Donna Tunney, Travel Weekly's editor/news operations, stayed at the
Ritz before covering a trade show in London last fall.
LONDON -- A restoration to return London's famous Ritz hotel to
its turn-of-the-century grandeur is nearing completion.
The property, long known as "the French chateau in Piccadilly,"
was the creation of Cesar Ritz in 1906. Its exterior is a mix of
French architectural traditions, including an arcaded walkway that,
stretching across the full width of the building, evokes the Place
Vendome in Paris.
The decor is Louis XVI. Think of floor-to-ceiling windows
dressed in brocaded drapes with tassles, 24-carat-gold-leaf borders
on wall and door panels, plush patterned carpets in pastel shades,
ornate dark wood furniture and marble columns.
"All of the upholsteries [and soft furnishings] were replaced
using French imports, all of the marble was scoured clean, and new
rugs were woven in Northern Ireland," Umberto Schioppa, the hotel's
front office manager, said during a tour of the property.
The public and guest rooms indeed have a more distinct sparkle
than they did the last time I visited, in 1995. At that time, the
restoration was a gleam in the eye of Giles Shepard, who had just
been named managing director and who, over lunch in the Ritz dining
room, described his vision of the hotel's renaissance.
Some of his vision stemmed from sketches and information about
the construction and original decor of the Ritz contained in a
90-year-old book found in the hotel's basement. Upholstery
patterns, furnishings and color schemes depicted in the book were
models for the restoration, which so far has racked up a $13
Some contemporary enhancements have been part of the upgrade,
including the addition of a fitness center and a redesigned hair
salon. A masseuse is available during weekdays -- part of the
Ritz's movement to address the ills of modern-day stress for guests
who find that, perhaps, afternoon tea just isn't soothing
The hotel caters largely to executive business travelers during
It is making a push to lure families for weekend stays, and
during my tour Schioppa showed me some junior suites equipped with
an extra bed for a child and/or with a crib. (Children under 12
stay free with their parents.)
The Ritz has 128 rooms, including 22 suites. Each room has a
fireplace, but it is just for show. Bathrooms are spacious and
Yet to be completed in the restoration process are guest rooms
on the sixth and seventh floors and the upper tiers of the
property's signature grand staircase. The whole project is due to
be finished by June.
Here's a rundown of the hotel's public rooms:The Ritz Restaurant. This is the main dining venue. It's a vast
room with marble columns, a statue of Neptune and his Nereid,
golden chandeliers and an oval trompe-l'oeil ceiling. The
restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. An
outdoor terrace runs nearly the length of the dining room. Its
stone flooring was resurfaced with a colorful tile mosaic depicting
the Ritz logo.Palm Court. The focal point here is an elaborate fountain
called La Source. This is where the famed afternoon tea is served
(I was told reservations are needed at least one month ahead for
Saturday bookings) and where big-band music and dancing are
featured on weekend evenings. The room has a high glass ceiling,
marble columns and, true to its name, palm trees.The Long Gallery. This lengthy extension of the lobby runs from
the check-in area to the dining room entrance. Chairs and tables
are strategically placed for guests having cocktails. Two
vestibules off the gallery offer a more intimate setting for small
groups. The Ritz Bar services these areas.Fitness Room. It is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. and has
treadmills, step machines, bicycles and rowing machines.Business Center. Located on the ground floor next to the lobby,
the center offers guests the use of two PCs, printer, fax machine
and secretarial support. On request, a fax machine and printer can
be placed in guest rooms.
The hotel has three meetings venues: The Marie Antoinette Room,
modeled after a room at the Palace of Versailles, can seat 30 and
accommodate 90 for a reception; the Trafalgar Suite, with views of
Green Park, seats 20, and the Berkeley Suite, which has a dining
and a reception room, can handle up to 40, seated.
The Ritz is owned by Barclay Brothers, a London-based investment
firm that also owns London's Howard Hotel, a five-star property
located just off the Embankment. True to its history as a place
where royals and celebrities gathered, the Ritz still attracts the
According to Schioppa, Prince Charles attended a wedding held
recently at the Ritz. That is not to say, though, that the Ritz
staff is any less accommodating to the uncelebrated masses who,
through whatever fortunate means, find themselves sipping Earl Grey
tea in a guest room here.
A cheery hello awaits visitors
LONDON -- The front door of the Ritz hotel is located in its
arcaded walkway that stretches across Piccadilly, but guests cannot
enter that way.
"We closed off that door years ago because people would wander
in from the street to look around, and it was clear our guests did
not appreciate that," Umberto Schioppa, the hotel's front office
Guests now enter the Ritz from a side door on Arlington Street.
Doormen posted there -- celebrities in their own right and donned
in elegant long coats -- often are the focus of tourists'
Winter rate, weekend plans set
LONDON -- Through April 9, the winter rate for one night at the
Ritz runs from about $380 for a standard room and from $600 for a
deluxe double. The rate includes one full English breakfast.
Weekend packages include:Putting on the Ritz. This is a one-night plan for two people
priced from about $495 for a superior room and $550 for an
executive room. It covers champagne, fruit and flowers on arrival
and full English breakfasts for two.Suite Celebration. This is a two-night plan for two people
priced from about $2,100. It includes dinner and dancing on either
Friday or Saturday night; champagne and canapes served in the suite
the other night; a gift, and full English breakfasts for two on
Phone: (011) 44 171 493-8181
Fax: (011) 44 171 499-7487
Reservations: (800) 525-4800
Location: 150 Piccadilly, London
Number of rooms: 128, including 22 suites.
Nearest tube: Green Park
Representations: Small Luxury Hotels of the World;
Rack rates: Standard rooms from about $400; suites from about
Front office manager: Umberto Schioppa
Raves: Luxurious surroundings with a French ambience. A friendly
staff eager to please. Spacious rooms each with a fireplace and
marble bathroom. A dream location in the heart of Piccadilly within
walking distance of West End theaters, Mayfair and Green Park.
Rants: No hairdressing or massage on weekends.