Clichés can be fabulous if told with the right voice, under the right light. The cliché of Paris, for example, is magnificent. Yes, it lives up to many of its burgeoning stereotypes – opulent, trés chic, grumpy (sometimes) – and it is all these things that make it wonderful. Its opulence, its luxury, its style – even its pomposity render the city into a destination almost every one falls in love with. And whilst Paris is heavy with hotels (perhaps from all that gold of eras past), the Ritz Paris – a member of Leading Hotels of the World – is indubitably the jewel in Paris’s very gold, very Belle Époque crown.
Stepping inside those majestic wrought-iron doors is goose bump-inducing, pure magic. This is Paris. Truly. This is the Paris of dreams, of literature, of cinema, of all kinds of romantic musings of the city. The Ritz is what Paris stands for.
On August 1, 2012, those wrought-iron doors closed for the first time since 1898. Of course, it wasn’t as if decades of dust need be lifted, Ritz maintenance is always of the highest order. But, at the tender age of 114, its walls had grown weary, its furnishings tiresome, and it was time to restore the Ritz Paris to its original, opulent glory. In order to preserve a legend, one must make some sacrifice; and for four long years, the Ritz Paris was closed. A first in its history.
Its restoration was one of unparalleled proportions, Herculean, in fact. Even down to the management of well-established guests; regular clientele – presumably of the regal variety – were visited by gracious Ritz staff all over the world for an update on how the development was tracking. It was an appeasing of ritzy restlessness, to say the least. But for a hotel redolent of such rich history, preservation is key to the continuation of its story. A story which must continue to be told, and in 2016, it did – as the doors – in all their majesty – swung open once more.
Words alone will serve the Ritz Paris a great injustice, to experience the lodging fully is to be immersed in it, afoot within its walls, inhaling the same amber which for centuries has permeated its halls, under its creamy dappled light. Breathing in a page of history, every corner you go. With almost every notable character in history walking across its marble floors, it was my humble turn. So when I arrived, it was nothing short of a pinch-me-moment.
With luxury, comes an idealised notion of pomposity; that each greeting is steeped in uppity and aloofness, each glance met with up-turned noses. Gilded geese and ruby encrusted sinks aside, there was one remarkably humbling thing abut the Ritz. The people. They are gracious, kind, benevolent, attentive. Think of the best service you’ve ever had. Then double it. Triple it. And then multiply it. Even then, the Ritz Paris topples any kind of grandiose experience of service past, it is a kind of did-that-just-really-happen moment, which begins from the very first commute from car to door.
A light drizzle of rain on an otherwise sunny day prompted a man – thick and stocky through the waist, meticulously dressed in vest and cap – to open my Uber door – umbrella in tow, and walk me every step to safety (from the slightest sheet of rain). From this moment forth, such simple yet meticulous gestures of comfort and hospitality continued; from the room greeting call (“Bonjour Madame Kaliviotis, I would like to welcome you to the Ritz”), to the prompt arrival of Room Service (hot, fresh and unpacked with theatre), not a beat was missed in this grandeur establishment.
The palatial service continued down at The Ritz Club – the pool, spa and Fitness Centre – a kind of surreal aquatic paradise. To see is to believe, and quite simply, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The most perfect blue, a mosaic melange of sirens, a painted roof to rival the Sistine Chapel – it was breathtaking. The Chanel Spa – the first in the word – brings part of Coco Chanel’s universe into the present day via the most luxurious outpost of spa-dom.
As for the hotel room itself, it is so superb you (almost) don’t want to leave. Looking out upon the gardens – a kind of mini Versailles – petit four in hand, fluffy robe on, soft Jazz playing – it was a glimpse at heaven, the French kind. Gilded at every turn, plush in velvet, pastel silk and brocade – a boudoir fit for a Queen (and there have been plenty). The bathroom was a particular highlight – because when again will you indulge a bath with a golden swan spitting (or more aptly, gently spurting forth) water, whilst you listen to Édith Piaf through your bathroom TV. Bliss, of the highest order.
The true apogee, however, was Bar Hemingway – a tiny hole-in-the-wall at the back end of the establishment – so small that if you walked past, you’d miss it. Heady and sheathed in tobacco leather and taxidermy, I was nervous walking in. Not because Hemingway and Cooper had saluted a scotch within these very walls, musing for hours on end, or because F. Scott Fitzgerald had a favourite seat, but because the staff were dressed in dapper whites, bow ties and curly moustaches – from the outset, they seemed uptight. Was the grumpy stereotype of the French waiter but a reality?
Two martinis in – the best in the world – and one sweet vermouth cocktail with a perfect pink rose – and the banter was flowing. The staff – led by cheeky maître d’hôtel, Colin Field, the modern bon vivant and master mixologist – are chucklesome, merry and full of jokes. Their service was impeccable – no olive dish left unturned, no glass remained empty. But the manner in which such precision was carried out was the true star – with a smile, and a hefty dose of jest. Just to sit in the spot where Hemingway famously liberated the bar from the Nazis in 1944 was one thing (as the legend goes), but to be a part of this modern narrative (and Field’s expert martini shaking) is just as spectacular.
On my way back to the room, a lady in a bustle, ball gown and fur stole made her way to the door. Her hair was rich in curls and there were jewels in her ears. I asked a member of staff if there was a ball. “Non, Madame – she is going to the Opera,” a kind voice whispered back. And in that moment, you knew you were in Paris. The fairytale. The romance. The lights. The heart of the city’s luxury – beating with every breath.
There is so much to be said about the Ritz Paris and not enough page – however far it may scroll. At each gilded turn, there is magic. The Galerie – with its glass-lined walls full of designer fashion – is exquisite. The Ritz concept store – which collaborates with the likes of Le Bon Marché for limited edition, very chic souvenirs – is a must. The dining halls and elegant salons – all furnished with Belle Époch antiquities and the finest French gastronomy – are breathtaking. There is even something to be said about running your hand along the delicate wooden railing of the grand staircase – it’s a feeling. History buff or not, you cannot help gulp in the moments of history within these grand walls. The cerebral minds – Marcel Proust, Cole Porter, Gary Cooper, Hemingway – who all enjoyed a martini, or two. And the great names – Callas, Monroe, Chanel and Lady Diana – who frequented or called the Ritz home. If there was one place in the world where the walls could talk – it would be this.
I don’t believe in perfection, but the Ritz Paris may very well be it. Heaven truly is a place on earth.
ritz Paris is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World. to learn more, or book a room, click here.