The Ritz Paris has stories to tell. One of the best is how Cesar Ritz, the hotel’s founder and the clear father of world-luxury hospitality, relentlessly pursued his ambition to open the world’s most cosseting hotel against all odds. The son of a poor sheep herder in Switzerland, he went to work as a teen at a fine Swiss hotel. Much to his surprise, the owner fired him, smiting a heavy blow when he told the eager Cesar: “It takes a certain kind of person to be a hotelier; you are not that person.” Unfazed, Cesar fled to Paris and began to work his way up from bell hop. It turned out the Swiss hotelier was wrong. Cesar was made for this milieu. At last, collaborating with an equally determined and clever person, Chef Auguste Escoffier, Cesar opened the Ritz Paris on Place Vendome in 1898, a majestic space created by combining two regal villas by an interior walkway. Post haste, the glitterati came. Ritz Paris astonished the world as the first hotel ever to offer en suite bathrooms, telephones and air-conditioning. The rooms still boast the original gilded on-and-off light switches, and the Ritz Paris continues to use peach-colored towels, a trademark Cesar amenity, chosen because they were more becoming than stark white. (I can attest that this color continues to brighten faces today.)
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The hotelier, who coined the phrase “the customer is always right” and purportedly invented such extravagances as king-size bath tubs (after a certain king got stuck in a small one with one of his mistresses, as the story goes), wall-to-wall carpeting, indirect lighting and automatic closet lights, quickly became known as the “king of hoteliers and the hotelier of kings.” Indeed, Cesar’s hotel filled with a see-and-be-seen crowd who asked for and miraculously received (at whatever cost necessary) the solutions to extravagant requests. They brought their children, lovers, mothers — even a few preposterous animals: leopards, pumas, parrots and monkeys. Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald cavorted here; Marcel Proust used the Ritz as his office, writing a major work ensconced in its salon, now named for him, and Coco Chanel lived in the storied halls for 34 years after checking in just once, though her own apartment was just around the corner — to name a handful of favorites.
I frolic with the zeal of a child in this palace hotel, a place where the Imperial Suite’s bathroom is modeled (and may supersede) Marie Antoinette’s bathroom at Versailles and where suites take their names from some of the famous who made the hotel their home, from Coco Chanel to Charlie Chaplin. With palpable history and soul, the Ritz Paris connects me to everything I love about a grand hotel — mystery, adornment, mischief, elegance, legends and stellar service. I sip cocktails at Bar Hemingway, a homage to Ernest; I sip tea at Salon Proust beneath the novelist’s portrait, hoping he’ll come to life and join me; and I drink a cake shake, something so delicious it’s nearly deadly, at Le Comptoir, Ritz Paris’s new patisserie outpost, helmed by creative François Perret. It’s an understatement to say that when it is time for me to check out, I have to be dragged from the hotel screaming, veritably clinging to the columns. I jest. That’s only what I did in my head. In fact, I walked out demurely, with the posture of a ballet dancer on stage, saying over and over again to myself: Be like Coco.
Maybe next time I’ll stay for 34 years, too.
What we love:
- The Location. You can walk to most any place you fancy from this stylish site on the exquisite Place Vendome. Rue Rivoli, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Opera, the Louvre, the Seine — every top site you desire lies just a short gallivant away.
- Bar Hemingway. You’ll need reservations for this diminutive, exclusive bar, kitted out with Hemingway artifacts from letters to plane propellers to typewriters. Famous for their gastronomic, strong, unforgettable cocktails, this was once Ritz Bar, Hemingway’s beloved haunt.
- Ritz Bar. In a stunning nook beside the hotel’s signature curving staircase, this new watering hole has just a few tables and sports an astrological theme. Be there each day at 5:30, when happy hour begins and the vintage astrological clock lights up, casting lacy shadows across the ceiling. Libations here have horoscope themes and a contemporary feel.
- The suites. Guest rooms at Ritz Paris vaunt classic Paris chic, which means sumptuous fabrics, gild, mouldings, marble, even gold swan faucets in the bathroom — overall a pastiche of Parisian delight.
- The service. You haven’t experienced Cesar Ritz-level service anywhere in the world until you stay at Ritz Paris, where all staff manage to deliver what you wish before you know you want it. No request is outrageous or undoable. The 600-person-plus staff incorporates concierges, maids, chefs, laundresses, management, sommeliers, drivers, doormen, waiters, trainers and many more.
- The pool. The entire Ritz Paris fitness center holds state of the art equipment, but the quiet, oval-shaped indoor pool has a glamorous, Jazz-era feel that invites lazy lounging.
Need to know:
- The Ritz Paris is pricey. You won’t find a deal on Expedia. But this palace-like refuge is worth every penny and you’ll be pampered like royalty.
- The Ritz Paris always has your room ready, no matter how early you arrive. This is a boon for international travelers who often arrive in the early morning hours.
- When the Ritz Paris underwent renovations 2012-2016, it had a team of 800 stonemasons, painters, gilders, wood-carvers and upholsterers working night and day.
- Ritz Paris can organize VIP pick up at the airport, where a representative will meet you at the gate, whisk you through passport control and customs (my escort told everyone I was a celebrity), then straight into your awaiting car.
- Don’t be afraid to wear your bathrobe when headed to the spa or pool, but don’t walk through the lobby. Instead, take the dedicated spa elevator from your floor.
- For lunch at Bar Vendome, Ritz Paris’ casual, bistro style restaurant, don’t hesitate to order the scrumptious, slightly decadent Salade Vendome (crispy curly lettuce, artichoke hearts, green beans, duck foie gras) with truffle dressing. Champagne pairs perfectly with this dish.
- Ritz Paris has its own house Champagne (Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut Réserve Ritz), which can also be purchased at the hotel’s shop.