Travel Spotlight

First Look: The Ritz Paris

Since the Ritz closed its doors in 2012, fans have been on pins and needles wondering how Paris’s most romanticized Belle Époque hotel will adapt to meet 21st century tastes and luxury standards. After all, much of the Ritz’s appeal is its Old World glamour. Following the highly anticipated reopening in June 2016, the results of an extensive four-year renovation involving some 800 workers will finally be put to the test.

At first glance, not much has changed, and this is a good thing. Rather than a true renovation, artisans working with period materials and techniques have restored original architectural and decorative details to their former glory. Gilded moldings and the bathrooms’ signature pure gold–leaf swan faucets gleam brightly again; Empire-style furniture in the grand salons has been polished and reupholstered; and an impressive collection of original oil paintings hung throughout the hotel has been painstakingly restored. Thierry Despont (whose design projects include New York’s Carlyle Hotel and The Dorchester and Claridge’s in London) has breathed new life into the classical interiors with a respectfully light touch, refreshing the décor as opposed to redoing it. Eighty percent of the furniture and decorative objects are spruced up originals. Beloved quirks like the peach towels and robes in the bathrooms (which César Ritz believed gave the skin a healthier glow than the standard white) also remain unchanged.

The best thing about the new Ritz is that it is still essentially the old Ritz. Its legendary status as a home-away-from-home for royals, fashionistas and literary icons is what truly sets it apart from other luxury hotels. The restoration is a touching tribute to events and personalities from the hotel’s past.

When the Ritz opened in 1898, Place Vendôme was not yet home to the luxury brands (Cartier, Vuitton, Chopard, Chanel, etc.) that make the plaza one of the world’s most picturesque upscale shopping destinations. Still, right from the start, the former hôtel particulier designed by Louis XIV’s architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, attracted rich and famous tastemakers from across the globe. Alluding to the Ritz’s fashionable patrons and their fabulous soirées, Irving Berlin cemented the association of the hotel with luxury, style, and gaiety in his jazzy 1929 “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Today, nearly 90 years later, the legacy of these “ritzy” habitués—from Cole Porter to Coco Chanel—still looms large; their elegant and chic genes imprinted in the hotel’s DNA.

Among the hotel’s first regular patrons, Marcel Proust famously entertained by the hotel’s fireplace in a salon that now bears his name. Today, this comfortable library-lounge serves thé à la française featuring pastry chef François Perret’s (formerly of the Shangri-La and Meurice hotels) to-die-for madeleines (mais bien sûr!). A resident of the Ritz for over thirty years, Coco Chanel has a second-floor suite named for her, which is appropriately outfitted with Art Deco furniture and plenty of black lacquer. Barflies and literature buffs fear not: the legendary oak-paneled Hemingway Bar, named for Ernest Hemingway, but also a favorite haunt of F. Scott Fitzgerald (who published “A Diamond as big as the Ritz” in 1922), remains virtually unchanged.

The Ritz 2.0 will not disappoint loyalists, but this is not to say that there is nothing new to look forward to. Cutting-edge technology goes hand-in-hand with luxury and, in this regard, the Ritz has always been a pioneer. In addition to being the first hotel to be lit entirely by electricity, it was also the first to offer guests en suite bathrooms and private telephones. Today, high-tech upgrades have been woven seamlessly into the design of the original hotel. For instance, flat-screen TVs are tastefully hidden inside mirrors or gilded picture frames.

But the major difference that Ritz regulars will notice is quite simple: more space and more light. By scaling down to 142 rooms (from 159), the hotel has added valuable square-footage to its sumptuous living quarters, which are divided evenly between rooms and suites. All accommodations have been arranged and decorated to maximize natural light and create an airy layout. For instance, the marble bathtubs in two-thirds of the bathrooms now face a window. In terms of décor, the Empire period furniture remains, but dark and heavy fabrics have been replaced with a range of soft pastels. The nine deluxe suites offer balconies overlooking the courtyard garden that are spacious enough to enjoy breakfast or dinner en plein air. One of the deluxe suites (which the staff call the "townhouses," as they are more akin to private homes than hotel rooms) has an additional rooftop patio. Another room-to-get is the sixth floor Mansart Suite, which has a 500-square-foot terrace. The largest suites (Windsor and Imperial) evoke the salons of Versailles. Located on the first floor, these magnificent chambers have no outdoor space, but do boast huge windows overlooking the Place Vendôme. Eighty percent of the hotel’s rooms are connecting, making all kinds of combinations possible for families and friends traveling together.

The public areas have also been lightened and brightened. Windows in the elegant shopping arcade that runs along the hotel’s courtyard, which is home to the largest private garden in Paris planted with white flowers and retrofitted with heated alcoves for year-round enjoyment, have been enlarged to allow for more natural light. In addition to family luxury brands, the arcade will feature a new Ritz concept store selling exceptional travel-related items. State-of-the-art retractable roofs have been added to the L’Espadon restaurant, creating elegant indoor/outdoor dining options in which to enjoy chef Nicola Sale’s (formerly of two-Michelin-starred Kintessence in Courchevel) culinary creations. Other additions include the world’s first Chanel Spa in the basement (next to the renovated pool) and the Ritz Bar in the rue Cambon lobby (just opposite the Hemingway Bar), a chic bistro open all-day for drinks and dining. The hotel’s famous cooking classes have also gotten an upgrade with larger kitchens to accommodate budding chefs of all levels including children (from age six.)

While the June reopening is certainly cause for celebration it, unfortunately, will not show off the Ritz in its full glory. A fire in the rue Cambon building caused extensive damage and the 44 rooms in that wing will not be available for booking before the middle of 2017. A silver lining is that the entire staff will be devoted to substantially fewer guests, meaning more personal attention—perhaps the greatest luxury of all—for those who check in this year.

Published onJune 14, 2016

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