The name Ritz has been synonymous with luxury since that day when, more than a century ago, the hotel’s illustrious founder, Cesar Ritz, opened the doors. On the Place Vendome, The Ritz is central to the city’s great sights and includes special entities all its own: L’Espadon, for example, the restaurant with a wine cellar of more than 40,000 bottles. Or, the Ecole Ritz Escoffier, the ultimate cooking school in Paris. And the Ritz Health Club presents an oasis in the heart of Paris: the city’s largest indoor club to offer a pool, spa treatments, and fitness facilities.
César Ritz (23 February 1850 – 24 October 1918) was a Swiss hotelier and founder of several hotels, most famously the Hôtel Ritz in Paris and The Ritz Hotel in London. His nickname was “king of hoteliers, and hotelier to kings”
Ritz was born in the Swiss village of Niederwald, the youngest of 13 children to a poor peasant family. At the age of twelve he was sent as a boarder to the Jesuit college at Sion, and at fifteen, having shown only vaguely artistic leanings, was apprenticed as a sommelier at the hotel Victoria in Brig.
Hotel Victoria in Brig
While working there as an apprentice wine waiter he was dismissed by the patron of the hotel from his position, saying, “You’ll never make anything of yourself in the hotel business. It takes a special knack, a special flair, and it’s only right that I tell you the truth—you haven’t got it.” He returned briefly to the Jesuits as a sacristan, then left to seek his fortune in Paris at the time of the 1867 Universal Exhibition.
In order to learn the restaurant business, Ritz got a job at the finest restaurant in Paris, the Voisin, until the Siege of Paris of 1870 caused shortages of food and fuel and put an end to Voisin’s business.
The only surviving remnant of the ‘Voisin’ hotel. A Menu for Christmas during the Seige of Paris in 1870.
After the Franco-German War, Ritz worked as maitre d’hotel in the Hotel Splendide in Paris, where he again came in contact with the celebrated and the wealthy. He served as a guide to continental taste for such Americans as Cornelius Vanderbilt and J.P. Morgan, who came to Paris in the 1870s.
When fashionable society moved on, Ritz decided to move with them. For the next few years, he worked in hotels in resort areas throughout Europe. From 1877 to 1887, Ritz managed the summer season at the luxurious Grand Hotel National in Lucerne, Switzerland.
A suite at the luxurious Grande Hotel in Lucerne, Switzerland.
It was then when Ritz moved on again (following the monied crowd to Monte Carlo) that he met the greatest chef of the time, Auguste Escoffier. (‘Ecole Escoffier’ at the Ritz is still considered one of the best cooking schools in the world)
The King of Chefs, Auguste Escoffier. Ritz and Escoffier first opened a restaurant in Baden-Baden then moved on to the Savoy in London.
Together they opened a restaurant in Baden-Baden in 1887. Impressed by a party at their restaurant, Richard D’Oyly Carte invited Ritz to manage the newly opened Savoy in London. Ritz and Escoffier made London, as banker Otto Kahn put it, “a place worth living in.” Ritz converted London society to the practice of dining out. His customers at the Savoy urged him to open a hotel in Paris.
The Savoy in London still considered one of the finest hotels in the world.
With a loan from Marnier La Postelle (who was grateful to Ritz for suggesting the name Grande Marnier for the liqueur that he had invented) Ritz purchased a mansion in Paris and spent two years supervising the furnishing of its 210 rooms. The Ritz Hotel opened in 1898 to a crowd of diners. At the inauguration on 1 June 1898 were many figures of the European elite, including Lady de Grey, the Duke and Duchess de Rohan, Calouste Gulbenkian and Marcel Proust. By this time, Ritz had a controlling interest in nine other restaurants and hotels including the Carlton in London.
Lady de Grey, one of the greatest socialites of London in her day exclaimed ‘where ever Ritz goes I go’.
In June 1902, Ritz suffered a nervous collapse. Although he took some part in planning the London Ritz, opened in 1905, he was never able to return to managing the business. He died an invalid after 16 years of illness. His eventual successor was his son Charles.
The Hotel Ritz Gets a Make-Over
When the doors open on the Ritz Paris this month after a three-and-a half-year restoration, sighs of relief will be heard from discriminating travelers around the world that the grand dame of Parisian luxury hotels is back. It is and will always be considered as one of the greatest hotels in the world.
The Paris Ritz in Place Vendome.
Those worried that the 114-year-old hotel might suffer the modernization indignations of other five-star Paris properties, Ritz general manager Christian Boyens offers au contraire.
General Manager Christian Boyens.
“Most important, the Ritz will stay the Ritz . . . but behind the walls, you will find a hotel that is totally 2016,” said Boyens.
The original 160 rooms are reduced to 71 rooms and 71 suites, 15 of those one-of-a-kind Prestige Suites, all with enlarged closets and bathrooms which are usually small in European hotels no matter where you stay.
The reception area of the Ritz replete with sumptuous antiques.
If you think the architects and designers are copping out for custom made 2016 boring neutrals of minimalistic lines for furniture (which seems to affect almost all new construction everywhere), you can forget it at the Ritz. They’re using 124 containers with nothing but restored top of the line antiques. I can’t wait to see what that’s going to look like!
The wine cellar will contain 40,000 bottles of wine, including cognacs from the 1800s and six designer stores in the hotel’s luxe arcade.
“It really was a passionate project,” Boyens said. “A lot of passionate people were involved.”
A photo of L’Espadon, the fabulous restaurant at the Ritz before transformation. 2007
Architect designer Thierry W Despont was responsible for the restoration of the historic grand hotel with the assigned goal of preserving its opulent classicism and Empire style while growing in sync with the 21st century. Boyens describes the new rooms as “your little Parisian apartment in the heart of Paris with rich residential fabrics and fine finishes.” That includes the iconic gold-plated swan fixtures in the bathrooms.
The former ‘Imperial Suite’ before renovation.
With the renovation several additions have been made, including a tunnel connecting the Place Vendome with the hotel’s underground garage, offering guests complete privacy. A retractable roof has been added to the interior winter garden making it a year-round leafy green setting.
Boyens shared that as part of the project, Ritz owner billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed purchased a bank building next door to the hotel for an expansion that includes a Chanel spa and a large garden designed like a private park.
Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayad the night of the fateful accident leaving the Ritz Hotel.
Conspiracies flew over the cause of the accident, particularly because of the Queens apparent lack of interest in the death of Diana.
When the hotel closed in the summer of 2012 for a then-estimated two year refurbishment, estimates were that the project would cost 200 million euros. One can only imagine the final tally.
Madonna, the Queen of Pop (wearing those jeans? Seriously Madonna, this is the year 2016…you need to find a new stylist) arriving to the Ritz.
According to the hotel website, lowest room rates typically range from 1,100 euros ($1,110) to 2,900 euros ($3,167) a night depending on dates.
As I have my own digs in the city of light so I won’t have any need to stay at the fabulous Ritz. (oh sure…as if I can afford $1200/night). I will however make it a point to have at least lunch or even dinner at the fabulous L’Espadon restaurant.
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