The coastal road between Camps Bay and Llandudno is a conservation area, so it’s undeveloped—just fynbos-covered mountains to one side, and the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean to the other. Until you round a curve in the road and catch your first glimpse of the Twelve Apostles, named after the Twelve Apostles mountain range that runs parallel to the coast, that is: Built into the contours of the mountainside, there’s a lot of hotel packed into its relatively small footprint. The rooms are flamboyant, old-school glamour, either facing the sea or the mountains.
Remember when some places used to call themselves art hotels, for the sake of a few second-rate daubings on the walls? Well, this opened in 2013, a key player in Oslo’s waterside reboot, and has the sort of collection many urban galleries would kill for. There’s a genuflecting bronze by Antony Gormley outside by the revolving doors, a Julian Opie animation in the lift, and you’ll spot pieces by Warhol, Richard Prince, Niki de Saint Phalle and Tony Cragg dotted around the public spaces. The Thief is the work of Petter Stordalen, who drives a biofuel-powered Ferrari and has banned bacon in his hotels for sustainability reasons. It straddles the water on the reclaimed islet of Tjuvholmen, a sheeny-shiny place of glinting bridges and newbuilds, many of which are home to small independent galleries – though the big-hitter is the neighbouring Astrup Fearnley, from where much of the hotel’s artwork is borrowed. The spa and pool are accessed via a secret underground tunnel – locals come for the Sauna Guss experience, inspired by Dr Kneipp’s immune-system-boosting methods, with a dip in the icy Oslofjord followed by a sauna using essential oils. Rooms are clad in touchy-feely textures, golds and greys, with picture windows to slide wide open for gulps of Nordic sea air from the harbour below. (Two of the biggest rooms were designed by Lee Broom and Peter Blake, riffing on Fifties and Sixties London – a cubist coffee table here, a geometric-patterned sofa there.) The rooftop restaurant was recently revamped, British chef David Taylor has fun with regional ingredients (scallops, turnips, monkfish, lamb neck) at the FoodBar restaurant, the bar has helped up Oslo’s cocktail game (try the Michael Jackson and Bubbles – rum, banana cordial, green tea, Champagne, in a ceramic monkey head). London-born Dominic Gorham is the personable go-to chap for guests, taking it to the stage to MC regular unplugged music sessions. It’s a 15-minute walk from the town centre – this is a city for striding out, along the Aker Brygge waterfront, over the glacier-like Opera House and up for more sculptures in the hillside Ekeburg park. The Thief’s new art collection is set to arrive soon, along with a sister hotel in town, Amerikalinjen. Oslo’s overflowing oil wealth meant this was a city that never bothered itself unduly with drawing visitors, but that’s changed and it has a fresh international outlook – this is the best place to feel you’re part of that. By Rick Jordan