The Mandarin Oriental Ritz Madrid: Australian general manager reopens iconic, 120-year-old Spanish hotel after huge refurb

Even in a city as historic as Madrid, it's not often you can be more than 120 years old and still regarded as a junior partner. Then again, not many properties beyond the Mandarin Oriental Ritz Madrid have the mighty Prado Museum as a neighbour. Founded in 1819, the museum predates the hotel by 90 years, but today their relationship is symbiotic. They have become close enough in their century-plus partnership that it's hard not to wonder if the grand museum missed the posh hotel when it was closed for a protracted refurbishment.

Work began in 2018, three years after Mandarin Oriental officially took this doyen of glamour tourism under its wing. The physical changes were necessarily profound and subtle – it had to be a clear relaunch under new ownership, without ruining over 100 years of hard-won loyalty from around Madrid and beyond.

"The company was very respectful of the hotel's DNA, its essence, and its link with the local community," says Inma Casado, who has been with the hotel for 15 years, long before the takeover. "It was an upgrade in terms of the service – we had training in everything from language, including non-verbal communication, to service. The hotel was a little tired and the service before wasn't prepared for Madrid nowadays."

One of the management's objectives was to get a Michelin star for the overhauled Deesa restaurant. When the storied guide immediately awarded one of their cherished etoiles, management were as relieved as they were expectant. While that is their highest end dining option, El Jardin has long attracted more casual guests – the Ritz is a grand old hotel, but those behind the scenes are keen to ensure it doesn't become a museum to itself.

"You come here around six in the evening, you'll see the life of Madrid, living and breathing, here in the lobby – that's fabulous for someone coming from abroad," says general manager Greg Liddell. "You see Madrid here, and we're very focused on that."

Or see it if you want to. Presumably many of the names from the hotel's august guest list chose privacy and seclusion, rather than mingling in the lobby with the hoi polloi. Thatcher, Castro, and Mandela probably weren't talking to the bellboys during their visits. It's perhaps easier to imagine Welles, Sinatra, or Dali propping up the bar in their assorted times at the Ritz.

Liddell, originally from Sydney, arrived in Madrid in August 2020, with the winds of COVID-19 still howling through the streets of the Spanish capital. Around eight months later, he was able to reopen the hotel, perhaps the country's most famous, after its largest ever refurbishment. It must have been terrifying.

"I guess it was a little daunting," says the Australian. "But we had the advantage of making sure we could open without any immediate rush because of the pandemic."

The refurb wasn't botched, but it wasn't smooth, either. There were complications with materials and tradesmen skilled enough to do the complicated work, even before the pandemic struck, but the nadir came in September 2018 when part of the grand hotel collapsed, killing one worker and injuring another 11. Even with the steady corporate hand of the Mandarin Oriental group on its shoulder, the old hotel's rebirth was proving troubled.


And yet, for a luxury hotel that has always catered to elite travellers, the Ritz Madrid has a surprisingly fraught history. During the Spanish Civil War the Palm Court lobby restaurant – now resplendent in white with art adorning the walls and a judicious amount of gilding throughout – was a field hospital. While upmarket guests ordered room service above, blood splashed on the white marble below. One way or another, this hotel has always been at the centre of things in Madrid.

Today the hotel instead presents an unreality, removed not just from the horrors of war, but of almost everything else besides. From the new glass roof above the lobby, which took a year to construct, to the exceptional portraits of Spanish artists in the Pictura bar, there's a feeling of flawlessness and a sense that this property will matter for a long while yet.



Doubles at the Mandarin Oriental Ritz Madrid start from $985 bed and breakfast. See


Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad and