‘Holly’ wreaths circle the famous The Ritz sign in Piccadilly so even before I enter the hotel I know it is that time of year. The polished buttons on the doorman’s uniform almost sparkle and in the lobby a massive 25ft pine tree festooned with 6,500 lights, red ribbons and golden cherubs rises up through the lobby atrium like a festive rocket.
The Ritz ‘does’ Christmas like nowhere else - this is without question the best hotel in world in which to celebrate the season. Let’s face it, The Ritz London is Christmas incarnate; after all the hotel is rather like a giant Christmas bauble all year round with the glittering gold leaf and sparkling mirrors of its Louis XVI interior. Mere tinsel just can’t compete.
Every year towards the end of November the hotel undergoes a magical overnight transformation, when from midnight until 7am, a team of decorator elves deck the halls with ornaments in what amounts to a near-military operation. The result is a beautiful and elegant five star version of Mr Claus’ grotto with trees and lights and crimson bows everywhere. It is truly beautiful.
Florist Paul Thomas has been decorating the hotel for ten years. This year the traditional gold and red theme has some clever eclectic decorations, from peacocks to slippers made of roses. I especially like the cascade of cups and saucers that grace the pillars of the Palm Court
I’ve invited my aunt to Tea At The Ritz (an event which warrants capital letters) and the cake stand is piled high with finger sandwiches, and flans The legendary afternoon tea in the Palm Court takes on a seasonal theme this year with champagne (or an Arlington bear for the children), Christmas cake smothered in snowy icing, and mince pies added to the usual savouries, scones and jam.
I munch on cucumber sandwiches and Scottish smoked salmon while a waiter in a tail coat and Santa-scarlet waistcoat pours my lapsang souchong with a festive flourish. Staff at this hotel have always known they are part of the Theatre of The Ritz and never more so than at Christmas. The place is buzzing, there’s a satisfying hum of conversation and the gentle tinkle of spoons on fine china sounds like distant sleigh bells.
The Ritz at this time of year reminds me of those Victoria Christmas cards; full of rosy cheeks, roast goose and plum pudding (and not a scrooge anywhere in sight). As if on cue a choir begins to sing carols and the magic is complete.
Outside Piccadilly is thronged with shoppers carrying parcels from Burlington Arcade or Cartier on new Bond Street - which this year is itself done up with a crimson gigantic ribbon that turns the whole building into a satisfying large present (and I though the best jewellery only came in small, but exclusive boxes).
I’m in no hurry to join the crowds, I’m having too much fun inside the hotel. The Ritz has a 'Combination of elegance and cosiness and an essentially happy atmosphere which radiates from the staff', wrote Michael Duff, 3rd Baronet back in the 1930s - and it is still true. Staying here is like joining your own private House Party.
On this basis I invite friends to join me for cocktails at the in the evening. We toast the season with blushing Kir Royales and we’re not the only ones. There’s a festive fizz about long Room and a sense of occasion; everyone dresses up for The Ritz. Women with discreet diamonds and men in black clink glasses and a little boy in a bow tie poses with his family for a Christmas photo on the steps of The Palm Court.
Several nights a week in the lead up to December 25 a band plays the rumba at a traditional dinner dance which I have on good authority is a lot less stuffy than it sounds. I am reminded that the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret conga’ d down the corridor on VE day and Noel Coward wrote ‘Children of The Ritz’ about the in-crowd that partied here. And there is an old photo of Tallulah Bankhead drinking champagne out of a shoe.
It’s all so glittery and glorious that I want to bottle the Christmas cheer and take it home with me. I settle for the next best thing - 200 limited edition Ritz Christmas puddings are for sale at 35 pounds each. Seems like the perfect souvenir to me.
Ritzy: (slang) adj: stylish, elegant, ostentatiously rich) - Read our hotel review of The Ritz London HERE