I had played out the fantasy many times in my head – arriving at the Hotel Ritz Madrid, the doorman opening the limousine door with a flourish, whisking the luggage inside as I glide through the doors, emitting nothing but poise and style and benevolence. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite play out this way. After 32 hours in transit, I was without suitcase, transferring to the hotel in a regular cab, and I was in no way resembling the chic figure in my imagination. I was tired and miffed and very concerned about my luggage that Brussels Airlines seemed to have lost (official classification – ‘location unknown’). But I can honestly tell you, that if the lost luggage scenario has to happen, then the Hotel Ritz Madrid is the hotel to retreat to, and have it all taken care of.
Luckily, the most important elements of my arrival fantasy were real – the doorman took care of the hand luggage (and my husband’s suitcase), and guided us inside where another friendly face ushered us to the discreet reception room off the grand foyer – providing privacy for checking in and out and keeping the majestic marble lobby free of the clutter of those arriving and leaving. Adam was behind the mahogany reception desk, very charming and efficient, and we were quickly made temporary residents of this grand epitome of luxury. He then personally swept us into the lift and escorted us to our classic room on the 4th floor overlooking the Prado.
I absolutely love the first reveal of a new hotel room, and when Adam opened the door and ushered us in, I immediately thought that we had been unexpectedly upgraded. The room was bigger than imagined, but the plush furnishings were as lovely as the tempting photos online – all dark rose, gold and deep red satin. A tour of our room revealed modern luxuries behind antique furnishings – the wood panelled doors hid plenty of storage and wardrobe space, a safe (large enough for laptops and everything else we wanted secure), and a locked minibar (opened by our own key). Brass taps in the creamy marble bathroom glinted at us as we popped our heads in, and the pristine white, thick towels with RITZ embossed on them awaited our use (and after 32 hours of travel, the bathtub was more than tempting!).
Settling in did not take long at all, as I was still sans suitcase. So, after I had handed my official lost luggage report to the concierge, I was able to let go of that mounting stress, knowing that they would do everything in their power to get it to me, pronto! And it was delivered to our room the following morning. Gotta love a good 5 star hotel for its ability to get stuff done and make things happen! And this air of being taken care of and pampered continued throughout the stay. Jesùs, David and Alejandro on the concierge desk were knowledgeable and more than helpful, ensuring that all our needs were met before we even realised we needed them – from booking train tickets when we were still in Sydney, to arranging for last minute seats at the best flamenco show in town.
After a deep and revitalising sleep in a bed that soothed the many airplane seat symptoms, and a hot shower with robust water pressure on command, we headed to breakfast. This was a culinary delight – a buffet that provided everything you could possibly want (including grilled vegetables for me!), and for the dairy, meat and fish connoissseurs the choice was extensive! By the time I had worked my way around to the ‘dessert’ course of breakfast, the last of the churros had just made it onto a plate moving away from me, bound for the corner table, so I had to resort to my ‘Plan B’ – pan au chocolat instead. The things we do! The kitchen promptly made another batch, but I was too full of the chocolate and pastry breakfast of the French that I had to delay my Spanish gratification until the next morning.
It did not take long to orient ourselves in this capital city. This iconic hotel (and official member of the ‘Most Famous Hotels of the World’) nestles in the middle of Golden Triangle of Art – three of the most important art galleries in the world; the Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen. As these ‘big 3’ were one of the main reasons for our visit to Madrid, it was a delight being able to walk the tree-lined, shady boulevard of Paseo del Prado for our visits.
Spring is a lovely time of year to visit Madrid, and the scent of flowers gently drifted through the public areas of the hotel. The scent of lilies accompanied breakfast in the Goya Restaurant and gardenias were our companions in the garden terrace – doing their best to mask the scent of the afternoon cigar smokers nearby. This was the perfect spot to watch the World Cup on the big screen while sipping my new favourite cocktail – the Dalitini. This drink is exclusive to the Hotel Ritz Madrid, and it is absolutely delicious. The story goes that when Salvador Dali visited the hotel, the artist asked the barman for a cocktail. When asked what kind he wanted he didn’t know that there was a choice (cocktails were new on ‘the scene’), so he asked for the barman’s recommendation. A martini was placed before him. In trying to remove what he thought was a hair in the glass (it was actually a flaw in the crystal), he cut himself and the martini coloured with drops of his blood. The barman created the ‘Dalitini’ in his honour – Martini bianco, Cointreau, vodka and cherries pulp (from Jerte Valley cherries – cultivated for their crisp texture and sweet flavour). The Aussies may have lost the match against Spain, but the cocktail was fabulous!
We decided to make the most of mild weather and had lunch in the Ritz’s Goya Restaurant. Because of the season, all tables were on the patio overlooking the garden, and the pianist playing his ‘songbook’ favourites with a flourish and a trill was the perfect accompaniment to the meal. The patter from our servers was friendly yet not intrusive, dishes were presented with grace, and the standard of the food was faultless – in the viewing and the eating. The sommelier’s suggestions of wine by the glass for each course were perfect matches and really made for a relaxing afternoon in the warm Madrid sun.
The longer we stayed at the Ritz, the more we fell in love with her…what a truly majestic old beauty – and old in this context is as far from tattered and musty as it is possible to get, rather her graceful, regal and elegant essence just permeated every centimetre of the place. Every staff member we encountered was outstanding with the level of service provided and the manner in which it was delivered – genuine smiles and a desire to help each guest comes from all, from the front of house to house keeping. In fact, the familial atmosphere isn’t in my imagination – one of the concierges, Jesùs, has both parents working at the Ritz as well! It really is the sort of place where people seem to love their jobs.
This sense of welcome is not something that the Ritz has always exuded. It was originally built as a hotel for the visiting royal pals of the Spanish monarch (influenced by the Ritz in London), and so, if an aspiring guest was not of noble lineage, they were told that the hotel ‘had no vacancy’ and were directed to accommodation across the road at the Palace Hotel. Even celebrities didn’t get a look in once upon a time.
But thankfully, times have changed. The atmosphere is still elegant and every centimetre exudes luxury, but it really is the opposite of the exclusivity that once was. All are welcome through the front doors, even if they cannot afford to actually become ‘temporary residents’ – they can at least visit for drinks or high tea or even just to use the toilets! There is not a snooty staff member in sight, and while there is definitely some impressive money walking through the doors, there are just as many guests sporting jeans and T-shirts as there are Armani suits.
For those who have the means, the ‘Presidential Suite’ would be a very nice bolt-hole in Madrid. The reception area of this suite leads directly into the circular sitting room whose tower balcony overlooks the garden. There are two bedrooms, one with twin beds, the other with a lavish king bed – set upon a stately raised platform to ensure that those entering the private chamber were still ‘below’ the occupant of the bed! The hand woven carpets, which cover all areas in the hotel not clad in marble, are particularly fine in this suite. (In fact, the care and maintenance of these floorings is a constant and full time job.)
Before we knew it, our time in our Madrid oasis had ended. We have been fortunate in our travels to have stayed in some very fine and luxurious hotels, but the Hotel Ritz Madrid has quickly soared to the top of my ‘favourite hotels’ list. I really think that this is due to a perfect combination of utter luxury and truly friendly service. The welcome vibe does not wane, and the staff does everything to make this place ‘home’, which provides a certain intimacy despite the grandeur.