The World According to Vanessa Berlowitz

The series producer of the new BBC wildlife blockbuster, Frozen Planet, gives us her chilled perspective on the world of travel

5 mins

Mountain/desert/jungle/ocean which are you?

Mountain – I've been lucky enough to visit and film every major range on earth when producing the mountains episode for Planet Earth.

First travel experience?

South Africa – safari with parents aged seven. My Dad used to be a voluntary game warden in Zimbabwe and had lots of connections in that world.

Favourite journey?

From the Simien Highlands in Ethiopia – the Roof of Africa – down to Dallol Springs in the Danakil Desert – the lowest and hottest place on earth.

Top five places worldwide?

India generally, but more specifically I love the wild mangrove forests of the Sundarbans.

K2 region of Karakoram Mountains, Pakistan.

Okavango Delta, Botswana.


Antarctic Dry Valleys.

Special place to stay?

The Glasshouse on the Ganges above Rishikesh.

Three items you always pack?

Marmite; La Prairie face cream; iPod.

Passport stamp you're proudest of?

South and North Pole.

Passport stamp most like to have?


Guilty travel pleasure?

Watching rom-coms on aeroplanes.

Window or aisle?


Who is your ideal travelling companion?

My husband – he knows not to talk too much!

Best meal on the road? Worst?

Best: Freshly made keema nan on roadside in foothills of Himalayas – rolled out on the floor with chickens running around.

Worst: Camel hump fat stew in northern Kenya.

Most surprising place? Most disappointing?

The Ross Sea in Antarctica – I thought it would be monotonous but you can find everything from a constantly active volcano to a giant region of ice-free valleys that look as if the Grand Canyon has been dropped into Antarctica.

Nowhere has disappointed me yet.

Where do you NOT want to go?

I’m keen to travel as much of the planet as I can before I die but have to admit that countries like Korea and parts of the Middle East are quite low on my priority list.

Who/what inspired you to travel? Any travel heroes?

My father was a passionate traveller and encouraged my nomadic nature from a very early age. My travel hero would have to be Shackleton for redefining what it means to be a tough traveller…

What do you listen to on the road? Any song take you back to a particular time or place?

An enormous range of music from heavy dub to classical. Water From a Vine Leaf on Strange Cargo III, a William Orbit track that features Beth Orton. I remember listening to this whilst filming a sunrise over Everest from a British spy plane.

What do you read?

Books that my brother-in-law recommends. A Fine Balance was a great location favourite, although I couldn’t stop crying when I read it and ended up with conjunctivitis as I was in the Himalayas in a dry, dusty environment.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity? Anyone who made you lose it?

The chief monk in a remote monastery in Ladakh. When I asked him what his greatest achievement was he replied, ‘That he had seen the sun rise and set from the same spot for 60 years…’

My faith in humanity was undermined when I met ‘trophy hunters' in Pakistan who had paid $100K each to shoot endangered local wildlife.

What's the most impressive / useful phrase you know in a foreign language?

I can say, ‘I have a fatal allergy to nuts, lentils and chick peas,’ in every language of every country I have been to.

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

Running holidays like film shoots with a very organised schedule.

Snowbound in a tent in Antarctica, how would you entertain your companions?

From experience, I told my fellow colleagues embarrassing stories from film shoots that I had been on or directed while we waited for the blizzard to lift so that a helicopter could come and collect us from the Antarctic ice cap.

When and where in your travels have you been happiest?

India – the first continent that I really got to know. I spent four years there on and off while working on a BBC series called Land of the Tiger. I really crave returning and try and get back there every few years. Although I have been lucky enough to see the most astonishing range of sights from blood-letting rituals to worship the tiger god in the tiger-infested mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, to fresh snow leopard track in the stunning mountains of Ladakh, it is my memories of the extraordinary people that I met and worked with out there that I keep returning to.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

Deet! From many years of drenching my field clothes in it in preparation for going into hot, mossie-infested countries.

Given a choice, which era would you travel in?

The Golden Age of Exploration. I wonder how it must have felt to be the first human to set eyes on the extraordinary wild areas of our planet.

If you could combine three cities to make your perfect metropolis, what would they be?

New York for being truly alive 24 hours a day, buzzing with life and creativity. The sight of Manhattan’s skyline still moves me to tears to imagine what it must have meant to immigrants arriving there in search of a brave new world of opportunity.

Chicago for having the most extraordinary urban architecture.

Paris for romance, beauty and the best breakfast food culture on earth.

Frozen PlanetFrozen Planet starts on Wednesday 26 October, BBC1 at 9pm. The Frozen Planet book by Alastair Fothergill and Vanessa Berlowitz, published by BBC books, can be ordered now on Amazon.


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