwork. Luckily, I've never had to explain myself to customs.
I nearly perished with my partner Natalia on a sandbank close to Necker, Richard Branson's private island in the Caribbean. We were served a meal on a sandbank only 20m wide. I'd asked the waiters to take our phones away to enhance the romance. And it was paradise until suddenly, this incredible storm erupted and whipped our salads away. Everything started to fly, the rain pelted down and the tide began to rush in. Fifteen metres became 10 became seven, then six and I was frightened. Natalia started to dance to calm my nerves. Eventually, I managed to set the tablecloth alight as an improvised rescue flare, and we saw a boat in the distance and were saved. It was the scariest experience of my life.
My motto for travelling is keep calm and carry on. Thirty years ago I was very emotional and quick to react to situations. Now, I just say: "OK. It's all right. You'll be all right." And it's best not to knock back too many pinot noirs during the flight.
For the best sunsets in the world, head to Borocay. It's 400km south of Manila in the Philippines. Not only are the sunsets there kaleidoscopic but they are silhouetted with thousands of bats migrating, too.
I don't like the cold so I'm looking forward to exploring some warmer regions next year. Cuba would be fantastic. And Brazil. But I'll steer clear of the Himalayas. - Telegraph Media Group Limited [2019].

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