After my recent stay at The Ritz Hotel, I had so much to write about my wonderful experience it was only fitting to write three posts and here, I am pleased to give you a brief insight to the hotels’ rich history. Situated in Piccadilly, the Ritz Hotel is a British institution famed the world over for its outstanding service, Royal connections and of course its Afternoon Tea. It’s glamorous but not in an ostentatious way, it’s dignified, regal and majestic. To stay at the Ritz Hotel is to be transported to another world, one of glitz, glamour and magic, a truly unforgettable experience.
The Ritz first opened on 24th May in 1906 by César Ritz whose vision was to open the grandest and most prestigious hotel in London. No expense was spared, lavish furnishings and opulent luxurious interiors graced every part of the hotel and every guest was greeted with warmth and unrivaled hospitality and service as it does today. Is it any wonder that lifelong guest, the Queen Mother celebrated and hosted many birthdays and celebrations here at the Ritz including that of her grandson, The Prince of Wales’ 54th birthday, her favourite song to be played during these celebrations was A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. Indeed, HRH, The Prince of Wales granted the hotel his Royal Warrant in 2002 in recognition of the special service the hotel has bestowed to him over the years. The Ritz London is the first and the only hotel to have been honoured with this prestigious award, a plaque of the Warrant graces the wall of reception today.
During its early years, the hotel attracted a host of famous and prominent guests including the then Prince of Wales, future King Edward VII who was a loyal client of César Ritz as well as Pavlova, the Russian Prima Ballerina, the Aga Khan, Paul Gerry, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, Harold Macmillan, Jackie Onassis, the list is endless. Did you know that many a film was filmed at the Ritz including Richard Curtis’ Notting Hill starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, many scenes were shot at the hotel including the use of the Trafalgar Suite. Sir Roger Moore stayed at the Ritz when he was knighted in 2003.
I’ve had the privilege of staying at the Ritz twice and I’ve enjoyed Afternoon Tea at the hotel twice, once at Christmas where my family and I were immersed in the kind of wonderous magic only seen in films where the angelic melodies of the harp and soothing melodies of the grand piano play in the background. My second stay at the Ritz was filled with anticipation and excitement much like when you give birth for the second time, you’ve done it before, so you know what to expect but it’s even more exciting than your first experience, perhaps not a great analogy nevertheless, it was something I was looking forward to a great deal. Every time you stay at the Ritz Hotel, a new experience beckons, no two visits are ever the same because there’s so much to discover at this iconic hotel.
My recent stay in May was to celebrate my 27th wedding anniversary, I had booked a tour of the hotel to learn more about its history. I was met by duty manager Thomas who was born in Paris and was doing some of his training at the Ritz. We started with the lobby where Thomas gave me a brief run-down of the hotel which has been owned by the Barclay Brothers (not to be confused with the bank) since 1995, prior to this, The Ritz was owned by a conglomerate. The hotel was opened on 25th of May 1906 by Cesar Ritz, it quickly became the centre of London high society and has remained so ever since.
The lobby of the Ritz is truly magnificent with check-in reception and the concierge and room service/key collection point opposite, men clad in the Ritz formal attire as do the doormen. In the centre, a stunning flower arrangement which is updated regularly and opposite, perhaps the most stunning staircase I’d ever seen, you can almost sense Clark Gable at the foot of the stairs waiting for Vivien Leigh to appear, a famous scene from Gone with the Wind. At Christmas, the tallest tree stands proudly in place of where the flowers are today, to visit the Ritz at Christmas is a very special affair, the hotel is transformed into a glittering wonderland where tradition and fantasy mingle seamlessly together, there’s no place like the Ritz at Christmastime.
Walking through the gallery of the hotel, it’s hard not to be blown away by its sheer magnificence and I found myself saying “wow” out loud quite a few times in wonderment during the tour. It’s literally breathtaking as we approach the Palm Court where Afternoon Tea is served at several sittings throughout the day starting at 11:30am and ending at 7:30pm.
