The Ritz Paris

After an unprecented 4-year renovation, the Ritz Paris re-opens on June 6, 2016. Here is a story I wrote about the iconic hotel a few years ago. — French Girl in Seattle, June 2016
 

The Ritz Paris, has been named “Europe’s greatest hotel, and an enduring symbol of elegance,” by Frommer’s. It has collected awards and accolades for over 114 years and played a central role in Parisian culture since 1898. Founded by a former bellboy turned hotelier, César Ritz, and celebrated chef Auguste Escoffier, the Ritz remains one of the most prestigious addresses in the world. A timeless symbol of luxury, glamour and style, it has welcomed the world’s royalty, politicians, writers, artists and celebrities.

A prestigious address…

(Savoyeimages)

15, Place Vendôme, Paris
(G. Bizemont)

I have not stayed at the Ritz Paris – yet – but I have enjoyed some of its amenities over the years. It remains one of the best places in Paris for brunch or for a Champagne celebration. The  Hemingway Bar is not to be missed. It is a delight to watch award-winning bartender Colin Field prepare his magical concoctions. 

“Papa Hemingway,” once a regular, is prominently featured at the Ritz
(courtesy of the Ritz Paris)

Some of you may remember I wrote a story about the Ritz last year, when I followed in Coco Chanel’s footsteps. She lived at the Ritz Paris for over thirty years and was even allowed to keep her apartment when the German troops occupied Paris – and the hotel – during WWII. She died in her suite a few days before she launched her final collection, in 1971. Among the hotel’s handful of Prestige suites, a coveted one is “the Chanel Suite,” but it will cost you your life savings to spend one night there. Let’s not talk about money, shall we? C’est si vulgaire! Today, for the purpose of this story, I invite you to join me and pretend we all have unlimited means, so we can fully enjoy our visit. 

Coco, enjoying the view
(courtesy of the Ritz Paris)
Madame Chanel in her suite

What is it about the Ritz that continues to attract so many people; generate so much press; inspire so many dreams? After all, there are other palaces in Paris (the George V, the Crillon, the Plaza-Athénée, the Meurice or the Bristol to name a few.) There are newcomers too, so luxurious and modern, it is a wonder anyone would consider staying anywhere else.

The Ritz Paris regulars will tell you that there is no other place in the world quite like it.

First, what an incredible location! How many hotels stand on a mythical square (la Place Vendôme,) in a mythical city (Paris,) a short walk away from a mythical museum (le Louvre?)

(American Frog Photography)

How many hotels boast a limestone façade designed by royal architect Mansart in the late 17th century; or furnish their rooms and suites with museum-worthy antiques, marble fireplaces, tapestries, brass beds; or own a suite listed as a National Monument of France in its own right?

The Imperial Suite
(courtesy of the Ritz Paris)

How many hotels insist on welcoming guests without a formal lobby, but somehow turn their arrival into an elegant and altogether satisfying experience

(unknown photographer)
(American Frog Photography)

To many visitors, the Ritz is unmistakably Parisian. It provides the ultimate luxury: a safe haven, refined and quiet, in the heart of a busy city. After walking all day exploring the French capital, what a delight it must be to approach the four elegant arches, step onto the crimson carpet, and walk through the doors, all the way to your room, unless you decide to sit down for a while in the lush, peaceful courtyard garden…

(Pierre-Georges Jeanniot 1848-1934)
(Parisenimages.fr)

You can also decide to relax at the Ritz Health Club introduced after the Al Fayed family successfully took over the Ritz Paris in 1978. There, the state-of-the-art spa and the grand indoor swimming pool, inspired by the baths or Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, greet you. It is the finest of its kind in Paris, as could be expected.

(courtesy of the Ritz Paris)

Are you a “foodie?” How about a cooking workshop at the Ritz Paris’ renowned cooking school, the Ritz-Escoffier school? Feeling lazy? Have lunch or dinner at the Michelin-rated L’Espadon restaurant where chef Michel Roth works his magic.

L’Espadon
(courtesy of the Ritz Paris) 
L’Espadon: la terrasse
(courtesy of the Ritz Paris) 

After all these years, few palaces can rival the Ritz Paris’ guestbook. The Parisian hotel has always attracted and seduced the world’s high society. Famous guests have come and gone, but legends endure. Several habitués (patrons) have suites named after them, and in spite of their exorbitant prices, the rich and [sometimes] famous vie for the privilege of staying in the “Chanel,” “Elton John,” or “Windsor” apartments. After all, as the Ritz Paris demonstrates every day, one can be old school but still have a head for marketing!

