Known as “King of Hoteliers, and Hotelier to Kings”, César Ritz was born in the Swiss village of Niederwald, the youngest of 13 children in a poor peasant family. From a waiter in his teens, he has gradually but slowly built a career in hospitality. In 1878, he became the manager of the Grand Hôtel National in Lucerne and held the same position, in parallel, at the Grand Hôtel in Monaco until 1888.
A pioneer in the development of luxury hotels, he knew how to entice wealthy customers and quickly gained a reputation for good taste and elegance, and by the mid-1880s the Grand Hôtel National in Lucerne had earned a reputation as the most elegant hotel in Europe. Ritz was the first to mandate that “the customer is always right” His code was “See all without looking; hear all without listening; be attentive without being servile; anticipate without being presumptuous. If a diner complains about a dish or the wine, immediately remove it and replace it, no questions asked.”
According to his widow, Ritz also was a pioneer of hygiene and cleanliness in his hotels. He decorated without heavy draperies and wallpaper and replaced them with washable paint and lighter washable fabrics. In 1887 Ritz bought the Hotel de Provence in Cannes and the Restaurant de la Conversation and Minerva Hotel in Baden-Baden.
In 1889, The Savoy London under Ritz was an immediate success, attracting a discerning wealthy clientele including royalty – British and European royal families. Ritz would go on to find investors and open a number of his own hotels. By the late 1890s, Ritz was an extremely busy man, with hotel enterprises in Rome, Frankfurt, Salsomaggiore, Palermo, Biarritz, Wiesbaden, Monte Carlo, Lucerne and Menton and projects in Madrid, Cairo and Johannesburg.
In 1896, he formed the Ritz Hotel syndicate with South African millionaire Alfred Beit, reputedly the wealthiest man in the world at the time. They opened what would become the iconic Hôtel Ritz Paris in the Place Vendôme, Paris, late in 1898. 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.
He went on to open The Ritz Hotel in London in 1905, which became one of the most popular meeting places of the era for the rich and famous. The Ritz Hotel Madrid, opened in 1906, inspired by King Alfonso XIII’s desire to build a luxury hotel to rival the Ritz in Paris. Ritz enjoyed a long partnership with Auguste Escoffier, the now-famous French chef and father of modern French cooking
In the late 19th century César Ritz founded the Ritz Development Company hotel chain, revolutionising the history of the traditional hotel trade and introducing the new concept of luxury hotels. After Paris, London and Madrid, Barcelona opened in 1919.
Hotel Ritz de Barcelona SA acquired the land in one of the best locations in the heart of Barcelona. It was a privileged plot on the corner of Gran Vía de les Corts Catalanes and Roger de Lluria, where the Granvia Theatre was located. The year was 1916 and a sign was erected to announce the construction of what was to be the best hotel in the city.
The founding partners were Gonzalo Arnús and Francesc Cambó. Jacint Montllor, then the manager of the Ritz in Madrid, was proposed to head the project and to manage the future luxury hotel in Barcelona.
The founders of the company Hotel Ritz de Barcelona SA, Francesc Cambó and Gonzalo Arnús, selected Eduard Ferrés as the project’s architect. Building was a slow and complicated process due to the First World War, which ended in 1918. Scarcity of materials, high prices and frequent riots meant that the planned investment was exceeded several times. Three years after starting the work, the complications were overcome and the Barcelona Ritz, today known as EL PALACE Barcelona, was ready to open its doors.
The concept of the Ritz hotels has been luxury, sophistication and personalised service – large rooms, indirect lighting, light fabrics, fresh flowers, paint on the walls instead of wallpaper, decorative fireplaces and, for the first time, all rooms had their own bathroom with marble baths, tiled walls and top quality piping.
A personalised high standard customer service was of utmost importance. Gourmet cuisine was also introduced under the guidance of Auguste Escoffier, with an extensive menu and quality wines, transforming the traditional guest dining rooms into sophisticated restaurants.
1929 was a year of official visits for the Ritz: the king and queen of Denmark, queen Marie of Romania and the president of the Republic of Portugal visited the hotel at the start of the year. On 19th May 1929, king Alfonso XIII declared the opening of the Barcelona Universal Exhibition. After the opening ceremony, the royalty and their entourage visited the exhibition, which included a replica of a room at the Ritz. In view of the great boom that the exhibition had meant for the city, the management decided to expand the hotel with another 60 rooms and other facilities to give a total of 250 rooms.
