There are few Parisian locales more iconic, or more quintessentially French, than the Hôtel Ritz Paris. When stepping into each room, walking down each hallway, the air between those lavish walls seems to positively hum with its rich history, one peppered with a cast of some of the world’s most famous figures. Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust, Chanel…these were the kind of icons who frequented the establishment. The Ritz has also been the haunt of royalty; in 1721, when the building was still a mansion known as Place Vendôme and the home of Duchesse de Gramont, eleven-year-old King Louis XV famously stood in the window to watch the parade of the Ottomon ambassador. Nearly three centuries later, Diana, Princess of Wales dined in the hotel’s grandest suite — the Suite Imperiale, which the French government recognizes as a national monument — shortly before her death.
The hotel’s connection to the arts world is so symbiotic that it is somewhat hard to tell whether its fame has earned it a place in so many books and films, or whether its reputation is all the more bolstered for its presence in our most beloved stories. The Ritz appears in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises; Audrey Hepburn appeared in not one, but three films that feature the luxurious hotel (Funny Face, How To Steal A Million, and Love In The Afternoon).
So proud are Parisians of this landmark that when plans for a massive renovation project were announced in 2011, many were skeptical of the initiative; would the hotel lose its signature old-world French charm? Would it stand as yet another historic property fallen victim to progress and modernity?
But in the hands of owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, an Egyptian businessman who purchased the hotel in 1979, the integrity of the Ritz would be painstakingly, exactingly maintained. According to Architectural Digest, his directive for architect-designer Thierry Despont was to ensure that the Ritz remained the best hotel in the world. “If you mess up,” Al Fayed told him, in no uncertain terms, “I’ll kill you.” Despont received so much pressure from friends, clients, and colleagues that he reportedly joked to have purchased land in Patagonia — just in case he did mess up and needed to disappear.
For the first time since the hotel’s opening on 1 June, 1898, the Ritz closed its doors. An extensive restoration project commenced on August 1, 2012, and four years and millions of dollars culminated in a grand re-opening on 6 June, 2016.
Today the façade maintains the classical architecture designed by royal architect Jules Hardouin-Mansartin in the late 17th century, in the style made popular during King Louis XIV’s reign.
“Palace” is a French term used to define a luxury hotel, and the Ritz was carefully renovated and restored to maintain that prestigious status. Today it possesses all of the grandeur bestowed upon it by its various owners throughout history, but especially the vision of Swiss hotelier Cesar Ritz, who purchased the hotel following a stint at the Savoy Hotel in London. According to writer Giovanna Magi in All Paris, Ritz imagined a hotel that would provide the wealthiest of clientele with “all the refinement that a prince could desire in his own home.” He hired architect Charles Mewès to update the structure, and that work was carefully honoured by Despont decades later.
Coca Chanel was already a neighbour of the Ritz on rue Cambon when she decided one day, on a whim, to take a suite there. One night turned into a thirty-four-year stay; the Ritz became her beloved home. Today that suite is decorated in her influential style and named for the fashion legend, but the recent renovations saw another homage to one of the hotel’s most famous guests: the world’s first Chanel Spa. This oasis, which honours Chanel’s spirit of elegance and simplicity, offers treatments that are all about paring a service down to its purest form, including a signature Massage de Chanel that couples Eastern and Western techniques with a method specifically designed to gently care for the fasciae membranes.
Luxurious suites are named for the Ritz’s other famous visitors and neighbours, each room uniquely designed to honour the character and works of these notable figures.
The Chopin Suite, an homage to the famed composer who taught piano lessons across the street, features a piano and painted ceiling that is listed as a Historic Monument in its own right.
The Windsor Suite, which overlooks the Place Vendôme, is decorated in the style of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Decorated in the French neoclassical style, the Opéra Suite features a bowed window that offers breathtaking views of Paris and the ornate Opéra Garnier. This space feels like a lavish opera box.
The Proust Suite is, as one would expect, filled with books. The famed patron’s quarters here remain intact. The Ritz was such a big part of Proust’s life that he immortalized his dear friend, the maître d’hôtel Olivier Dabescat, in In Search of Lost Time.
Suite Maria Callas is a soft, rose-hued haven dedicated to the world’s most celebrated diva.
Other famous suites include those named for Ritz himself, the architect Mansar, Charlie Chaplin, Prince de Galles, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Perhaps our favorite suite, however (aside from that lavish Imperial Suite, of course) isn’t named for a famous figure, but rather the view. Suite Vendôme’s windows offer a unique vantage point over the square, and inside, this space “reveals opulence worthy of what is known as the Grand Siècle.” This means sculpted woodwork, period furniture, silky fabrics, classic artwork, and a vast dressing room.
As is only befitting a hotel regularly cited as one of the most luxurious in the world, the Ritz also houses several world-class restaurants and bars. Bar Vendôme features a stunning glass canopy and a menu of fine caviars and oysters.
The Ritz Bar is a warm, art deco-styled space described as a “speakeasy before its time.”
And then there is Bar Hemingway, toted by the Ritz as “the most legendary bar of them all.” Here Cole Porter is said to have composed “Begin the Beguine,” and it was also a favorite haunt of Gary Cooper. Hemingway is rumoured to have once “liberated” the bar of German soldiers by downing fifty-one dry martinis…one right after another.
Salon Auguste Escoffier is a private dining room where the chef creates a bespoke, unforgettable dining experience.
And finally, it seems only natural that Proust — the hotel’s first loyal patron — would have a salon named after him as well as a suite. Just as in the infamous passage from In Search of Lost Time, in which the delicate madeleine brings with it a flood of nostalgia and memories, here guests can enjoy a visual motif of madeleines on all that luxurious white Limoges porcelain.
Photos via Hôtel Ritz Paris.