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Review of Ritz Paris

PHOTO: The private garden of the Ritz Paris (c) Sery Kim

When dreaming of Paris – of its centuries of history resulting in grand institutions, paeans to art, instantly identifiable architecture and sublime food – few modern day edifices tie itself to Paris as closely as Europe’s grandest hotel, the legendary Ritz Paris.

Built by Caesar Ritz, after his somewhat disreputable departure from the equally legendary The Savoy in London 118 years ago, and held by the Ritz family until the purchase of the hotel in 1979 by Mohamed Al Fayad (yes, Princess’ Diana’s lover Dodi’s father), the hotel’s prime location in the Place Vendome has anchored it not just as a temporal respite for weary travelers but as an actual home to luminary names such as CoCo Channel (she lived there for 35 years), Ernest Hemingway, the Duke and Duchess of Window, Marcel Proust, as well as nearly any major political figure visiting Paris in the last century.

Through the fame in these high-wattage lives, the legend of the Hotel Ritz grew through inclusions in books, movies and the countless bright reviews which filtered through the years. “Legendary.” “The best.” “The greatest.” “The most perfect hotel.”

However, even after the initial round of renovations by Mr. Al Fayad in the 1980’s in staged parts, by the turn of the 21st century the grand hotel was showing its age. Modernity had not been kind to Ritz Paris’ Louis XIV inspired architecture. Leaking ceilings, dilapidated carpets, creaky furniture and then there was the real story of Edward VII getting stuck in a Ritz Paris bathtub with his lover (before he met Wallis Simpson).

Never again!” declared Caesar Ritz, would a guest be stuck in a bathtub and change was upon the Ritz. Under the specter of the deceased Mr. Ritz, Mr. Al Fayad, in 2012, made the bold news of the hotel’s first ever complete shuttering for a top-to-bottom renovation. Immediately questions persisted as to whether the Hotel Ritz would survive, let alone thrive.

PHOTO: Real 24 carat gold leafs on the moulding of the Windsor Suite at Ritz Paris (c) Sery Kim

Years progressed. 2012 turned into 2013 2014 2015, and by 2016 rumors spread of the skyrocketing costs of the laundry list of time consuming tasks necessary to bring the hotel to life. $50 million went to $200 million. Literally thousands of people were needed to preserve the details of the original hotel while adding modern touches like bigger bathtubs, flat-screen televisions, connections for laptops and wifi. Then there was the historical preservation list of tasks such as hand painting the gold leaves on the crown molding, restoring the hundreds of pieces of artwork (some as old as the 14th century), bringing to life the marble laid through the supervision of Mr. Ritz himself, and multiple additions such as a private garden (one of the largest in Paris), the Proust conservatory, and a full scale soaring conservatory in the former garden. $400 million became the new $200 million.

Finally, an opening day was announced. March 2016 but even this was pushed when a fire broke out. Yet, after four years and $400 million dollars, in June of 2016, the Hotel Ritz re-opened.

Is it everything one could imagine?

In a word: YES.

PHOTO: Floral arrangement in L'Espadon (c) Sery Kim

Entering into the June 2016 version of the Hotel Ritz is entering into a time and place where perfection and the art of hospitality make a person feel at home. The soaring lobby instantly lifts any tired traveler’s body, with an antique map of Paris the size of a house’s entire wall resting beside one of the grandiose displays of fresh floral bouquets, designed by Anne Vitchen of Les Jardin de Matisse. The senses are also immediately flooded by not just these design elements but the calming signature smell of the Ritz: an infusion of airy amber (which to me smells like jasmine).

Veer right, up the few stairs to check in. Even before getting there, a fleet of friendly staff greet every entrant (regards of dress or race or gender) with a brilliant “Bonjour Madame! Bonjour Monsieur!” How lovely it always is to be welcomed but to welcomed no matter what you look like, at a luxury hotel, is a truly rare feat of gentility which the Ritz Paris exemplifies with grace.

