Discover the incredible destinations of the Spice Trail

Inspired by Joanna Lumley’s Spice Trail Adventure on ITV? We look at some of the amazing destinations she visits on her travels.

By Lorna Cowan

Published 4 June 2024

No stranger to exciting travel adventures, Joanna Lumley has recently undertaken an epic voyage, journeying through the world’s greatest spice continents. Discovering more about nutmeg in Indonesia, black pepper in Southern India and vanilla in Madagascar, viewers of the new ITV series can learn all about where these wonderful spices are from, and how they’ve come to be kitchen staples in our homes.

“How lucky we are to have access to these thrilling spices and the ability to cook with them,” Joanna says. “I have so much respect for the people who grow them. It’s pure magic.”

"Magic" is the perfect way to describe the enchanting destinations Joanna is lucky enough to visit, as you have the chance to discover for yourself with Saga...

The remote Indonesian island of Banda was, once upon a time, the only place on earth where you’d find nutmeg trees. It’s hard to believe now when we add the everyday ingredient to baking, but Joanna tells us traders were so desperate to get hold of this incredible spice that they would cross the entire world to reach the “real-life treasure island”. We're assuming that the spectacular backdrop of twinkling azure waves and lush green slopes also had a bit of a draw to travellers, even then!

To experience the beauty of an Indonesian island for yourself, you might like to try Bali, which equals Banda in beauty and lures travellers to its tropical shores year in, year out. Here beautiful beaches are part of the appeal, as is Mount Agung, an active volcano and the country’s most sacred site.

"It was a fascinating journey across the world to many places I had never visited before." - Joanna Lumley

The island of Madagascar is home to vanilla, the second most expensive spice in the world (saffron sits in the top spot). Small vanilla seeds can be found inside the fragrant black pods of climbing orchids, which, incredibly, have to be pollinated by hand.

The isolated island is also famous for producing exquisite chocolate, and is home to a wealth of weird and wonderful wildlife — exotic endemic creatures such as the golden bamboo lemur and sifaka.

Holiday in Madagascar and you’ll encounter plant and animal life that is utterly unique. And you’re sure to enjoy excursions to a baobab-filled National Park and a UNESCO-listed sacred city too.

Discovering more about the Spice Trail takes Joanna back to India, where she was born, to learn about black pepper, otherwise known as “black gold”. Throughout history, the hot-tasting ingredient has been considered so precious that it’s been used as currency. It could pay taxes, dowries, rent and even ransoms.

Kerala, famous for its lush, sleepy backwaters, is on Joanna’s itinerary. An exciting Saga holiday exploring Classic Kerala includes visits to spice plantations that grow cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, cloves and ginger, as well as a memorable night’s cruise on a Spice Routes houseboat. Or why not take in India's breathtaking landscape on a Great Indian Rail Journey?

Marvel the mountains and valleys of the lower Himalayas, experience the Taj Mahal at dawn and explore the stunning Golden Temple at Amritsar.

"I’m very pro-travel because you can only learn so much from paper. You need to learn from people. And the kindness and generosity of strangers never fails to touch me when I travel. We are all the same. That love and trust in human nature is reinforced every time I go abroad." - Joanna Lumley

The ancient city of Petra was once a very popular and very wealthy stopping point on the Spice Trail. Nomadic merchants carrying exotic spices grown in India, Asia and Africa would rest there and sell their wares. Petra became both a significant trade and cultural centre.

Visit Jordan today and you too can experience the magic of Petra, and marvel at the rock-hewn city with its magnificent Treasury and Monastery — it’s astonishing that these buildings were hidden beneath sand until 1812.

And just like Joanna on her Spice Trail Adventure, no trip to Jordan would be complete without a stop-off in the romantic Wadi Rum desert. See for yourself where the seven Academy Award winner Lawrence of Arabia was filmed.

All types of spices, along with jewellery, silks and mineral dyes, passed through the Italian port of Venice and were then sold throughout Europe. Worth their weight in gold, sometimes quite literally, Venetian merchants controlled most of the lucrative trade and became very rich.

If visiting Venice, the Bridge of Sighs and Doge’s Palace are sure to be highlights. But also make time to venture 10 minutes from St Mark’s Square and walk along Calle degli Spezieri, the street of the spice merchants. Some speciality food shops are still housed in elegant buildings and are well worth a wander around.

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