Scandinavian Modern: Why This Year Is Oslo’s Time To Shine

A contemporary art, architecture and food scene gives the Norwegian capital a luxurious edge.

By James Stewart 21/08/2022

From a dock at Bjørvika in central Oslo, a man rows into the fjord, following a ribbon of silver water as sunset flames the clouds. His wooden boat is naggingly familiar to anyone from northern Europe: high, pinched bow and stern; as slippery as a fish. In such designs, from this very fjord, the Vikings conquered and traded from Constantinople to Newfoundland.

What’s extraordinary about this image, though, is what’s behind him. The dock bristles with a panoply of double-take architecure. There’s the glass-skinned Deichman Bjørvika public library, its upper story fanned out at an implausible angle. Jostling for space behind is a design book’s worth of office and apartment blocks: cubes, cantilevered rectangles, ziggurats. There’s also the Opera House I’m standing on, beside a young family having a picnic, gaggles of teenagers and tourists taking selfies. The roof slants all the way down to the broad plaza, doubling as a ramp. Around 100 of us are gathered at the top on this chill late-winter dusk to experience one of the finest viewpoints in the city.

And what really astounds about this cutting-edge cityscape is that 20 years ago, the docks of Bjørvika housed nothing more exciting than shipping containers.

There are three things you need to know about Oslo. One is that the Norwegian capital, with a population of 700,000 people, is a pipsqueak by European standards. The second is that Norwegians are no enthusiasts of change. Things aren’t as good as they were, they grumble happily. And third, keep in mind that until 1969, this was a nation of fishermen and farmers.

What changed everything was the discovery of offshore oil. Norway’s trick over the past half-century has been to team its economic bonanza with technological innovation and a highly educated society, a combination that could define liberal democracy.

But in terms of travel, 2022 marks the year when Oslo finally comes of age. Copenhagen and Stockholm are already Scandinavian must-sees. Now the Norwegian capital is out to claim its spot as the most interesting destination in the Nordics.

If any single project supports that claim, it is the National Museum. When it opens on June 11, after 19 years of planning, the institution—four previously distinct museums of art and applied arts united in one organization—will house the largest display of arts in the Nordic region. Those with skin in the game like to point out it will be larger than the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the Frank Gehry–designed outpost of the New York icon that turned the off-the-radar Spanish city into an essential stop on a European art tour.

The museum represents the latest element of the ongoing Fjordbyen (Fjord City) urban-renewal scheme launched in the 1980s. There’s no faulting its harborside location. Ferries thrum to nearby islands. Walkers promenade in the sunshine. The light has that sparkling luminescence of the coast. Here you are in the heart of a European capital, yet the mood evokes seaside holidays. It’s rather lovely.

But, gosh, the museum’s big. Clad in gray-green slate (German architectural firm Kleihues + Schuwerk aimed to have a dialogue with both a 14th-century fortress across the harbor and the nearby city hall), its imposing 587,000-square-foot slab walls in one side of the water’s plaza. Illuminated on the roof, a marble-skinned exhibition space will glow at night like a latter-day Acropolis.

“It will make Oslo a real center for arts and culture in North Europe,” marketing director Tord Krogtoft tells Robb Report, adding that it may be the only big national museum to open this year. “It is world news.” He considers a moment, then adds with a smile, “It’s quite unorskt [un-Norwegian], actually.”

Installation of art in the 87 rooms, spread between two floors, is underway. Some of the works, such as an eye-popping mural of rainbow starbursts by American conceptual artist Sol LeWitt—certain to be catnip to Insta influencers—are exuberant, but the decor is restrained. Limestone floors, rich oak doors and window frames of burnished brass lend a patina of age to lofty spaces. Occasionally, sound art—plainchant, say, or bird-song—soundtracks spaces. In all, about 5,000 items will be on display, from paintings to furniture, design and fashion to religious art, most of it Norwegian.

As impressive is that the state coughed up every one of the 6 billion kronor, or roughly $831.5 million, it cost to build. “It’s an issue of culture and ambition as much as money,” Krogtoft says.

Oslo’s other hot museum ticket is Munch. Opened in Bjørvika last year, the world’s largest collection of artist Edvard Munch—and one of the largest museums devoted to any individual artist—is not an easy building to love. Osloites joke that it resembles a shipping container standing on end. Architecture critics have more generously opined that the 13-storey structure, designed by Spaniard Juan Herreros, aptly embodies Munch’s psychologically tortured work. Inside, where curators have a collection of nearly 28,000 works to play with, the expressionist art is stellar, and a bar on the top floor provides unrivaled fjord views. Yes, two versions of The Scream are on-site. The third is at the National Museum, and American financier Leon Black was reported to be the winning bidder on the fourth at Sotheby’s for nearly $120 million in 2012.