For those who are easily distracted, the stairs abut the lengthy hallway of art, more art, and even more flowers but it truly is the stunning new Conservatory Bar Vendome arching itself over the initial portion of the hotel – it has been expanded in multiple parts over the last 118 years – which command attention at ground level.

PHOTO: The Brasserie/Conservatory at Ritz Paris (c) Sery Kim

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the ever popular brunch service fills this Brasserie/Conservatory with the bright sounds of happy people. People whose lives have been made complete with the breathtaking awe of this perfect hotel who has thought of every detail: from comfortable yet design-forward chairs, wide tables to balance multiple potions plus the all-important wine glass, yet still holding close to the tradition of France’s bistro heart.

PHOTO: Floral arrangements inside Salon Proust (c) Sery Kim

Another new addition to the hotel is the Salon Proust, named for Marcel Proust. Prior to the renovation this area was just a plain sitting room but with a painting of Mr. Proust, the room’s space has been redesigned in a sexy blend of reds and velvets to accommodate afternoon tea, served under the culinary vision of the Pastry Chef Francois Perret. Of course, the Two-Michelin starred Executive Chef Nicholas Sale steers the Ritz Paris’ impeccable La Table de L’Espadon on its path to surely Three-Michelin starred domination.

Other options for dining and drinks include of course, the famous Barman (thrice the World’s Best Bartender) Colin Field at the Bar Hemingway. Designed for the memory of Ernest Hemingway, and renovated to include more artifacts from his life, the Hemingway Bar is sexy, comfortable and deeply restful. Be sure to come early as the seats are limited, however the bar does stay open to 2 am “ish.”

PHOTO: Portrait of Ernest Hemingway inside the Bar Hemingway (c) Sery Kim

As for the rooms, again, no detail has been spared. Each room has flashes of the Louis XIV spirit infused when the hotel was first opened with the pushes towards modernity. The thirteen seminal suites particularly stand out and are named after the famous guests who stayed there. For instance, there is Suite Maria Callas, Suite Coco Chanel, Suite F. Scott Fitzgerald, Suite Windsor (the second largest suite at a cost of 12,000 Euros, and Suite Imperiale (the largest suite at a cost of 28,000 Euros).

PHOTO: Portrait of the Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson in the Windsor Suite (c) Sery Kim

When entering the Windsor Suite, the floor to ceiling windows flood the rooms with bright light and central views of the Place Vendome, including the flagship Chanel boutique literally across the square. Beds are draped in neutral blue canopy colors, luxuriatingly soft with equally plush pillows.

PHOTO: Bed in the Windsor Suite (c) Sery Kim

The bathrooms still host the signature pink towels, monogrammed with the Hotel Ritz Paris, and laid on gold inlaid heated stands with the swan faucets also inlaid with gold leaf (one eye is sapphire and the other is ruby). Additionally, the bathtubs are now enormously big, clearly hefty enough to fit an NFL player or two, but it really is the unique ways the modern electronic systems have been added which catch the eye in the Windsor Suite.

PHOTO: Golden swan faucets (c) Sery Kim

Electronic access points are hidden behind wooden slats in the desk, and the “on/off” button for the television and the lights are encased in a singular panel with buttons designed to also resemble jewels such as emerald, sapphire, ruby and amethyst. Terribly clever and aesthetically pleasing.

Of course, the hotel has other elements which are considered the absolute best in Paris. The downstairs indoor pool is still the best – as well as the biggest – indoor pool in Paris. The new Chanel spa, which has its own private entrance, still is the best Chanel spa in the world with design elements taken from her own private suite to bring a real life element of Madame Chanel to the place where she resided.

Truly, no detail was spared at the Ritz Paris yet it doesn’t feel overly grand. What it feels like is a museum come to life, with ease and comfort. Everything is like a dream of what an ideal hotel should be and so, it feels simply, as if five stars is inadequate to define the sublime details of this newly restored perennial classic.

PHOTO: One of the sitting areas outside of one of the ballrooms (c) Sery Kim

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