Dinner was an elegant affair in the 1930s
High tea at the Ritz Paris (1957)

Francis Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda were regulars. The Ritz Paris famously inspired his novella The Diamond as Big as the Ritz and is featured in Tender is the Night. Their friend Ernest Hemingway loved the Ritz so much that he and a group of armed men rushed Place Vendôme and “freed” the Hôtel when Paris was liberated in August 1944! German troops were on the run, and Ernest and his friends raided the hotel bar, welcomed with open arms by the hotel manager who promptly uncovered several cases of  rare Bordeaux wine he had kept away from the Germans. The event is documented on the hotel website. This is the stuff legends are made of.

Scott and Zelda: the original party animals
Ernest Hemingway, 
author, war correspondent, “Ritz Paris liberator”

There were many other distinguished guests over the years…

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor
“Wallis and Edward”
The Windsor Suite (in “Wallis blue”)
(courtesy of the Ritz Paris)
The Great Marlene Dietrich and French acting legend Jean Gabin
Charlie Chaplin
Garbo (1920s)

It is said that the Ritz Paris was always a hit with women. From the unique golden swan taps in the luxurious bathrooms, to the peach-colored towels and robes (because peach is more flattering to a woman’s complexion than white,) no effort was spared to pamper the hotel’s beautiful guests. Lovely Audrey Hepburn shot two movies at the Ritz Paris.

Billy Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon (1957)

[Modern] Princesses came and left…

The Devil Wears Prada: Only the best for Miranda Priestly
Princess Diana enjoyed one last meal at the Ritz Paris
before the fatal car crash

The Ritz Paris, 114 years old, is heading into the 21st century, with renewed energy and a willingness to adapt to a fast-moving world where technology reigns supreme. Maybe the old lady feels she is not “à la mode” anymore, a capital sin in a city like Paris. It would be easy to forget that this was the first hotel in Europe to provide a bathroom ensuite, and a telephone and electricity for each room. This was then. This is now. There are a lot of newcomers on the cut-throat luxury hotel scene, where most properties are owned by international chains and undergoing expensive remodels.

It still came as a surprise when the Al Fayed family announced that the Ritz Paris would close for 27 months during the summer of 2012 for an “unprecedented renovation.” Some argue that this decision was unavoidable after the Ritz Paris was passed over by the French Tourism Ministry’s coveted “Palace” designation in 2011. Maybe so.

I know I am not the only one hoping that the Ritz Paris still captures guests’ imaginations when it reopens. I am planning to stay there one day. Pourquoi pas ? One must dream. I want to wear one of the peach colored robes; wash my hands using the kitschy gold swan bathroom fixtures; play with the key-shaped light switches; and browse the 361-foot long gallery lined with retail vitrines. While sipping a glass of wine in the garden, I will close my eyes, and think, once again: “Ah… si ces murs pouvaient parler!” (if these walls could talk.)

Like author Marcel Proust, a famed guest, I will go A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time.Alors, if I am lucky, I might hear their laughter, Scott, Zelda, Ernest, while jazz music plays in the background.

A bientôt.

Whose suite?
(unknown photographer)
Old School…
(unknown photographer)
One last look at a legendary façade…
(courtesy of the Ritz Paris)

When I dream of an afterlife in Heaven, 
the action always takes place at the Ritz, Paris.
Ernest Hemingway

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What did you think about this article? Let me know in the comment section below, (I love reading your messages and reply to most.) Don’t be selfish and share with a friend! Merci. Véronique (French Girl in Seattle)

50 Comments

  • Tu nous fais rêver, aujourd’hui, Véronique… Que d’endroits prestigieux et de rêve! On se mettrait bien dans la peau de ces gens célèbres pour quelques minutes magiques…
    Bon début de semaine!

  • Tres belle evocation de cet endroit mythique! J’aime la façon dont tu clos le post, sur ton rêve..Moi, qui aime partir sur la trace des écrivains, et les cherche partout, au Ritz, je serais sans doute ravie de suivre les mêmes couloirs que Scott et Zelda, ou de m’accouder au même bar qu’Hemingway.Comme tu le dis, si les murs pouvaient parler…En tous cas, je te souhaite de réaliser ton voeu, et de passer une bonne nuit au Ritz!

  • Merci beaucoup! I really enjoyed this post in so many ways – the history and photos in particular. The Windsor Suite is so elegant and that’s one of my favorite pictures of the late Princess Diana – stunning! A visit to the Hemmingway Bar and that beautiful terrace is definitely on my must-do list (and of course an overnight stay would be absolutely magnifique!)

    http://missbbobochic.blogspot.com/

  • i will dream right along with you about a stay there before i die-another LOVELY information filled post-how do you do it?

  • Wonderful post as always, Veronique. I love learning about the histories of all these French icons, especially the unattainable ones (sigh). Beautiful writing and wonderful choice of photos. If I ever win the lottery, the Ritz will be my first stop!