The Palm Court is a beautiful Winter Garden, a bright serene space with sparkling crystalline chandeliers, deeply coved and beautifully carved gilded gold cornice and glorious fragrant flower displays which can also been seen throughout the hotel. Mirrors and glass now replace what was once windows and a glass ceiling laced with gold detailing allows natural light to flood the Palm Court, this look lends a slight art-deco feel to the Palm Court though I must stress, it’s still very traditional in style. Rich cream coloured chairs and pristine tablecloths grace each table, the entrance to the Palm Court begins with stone marble steps, two Grecian-style marble pillars with gold and black trellis detailing on the hand rails gives the feel of entering a Parisian Royal Palace, I think this is one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever seen. Afternoon Tea at the Palm Court is something everyone should experience, and I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy this Great British Ritual twice, did I say there’s live piano music, carols during the festive season and soothing gentle almost angelic harmonies coming from the beautiful harp while you enjoy your Afternoon Tea? It just adds a special touch to the Ritz’ Afternoon Tea which is revered by all of London’s luxury hotels and the hotel industry worldwide.
Progressing further down the elegant gallery, Thomas tells me all about William Kent House which is adjacent to the hotel, I always thought it was a separate part of the hotel located somewhere else in London. The hotel acquired this historic mansion in 2005, the following year it opened to Ritz guests following an extensive refurbishment. As we enter a small lobby area with more sweet-smelling flowers, portraits of the Queen and Prince Phillip sit on a side table.
We approach an entrance to more rooms leading of each other, this is William Kent House, a private space for formal and celebratory occasions, every room has been restored to its original Renaissance style décor. One such room, the Music Room was set for Afternoon Tea for a party of 50 guests.
With doors leading to more rooms, I almost feel I am in another century or on a film set, talking of films, I believe this room was used in the mini-series, A Very English Scandal recently on TV about the politician Jeremy Thorpe starring Hugh Grant although this has not been confirmed by the hotel.
However, we do know that key scenes for the final episode of the acclaimed period drama Downton Abbey was filmed here. Further on was one of the Queen Mothers’ favourite rooms where she regularly visited and dined and to the left, the most stately of rooms decorated in a dramatic crimson, its focal point was most definitely the spectacular ceiling, it was remarkable and in the centre, the grandest dining table. Feeling like I was at Buckingham Palace, Thomas breaks my momentary dream-like trance and tells me that this room is regularly used by the hotels’ directors/managers for meetings and get togethers, I’m sure other companies have meetings here too, the rooms of William Kent House are also used for small weddings and other functions throughout the year.
Last but by no means least, the most dramatic and breathtaking dining area I have ever seen, this is The Ritz Restaurant, in fact the last time I had seen anything this spectacular was at the Hotel de Crillon in Paris where I celebrated a milestone birthday and had the privilege of staying in twice.
This is a lavish room with unusual chandeliers draped with strings of gold leaf very reminiscent of Ancient Greek and Roman times where Emperors such as Julius Cesar wore crowns of gold leaf. The same velvet-lined chairs seen in the Palm Court this time in a dusky pink with an almost red hue in certain light and immaculately dressed tables filled the entire room as well as mirrors making an already large room appear bigger still with richly decorated floor-to-ceiling curtains framing the beautiful windows.
At the south end of the dining room, gilded gold life-size figures of “The Thames and the Ocean” sitting on a marble buffet, this really is the impression I have of the Palace of Versailles in France. In October 2016, the Ritz Restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in the Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland 2017. Speaking of this moment, the restaurants’ executive chef John Williams who was awarded an MBE for his outstanding service and creativity in the kitchen said, “it’s testament to the entire team’s dedication at delivering excellence to every guest dining at The Ritz Restaurant”, indeed, it was a very proud moment for him.
The last part of the tour was back at the lobby of the hotel where to the left, a new cigar shop which has recently opened occupying what was once the Ritz Jewels which can now be ordered on-line. It’s such a contrast to the rest of the hotel as it’s very art-deco, gentleman (or ladies) can purchase cigars from their extensive range and even smoke them here, the Ritz London Cigars is open to the public.
More than 110 years after first opening its doors, the Ritz continues to bestow every guest the same exceptionally high standards and exquisite experience and service and will continue to do so. I truly believe that César Ritz was the greatest hotelier in history, his hotels have an air of grace and grandeur and are simply magical oozing glamour through their every pore. The Ritz London offers every guest the feel of being in a bygone age, an era where romance and glamour is the norm, come and stay at the Ritz if you dare dream, miracles do happen….
Lots of information about the Ritz Hotel is on their website, click here
The Ritz Hotel
London W1J 9BR
Email at: email@example.com
020 7300 2222
Images are my own unless stated, as always, views and opinions are completely my own.