“Paris is always a good idea,” Audrey Hepburn famously quipped in the movie Sabrina, and that’s still true today. But a year after the appalling tragedy at the Bataclan theater, the motto of the French capital, “Fluctuat nec mergitur” or “Tossed but not sunk” still has a sobering resonance.
For American travelers, the biggest news is the reopening of the Ritz Paris, on the Place Vendôme, after a four-year renovation that’s said to have cost an eye-popping $450 million. That’s a lot of money, but the property urgently required a bone-deep reinvention to retain its laurels as one of the city’s “palace” hotels. With the arrival of the Asian luxury brands — Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental and Shangri-La — the Ritz was starting to seem in need of serious work.
No sooner than it had closed, however, its fans began to fret about what the makeover would do to the Ritz’s inimitable charm. Could the hotel be modernized without destroying its unique ambiance, a sort of “La Vie en Rose” atmosphere created by an alert, good-humored staff and the graciously privileged patrons? Ultimately, a great hotel is a mosaic of hundreds of small details. The fear of the hotel’s habitués was that the heavy-handed implementation of the quality-measuring metrics practiced by international hotel chains would result in the standardization of a place that has nurtured a unique identity for well over a century.