Annabel Karmel is a literary sensation. Every book she has produced (and there are many) has been a bestseller and the tome that originally put her on the mama map, The Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner, turns 25 this year, so next month sees an anniversary issue hitting bookshops. Her latest publication, The Busy Mum’s Cookbook is fabulous and, despite her hectic schedule as both mother and writer, she chats to kodomo.com about travels with her children over the years.
Q: What is your first childhood memory of travel?
Learning to swim in Venice is my first memory. My mother put me in the hands of a swimming teacher who believed in just deflating your child’s armbands to see what they did. It’s amazing how kids can then suddenly swim quite quickly! Anyway, I learnt to swim in about two days and he got me diving off a high diving board. I enjoyed swimming as a child, though I still remember the horror of it.
Q: Where have you had your best holiday to date?
For me, skiing is always my best holiday. I used to go to hotels, but recently we decided to stay in a chalet in Courcheval, 1550, which isn’t the trendiest part, but it’s the most beautiful area and all you can see is mountains. The chalet itself is stunning and all my kids come with their friends. We don’t go out for dinner at all; we cook and play games and, when we ski, we just grab lunch on a mountain. We all love it, though I recently took my dogs. We were fine getting over but, on the way back, I was told they couldn’t go on the plane and that if I did fly them back they would be shot! So, I went to every airline explaining I was in Geneva and needed to get my dogs home and no airline would take them. My children had flown on ahead so I had to hire a car and a driver, which cost me about 2500 Euros and 17 hours in the car. But how could I leave them there!? It was lovely having them and they loved the snow, but I won’t take them skiing again!
Q: Where was the first place you went with a little one in tow? How did it go?
I used to take them all to Venice. People don’t think of it as having a beach, but it has the most incredible beach and they love bambinos and children there. Kids love Italian food, you’ve all of Venice to explore and they have cabanas on the beach, which the children can sit inside. We stay at the Excelsior hotel and it’s a lovely place for children. They are really good travellers. I travelled with them when they were little and don’t remember it ever being stressful. Not like with the dogs!
Q. Do you ever travel with your children for work?
Yes but not that much because, when I work, I’m not really present. I’d rather spend time with the children separately, but I once went to Dubai with my daughter. We were in a new hotel and I was doing an event for its opening and it was really lovely. And sometimes, if I’m really lucky, I get free holidays. I did some work for the One&Only Le Saint Geran in Mauritius so we all went at Christmas. I helped them design their menu and it was absolutely fantastic, amazing, such a wonderful place. I wasn’t sure the children would love it because there are no nightclubs or anything – it’s just a beautiful spot – but they loved it and met other people. I took them when they were little, too and it had a fantasic kids’ club. It was the only one where they didn’t want to leave and want to come back to mummy! They did really interesting things with them and, even now, I think of how good that kids’ club was. It’s just the most beautiful place. It’s not like other posh hotels where kids can’t run around and you want your children to be happy, don’t you? It’s got to work on all levels and they really got it right.
Q: Where was your best holiday with your child?
Going on a “dude ranch.” I went to one in Alisal, Santa Barbara, just a few months ago. It was unbelievable! It’s not luxurious, but the horses and the scenery is incredible. I went to the Dude Ranch at Lost Creek in Jackson Hole (Wyoming) a few years ago with my kids and it was amazing, too. No telephones, television or internet, which is good I think. We went horse riding every day for five hours, we sat at campfires and went to rodeos: I absolutely loved that holiday. The food was plentiful and so good and also included.
Q: And your worst?
It was bad – not because it was a place you wouldn’t recommend – but we went to the South of France and my son got Salmonella. At first, we didn’t know what was wrong with him; he was just terribly ill and couldn’t eat and eventually they diagnosed Salmonella, which he could have got from the sea or from food such as a runny egg or, which I never knew, if you keep tortoises. We were asked if we kept them, which I thought was so odd, but he had to come home in a wheelchair and was sick for three months. It was horrific. We never found out how he got it.
Q: What is your must-have travel accessory when away with children?
Mine had this filthy security blanket and I had to end up with two so I could wash one. I once forgot to take it on the plane and there was mayhem so I made sure there were two after that. Whatever they get attached to, you need to have two of them. Even now, my children travel with their own pillows so they can sleep on the plane. Very often in hotels pillows are hard and horrible. I remember Liza Minnelli said in an interview that she always travels with her own pillow and now I know why.
Q: And top tips for travel with kids?
Take your own food on the plane. I really don’t like plane food for children – they put awful things in it – and they get hyper, because there is often something sweet so I’ll either make them something or buy something relatively healthy in the airport. Always have snacks for them. And things for them to do. If you want a reasonably comfortable flight you need to make sure your children are happy and not hungry. I worked with Emirates to design their children’s menu and that is actually very good.
How much does local cuisine factor in to how you choose your holidays? Have you a top destination with kids?
The food in Dubai is really good. They have taken all the food from restaurants in places like London and New York and it’s incredible. I’m going again for the Dubai Literary Festival and used to work there. When you get to know the place there are some really interesting people that live there. I used to not like it and thought it had no culture, but there is an underlying culture that is amazing there. I really like it and I’m obsessed with eating, so it ticks every box.