Edvard Munch, Inheritance, 1897-99

Edvard Munch, Inheritance, 1897-99 (left), and Girls on the Bridge, 1927, at the Munch. Einar Aslaksen

The aforementioned adjacent Opera House, erected in 2008, offers a manifestly different vibe. It’s not just that acclaimed homegrown architecture firm Snøhetta has dared to evoke an iceberg: glass cliff faces, roofs that shelve into dark water, a mountain’s worth of white marble. It’s also that the roofscape is conceived as an inviting public park.

The vibrant scene in Bjørvika is only part of what’s making Oslo a hugely appealing capital to visit. Having introduced higher tolls and congestion pricing for all but electric cars, the neoclassical center is so calm, so devoid of traffic and hurly-burly, you never quite get used to it. The city is also compact enough that nothing is more than 20 minutes away by metro or tram. Ride for 30 minutes and you’re in pine forest.

Norway, Oslo county, Oslo, Oslo Opera House, Scandinavia, Opera House modern building reflecting in the harbor water at sunrise

Oslo Opera House, designed by homegrown architectural firm Snøhetta. Maurizio Rellini/Sime/EStock Photo

Walk west of the train station—down shopping high street Karl Johans Gate, through a park where guards march stiffly before the royal palace—and you reach Frogner, the city’s most fashionable residential area. Among the borough’s elegant pastel mansions, Sommerro is set to open in September. It’s been hailed as the first neighbourhood hotel in Oslo, but such plaudits actually undersell it—Sommerro is one of Scandinavia’s most interesting launches in years.

Robb Report is the first publication inside its landmark pile, a fusion of Art Deco and functionalist red brick. Dating from 1931, it was previously owned by city-electricity provider Oslo Lysverker, serving as company headquarters but also including a pool and bathhouse in the basement for public use (a typically community-minded Scandinavian gesture). The lobby atrium now features a spectacular Art Deco chandelier that dangles six stories through the centre of a wrought-iron spiral staircase. In what will be a brasserie in the former payment hall (one of four dining spaces), the renovation preserved a 1930s mural by Norwegian artist Per Krohg, a pal of Matisse’s whose work also adorns the United Nations Security Council building in New York.

Nordic Hotels & Resorts is in top form here. The company, known for creating luxury properties, including the Icehotel in Sweden and Denmark’s Villa Copenhagen, pioneered art hotels in Oslo with the Thief in 2013 (the unusual name references the area’s past as both hideout and execution site for smugglers and other rapscallions), followed six years later by Amerikalinjen. The latter, occupying the eponymous shipping line’s neoba-roque headquarters, in which emigrants once booked passage across the Atlantic, is pure Jazz Age glamour.

Dining room at Amerikalinjen

The dining room at Amerikalinjen, a hotel in the namesake shipping line’s onetime headquarters. Francisco Nogueira

In candid moments, managers admit the 231-room Sommerro has been as much of a hassle as you’d expect of a project that has required around 100 meetings with a municipal conservation team since 2019. “It would have been easier to tear down and build from new,” brand director Siri Løining says. Cheaper, too: The project cost about $416 million. “But,” she continues, “it’s much more interesting to keep the stories of the building, its DNA. This is a cultural-heritage project.”

GrecoDeco, the New York–and London-based design firm behind Soho House, has handled styling. The model rooms are an interplay of texture and pattern, Art Deco chic and folksy Nordic touches. So there are walls panelled with cherry-stained ash, stepped ceiling mouldings, tapestry headboards and rose-marble bathrooms. But bespoke hand-knotted rugs have images of storks, and colours are russet and moss, taupe and dusky pink. Superior rooms feature Murano-glass chandeliers. One luxury suite occupies what was once the panelled office of the utility company’s director.

In the basement, in what will be Scandinavia’s largest city-hotel wellness area—“It’s not a spa. This is more for health and mindfulness,” Løining notes—guests will change in restored wooden booths and swim beneath a playful Krohg mosaic that Sommerro has safeguarded. Oslo’s first rooftop pool will be open year-round. (Don’t worry, it’s beside a sauna for winter.) Though Osloites’ use of the rooftop amenities will be limited to the off-season (October through April), they will be welcome to book appointments to the below-ground facilities and join the gym all year. Løining explains: “A lot of developers don’t think about where they are. We’re embracing this building’s unique history, its unique experiences and how it has served local communities.

