Madrid may have been the place where Andalusian flamenco became famous, with fine architecture from gothic to Moorish revival, museums, and beautiful parks and shady streets, but it was a disaster if you wanted a five-star hotel.
After returning from his honeymoon (which included stays at The Ritz in Paris and London), Alfonso approached their founder, hotelier César Ritz, for help.
Charles Mewès, the architect of the Ritz Paris, submitted the plans and construction began in Madrid under the supervision of the Spanish architects, Luis de Landecho and Lorenzo Gallego.
Built between 1908-1910, their creation, the first steel house in Spain, had modern bathroom technology, electric lights in all rooms, and one telephone on each floor, near the lift. To make sure everything runs as scheduled, the hotel’s opening director was sent to Paris to learn about the “Ritz skills” in business and hospitality.
(When Georges Marquet of Belgium bought the hotel in 1926, he instructed the staff to secretly identify guests who were rudely dressed, loud or careless. Those who did not pass muster were labeled NRTs, Not Ritz Types, to ensure they could not stay again.)
It is fair to say that Marquet would have named Alfonso as an NRT. And yet the “playboy king” (so called because of his foreign affairs, pornographic money and love of a good time) cleverly confirmed that Madrid could benefit from the emerging market of international travelers who wanted luxury beds and champagne at the end of their long, tiring journey.
Fast forward to 2023, and not much has changed in terms of what many travelers desire. Well, Well – I arrived with a four-engine A380; it wasn’t very common in 1910. That said, it was 30 hours in the cattle class, so I feel long, boring pain.
After all that travel, the same touches that delighted the first guests of the Madrid Ritz in 1910 still delight guests a century later.
Alfonso’s dream of a large hotel that would entertain a new group of international citizens led to the difficulty of installing a large crystal ceiling on the Court of the Palm, which was badly damaged during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), while part of the hotel was used as a military hospital.
In the 1960s, what remained of the glass dome was removed and replaced with a normal roof. The Mandarin Oriental has brought back the light, restoring the large glass ceiling at the Palm Court.
When I arrived (about to leave with Palma), I left without realizing it and went inside, following the sunlight of Palm Court in the eyes of the jet – until the kind porter kindly guided me back to the reception.
The same carrier offers me one room upgrade to room 105, a beautiful Turret Suite with gray wood floors and a spacious living room with white wood floors. Double-glazed doors open onto a small French-style balcony overlooking the hotel’s garden, as well as the walkways.
In the living room a large vase of fresh flowers is too green to be the life of Juan de Arellano, whose work is prominently displayed in the Prado next door.
The suite’s ceiling is finished with mother-of-pearl mica that emits a golden glow; the bronze rods have long cream curtains, and the large bathroom is a triumph of gray marble.
There is also humor, always a welcome treat in luxury hotels. My photo is superimposed on a framed, A4 size photo of the hotel and a welcome message. Two Sol blue glass bottlesyesn de Cabras salt water is custom made The Australian Financial Review stickers on our cyan colored head. I feel love and attention to detail.
(The next day, the housekeepers properly fix my laptop cables and iPhone cables, and fasten them with black Velcro tabs. For once, I’m not tripping over cables.)
The king size bed is so beautiful in white printed linen, I don’t go near it for fear that I won’t wake up in a month. When the jet lag hits, and after receiving the champagne under my belt, I leave the room to relax in the Madrid afternoon sun, before I start hunting for sweet slices of suckling pig and a glass of sangria near the Puerta del Sol, the pumping heart of the city.
I have only two nights here, so I am tasting a quick run through Parque del Buen Retiro (known locally as Retiro), a few blocks from the hotel, before I meet Palma to visit the hotel – including the restaurant Deessa with two Michelin stars, and the new champagne bar for only eight guests, who can combine, their white bars or their white bars.
The renovation of the hotel began three years after the Hong Kong-headquartered Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group (MOHG) and the Olayan Group of Saudi Arabia jointly bought the 167-room property in 2015 at a cost of €130 million from Belmond (formerly Orient-Express), which had owned it since 2003.
