There are some days in my life as a travel blogger that stand out as being exceptional and remind me how lucky I am to have this job. Sitting opposite the renowned adventurer and TV treasure Ben Fogle in a London radio studio, I had to metaphorically pinch myself. How had this happened?
We were being to be interviewed by various UK radio stations about a recent Travel Survey carried out by Celebrity Cruises and the launch of Ben Fogle’s Great Adventures’, a diverse series of shore excursions for the cruise line. Meeting Ben was a real treat as I have been a fan of his informal, relaxed, often humorous and always entertaining programmes for a long time. He manages to combine a quirky adventurous spirit with a kind of ‘everyman’ appeal that is very attractive.
For about three hours we were on various radio programmes where Ben talked about the travel survey, which shows that 65% of Brits are keen to experience something new on holiday this year. Gone are the days when all we want to do is gently toast on a hot beach or dance the night away in an exotic bar. Of course, many of us still enjoy that, but we’re all becoming more adventurous and this is where Ben’s new venture for Celebrity Cruises is absolutely part of the zeitgeist.
I answered questions on travel trends for 2014, cruises and how we can satisfy our thirst for new experiences on different types of holidays. Ben has put together a great collection of activities that enable participants to really immerse themselves in the place they are visiting. So often a visit ashore means getting into a coach, being taken to see well-known sights, given a tour and a meal and shuttled back onto the ship. But there’s another way to see the world and Ben’s chosen some intriguing experiences where ‘doing’ is as much key as ‘seeing’. These include snorkelling with salmon in Norway, kayaking around the Stockholm archipelago in Sweden, and a mini-triathlon in Croatia.
Once the radio interviews were over we were whisked off to the Hoxton Hotel in trendy, graffiti-decorated Shoreditch. (Read my review of the Hoxton for TNT Magazine here.)As we walked into the achingly cool reception area there was a noticeable intake of breath as some people recognised Ben. We had lunch and a round table discussion with senior execs from Celebrity Cruises and fellow ‘Destination Bloggers’. We’ve all been on cruises with this company and are passionate about the places you can see en route. Before lunch Ben gave us a brief presentation on his Great Adventures and answered questions.
He outlined each trip in great detail and explained why he had chosen them. He’s clearly a kayaking fanatic and wants us all to give it a go, whether it’s in Swedish waters or off the Croatian coast. He hopes to tap into cruise passengers’ interest in maritime history and culture in Oslo. Here we can see TWO very different vessals sailed in by famous Norwegian explorers Thor Heyerdahl’s ‘Kon Tiki’ and Amundsen’s ‘The Fram’ . He’s clearly got a sweet tooth as he’s included a tasty little trip to make ice cream in Sorrento. He said he really enjoyed designing the programme, which he hopes will help people to experience each country in a more ‘immersive’ way.
He was friendly to everyone and posed endlessly for our photos after lunch. Then I had a real treat – a chance to interview him about how he came up with excursions and talk more broadly about his own adventures around the world.
Ben said that his first cruise was “a real eye-opener, mainly because in four days I was able to take in four completely different destinations – Malta, Siciliy, Naples and across Italy to Positano.” He explained that the idea for the ‘Sicilian Gastronomic Tour’ came about when he was on a Celebrity cruise and they stopped off in Sicily. He was taken to a colourful fish market in Catania and he wanted to bring the delicious fresh seasfood back onto the ship for the chef to cook. He also shared his fascination with travelling to places off-the-beaten track and his love for the Outer Hebrides, where his exploits on Taransay in 2000 first showcased his telegenic appeal. Of course, my favourite quote was, “I love quirky – I guess you could say I’m a real Quirky Traveller!”
In the evening we went to a popular cookery school, Food at 52, where chef/owner John Benbow showed a group of us how to make an Italian meal, homage to the ‘Ben Fogle Sicilian Gourmet Tour’. It was fascinating seeing an expert at work and also great fun – at times we felt a bit like contestants on the Great British Bake-Off.
We split into two groups and worked across a large long utensil-bedecked table, learning how to make delicate Almond Biscotti, mascarpone-stuffed chicken thighs and speedy Gelatto. Ben showed he was a dab hand at using an electric whisk and pretty darn dextrous with the lemon zester!
Once more we were all being filmed and photographed, part of the launch event for ‘Ben Fogle’s Great Adventures’, but very soon the concentration and enjoyment of the cooking made us forget the cameras. Unfortunately I had to leave before the meal was served but the warmth of our star guest and the excitement generated by this unique day will stay with me for much longer than those delicious- looking almond biscuits.
If you’d like more information on Ben Fogle’s shore excursions visit Celebrity Cruises and maybe one day you’ll go snorkelling with salmon – very quirky …