Junior suite at Sommerro

A junior suite at Sommerro, due to open in September. Lars Petter Pettersen

While the vintage Krohgs celebrate Norway’s artistic legacy, Sommerro is also looking to the contemporary artists and designers invigorating Oslo’s scene today. The hotel commissioned Kaja Dahl to reenvision a stone drinking fountain that once stood in the wellness area and to fashion vases in granite-like porphyry for the guest suites. Her work blurs sculpture and nature, art and craft. In her exhibitions at nearby QB Gallery in Frogner, a ribbon of wood unspools into the air. Polished marble reveals a crystalline core. It’s all somehow unmistakably Scandinavian.

QB manager Mikaela Aschim talks of a growing international clientele for the gallery’s roster. There’s huge investment potential for buyers, she says, because a small national base of collectors keeps prices attractive. A few commercial art galleries, such as Standard (Oslo)Galleri Golsa and OSL Contemporary, have penetrated the international scene, while Galleri Format focuses on contemporary craft and design. Kunstnernes Hus, meanwhile, has been artist-run since 1930 and features exhibitions as well as independent films.

At QB I meet Dahl, who leads me through the backstreets of Frogner: cool corner cafés on beautiful fin de siècle terraces (the area emerged as a summer retreat for Oslo’s elite), cobbles, the fjord winking below. At one point we head into Frogner Park, where over 200 bronze, iron and granite figures by sculptor Gustav Vigeland are on permanent display. Vigeland, who lived and worked nearby in what is now his namesake museum, spent almost 20 years installing the works before his death in 1943. “I love these,” says Dahl. “They’re so soft but in granite.”

Dahl attributes the explosion of Oslo’s art scene to prosperity. “Artists are infiltrating everywhere in Oslo right now,” she says. “It’s a sign of a society that has real luxury, that has the time and wealth to create.” Holding art in high esteem starts at the very top: Norway’s Queen Sonja is a longtime photographer and printmaker who established the Queen Sonja Print Award, a biannual international prize funded by sales of her work.

As is the case in other cities, cool restaurants and cafés are close by the galleries. Sorgenfri, on the elegant street Sorgen-frigaten (the name translates roughly as “No Problems Street”), is a dual-purpose space: polished concrete and pink-marble bar above, gallery and art-fashion boutique below. It’s the sort of madly creative joint every traveller yearns to discover. Outside are two hunks of raw larvikite stone polished into seats—a commission by Dahl.

She believes Oslo’s rise is just beginning.

Outdoor terrace of Sorgenfri

The outdoor terrace of Sorgenfri. Courtesy of Sorgenfri

The dining scene is also showing off a new sophistication. Ask why Oslo is awash with visionary small restaurants preparing New Nordic cuisine and chefs such as Hanne Rutgerson, a bright 30-year-old who apprenticed in a Michelin-star venue, will tell you about stellar Norwegian ingredients, a moneyed, cultured clientele, the ease of a small city. It’s an unbeatable combination. Rutgerson recommends Hot Shop, a neighbourhood bistro in a former sex shop that offers no-menu seasonal dining of real depth and refinement. I can vouch for Festningen, serving classic-modern dishes in the harbour fortress.

Fish soup at Festningen

Fish soup at Festningen. Stian Broch

At her own brasserie, Kastellet, Rutgerson sends out a procession of dazzling small plates: scallop mousse with rhubarb pickle; skrei (Bering Sea cod) with black truffle and white asparagus; duck with cherries and grapefruit. It’s Nordic but bolder, more international, more interesting. Anything but traditional.

Back at Bjørvika, I visit Kok saunas. Fifteen years or so ago, when the fjord was toxic sludge, these floating saunas would have been madness. Now, after a municipal clean-up, you can flit between sauna and seawater, which flirts with 2 degrees Celsius, or about 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Norwegians can’t get enough of this sort of thing, incidentally. It taps into a concept of friluftsliv—strong mental health through outdoor living.

I sit in a tiny superheated cabin among jovial Osloites. We yarn, crack jokes. At intervals we emerge from steaming to plunge into the fjord. Opposite, the Opera House shimmers with a magical glacial beauty. It is a hugely life-affirming experience.

Not bad for a nation of farmers and fishermen.

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Don’t Ride This Wave ….*unless your name is Robinson, Slater or Moore.

The 2024 Olympic surfing comp will be held at Tahiti’s treacherous Teahupo’o. Going for gold could be deadly.

