The much-loved actress is back on her world travels, this time in pursuit of the centuries-old spice trade. Gemma Dunn hears how she fared.

Nothing pleases Dame Joanna Lumley quite like exploring the world.

The Bafta-winning actress, 77, has spent the last decade documenting her love of travel on the small screen, from Trans-Siberian railway tours to journeys across Japan and India, or, more recently, her impressive Silk Road Adventure, in which she spanned eight countries.

“(Fearless?) I’ve a funny feeling that’s the only way we can be – if you are timid about things, you won’t get to know them,” she says with a smile when challenged on her often off-beat bold escapades.

“I was taught this: if people can do it, I can usually do it. I might not be able to do it as well; I might not be able to fly a plane or dance in the ballet,” she reasons. “But whatever it is, I’ll have a go.”

Lumley certainly applies the same mindset to her latest trip, an epic voyage through the world’s greatest spice continents.

On a mission to discover the rich tapestry of flavours and cultures that have shaped our modern day, the Ab Fab star – steadfast in her quest to trace the centuries-old trade – will tour Indonesia, Zanzibar, India and Madagascar for a new four-part ITV series titled Joanna Lumley’s Spice Trail Adventure.

“The idea was to follow the story of spices because of course in this country now we have lots, whereas in the old days we had salt and pepper and mustard and that was about it,” she begins, setting the scene.

“Now we’re so accustomed, it’s so normal for us to have every kind, turmeric and ginger and cumin, nutmeg and mace,” she compares. “So we thought, ‘Why don’t we just see where all the spices came from – and how they came to this country and the history?’

“And what started as just an idea began to literally fruit and to blossom.”

Lumley’s journey kicks off on the remote Indonesian Banda Islands, once the only place on Earth where nutmeg grows. It’s there she meets a family who make their living from harvesting the spice before uncovering the islands’ dark past – as well as the charm that led to its A-list appeal.

“I have to say being on the Banda Islands was extraordinary,” she recalls. “From Jakarta we flew to Ambon Island and from there we got on to a ferry which was going to take eight or 10 or 12 hours – nobody could tell.

“We were ploughing through the oceans, out past little islands, sailing forever, and then in the early morning, glimpsing these Banda Islands, one of which is a live volcano, I can’t tell you, it was unearthly.

“I collected, because I do collect things, an extraordinary wicker-shaped thing which they put up on a pole, bring down, and it catches the nutmegs. (I learnt) how to peel the nutmegs and then take the mace… I just adored it.

Great British Life: Joanna Lumley's Spice Trail AdventureJoanna Lumley's Spice Trail Adventure (Image: ITV)

“Now I treat spices with such respect because I have a slight inner knowledge of how they’re collected and harvested and prepared,” she notes, admitting she uses plenty in her home cooking.

“It’s magic. You can tell my heart belongs in a suitcase – I virtually am a suitcase. I look like one.”

From there, Lumley travels to her birthplace, India, in search of a kitchen cupboard staple once known as black gold. Starting in the majestic ancient city of Hampi, she is invited to a dazzling Hindu festival by a local rock climber before heading onwards to the lush backwaters of Kerala.

“We went to southern India, Kerala, Karnataka and Goa,” Lumley reiterates.

“We’ve visited India (before) but not those parts of India and we became completely obsessed with it. Drugged, you could say.”

She follows: “Here’s a tip for your next trip to India, any of you who go there: Hampi – have you ever heard of it? I hadn’t and I was born in India – has fabulous temples, huge great shopping areas and arenas and colonnades, palaces. Oh, I can’t tell you, it’s utterly stunning.

“Everybody will say, ‘Go to the Golden Triangle’, and, ‘Go and see the Taj Mahal’. I Love Taj Mahal. But go to Hampi! You’ll just adore it there.”

Lumley’s next stop is the African island of Madagascar, travelling over land on the country’s notorious potholed roads (“We travelled at one mile per hour because the roads are full of holes the size of babies’ paddling pools!”) on the trail of the second most expensive spice in the world, vanilla.

It’s here she discovers the secrets of the spice, from the unique way it’s grown to how it’s dealt on the streets. She searches for gold with a poor gold-mining community and finds out how cacao is used to make some of the world’s best chocolate.

The last leg takes her to the vast plains of Wadi Rum in Jordan on the back of a camel before her journey ends at the one of the great wonders of the world, the ancient city of Petra, to discover how the movement of spices and people affects the world today.

It “made a lovely journey across the world to countries, which in my other travels, we haven’t visited,” she muses.

The travelling itself “is always pretty exhausting”, Lumley says candidly.

“Sometimes you stay in lovely hotels and you’ve got a little balcony, you look out and there’s a swimming pool and you can hear the sea. Others are on a busy crossroads in the middle of a small, dingy, rather poor city with a light that doesn’t work, with no lavatory…

“Those are a bit challenging because somehow at the end of it you’ve got to go out the next day looking pretty chipper,” she confesses, smiling.

Superior to that, however, is Lumley’s desire to learn – most of which she says is along the way.

“I quite often find that research, and this goes for maps and things, only makes sense once you’ve got there, when it immediately clicks into place,” she concludes.

Great British Life: Joanna Lumley's Spice Trail AdventureJoanna Lumley's Spice Trail Adventure (Image: ITV)

“I’m very pro travel if you possibly can. But the things that we learn, it’s always from people. It’s people who are brilliant,” she adds.

“I’m always saying this but when we’ve got, as it were, hostile or enemy countries, it’s only the governments, the administrations, that are wrong. The people all want to look after their children and eat good food and dance and laugh and work hard and sulk sometimes and fall in love.

“They’re just the same as us but with different appearances, different religions, different cultures, different cuisines,” Lumley finishes.

“That love and trust in human nature is reinforced every time I go abroad.”

Joanna Lumley’s Spice Trail Adventure starts on ITV1 and ITVX on Wednesday June 28.