For Raymond, visiting Provence was like ‘entering another universe’

Faster Thinking

A word with... Raymond Blanc

The chef reveals his passion for Japanese tea gardens and recalls his first sniff of Provence’s fragrant herbs

Earliest holiday memory?

Aged 15, I visited Provence, and it was like entering another universe. It was the first time I’d ever seen the sea, and the first time I’d ever smelled fennel, lavender and pine.

Favourite city?

I recently went to Hong Kong to see a friend – chef Nurdin Topham, who used to work with me at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. I had a great time exploring the city and eating at his restaurant, NUR. I discovered a lot about Chinese cuisine, and spent seven hours learning how to make Peking duck.

Which view has blown you away?

I visited Japan in the early 1990s and came back to Britain utterly inspired by the cuisine, aesthetics and design. I was particularly amazed by the Japanese tea gardens. They touched my soul in such a way that I created one of my own in the grounds of Le Manoir.

Which hotels and restaurants are in your little black book? 

I can recommend Venice’s Belmond Hotel Cipriani for its amazing hospitality, as well as the Summer Lodge Country House Hotel in Dorset. I love trying new restaurants, and have been particularly impressed with L’Enclume in Cumbria, The Pig in Hampshire and Dabbous in London.

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Where’s your happy place?

I’m lucky, because my work allows me to travel a lot. I love Malaysia and Thailand. My favourite place is Chiva-Som, in Hua Hin. I go there, turn my phone off, and totally escape. My team back at home probably find it relaxing too, as I stop ringing them constantly. Closer to home, I’ve also had a wonderful time at La Residencia in Mallorca, where the service is incredible.

What’s your top tip for dealing with long-haul flights?

I always read. I love having the time to sit and not be disturbed by the phone or other distractions. I also like to research where I’m going. It’s so pleasurable to read about the restaurants and food markets, and find out who makes the best bread and the nicest oil.