By Jen Murphy 15/04/2024

It’s day two of the 2023 Tahiti Pro Surf Competition. I’m perched on the roof of a VIP boat around 100 metres from Teahupo’o, one of the world’s most dangerous waves. American Surf icon Kelly Slater has just been swallowed by a heaving wall of turquoise water. I’m so close to the action that when he’s finally spit out from the ride, my face gets misted in ocean spray. Below me, Australian Jack Robinson, who will go on to win the event, sits on the edge of the boat performing breathing exercises ahead of his heat. Around me, a flotilla of kayaks, jetskis, surfboards, and small vessels bobs in the channel, acting as a floating stadium for fans. 

For many of the competitors—and the 1,400-odd residents of the wave’s namesake village—this year’s contest is a dress rehearsal for an event with a far larger global profile in a few months’ time. While many of the world’s top athletes will travel to France in July for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, the most talented surfers will head here, to the southwest corner of Tahiti island’s small peninsula, Tahiti Iti, to vie for gold at Teahupo’o in just the second surf competition in Olympic history. 

Aerial View by Manea Fabisch

In keeping with the limit of two surfers per gender, per nation, the Australian flag will be flown by Ethan Ewing (No. 2 in the World Surf League rankings at the time of writing) and the aforementioned Robinson (No. 5) in the men’s category, and Tyler Wright (No. 3) and Molly Picklum (No. 5) in the women’s. On this form, hopes of a homegrown medal haul are high.

Carissa Moore of the US who took gold at the 2021 Olympics at the Tahiti Pro in Teahupo’o. IMAGE: Beatriz Ryder

Olympic officials could have chosen a site off the coast of France, such as the surf towns of Biarritz or Hossegor, but historically, Mother Nature brings more sizable waves to Tahiti at this time of year. Plus, surfing has deep cultural ties to the region. The sport originated in Polynesia and dates as far back as the 12th century; it was practiced by Polynesian royalty. Teahupo’o is also a world-class wave that challenges the mental and physical prowess of even the most experienced competitors. The high risk of surfing this spot guarantees thrills that officials anticipate will boost viewership. 

Located in the gin-clear waters of the South Pacific with a background of mountains that appear to be draped in jade-green crushed velvet, Teahupo’o (pronounced TAY-a-hoo-poh-oh) is one of the sport’s most infamous swells. (Its name loosely—and cheerily—translates to “place of skulls”.) According to Memoirs of Marau Taaroa, Last Queen of Tahiti, printed in 1893, the first person to surf it was actually a woman from the island of Raiatea, in the 19th century. Not until the 1980s did anyone dare attempt it again, with the first competition hosted in the late 1990s. Former pro turned filmmaker Chris Malloy has called it “the wave that has changed surfing forever”.

Australian surfer Jack Robinson with his trophy. IMAGE: World Surf League

In the right conditions, Teahupo’o can tower upwards of six metres. That may sound small compared to the monster-size Jaws in Maui or Nazaré in Portugal—which can climb as high as 25 metres—but it’s not the height that makes Chopes, as the wave is lovingly called, so special. It’s the weight. When surfers describe a wave as heavy, they’re referring to its combination of a thick lip (the powerful section that starts to curl over) and the amount of water surging behind it.

Like most of the surf breaks found throughout French Polynesia, Teahupo’o is a reef break, meaning the water spills over the surface of knife- sharp coral. Chopes is unique because around 50 metres beyond the reef, the ocean drops more than 15 metres. As swells come toward the shore, the transition from deep water causes them to jack up over the coral before quickly crashing down with tremendous force. 

“The reef evolved perfectly in order to absorb the wave’s energy in the shortest distance possible to create this natural wonder,” surf superstar Laird Hamilton tells Robb Report. “It’s a wave that stands straight up and creates a huge barrel. It’s one of the greatest waves on Earth.” In 2000, Hamilton rewrote surfing history when he rode what has been dubbed the Millennium Wave here. Up until then, Teahupo’o was considered too perilous to attempt when it reached a certain size. Hamilton, a pioneer of tow surfing, had a jetski pull him into what is still considered one of the heaviest waves ever ridden. Surfer magazine published a memorable cover of him getting barrelled with just the words “Oh my god…” because the feat was so dangerous. 

In places, the reef lurks just 50 centimetres beneath the water’s surface, and the lip can act like a liquid guillotine if it clamps down before a surfer exits the hollow tube of the wave, known as the barrel. Had Hamilton wiped out, he wouldn’t have had an escape route. 

