Its location on Paris's Place Vendome has been home to Coco Chanel, Princess Diana and the Duke of Windsor. But, would any of them recognize the Ritz Paris that prepares to open on March 14th following a complete renovation that has seen its doors shuttered since July 2012? The preeminent address for grand getaways, Ritz Paris served as a backdrop in our book LOST IN HOTELS. Today, its masonry facade dotted in freshly painted iron balconettes is getting finishing touches including Vendome's iconic column and looks much as its did upon opening in 1898 when an ambitious hotel manager previously of London's Savoy, Cesar Ritz, teamed with chef Auguste Escoffier to create the most modern, magnificent luxury hotel in Paris.
Ritz Paris was the first hotel in Paris to have all en-suite bathrooms, telephones and electricity - it's said that Oscar Wilde lambasted the missing candlelight. In March, guests will enter a familiar lobby with much of the original decor utilized with new upholstery and lighter color palette selected by Thierry Despont to maintain continuity between the past and future. The designer behind London's Claridge's and Dorchester remodel, Despont also created newer 45 Park Lane. The Ritz Paris, however, was a heftier undertaking paying homage to the original chandeliers that have been restored as well as integrating antiques and gilded paneling into spaces like the formal dining room of L'Espadon helmed by chef Nicolas Sale. The interior courtyard now features a retractable atrium where the Duchess of Windsor or Zelda Fitzgerald could have lunched at all-weather Bar Vendome while Bar Hemingway looks much as it did when the writer himself liberated it and drank late nights with F. Scott Fitzgerald alebit without current Head Barman Colin Peter Field mixing whisky cocktails. There's also a bit of new at forthcoming Ritz Bar that brings a more modern flair to all-day dining and late night lounge life.
The real changes, and obstacle, in renovating Ritz Paris came in the remodeling of guest rooms found within a hotel that tripled in size within neighboring buildings over the last century. Gone are the smaller, upper level staff quarters that later served as entry level rooms and in their place are larger, grander spaces defined by more natural light and bathrooms that feature separate shower and bathroom configurations - as well as those famous peach towels said to be the best color against bare skin. Grander rooms like the Coco Chanel Suite and Imperial Suite preferred by Princess Diana preserve their heritage while infusing more gentile patterned upholstery and modernity of technology. In the basement, the famous indoor pool now comes with a Chanel Spa that's the first ever of its kind, in a monumental hotel still owned by the Al Fayed Family and ready for its next century of grandeur.