Anxiously waiting for over four years for the Ritz Paris to reopen after a major renovation, we finally got to see the results last week.
The big question on everyone’s mind in the luxury hotel and travel industry when it closed was, will the legendary hotel opened by Cesar Ritz in 1898 retain its image of luxuriousness associated with a past era, or will it fall victim to catering to modern day guests looking for something new and exciting. The answer is now visible: The hotel has gracefully and masterfully edged both sides of the fence.
When walking through the lobby and visiting the public rooms on the main level, it seems like the familiar Ritz we knew and loved still exists, but on closer inspection we can see subtle updates. In fact, we were given an unexpected tour by one of the staff when we entered the hotel. She pointed out the changes and the things that almost stayed the same: a new tea salon with handsome oak wood walls named after one if its favored guests, Marcel Proust, serving French high tea along with Proust Madeleines; retractable glass roofs now covering the Bar Vendome and the formal l’Espadon restaurant, allowing for year round dining; and a third kitchen for the Ecole Ritz Escoffier cooking school.
A hotel gem, The Hemingway Bar, thankfully has been virtually untouched not only in its décor, but also its bartender, the world famous Colin Field, has stuck around. Instead of taking time off during the renovation, Field has been busy inventing new cocktails to celebrate the reopening, including a Bloody Mary where the client chooses their own seasonal tomatoes to go into their drink.
Perhaps the most highly anticipated new feature is the opening of the first Chanel spa in the world, Chanel au Ritz Paris, a perfect fit because Coco Chanel resided at the hotel from 1934 to 1971. The former Art Deco spa has been transformed, spanning two stories with seven treatment rooms exclusively using Chanel beauty and skin care products. The stunning mosaic tiled pool remains as part of the Ritz Club, along with personalized fitness programs. Australian hair stylist David Malett is at the helm of the beauty salon, promising women a glamorous ultra-natural chic look.
The renovation was assigned to Thierry W. Despont, a French architect and interior designer based in New York. On his last visits to the hotel before the renovation, Despont could see the hotel was tired looking and in need of a makeover, but he wanted to maintain its essence. Another major deciding factor for closing and upgrading the hotel was that it had lost its important certification as a palace hotel, a distinction only given to a handful of the top hotels in Paris.
Following the trend in recent luxury hotel renovations, he decreased the number of rooms, making the new rooms larger and having as many suites as there are rooms, 71. The Imperial Suite and the Coco Chanel Suite have been redone with a mixture of refurbished antiques and replicas, and a new series of themed suites has been introduced, including the Mozart, Maria Callas, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Proust. Although figures have not been verified, the cost of the renovation has been put at 200 million Euros, but hotel industry insiders say it’s estimated to be as high as 450 million Euros.
Despont also had a grand vision for the inner garden, an under utilized space. He wanted to create a Versailles inspired formal garden and enlisted French landscape artist Jean Mus to carry out his vision by planting two dozen linden trees, along with ivy and white roses, in the 21,000 square foot space, creating a stunning oasis in the middle of Paris.
Other new highlights of the hotel include a shopping arcade that links both sides of the hotel with top international designer brands, an underground ballroom that accommodates over 400 guests, and a private tunnel under the Place Vendome that leads guests to the parking lot. The Ritz boutique has many clever souvenir gifts with the Ritz logo and an exclusive limited edition Monopoly set designed just for the hotel.
A sexy short film about the hotel, Behind the Door by American director Zoe Cassavetes, stars Ana Girardot and Andrés Velencoso as lovers.
A fire last January delayed the opening of the hotel by three months. As of today only 90 rooms are available, as the other 50 rooms on the rue Cambon wing aren’t yet suitable for guests due to the fire and will reopen next year.