On 22nd July 1936, shortly after the Spanish Civil War had broken out, the Ritz hotel was seized by the FOSIG (Workers’ Federation of Food Industry Unions) and collectivised, with the ideal of nationalising the hotel industry and eliminating ostentation.
During this time, it was also inhabited as a front hospital for the Red Cross. In early 1937, the Generalitat recovered the hotel and used it to accommodate its official visitors. It was also the headquarters for the social services sub-section of health. Finally, thanks to Josep Tarradellas who did not allow it to become the headquarters of the Finance Department, the Ritz once again recovered its spirit.
Celebrities who stayed at The Ritz Barcelona include: Salvador Dalí, Maria Callas, HM Simeón de Bulgaria, John Wayne , Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald , HM King Michael of Romanía , Anthony Quinn, Joséphine Baker ,Cary Grant, Henry Kissiger, Maradona, Pele, Catherine Deneuve, Montserrat Caballé, Sophia Loren, Alain Delon, Roger Moore among others.
In 2016-17, the current El Palace Barcelona (formerly known as The Barcelona Ritz) conducted extensive renovation and refurbishments to once again capture the splendour, classic style and glamour of its greatest years. Special attention has been paid to offering top-class cuisine and the public areas, signature suites suites and rooms have been carefully restored with handmade carpets, restored antiques and exact replicas of objects such as lamps and curtains.
One superb original heritage element is the Roman bathrooms meticulously restored with a splendid stone and mosaics, which are encompassed in the expansive bathrooms. These can be found in the Signature suites. They reflect an early philosophy which has still not been achieved by luxury hotels, which is an ‘in-room’ private Spa.
The Signature Suites (Art Suites) which are the finest collection of such luxury hotel suites in Barcelona, can be reserved in the following configurations:
- 2 Bedroom Suite: two bedrooms and two Roman baths united by a living-dining room.
- 1 Bedroom Suite: one bedroom, one Roman bath, and a living-dining room.
- Grand Deluxe: one bedroom and one Roman bath, without the living-dining room.
The Signature Suites are theme-decorated and design to reflect a specific personality, who had a special relationship with the hotel – for instance, the Ronnie Wood Suite which features paintings by Ronnie himself, but also an exquisitely restored antique Wurlitzer jukebox which runs on vinyls. Like in all the suites, exceptional attention has been paid not only to the colour palette and highest quality finishes, but also to lighting, AC, soundproofing and heavenly comfortable beds.
Other signature suites include Josephine Baker, Cesar Ritz, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Salvador Dali, Joan Miró. Exquisitely reflecting the personality of the celebrity, the Josephine Baker suite is more feminine, the decorations were inspired by none other than the Château des Milandes, the renaissance palace she called home. In the 1950s, she was a regular guest at the El Palace Barcelona (Barcelona Ritz)
Once of the most noteworthy works has been the seventh floor, with the creation of the Diana Garden, an expansive 750 sqm area with more than fifty species of plants, fountains, pergolas and an outdoor pool with panoramic views of the city and a the sea in the distance.
The book release in 2019 to celebrates 100 Years ”Del Ritz A El Palace” carefully documents the entire history of the hotel which was always known and will be known as The Ritz, with many physical logo and name signs visible in the architecture of the building – some, like the ones of the facade, had to be covered.
From the early day of its conception, every detail in the hotel has been carefully studied and analysed before being meticulously constructed. The shape of the building, the positioning of the rooms and suites, the windows, balconies, ornaments are all Ritz inspired and bare the philosophy César Ritz.
Like all other Cesar Ritz hotels (Paris, London, Madrid), the El Palace Barcelona (formerly The Ritz) has a stunning Palm Court as a lobby / lounge area with a glass ceiling allowing for abundant natural light during the day. The Palm Court has always been the beating heart of the hotel, for many a place to meet and have a drink, to the soft live piano performance. For others The Palm Court was also like a fashion catwalk, people dressing up an enjoying each other company while admiring fashions.