A flotilla of fans watch Brazilian Pato Teixeira in action

I’m an avid amateur surfer and live on Maui part-time to take advantage of Hawaii’s waves, but even on a gentle day, I wouldn’t attempt Teahupo’o. Teahupo’o village has a water-safety patrol that watches over athletes during contests. Still, a handful of surfers have lost their lives here, and many go home with serious battle wounds. In August last year, during a practice session for the Tahiti Pro, Ethan Ewing fractured two vertebrae in his back after crashing out in solid, but average, six-foot waves—an accident that arguably cost him top spot in the world rankings. 

In classic gung-ho-surfer fashion, though, the Queenslander was back in the water at Teahupo’o three months later, one eye still resolutely fixed on Olympic glory. “Definitely more anxious than excited heading back to Tahiti after hitting the reef really hard last time,” he posted on his Instagram account. “Teahupo’o is still seriously intimidating, but I feel like I’ve made some steps in the right direction.”

Unless you surf, Tahiti Iti probably isn’t on your radar. Starting from the largest town of Taravao, the south-coast road ends at the village of Teahupo’o, hence its nickname, the End of the Road. The community, just 500 metres from the wave, is the antithesis of the glitz and glamour of Paris or even nearby Bora Bora. This is a slice of tropical paradise that has somehow evaded development. To reach the contest each day, I park at the end of the road, then walk over a one-lane bridge and follow a sandy path that passes local homes. 

“All of your senses are heightened here,” former world surf champion C. J. Hobgood tells me when I run into him at the event. “It’s not just the wave—it’s the island. Everything looks five- dimensional. Mountains seem stacked on mountains and glow a vivid green. You turn to the right and these bluer-than-blue waves are breaking. Then a rainbow might appear in the sky. The raw beauty is overwhelming to take in when you first arrive.” 

Surfers talk of feeling the mana, a Polynesian word for spiritual energy, here. Jack Robinson even referenced it after his victory in the Tahiti Pro. It may sound woo-woo, but I undoubtedly feel something when I arrive after a 90-minute drive south-west from the hotel-lined harbour of Tahiti Nui, the island’s larger, more developed area. Tahiti Iti’s empty beaches and waterfall-riddled lush interiors remind me of a quieter, more vibrant version of Hana, a little corner of Maui with just one hotel, a handful of restaurants and kilometres of untamed nature. In an era of over-tourism, this kind of purity comes with a trade-off: You won’t find five-star hotels or celebrity-chef restaurants on Tahiti Iti. In fact, it doesn’t have any hotels at all—and won’t be opening any ahead of the Games. 

Locals have been adamant that Olympic infrastructure remains minimal. The proposed construction of a three-storey judging tower directly on the reef at Teahupo’o has been a major concern among residents and environmental groups. The one Olympic improvement locals welcome is a new bridge that will connect to the beach in front of Chopes. 

I check into Villa Mitirapa, newly built in the rural community of Afaahiti, a 25-minute drive from Teahupo’o. Giant carved wooden doors lead to an open-air living room, a plunge pool and views of the lagoon, and every evening a chef drops by with a delicious preparation of the catch of the day. In the village of Teahupo’o, you’ll find family-owned guesthouses such as Vanira Lodge, a collection of three bungalows tucked up in Te Pari (“the cliffs” in Tahitian), as well as A Hi’o To Mou’a, a B&B run by the proprietor of hiking outfit Heeuri Explorer.

2024 French Olympian Vahine Fierro, who first surfed Teahupo’o as a teenager

Pro surfers are typically hosted by the same local families year after year. (During the Olympics, athletes will be housed on a ship anchored in a sandy area offshore to avoid damaging the seabed.) Hobgood tells me he made visits to his “adopted Tahitian family” for nearly two decades. For the past five years, he has come to Teahupo’o to help coach reigning Olympic champ, Hawaiian Carissa Moore and now stays with her adopted family. “They take us on hikes you’d otherwise never know how to access and have rich stories about the place,” he says. “And everything they prepare for us at meals, from the passion-fruit jam to the chilli sauce, is homemade.” 

The next big thing being “adopted” by a Tahitian family is hiring Raimana van Bastolaer as your guide. For a first-time visitor, Tahiti Iti can be far harder to access than other islands, which is perhaps why so few people explore the peninsula. You need a local to reveal where to go, and van Bastolaer makes you feel like an insider. 

