FROM the sitting room of my suite I can see the queue for the ticket office at the Prado and the entrance of the Thyssen Museum across the regal fountains of the Plaza de Neptuno. And if it weren’t for the densely tree-lined Paseo del Prado, I would also be able to see through the windows of the Reina Sofia, where the 20th century’s most iconic painting, Guernica, by Pablo Picasso is housed.
Welcome to the Ritz, Spain’s most emblematic hotel, recently-reopened after a giant three-year overhaul.
Right in the heart of the Golden Triangle, this five-star Grande Dame has been catering for the world’s most fortunate travellers for over a century.
Cesar Ritz’ favourite of his famous hotels, it commands the same status as the Savoy, the Copacabana Palace or the Plaza. And rightfully so, with its famous roll call of guests, including dozens of presidents and an army of celebrities, such as Madonna, Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly, not to mention historical figures such as Haile Selassie, Mata Hari and Randolph Hearst.
This was my third stay (care of one of the few careers that allows such perks) and it was a joy to see how much the place has opened up, in terms of light, since its €100 million refurb as part of the Mandarin Oriental group.
It is comforting to report that on the face of it not much has changed, particularly the sense of arrival, the incredible level of staffing and the grandeur within.
The key is its huge glass atrium that has created a buzzing central space for guests and visitors alike, somewhere to park up for a splendid tea, accompanied by a pianist, or to take a light lunch.
The theme throughout is gold and white and an accentuation of the grand pillars installed for its 1910 inauguration, at the behest of Spain’s then King Alfonso XIII. There are liberal splashes of gold everywhere, particularly in an delicate dripping sculpture that hangs over the reception area.
The main obvious changes are the incredible bar area, sumptuous and hip, and the fabulous new Deessa restaurant, commandeered by Spain’s current three Michelin star darling Quique Dacosta. Fittingly taking up perhaps a quarter of the ground floor, restaurants rarely get this grand, so a big name like Dacosta was essential. The Valencia maestro does it proud.
I was particularly taken by the leafy garden restaurant and bar terrace that lords over it. It is surprisingly good value if you choose carefully and will, I predict, become one of THE places to be seen this summer, particularly at sunset when a DJ swoops in. The wonderful white roses and foliage surrounding the tables give a sense of being in an oasis.
Much of the giant refurb has been understandably spent on the rooms, which are sumptuous and sensible in their design. Compared to other five star hotels in the capital, there is nothing left wanting, from hair straighteners to a wardrobe (not mini) bar with just about anything you might want. Half a dozen bottles of water were renewed each time you went out, while the hotel clearly has shares in the famous Madrid confectioner that makes the lovely violet sweets, that were first made popular, fittingly, by Alfonso XIII. (Yes, a mouthful, indeed, but a thoughtful touch nonetheless.)
The VIP unpacking service was recommended by our ‘personal butler’ and definitely worth a try, especially to see your socks folded up in a drawer. Clearly designed for royalty, it was appropriately I bumped into the Ecuadorian president (well his security team) as I checked out with no less than three huge packing cases with his name on them queueing up outside.
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