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OPEN PASSPORT: Jason Isaacs

Actor Jason Isaacs would return to his home in London regularly to play Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, much to the delight of his two daughters. As the new Harry Potter book is released this month, The Luxury Travel Bible learns why Jason always finds time to travel, loves the Lake District and wasn't all that keen on Bratislava

What has your favourite journey been?
Before we were married and before the kids, Emma and I rowed down a river through the rainforest in Belize. It was poorly planned, stupidly dangerous and utterly thrilling. At one point, we came across a research station where the World Health Organisation was studying the natural medicines that the local shamans had been using for millenia. They showed us that wherever deadly poison grew, the antidote would be nearby - often interdependent. There was a beautiful tree they called the give-and-take tree; it had spikes laced with lethal poison sticking out of its trunk, but if you broke the spike off, the paste inside would cure you. Terrifying and reassuring all at the same time. Now we're parents those kinds of trips seem like a distant dream. Probably just as well.
What can't you leave home without?
A backpack groaning with a stupid amount of gadgets and spare batteries. Phone, blackberry, ipod, jawbone (bluetooth headset) and camera. A script to read. If it's longer than a day, my powerbook, power-cable, various charging cables. I was hoping the iphone would combine everything I needed, but, alas, it wasn't to be. I can't leave home without all of the above, but I can leave for home without whatever I've brought with me, and frequently do. There are hotel lost-and-founds all over the world with my number on speed-dial.
What has been your worst travel journey or experience?
I went to Colombia in 1991 for my brother's wedding. Pablo Escobar had just blown up a civilian airliner the week before so things were insane there - particularly at the airport. I had to walk a mile in 100 degree heat with my parents (who were terrified) and all our luggage from the international to the domestic terminal. They'd only opened one tiny, back-door to the terminal so we queued outside, with thousands of people, as they searched every single bag going in. But they didn't hold the flights back - all the planes took off empty! When we finally arrived in Cali, a car had been Bonnie-and-Clyded off the road and lay, on its side, riddled with bullet-holes as the blood ran down the gutters. My brother and I tried to distract our parents by pointing out the mango trees growing wild on the opposite side of the road. It didn't work.

 The whitest, cleanest sand and the bluest purest sea we'd ever seen and it was our garden...

What's the place you'll never forget?
The Gold Coast in Australia. We decamped to Oz for a year to make Peter Pan with a 5 month old baby. We lived in a stunning house right on Broadbeach. The whitest, cleanest sand and the bluest purest sea we'd ever seen and it was our garden. Lily grew up learning to walk on the dunes and talk to the seagulls and the parakeets (and the snakes). All the kids from the film came to boogie-board and barbecue with us constantly and various friends would come and stay for weeks at a time. We never for a second took it for granted. It was the perfect year.
"Please don't make me go back to......"
Bratislava, Slovakia in 1992. I was offered a job in my first Hollywood movie, Dragonheart, and the director called me from Prague to persuade me to do it. Naturally I assumed we'd be filming in Prague - I drew up lists of restaurants and clubs and cool places to visit. Wrong. The tickets arrived for Bratislava. I was shocked to find that even the fruit salad was deep-fried, that the hotel had one phone line for all 100 rooms, that Beavis and Butthead once a week on the telly was our only English language cultural option. Drunken, sallow-skinned teenagers roamed the streets drinking wine at 50p a bottle. The whole city looked depressed. I'm sure it's very different now, but I'm in no rush to find out.
What is your best childhood holiday memory?
My eldest brother Geoff would take the rest of us - the other 3 brothers - camping in the Lake District. No permits, no running water, no maps. Just drive, park and pitch in fields. Sheep, cows and mystery animals would try and get into the tent at night. Sometimes we'd be virtually drowned and have to dry out in cinemas where they'd sneak me in to completely inappropriate films. We'd have huge fires and eat incinerated sausages and potatoes baked into lumps of coal. I took my own family camping recently in Rhode Island and served up the same to them. My girls were repulsed, but it tasted like childhood heaven to me.
 
With two crazily curious kids, other people's houses in the countryside are great for weekends.
Most relaxing place to go?
With two crazily curious kids, other people's houses in the countryside are great for weekends. Our hosts feel obliged to entertain and cook, my kids have someone else's space to explore and wreck and there isn't that London thing of needing to find an activity for the day. We have some good mates with a lovely place in Norfolk, right on a majestic beach. The drive's hell but the lie-ins are great.
 
Do you have any holiday traumas?
I'm fine but Emma gets horribly seasick. We went whale-watching once, off the coast of Mexico, and after 45 minutes and nearly abandoning the search, came across the most stunning sight: a whole pod of sperm whales breaching - the males were jumping out of the water and flipping somersaults to attract the women (I've tried it - it doesn't work). It was magnificent. Emma was laying down flat on the deck of the boat, retching. "Get up darling, get up...it's incredible" I shouted. "Video it" she groaned "I'll watch it later".
 
What is your most romantic destination?
Home. It's always home in London and with my girls - Lily, Ruby and Emma. I spend so much time either away from them or away with them that just to lay eyes on the front door seems like an impossible dream sometime.  In the last few years we or I have lived in Rhode Island three times,  in Canada for six months,  for weeks in Hungary, months in Morocco, months in Spain.... Knowing that it's just us, the four of us, eating together, having a bath, stories at bedtime and Emma and I left, at the end of it, on a sofa, is about as romantic as I can imagine. Who could ask for anything more?
 
What is your idea of perfect happiness on holiday?
There's always two answers now: with and without kids. With them, I have absolutely no standards - aesthetic, cultural, culinary, meteorological...anything.  If they're outdoors and completely engaged then I'll savour the tackiest and most vacuous experience, eat the worst food, have my world awash with neon and noise and rancid bad taste. Without them, I want no mobile-phone reception, no internet, no TV, lots of sun, haute-cuisine and a view to disturb the most ardent atheist.
 
What is your greatest travel extravagance?
If I'm flying for work under a Screen Actor's Guild contract, they have to fly me 1st class - even if I'm getting paid in dried oats and food stamps.  But if I'm flying myself and the family, which happens very rarely, I could never justify the expense on the journey - it's obscenely expensive. Where I tend to overspend wildly is when we rent houses on location or holiday. I'll always set a budget and then junk it and go for the most spectacular place I can find, preferably on the water. Once you've set the bar high, it's tough to settle for less, and we've lived in some stunning places. I should have paced myself.
 
Which place is top of your list to still go to and why?
New Zealand. When I was in Australia on Peter Pan, I flew friends and family over to see us throughout the year. Amazingly, it turned out to be cheaper to get them round-the-world tickets than direct - they could all choose three stops in each continent en-route. They scattered themselves all over the globe, but the only place every single one chose and then subsequently raved about was New Zealand. We finally had to tell everyone in advance " however great New Zealand is...don't tell us, it's just irritating."
 
 
Issacs' CHOICE
Gold Coast, Australia www.goldcoastaustralia.com
Lake District, England www.lakedistrict.gov.uk
Norfolk, England www.visitnorfolk.co.uk
New Zealand www.newzealand.com
Jason Isaacs spoke to Marianne Gray
Posted 6/7/11
This article first appeared on WhereAndNow.com a London-centric magazine that provides inspiration on where to eat, sleep, drink, travel as well as upcoming events in the English capital.

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