Surfer and guide Raimana van Bastolaer

Born and raised in the capital of Papeete, he was one of the first locals to surf Chopes, and over the years, his intricate knowledge of the wave has earned him the nickname the Godfather of Teahupo’o. He was out in the channel with Hamilton the day the American had his historic ride, and John John Florence and Kelly Slater are among the surfers who stay with him when they’re in town. Van Bastolaer even did a stint as a part-time coach at Surf Ranch, Slater’s central California wave park. Thanks to his non-stop pursuit of a good time, everyone wants to be around him. Now 48, the stockily built, dauntingly athletic van Bastolaer has become the go-to guide for visitors ranging from Julia Roberts, Margot Robbie and Jason Momoa to Mark Zuckerberg and Prince Harry. “I get to yell at princes and CEOs,” he jokes. “I’m out in the water with them telling them when to pop up and paddle. And they love it.” 

Tahiti’s unofficial ambassador lives and breathes surfing. Through his company, Raimana World, he takes just one or two guests at a time on private curated surf tours throughout French Polynesia’s two central archipelagoes: the Society Islands (which are home to Tahiti) and the Tuamotus; he plans to add Fiji soon. Some of his clients base themselves on their own yachts or charter one through Pelorus. The yacht specialist’s Tahiti portfolio includes the 77-metre La Datcha, which has two helipads, a submersible and a spa. 

Motu Nao Nao, a private new island resort in French Polynesia.

Other clients he directs to exclusive properties, such as Motu Nao Nao, a new 25-hectare private-island resort in the cerulean lagoon of Raiatea with just three enormous villas crafted from coral, wood, and shells. A roving bar bike delivers custom cocktails to guests as they explore the island, and the French chef, inspired by Asian and North African cuisine, prides himself on never repeating a dish, no matter how long guests stay. 

Van Bastolaer gets only one or two clients a year experienced enough to be coached into a barrel at Teahupo’o. “Most just want to get close to the wave to feel its energy and hear it roar,” he says. “That’s enough to give you an adrenaline rush.” Locals are incredibly protective of their surf spots, and van Bastolaer stays away from popular breaks. “Out of respect, I don’t take clients out if there are more than a few people in the water. Luckily, I have access to toys that get us away from the crowds.” He island-hops by helicopter, yacht or jet boat, then transports guests to surf breaks via high-speed RIB (rigid inflatable boat) or jetski. Most days average two to three hours of surfing, and he sprinkles in other activities such as snorkeling, whale watching (July to November) and barbecues at his house. 

Papara, the beautiful black-sand beach where van Bastolaer honed his skills, 45 minutes from Teahupo’o, will be turned into a fan viewing zone with jumbo screens during the Olympics. Papara is one of the most forgiving surf breaks in Tahiti, and I head here to longboard. La Plage de Maui, a simple restaurant with sandy floors, plastic chairs and lagoon vistas, becomes my daily après-surf spot. Located in West Taiarapu, 40 minutes east of Papara, with nothing but coastal road and local homes in between, this humble spot sits next to Maui Beach, one of the only white-sand beaches on the whole island. This stretch may be Tahiti Iti’s best-kept secret. 

After a barefoot walk along the shore, I don’t bother to put my shoes back on before heading into the restaurant, where servers proudly sport Tahiti Pro T-shirts and posters of pros hang on the walls. At a waterfront table, I spot rainbow-hued parrotfish and Moorish idol in the glassy lagoon. I’m pretty sure I could live on a diet of local Hinano beer and poisson cru, Tahiti’s national dish of raw fish marinated in lime juice and coconut milk. My final day, I ask my waitress if she’s concerned the Olympics might overexpose this laid-back, oft-forgotten enclave. She just laughs in reply. 

On the drive back to my villa, I remember what van Bastolaer told me when we were introduced a year ago: Tahiti Iti’s specialness is lost on those seeking overwater bungalows or nightlife. It’s a place you can’t know in a day. The island reveals itself to you slowly. And even when van Bastolaer is your host, he won’t give away all its secrets. 

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The Boldest, Most Exciting New Timepieces From Watches & Wonders 2024

Here are the highlights from the world’s biggest watch releases of the year.

By Allen Farmelo, Carol Besler, Paige Reddinger, Oren Hartov, Victoria Gomelsky, Cait Bazemore, Nick Scott, Justin Fenner 10/04/2024

Watches & Wonders, the world’s largest watch show, is in full swing in Geneva. The highly anticipated cascade of new releases is marked by confident individual brand identities — perhaps a sign that watchmakers are done scrambling through the violent collision of restricted supply and soaring demand for high end watches. All seem to be back on solid footing.

