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…


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)

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.

(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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