  • The Ritz remains a dream firmly embedded in the collective imagination of the world. Your lovely post does it honor. Hopefully, the renovations only refreshen it. Thanks for the trip there!

  • Wow I love the history of this hotel…only if these walls could talk! That’s where Madame Chanel was hiding. 😉 I always enjoy the photos you pick for your blog Veronique. I’m a sucker for history too. Very intriguing place. Have a fab. week! =)

  • Thank you Veronique for a lovely written post and a great photo selection. Ritz is somewhere over the rainbow, at least we can have a glimpse.
    Please stop by my blog I’ve just awarded you The Liebster Blog Award.
    Natalie

  • Ah, the unforgettable memories of my dejeuner there avec Marita! Surprising about the remodel. I hope I return to Paris again and would love to do lunch in the bar next time.

    Excellent and entertaining blog as always! Merci –

  • I loved this post, just like everyone else I suspect. Paris, Chanel, Hemingway, Princess Diana and Windsor suits … what more can you ask for to capture the imagination. I’ve never stayed there but like you I shall one day. Right?
    pas de probleme!

  • Dearest Véronique,

    Lovely post! You know that Christofle did equip the Ritz in Paris with all the flatware? Indeed, things back than looked so elegant! There has been a drastic change and often I fear that too much has been abandoned of the former style!
    Love to you,

    Mariette

    • Bonjour Mariette. I did not know about Christofle being at the Ritz Paris. I am not too surprised. I can assure you things are still very elegant there as our lunch at the Hemingway bar confirmed a few months ago… Quite impressive, really.

  • Well thank goodness you found my blog today through the fabulous Heather – because I have now discovered this absolute treasure trove of fascination. What a glorious post this was, I loved every sentence and fact. Was just deciding whether I should prefer to attend high tea in 1957 or dinner in the 1930s, when you now tell me the place is closed for, what, are you serious, 27 months? That’s one helluva makeover. It will no doubt be something extraordinary (again) when it opens. Hope it remains true to the original spirit of glamour.

    • Thank you for your visit. You see, you are not the only involved in a massive remodel these days! 😉 High tea, brunch, lunch, dinner, or just a drink at the Hemingway bar. I will take anything I can get until I finally spend a night at the Ritz Paris 😉

  • Such an elegant and eloquent post Veronique, yes that is definitely one for my ‘bucket list’ also, even more so now after reading your post!As you say, there are so many luxurious and fabulous hotels around, but the Ritz Paris is ‘la pièce de résistance’.

  • Vero, I don’t know why this didn’t pop up for me on my dashboard! So thanks for the rendez-vous, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it! The Ritz. Sigh. When I lived in Paris, I would cross the Place once a week and it always sparkled with energy. Sometimes fans would be lined up waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite star, sometimes it was just a lone doorman but always…that effervescence like…chamapagne!

    • Bonjour Heather. My dashboard has been acting up too. I found your two most recent posts by chance last night. Sheesh. I suppose we can’t complain too much, since good old Blogger is free to use. I knew “une coupe de champagne” at the Ritz Paris would warm you up… body and soul! A bientôt 😉

  • Bonjour Veronique, I loved reading this post on the Ritz Paris. I was fortunate enough to have stayed here back in 2001 with my daughter on a trip of a lifetime that I earned with the company that I was working for at the time. It is truly everything you write about here in your post.

    Thanks for refreshing my memory on what helped to make Paris so special for me!

    Also, can you please email me your mailing address? I’d like to send you a little something in snail mail. Your contribution to the Love Auction for Amelia before the holidays was so kind and generous. We raised a total of $200 and it was sent out a number of weeks ago to the family.

    I look forward to hearing from you. serendipitea@bellsouth.net is my email address.

    Merci…
    ~CC Catherine

    • You lucky dog (no pun intended as I know you love dogs,) but seriously– you stayed at the Ritz Paris. Impressed. Mildly envious too. 😉 I sent you the address you requested, but you do not need to send me anything. I was happy to help. Bonne journée! Veronique

  • What a magical and fascinating post! I had heard of the Ritz before, obviously, (who hasn’t?!), but I did not really understand the extent of the luxury it represents. These photos are awesome and I enjoyed learning all the history behind it. I can’t imagine staying there for one night, much less living there Chanel-style. Wow.

  • I guess it wouldn’t be an exagerration to say this is a rather ritzy post ! May your champagne and Chanel always flow luxuriously…

  • Every time you make a post about French icons, it is a special event for me. All the information is compiled in such a way that I read this post while holding my breath. I especially liked this post; I even watched the clip of Fred Astaire. Thank you for your comments throughout this whole time.

  • Oh this was a most delicious post my dear. I heard while in Paris that it was closing. Can ‘t even imagine the prices they will charge when it’s been “done up”! we’ll see won’t we.
    V

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