Steady confidence is a good thing. Consider Jaeger-LeCoultre offering up traditionally styled grand complications or Vacheron Constantin revamping the classic Patrimony with smaller cases and vintage-inspired radially brushed dials. Consider TAG Heuer celebrating the 55th anniversary of the square Monaco with a skeletonized flyback confidently priced at US$183,000, or Moser similarly showing off a fascinating skeletonized tourbillon in its distinctive 40 mm Streamliner at US$86,900. IWC has leaned hard into their traditionally styled Portugieser line, including an astounding Eternal Calendar complication. We find the storied French houses of Cartier, Chanel and Hermes blurring the lines between jewelry and watchmaking with the technical prowess and artistic whimsy that originally earned these brands their exalted place in the hearts and minds of sophisticated aesthetes. Confidence abounds in 2024.

We could go on and on with examples, but the watches below will demonstrate that for 2024 the big watch brands dared to be themselves, which appears to have given them the confidence to take some seriously compelling horological risks. We have separate coverage of off-show releases and, of course, Patek and Rolex, so keep and eye out for those.

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A Gucci Garden Blooms in Sydney

On a rainy Sydney night, the drinks talent from Maybe Sammy mixed with guest bartenders from Giardino 25 in Florence, for a night of liquid magic.

By Belinda Aucott-christie 13/04/2024

Since hanging out its shingle in 2022, Giardino 25, the all-day café and bar located in Gucci’s palatial, multidisciplinary space in Florence, has been a boon to stylish tipplers. Taking inspiration from one of its previous tenants (a longstanding florist), the garden-themed joint (Giardino is the Italian word for garden) serves delicious aperitivi and dangerously addictive cocktails.

 

Umbrian native Martina Bonci is in hair-to-brogue Gucci for her artful bartending session at El Primo Sanchez. 
Aurora cocktai at Giardino 25, Florence.

Giardino 25 took bloom this past Tuesday at a pop-up at El Primo Sanchez in Paddington. The Maybe Cocktail Festival in Sydney is a series of 20 events scattered throughout the city curated by the award-winning Sammy’s Cocktails team. The festival aims to spur knowledge-sharing and foster excellence in Australia’s drinks scene.

“Last year we held 16 events and they were all packed,” says Stefano Catino, director of hospitality at Public, the management company behind Maybe Sammy venues and bottled drinks, “so this year we’ve curated extra events and flown out even more international bars and bartenders.”

“Nineteen of the 21 events are free to attend, which is very important to us,” he continues. “The cost of living is high, and it’s very expensive for Australians to travel overseas, so this festival allows people to drink cocktails from an amazing bar in Rome or try a Tommy’s Margarita from the gentleman who created it without the cost of a plane ticket.”

Dressed head to toe in Gucci,  and using the bar as her personal catwalk, Giardino 25’s special guest, Martina Bonci, looked every bit the star behind the bar. “We have brought our mix of classic Italian influences and innovation,” she told Robb Report, “so guests in Australia get a little slice of what we do in Florence.”

Among her tantalising pours were powerful dirty martinis decorated with shimmering gold leaf and Aurora, a transparent twist on the Negroni.

Reflecting on her whirlwind trip down under, Bonci said their visit to Bondi Beach and the cocktails at Maybe Sammy were the highlights.

“The bartenders at Maybe Sammy are world-class,” she explained. “There is a good reason they win awards and have a respected reputation overseas. And El Primo Sanchez has such a fun atmosphere—we had a great night.”

Martina Bonci, Bar Manager at Gucci Giardino 25, has been honoured twice as ‘Best Bartender in Italy’ by both the Bargiornale and Blue Blazer Awards. To her right her colleague Matteo Piga.

Bonci, who came to prominence in a long string at Milanese hipster joint Gesto and is known for her use of agave, favors drinks dripping with seasonal fruits and citrus flavors. Having tried her creations, we do, too.

She made a serious impression on Sydneysiders, who would do well to make a pilgrimage to see her in action on home turf. As if any of us need another reason to visit Italy.

The Maybe Cocktail Festival, continues this weekend in Sydney, with the public welcome to attend a Bartenders Brunch at Sydney’s Alpha on Sunday from 11.00 am – 3.00 pm, hosted by George Calombaris. 

View the program: Maybe Cocktail Festival @maybe_cocktail_fetsival

All images courtesy of Gucci.

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Patek Philippe Brings Back Collector Favourites at Watches & Wonders 2024

Both the Nautilus Chronograph and Aquanaut Travel Time receive a welcome return.

By Josh Bozin 10/04/2024

If you’re a watch fan, there’s every reason to believe that a Patek Philippe Nautilus, Patek Philippe Aquanaut—or both—would be high on your wish list. Both collections are of historical significance, helping pave the way for the influence of the steel sports watch category—and subsequent chokehold on the market today.