The Spanish architect Rafael de La-Hoz renovated, with the interior of 100 rooms and 53 suites by the studio from Paris Gilles. & Boissier.
It followed a hot $US450 million four-year restoration of the Ritz Paris, which was completed in 2016. The Ritz London, meanwhile, is about to undergo a £300 million ($571 million) renovation, with the first phase due to be completed in 2026.
The three Ritz hotels – Paris, London and Madrid – are the only hotels built by César Ritz, who died in 1918.
One of the most important aspects of the Madrid renovation is the creation of two new suites, the Mandarin and the Ritz Suites, in two basements on the sixth level. They start from €4200 (about $6905) a night, including taxes.
The Royal Suite, which was on the first floor so royal guests did not have to climb many stairs, remains in place.
The renovation reduced the overall number of rooms to increase the size of the rooms, and the design is modern with neutral tones. Like all great hotels, the joy of the Mandarin Oriental Ritz is that you can spend hours here among the museums, restaurants and shops.
Many fitness centers, including gyms and “hot spots” with Turkish baths, saunas and swimming pools, are great places to stay longer. It’s underground, so there’s no real Spanish sunlight, but it’s a beautiful relaxing space with chandeliers, soft lighting and plenty of health waters.
The champagne starts flowing outside at the El Jardín del Ritz hotel from 1 p.m., with large umbrellas providing shade from the sun.
As the sun sets, it’s time to head into Pictura’s elegant bar, where the white-jacketed waiters are incredibly nervous, the noise is lively and the good-looking people flock to meet up after work.
On the walls are paintings by Madrid-based artist Paula Anta, whose work now pays homage to the Spanish stars of today that hang in the Prado museum.
After passing through the front doors from the Plaza de la Lealtad, Alfonso insisted when the hotel was designed that he wanted it to look like the Prado, which opened in 1819 in a Neoclassical building on the other side of the plaza, from Calle de Ruiz de Alarcón.
When you enter the hotel today, there is the Prado, not 200 meters in all its glory: home to 8200 paintings, 7600 drawings, 4800 scars, and 1000 sculptures to be exact.
My second evening was reserved for a fine: I vowed to conquer the Prado before I left the hotel.
Prado and I have unfinished business, you see. In 1996, this museum blew me away. I was a grumpy, art-loving person from the University of Sydney who had a strong background in art history, meaning there were more museums than bars or pubs on my bucket list. (I would do it differently if I had my time, but I digress.)
I arrived at a hostel in Madrid in the winter, sharing half a day in the Prado. 30 minutes later, I passed out in front of Francisco Goya Wednesday May 1808, no doubt overcome by all that chiaroscuro.
I had conquered everything from the Pergamon in Berlin to the British Museum and the Louvre, but the Prado was overwhelming. My first seizure kept me from eating Spanish milk, but it might have been easier to use creatively in a stuffy warehouse in the heat.
And so on my latest trip, the first to Madrid since 1996, I will try again.
Luckily, not only did I pass out, but I covered all four rooms in less than four hours. After winning, I jumped outside, crossed the street and crashed back into Suite 105 with champagne, tarta de Santiago (Spanish almond cake) and Netflix.
Finally, Prado and I agree. This was the hotel I was looking for.
The author traveled to Madrid courtesy of Scenic Cruises, and stayed at the Mandarin Oriental Madrid as a hotel guest.
You should know
- Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid | Rooms and suites from 29 square meters to 188 sq m; resources and connections are available.
- Prices | From €1000 ($1653) a night plus taxes; Turret Suites from €3800, Superior Turret Suites, from €4200.
- Dina | Even if you don’t stay, make time to dine in the outdoor garden of El Jardín del Ritz, and/or Quique Dacosta’s Deessa restaurant, which has two Michelin stars.
- Call | + 34 917 01 67 67