In the 1946 classic film Blue Skies, a dancing Fred Astaire, decked out in top hat and tap shoes, sings, “You’ll declare it’s simply topping to be there, and hear them swapping smart titbits, puttin’ on the ritz!”
As I walked into the Ritz in central Madrid two days ago, it was all too tempting to perform a similar number in the hotel’s grand circular lobby, with its gleaming chandelier and tiered display of red roses. Somehow, I kept my feet still long enough to check in, but I couldn’t help doing a little dance when I finally reached my room.
The hotel features 137 rooms and 30 suites, each with an individual design. My deluxe room with a king-sized bed overlooked the Ritz’ terrace. Soundproof windows meant the flow of traffic down the Castellana never kept me awake at night, but still gave a glimpse of the bustling Paseo del Prado below. When I did open the windows of my balcony, I was immediately greeted by the sounds of wind rustling the trees outside and the gentle trickling of the terrace fountain.
The sense of space was especially welcome, with a separate bedroom and white-marble bathroom joined together by a small entryway. With two plush armchairs, side table, spacious closets, and desk (complete with stationery, postcards and phone), the room began to feel like a home away from home in Madrid rather than a hotel. The fusion of traditional style with modern convenience further impressed me, from the bedside alarm clock with iPod/iPad dock to the minibar and safe hid away behind paneled doors. Did I mention the succulent almond cake awaiting me on arrival?
From afternoon tea in the lounge (first introduced in Madrid when the Ritz opened in 1910) to Sunday brunch on the terrace, dining in the hotel is as luxurious an experience as is staying there. Nowhere did I feel this more than at breakfast in the Goya Restaurant. Each morning I was shown to my own elegant table beneath a high soaring ceiling, set off by a double layer of gilded crown moulding. As I stirred my café con leche, I couldn’t help but notice how even the smallest silver teaspoons had been engraved with Ritz Madrid on their handles.
While certain items such as poached eggs, French toast and Spanish omelettes (which come with potatoes and onions) are available from the kitchen, breakfast is primarily a buffet. Three tables overflow with traditional continental offerings—yoghurt, pastries, fresh fruit, bacon and scrambled eggs—but I kept a look out for the touches of Spain I’ve come to know since arriving in the country: warm links of chorizo sausage, crusty loaves of pan de pueblo, tangy slices of manchego cheese and, my favourite, fried churros.
From my past experience with Orient Express, I knew to expect a high level of service from the Ritz—and it certainly didn’t disappoint. From Ivan the doorman remembering my name and always greeting me at the entrance, to the women offering me turn-down service at night with a foil-wrapped chocolate or two, to my breakfast server Javier asking if I’d like sugar on my churros, the staff I met at the Ritz proved it’s the little things that can take an experience to the next level. “Churros are always better with a little sugar,” Javier would say, so how could I object to him sprinkling a spoonful over my delectable fried treat?
It would’ve been all too easy to never venture outside the luxurious comfort of my room, but when I did, I was amazed at the hotel’s proximity to many key sights in Madrid. Within a 5-minute walk in one direction, I was standing in Retiro Park, one of the city’s largest, surrounded by promenading families, musicians serenading crowds on their guitars and trumpets, and groups of friends laughing as they steered bright blue rowboats across the pond.
An even shorter walk in another direction brought me to the footstep of Madrid’s most famous art museums, the Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. Two minutes past the columned façade of the Prado and I reached the Royal Botanical Garden, and from there, Atocha rail station, with its links to Córdoba and Seville. The Ritz felt right at the centre of it all, the perfect base from which to explore the city.
It’s hard to escape the atmosphere of relaxed sophistication throughout the hotel, especially in its lounge where vaulted ceilings and plush carpets welcome guests in. As fresh yellow orchids sweetened the air and a pianist tapped out light, playful tunes on a black baby grand, it was all I could do to pry myself away from a beautifully upholstered chair. And this is perhaps what I came to appreciate most about my time at the Ritz—that even at the height of elegance, it doesn’t take long to feel at home.
With thanks to Orient Express for their hospitality at the Ritz in Madrid.
- For more information visit www.ritzmadrid.com
- Call (+34) 91 701 6767.
- You can also see more of the Orient Express hotels and tours at orient-express.com.