“Le Ritz”: Two Words That Never Lose Their Charm
History, opulence, wonder — the grande dame of Paris maintains her crown.
“Le Ritz, s’il vous plaît.” It’s a sentence to be spoken at least once in life.
Because you want life to take you to the Ritz Paris—because it’s, well, the Ritz, and because you want to see the cocked eyebrow the driver sports on hearing such an utterance, for he wasn’t expecting it given that you were simply hailing a street cab (for ease) at Gare Montparnasse following a delightful weekend with friends at their “country” (okay, Les Yvelines) pile.
And so here we are, blowing through the Left Bank towards a crossing of the Seine en route to the sparkling centre of Paris—Place Vendôme—and the city’s most famous hotel. Past the attentive, top-hatted doormen and through the revolving doors, directly into a world of wonder and Belle Époque charms—the lavish and long corridor, carpeted grand staircase, a parade of those staying and visiting.
This is grandeur and history and wealth all wound together and framed by faultless service, which begins at the removed check-in desk and the offer of beverages, a famed madeleine dessert, anything at all—delivered in perfect English.
Up to a sumptuous executive room that surprises in its size, so too the direct views over Place Vendôme and its comings and goings. It’s a vista that at times is hard to fathom given the history, the square having been built on the orders of Louis XIV, before Napoleon replaced the central statue of the King in 1792 with a bronze column made of 1,200 enemy canons.
Today, the view is of enthralled tourists, the whir of suited men on scooters, a well-heeled weimaraner in orange “shoes” (true) strutting before lavish boutiques from some of the world’s best luxury brands: Boucheron, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Patek Philippe and more.
Back in the room—dominated by a king-size canopy bed—expect walls of flocked wallpaper as well as a desk, armchair, fireplace and windows framed by brocade curtains with tasselled edges. Pillowcases have been embroidered with my initials—a touch usually reserved for more frequent guests and those in “higher” suites—and then let’s get to it, the taps. Yes, the bathrooms here are a bold play of marble and mirrors (with inset TVs) and plush peach towels and robes (the colour favoured by founder César Ritz, who believed it flattering to a woman’s complexion). But then there are those ornate gold swan taps—more detailed in the flesh, fun all the same. Perhaps. We’re still processing them.
The exterior history is a match for the hotel itself—a former palace-styled townhouse first built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, royal architect to Louis XIV, in 1705, before being purchased by César in the late 1800s. The Swiss hotelier wanted to produce the world’s most lavish hotel—which he did. Its 1898 opening became an immediate success, luring royals, artists, the famous and the feted. It was also the only hotel to offer a personal bathroom attached to each room—unheard of at the time.
Of all the Ritz tales, and there are many, one regarding Ernest Hemingway’s WWII “liberation” of the property is fun. The famous author—then a correspondent for Collier’s—landed at the hotel with a group of Resistance fighters and a machine gun.
“Where are the Nazis? I have come to liberate the Ritz,” said Hemingway.
“Monsieur,” chimed hotel manager Claude Auzello. “They left a long time ago, and I cannot let you enter with a weapon.”
As the story runs, Hemingway allegedly put the weapon down, went inside and ran up a tab for 51 dry martinis. It’s why you’ll find Bar Hemingway—an intimate place of leather and wood and wondrous libations—to the rear of the property on Rue Cambon (which boasts its own entrance) and which is a worthy end to each and every day.
Famous names are also lent to the property’s most prestigious suites: Maria Callas, Windsor, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Coco Chanel, among others. The famed French fashion designer lived at the Ritz, on and off, from 1937 until her death in 1971. Today, Chanel’s namesake suite is an ode to her signature style: black and white, straight lines and a gentle art deco flourish—far removed from the décor of other suites, with a level of opulence lifted from the Palace of Versailles.
Downstairs you’ll find the elevated French bistro stylings and menus of Bar Vendôme (we indulged in a seasonal mushroom dish, though you can also head for a memorable breakfast), as well as the lavish Belle Époque Salon Proust (yes, the novelist was also a Ritz habitué) for the high tea or even higher champagne.
Also to the rear of the property sits Le Comptoir, an indulgent patisserie from the Ritz’s master pastry chef François Perret. The glazed madeleine is made of dreams, as are the melty tarte aux pommes and uniquely designed open sandwiches made to eat on the go (so very not Parisian but handy as an interloper).
Rightly making worldwide news on its opening in 2022, the subterranean Ritz Spa is its own version of luxury with stunning décor, deep-treatment menus, a salon from Australian hairdresser David Mallett and an indoor swimming pool that is truly breathtaking. For further repose, the internal garden in the style of a jardin à la française is not to be missed, a place of calm that’s incomparable in the 1st.
Le Ritz. A stirring of the senses unlike any other Parisian property—a hotel you’ll want to demand to be taken to, at least once.
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