How To Fall In Love With A City

I travel all the time - mainly for work and chances are a city will feature - even if I am going to the countryside or some far-flung destination - because cities are portals to lots of different places.

I travel all the time - mainly for work and chances are a city will feature - even if I am going to the countryside or some far-flung destination - because cities are portals to lots of different places.

But although cities open different doorways, in themselves, they are utterly fascinating places. So while travel for work might not sound like an adventure - to me the city is an adventure.

Cities may have different personalities - Paris is elegant and proud, Mumbai is loud yet glamorous - but they all have that energy about them. For me, it's about getting into a new place and becoming part of its heartbeat. Because that's what cities have - energy.

Each one has an artery that flows into a different experience, and you can plan every single part of your journey but part of the thrill is not knowing what comes next. But it isn't the spontaneity that makes me fall in love with a city, it always starts with the people.

That's what gives me a good feel for a place - getting a sense of their culture, things that makes them laugh, the places they like to hang out in.

For instance I went to Mexico City recently, and I absolutely fell in love with it because the people were so cool. I felt the heart and soul of the city when I went into the city centre - their equivalent of Covent Garden. There were lots of people performing, and then again, standing still and doing nothing. But I just sensed this great big hubbub; lots of people talking, smiling and having a good time.

Some people might be daunted by this - after all, cities are big places, and hard to read when you've just arrived. But I find the quickest way, when I don't have a lot of time is to start talking to someone who already lives there. Most often they'll be working at your hotel. So I always start with the concierge and I don't just mean ask them for top restaurant recommendations, but just start having a conversation about places in the city you can go to, and walk around.

I love walking and I think it's absolutely vital you walk around a city - you get a real sense of how it has developed, the smells, sights and sounds - all of that comes through walking. You need to make sure you're walking around safe neighbourhoods. Then, if you're going to a restaurant or a bar, just talk to someone who works there or is sitting next to you.

I'm not afraid to spark up conversation with people who live in a place and if you are a tourist, people are quite friendly. They don't usually mind you saying 'hey, I'm new in this city, would you mind recommending somewhere more interesting than usual tourist trap places'. Honestly, it completely changes your experience of a place.

Cities can be edgy places but I always use my common sense and toe the line between brave and sensible. When you get the balance right, it can reveal the most surprising experiences.

For instance Medellín - Colombia's second largest city - was one of the most dangerous places on earth, and it's just reopened up for tourism. I was there very recently with my husband, and we thought we'd go on a guided walking tour of an area that was previously a no-go zone run by drug lord Pablo Escobar. Now it's turned into a really safe neighbourhood. But we couldn't get on a tour because we'd just landed and it was sold out.

So my husband and I thought, well, how hard can it be? So we jumped on a metro, figured out how to get there and just arrived thinking 'nowhere can be harder to navigate than London'. And it wasn't; it was actually very easy to navigate.

We arrived at the area and there were a couple of young women who lived there and they said: "Welcome, come and join our tour." And the universe had just provided these women who took us round their own neighbourhood. And it only happened because we'd had the bravery to think right, let's do this ourselves and not sack it off because no one's around to take us. You've just got to be brave and be adventurous.

Aside from adventure, cities tend to have the most stunning architecture, the best restaurants, the best bars. So you're not just visiting yet another city, in some respects you're able to try the food made by some of that country's best chefs, or look at some of its best art. And at the same time, sitting alongside all of this culture is also so much life, so much vibrancy.

Cities are a reflecting bowl for people - you tend to love the places you identify with most. And I suppose for me, that type of spontaneity and clash of cultures is one of the things I love most about being in a city.

I'd call London my home, and yes, I am biased because I do think it is the greatest city in the world. But it's not just about the history or the architecture, what I love about it is the chaos. And the filth.

I know that sounds strange, but I went to Stockholm. Scandinavia is this fabled land where everything is perfect and people are happy and everything works. And it's true, it's this fabulous place, where everybody is really good-looking, dressed well and everyone leaves work at 5.30 including CEOs.

But there was something about it - I couldn't put my finger on it - that was unnerving. It was only when I was back in London when the penny dropped. It was 11am, and I was going through Bethnal Green, and I saw young people drinking cider in a bus-stop - and I realised that was what was missing in Stockholm.

I want a city to be random, unexpected and spontaneous - what I love about London is you can be in the wealthiest area but there's still all sorts of cultures sitting side by side - the dark, as well as the brilliant, seedy as well as the glamorous, it's all here.