Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Travel: Christian Bedat/Town&Country Travel

The Wonder Boy of Watches - Swiss watch magnate Christian Bedat likes to heli-ski in Canada, relax in the Maldives and vacation with his family in Forte dei Marmi. We caught up with him between trips.

Spring 2006

IN the 400-year-old Swiss watch business, where legacy is practically a prerequisite, Christian Bedat has achieved enormous success in a remarkably short eight years. He launched Bedat & Co in 1996, and almost immediately it was heralded for its luxury designs (think handstitched hot pink alligator straps). Watchmaking is in Bedat's blood: His mother Simone, was a founding partner in the Geneva-based Ramond Weil.

A former Swiss army officer, Christian spent most of the 1980s in Hong Kong, manufacturing watches for United Colors of Benetton by Bulova. He returned to Switzerland to collaborate with his mother, first at Raymond Weil, where he led the design team, then in the launch of Bedat & Co. The company was purchased in 2001 by the Gucci Group. Today, the forty-one-year old is the vice president and creative director of Gucci Group Watches, as well as the CEO of Bedat & Co, whose signature, square faced watches are sold in the United States, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Japan, Hong Kong and Brazil.

Overseeing the prosperous company, Bedat spends his days traversing time zones, traveling frequently from his home in Geneva to New York, Hong Kong, Paris and Tokyo. He likes a bit of adventure - he's an avid scuba diver - as well as downtime with his wife, Diane and their five children. He's obsessed with design, whether of luggage or of an airplane's interior, and is always searching for unusual ideas.

What impact do trips have on your work?
The more you travel, the more you experience. I like to think about new designs when I am fully relaxed - in a quiet, remote location, away from my day-to-day life. Certain colors and shapes can be inspiring. Recently, my wife and I went to the Amanpulo resort, on a private island in the Philippines. It has just 40 casitas and is surrounded by very clear, blue water and there is a coral reef for diving. I started considering sporty designs and ended up sketching the No. 7 women's watch on a napkin. The turquoise water inspired a turqouise grosgrain silk strap.

Describe some particularly adventurous trips from recent years.
Diving in French Polynesia, in the Fakarava atoll on the south pass was amazing. During one dive, I could not believe how many sharks I saw. First there were five or six, then fifteen and finally, maybe three hundred. It was one of my most memorable dives, but was it daring? Not really. Have you heard of many divers eaten by sharks? The majority of them aren't very dangerous. I have also gone helicopter skiing in British Columbia: white powder, wild skiing and high speeds. I found it quite exciting. We explored the Monashee and Cariboo mountain ranges, skiing almost nonstop every day. I am planning a return visit this year.

Where have you always wanted to go?
The North and South Poles. I would love to see the icebergs. I'd like to visit the Galapagos Islands too. I have heard that the fauna there is incredible.

How do you find good local restaurants when you are traveling?
I always go with friends who will look after me. Hong Kong is one of the best places in the world for food. I eat mainly Chinese, in restaurants on hidden streets where there are no other foreigners. I go to Lucy's in the Stanley neighborhood, a small place that prepares Shanghainese dishes. In Geneva, I like the Auberge Communal d'Onex for excellent Italian food. In winter, it serves whhite truffles. For tasty chicken and fries, there's Carnivor du Centre, in the centre of the city. In Las Vegas, I'm fond of the Red 8 Asian bistro, at Wynn Las Vegas. The shark-fin dumplings were amazing and the dim sum reminded me of Hong Kong. The restaurant Noodles, at Bellagio, also has dim sum on weekends.

Have you had any especially memorable meals?
A most interesting experience was chicken sashimi in Kagoshima, Japan. I put a lot of sauce on it. And once when I was in Tokyo, I had beef tongue - cooked and raw.

What are some of your favorite hotels?
The Gora Kadan, outside Tokyo in Hakone National Park, at the foot of Mount Fuji, is serene and beautiful. It's the former summer residence of the Kan-In-No-Miya imperial family, and it has cypress baths. In France, I love the views, from the hills in Les Baux de Provence. Ousta de Baumaniere there is romantic and has good food. In Italy, Sardinia is appealing: The Hotel Cala di Volpe has excellent service and food, especially the lunch buffet.

What do you look for when booking a hotel?
I always request the least expensive room at the Four Seasons (or any other hotel for that matter) . It's worth asking, and I'm often rewarded. I think a fair price is $350 to $700 a night.

Where do go to undwind and be pampered?
When I'm on vacation, I like getting a facial, a massage, everything but nail polish. The resort town of La Baule, on France's Atlantic coast, is an ideal place for a reviving week of treatments. My wife and I like to stay at the Royal-Thalasso Barriere. At the Four Seasons at Kuda Huraa, in the Maldives, you can get a massage while looking at the ocean.

When you travel with your family, what do you like to do?
During the winter, we spend every wekeend in our chalet in Villars. We all love to ski. I like to cook (especially Indian curries) so we eat mainly at home, except for the occasional outing to enjoy traditional Swiss fondue or raclette. During the summer we go to Forte dei Marmi for a week. It's like the Hamptons for the Italians, who come from Florence or Milan. You can lead a simple life or that of a jet-setter. We stay at a family style hotel. Lunch is taken by the pool (at the Bagno Piero) and consists of traditional dishes, like penne pesto and Milanese. There are plenty of shops, but we prefer just to relax.

Any advice for traveling with children?
You need patience, organisation and big cars. We went on a tour of Switzerland in a minivan last year, visiting the Transport Museum in Lucerne. We stopped for a cheese fondue in Gruyere and walked by the lake in Lugano. The children loved it. Traveling really opens their eyes and creates memories for them.

Which airlines do you prefer?
In terms of first class, Japan Airlines is the best. British Airways, Air France and JAL have beds that are completely flat now and they supply nice pajamas. I am also in love with Cathay Pacific's first class lounge in Hong Kong. The bathrooms are clad in black marble, and the showers are out of this world. You can order from a real menu, and there is even Haagen-Dazs ice-cream.

Dou you have any packing tips?
Plan ahead and pack light. I never check my luggage, usually a small Bottegga Veneta or Hermes bag. I carry my laptop, two phones, my passport, my Ipod, my headphones and an Hermes accordian picture frame with photos of the kids. I pack the same amount for one night as I do for a week. I'll take three shirts and a jacket, and then use the hotel for laundry. I wear suits made by Frank Namani and Gucci shirts. Shoes have to be casual. I like Prada, Tod's, Gucci and John Lobb. And I'm never without my Bedat & Co watch.

What are your favorite travel gadgets?
I use Skype to speak over the internet with my family and friends. My newest device is the Archos AV 700, a mobile digital video recorder. It records television programs and movies, and you can watch them on the go. It stores 400 hours or 250 movies.

What have you recently bought back from a trip?
I jsut bought five robes (by Robeworks) from the Four Seasons and had them shipped home. The inside is made of terry cloth and the outside is brushed cotton. I make a purchase if I happen to see something and am tempted. Five years ago, Diane and I were staying on a Turkish junk with friends for a week. One of them bought leather necklaces with black stone pendants for everyone. Years later, I saw one made of jade with gold and diamonds. I got a plainer version. Now I always wear it, except when I do karate.