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The Ritz Paris, Reborn

This Grande Dame is ready for her close-up.

In recent years, several of Paris’s most celebrated five-star hotels have closed for much-needed face lifts: the Crillon, the Plaza Athénée, the Peninsula. No historic renovation was more anticipated, however, than that of the Ritz Paris, which reopened its doors this June following a four-year, $450-million renovation—and what gorgeously gilded doors they are.

Originally opened in 1898 by hotelier César Ritz, the Ritz Paris is arguably the most famous and celebrated hotel in the City of Lights. From the moment it debuted on the Place Vendôme, it redefined hotel luxury, with each room featuring electricity, a telephone, and a bathtub (marvels at the time). The world took notice of the fanfare and famous guests soon followed: Coco Chanel lived there for 34 years, while Ernest Hemingway was a habitué of the Bar (more about that later).

Owned by Mohamed al-Fayed, who purchased it in 1979 and completed a smaller renovation in the eighties, the new Ritz still has all the elegant Grand Siècle charms of the original—high ceilings, oak woodwork, Mareuil stone floors, marble everywhere—but the spaces are airier, the rooms are more luxurious, the years of patina gently burnished away to display a newly (re)acquired sheen.

A nip here, a tuck there—this Grande Dame is ready for her close-up.

New York-based designer and architect Thierry W. Despont took the reigns of the renovation, shouldering the monumental challenge of maintaining the listed Historic Monument’s integrity—not to mention preserving its landmark façade overlooking Place Vendôme and Rue Cambon—while ushering the hotel into a more technologically-advanced era. Despont is no stranger to five-star hotel projects, having previously been responsible for the renovations of the Dorchester in London and the Carlyle in New York.

Each of the rooms was renovated, with soundproofing added, air conditioning upgraded, high-speed wi-fi installed, and the total number of rooms reduced from 159 to 142. There are now 71 suites total, including 15 historic suites named after famous guests such as Coco Chanel, Charlie Chaplin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

It’s common for hotels undergoing renovations to auction off old items like lamps and the furnishings—not so at the Ritz, where many of the beloved original details remain. Devotees will still find the peach-coloured bathrobes, the tulip lamps, those swan bathroom fixtures, valet and maid cords, and old-fashioned room keys, plus the same hand-painted Marthe by Havliand Limoges porcelain that has been used since César’s day.

While there are plenty of upgrades and additions here and there—a renovated Salon César Ritz, a brand new Salon Vendôme, a new Ritz Bar, and a renovated Bar Vendôme brasserie—arguably the most noteworthy is the Grand Jardin. Located in the center of the hotel, the walled private 21,500-square-foot garden was designed by French landscape architect Jean Mus. Despont described it in The New York Times as a “private open space in the heart of Paris that was like an uncut diamond.”

Other major showpieces include the world’s first Chanel spa, Chanel au Ritz Paris, and the renovated interior of L’Espadon restaurant, which features a “new” 19th-century five-level glass and crystal chandelier purchased at Christie’s. L’Espadon’s adjacent cooking school celebrating gastronomy, Ecole Ritz Escoffier, now boasts a third kitchen and can host up to forty people for tastings.

And then there’s Bar Hemingway.

The bar became so closely associated with Papa Hemingway over the years—according to legend, he personally liberated the bar from the fleeing Nazis at the end of World War II—that it was eventually named in his honour. At Bar Hemingway, Papa’s legacy is well-represented. Framed LIFE magazine portraits, as well as memorabilia such as rifles and passports, adorn the walls of his favourite old haunt, which inspired him to write, “When I dream of afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz.”

As a bonus, head barman Colin Field—often cited as the best bartender in the world—returns to the world’s most famous hotel bar to sling his drinks, including the celebrated Serendipity cocktail. (It’s Calvados, apple juice, champagne, mint, and sugar, if you’re curious.)

With all the new sparkle and shine, perhaps the Ritz will finally achieve the “Palace” distinction that has frustratingly eluded it. Only eight hotels in Paris (among them Le Meurice, Le Bristol, and Four Seasons George V) have received the coveted Palace anointment by the French Ministry of Tourism. Surely it now fits the Ministry’s strict criteria, which includes not just aesthetics but also a contribution to the spread of French culture.

After all, is there any other hotel in Paris so closely associated with French culture than the Ritz Paris? Mais, non.

And for those clutching their pearls, worrying that the renovations will change their beloved Ritz, don’t worry. It’s still the same old place—just much, much better.

Ritz Paris, 15 Place Vendôme, 75001, Paris, France, +33 1 43 16 33 74