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The Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid, newly restored to its original glory, is a perfect base for exploring the city. Photo: Mandarin Oriental Ritz

The Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid, newly restored, is an ideal, luxurious base for exploring the Spanish capital

  • Painstakingly restored to its early 20th century glory, The Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid offers Michelin-star food, champagne and raved-about afternoon teas
  • Near the Prado Museum in the heart of the Spanish capital, the hotel offers guided tours of historical attractions and a VIP football experience

What’s the story behind the Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid? It is the coming together of two renowned brand names – César Ritz’s four-letter surname and Hong Kong’s Mandarin Oriental (MO) – in an edifice that was built beside Neptune’s statue in Madrid more than a century ago, when King Alfonso XIII was keen to have the Spanish capital catch up with the likes of Paris and London in the hospitality stakes.

On October 2, 1910, a notice announcing the opening of the Hotel Ritz appeared in local newspapers: “In the best, cleanest area of Madrid, near the Prado Museum, Stock Exchange, Bank of Spain and Congress. 200 rooms and salons. 100 bathrooms. Rooms with light, toilet and heating from 7 pesetas. Full board from 20 pesetas a day.”

When the MO bought the hotel, in 2015 – in a joint venture with Saudi multinational The Olayan Group – it remained a favourite haunt of Madrid high society but, as any of the 200-plus employees who were retained will tell you, it had begun to look tired, as a grande dame of more than 100 years might.

In came the MO with plans to renovate and go “back to the future”.

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What do you mean? The shell of the property has, as far as possible, been restored to how it looked in 1910.

Attention to detail was forensic; it was discovered, for instance, that the awnings that shield the windows at the front of the property had not at first been the blue seen in many historical photographs – so the new ones are white, as were the originals.

A glass canopy covers the Palm Court restaurant, behind the lobby at the Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid. Photo: Mark Footer

The main doors on the north and south sides of the hotel have been restored to their full, impressive four metres of height and, most strikingly, a glass canopy again covers the Palm Court restaurant, behind the lobby.

Did Covid-19 interfere with plans? In a big way. The hotel was supposed to be closed for 18 months from February 2018, but the coronavirus doubled that period.

Unfortunately, the lockdown held up construction work, so the staff couldn’t get in and use the extra time to iron out kinks and get used to the MO’s M.O. (modus operandi).

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What’s the food like? Who’s in charge? The management pulled off quite a coup in convincing Quique Dacosta, owner of the eponymous three-Michelin-star restaurant in Dénia, eastern Spain, to run the show.

His talents can best be appreciated in Deessa (itself now the proud possessor of a Michelin star), where guests are offered two tasting menus, one featuring the greatest hits from the Dénia restaurant (lots of interesting things done with salted fish and caviar), the other full of Dacosta’s recent culinary creations.

The opulent Pictura bar is decorated with portraits of local artists, writers and actors dressed as characters you might find on the walls of the nearby Prado Museum. Photo: Mark Footer

On a sunny day, it’s almost impossible to get a table outside, in El Jardin del Ritz, as Madrileños come to see and be seen, while under that magnificent Palm Court glass roof, a raved-about afternoon tea is served.

At one end of the airy space is an eight-seat champagne bar, but the Moët flows freely in all five food and beverage outlets – not least in the Pictura bar, so called for its decoration with portraits of local artists, writers and actors dressed as characters you might find on the walls of the Prado.

What’s there to do? Well, you could go to the Prado for a start, which is just across the road. The hotel has a small gym, spa and pool area, but the Ritz is in the heart of the city, so Madrid itself is the main attraction.

La Pajarita, the oldest sweet shop in Madrid, is included in the Centenary Tour offered by the Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid. Photo: Mark Footer

On its doorstep is what Unesco last year inscribed on its World Heritage list as “Paseo del Prado and Buen Retiro, a landscape of Arts and Sciences”.

Encompassed are the “Golden Triangle of Art”: the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum and the galleries at the Reina Sofia; the Naval Museum, the Architectural Museum; and the Jardines del Buen Retiro, a 120-hectare park (a little smaller than New York’s Central Park) with a boating lake and statues and fountains aplenty, where city folk come to enjoy the fresh air and see how fast an electric scooter will go at full tilt.

For those who prefer a little structure to their recreation, the hotel offers a variety of tours and packages.

The boating lake at the Retiro Park, Madrid. Photo: Mark Footer

A good introduction to the neighbourhood is provided during the guided Centenary Tour, which takes in the government buildings, coffee shops, bars and stores that, like the Ritz itself, have been in business for 100 years or more.

The Philanthropic Experience Stay is a package that includes a behind-the-scenes tour of the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the opportunity to help fund the restoration of one of the museum’s masterpieces.

The Atlético de Madrid Experience includes the chance to take in a football match from a VIP area at Atlético’s Metropolitano Stadium, a guided tour through the club’s museum, a photo with one of the players and a penalty kick on the pitch.

How much does a stay cost? More than seven pesetas, that’s for sure. Nightly rates for the hotel’s 153 rooms and suites range from €900 (US$902) to €22,300.