The hotel has always had an incredible love affair with Barcelona – so many people had their weddings or attended a wedding or a similar large gathering family event. Like today, many locals have a drink or a meal at the hotel, and during the warm weather months, they pay a visit to the superb rooftop.
Spain and Barcelona in particular was hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and many hotels had to stay closed for almost a year. In April, the El Palace Barcelona took the very bold, yet rather risky decision to reopen, with only 30% of the total number of hotels having reopened, the other remaining closed because of the lack of international tourisms.
Young hotelier Friedrich von Schönburg, a proud EHL alumni, who has been at the helm of the hotel since January 2021, was entrusted by the owners with his decision to reopen the hotel and together with a smaller team to convey the message to the city that the hotel is here to stay, but to also ensure a much smoother full speed operation once the pandemic is over and all international will have fully resumed.
Since taking over, he has implemented some innovative dining concepts, pop-up, including an temporary chalet on the rooftop, a private cinema, while making sure that all spaces are carefully maintained and cleaned. Even if in smaller number, locals from Barcelona would visit the hotel, recognising the original DNA of the hotel which was to be at the centre-stage of the city’s social life.
Von Schönburg almost entirely revamped the hotel’s brand communications, including launching a new websites and improved social media presence to also target locals. El Palace Barcelona retains intact The Ritz DNA, also concerning innovation and evolution – with plans to implement more sustainability driven protocols and procedures, further enhancing technology but also in the mid-term conduct some soft renovations ensuring the product is at the highest standards.
Dining and gastronomy have always been mastered to perfection, where for a party of two or large events. The hotel used to regularly host large social event but also galas, with fashion show at the very heart, with Spanish designers such as Pedro Rodriguez but also Parisian couture houses like Jean Louis Scherrer or Jacques Fath.
An ad from 1921, said ”Hotel Ritz Barcelona, es el hotel mas selecto por su confort y sus servicios” with the telegraphic name (nowadays hashtag) ”Ritzotel”. The hotel has always not only lived up to expectations but has always strived to exceed those expectations, a luxury standard which is rarely achieved by very few hotels around the world. And it is not just the prestige and allure of a ‘Grand Dame’ hotel but it is also a desirability which the hotel has always maintained and which was always part of its DNA
Indeed, the premises may have always presented a classic and imposing aesthetic but guests and visitors have always felt comfortable and at east. It is this effortless, dynamic and fun spirit which drives the hotel to these days. Regardless of whether Cesar Ritz has not lived to see the hotel open and maybe be somehow actively involved in the construction or operations, it is the thousands of people who used to be part of the family.
It is the team that has always shined through and was always respected. Many grew up with the hotel with their entire careers unfolding at the hotel. EL PALACE (Barcelona Ritz) has always been a real hotel school, where all the different metiers could be learned. From opening, the hotel has a most impressive back-of-the-house, with impressive kitchens but also, for instance, laundry.
Today, the hotel also boasts an exquisite spa Mayan Luxury Spa, with treatments, products and programs inspired by the ancient Mayan philosophy 0f health and wellness. The Mayan Luxury Spa was the first of its kind in Europe to offer this kind of pre-Hispanic spa, which uses volcanic rocks and medicinal herbs to cleanse and restore your mind, body, and soul.
Besides a new indoor restaurant which is in the planned for the Fall of this year, the hotel will continue its innovative approach to relevant collaborations, including at a culinary level but also with a beach club just outside Barcelona. Responding to implementig the highest Covid-19 safety and hygiene measures among the measures implemented by the hotel is to ensure the safest journey from the airport, including the airport transfers in the room rates when guests book directly.
Oliver Petcu in Barcelona
More from REVIEW
Dubai based Sunset Hospitality Group, a hospitality investment and management company with over a decade of experience has ventured into …
Mandarin Oriental Munich triumphs as one of Germany’s top luxury hotels following its multi-million dollar renovations (REVIEW)
Originally constructed in 1880 and having served as the city’s opera house, the Neo-Renaissance building which houses the Mandarin Oriental …
Luxury Collection’s Caresse, firmly retains a leading position in Bodrum on the Turkish Riviera (REVIEW)
Since its opening in 2016, Caresse, a Luxury Collection Resort, Bodrum has firmly established itself among the top 3 leading …