So, when Patek Philippe unveiled its newest releases at Watches & Wonders in Geneva, it was a pleasant surprise to see the return of two of the best past iterations of the Nautilus and Aquanaut collections.

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe Nautilus Chronograph

First, we get a new Nautilus Chronograph, with the return of the revered 5980, now replete with a new case in white gold and a denim-like strap (a contentious issue among watch pundits). Discontinuing all Nautilus 5980 models earlier this year, including the collector-favourite 5980/1AR in Rose Gold, left a sombre feeling among Nautilus fanatics. These celebrated chronographs, renowned for their distinctive porthole-inspired design and air of sporty elegance, are some of the most sought-after watches in the Patek Philippe catalogue. Thus, the revival of the 5980, now in white gold, is a cause for collectors’ celebration.

The new offering retains its chronograph function with mono-counter tracking 60-minute and 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock on the dial, but now comes on a new denim-inspired, hand-stitched fabric strap with a Nautilus fold-over clasp in white gold—some will love it, some won’t.

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe

The Calibre CH 28‑520 C/522 powers this new Nautilus with its flyback chronograph, all of which is visible through the transparent sapphire crystal caseback. The dial is also incredibly eye-catching, with a beautiful opaline blue-gray hue accentuated by white gold-applied hour markers with a white luminescent coating. It is priced at approximately $112,000.

Also returning to the fold is the Patek Philippe Aquanaut Travel Time, now with its own bluish hue dial—similar to its Nautilus counterpart. After discontinuing the Aquanaut Travel Time 5164A this year, as well—a watch often regarded as the greatest Aquanaut to date—Patek Philippe surprised all with the new 5164G in white gold. Its greatest attribution is the clever Travel Time GMT function, which clearly rivals the Rolex GMT-Master II as perhaps the travel-friendly watch of choice (if acquiring one was that simple, of course).

For those who prefer the Aquanaut’s sportiness and easy-wearing rubber strap, this newest iteration, with its Opaline Blue-gray dial and matching rubber strap with a deployant clasp, is undoubtedly an icon in the making. The new 5164G has a 40mm case and features the Calibre 26‑330 S C FUS movement, which can also be viewed via the transparent sapphire crystal caseback.

Expect to pick up the new Aquanaut Travel Time for around $95,250.  

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe Aquanaut Travel Time

 

Follow @robbreportau for all your Watches & Wonders coverage, and more!

 

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Rolex Kicks Off Watches & Wonders 2024 with a New GMT-Master II

The new stainless steel GMT-Master II has already been dubbed the “Bruce Wayne”.

By Josh Bozin 09/04/2024

It may not be the GMT that watch pundits were speculating on—or that collectors were hoping for—but the new Rolex GMT-Master II with a new grey and black ceramic bezel adds dazzle to the revered Rolex collection, which this year celebrates its 70th anniversary.

The idea of a new Rolex GMT launching at the world’s biggest watch fair is cause for a little madness. While the watch community eagerly awaited what was thought to be the discontinuation of the highly sought-after GMT “Pepsi” and the return of the GMT “Coke,” the luxury Swiss watchmaker had other plans.

Instead, we’re presented with a piece that, on paper, hasn’t changed much from previous GMT releases. That’s not to say that this isn’t an impressive release that will speak to consumers—the new GMT-Master II ref.126710GRNR, dubbed the “Bruce Wayne,” is definitely a sight for sore eyes.

Rolex
Rolex

This new GMT retains the same dimensions and movement as the other watches in the GMT collection, along with its 40mm size case and the option to fit either an Oyster or Jubilee bracelet. The obvious changes, albeit subtle, come in the way of its mostly monochrome return; a fact that will appease traditionalists. If you’re opposed to the attention-drawing “Pepsi”, “Sprite”, or “Batman” iterations, this model is a stealthier pick—much like pseudonymous Bruce Wayne.

The other noticeable change is the “GMT-Master II” now applied in green text and a 24-hour hand in green; perhaps a nod to the 2007 Basel World GMT release.

Like many Rolex timepieces, this will generate great hype and attention, so don’t expect allocations to come easily.

Rolex
Rolex

Model: GMT-Master II
Reference Number: 126710GRNR

Diameter: 40mm
Case Material: Stainless steel
Dial Colour: Black
Lume: Chromalight on hands and hour markers
Water Resistance: 100m
Bracelet: Oyster or Jubilee

Movement: Caliber 3285
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, GMT
Power Reserve: 70 hours
Winding: Automatic

Price: $17,150 (Oyster); $17,500 (Jubilee)
Availability: Now. Non-limited edition

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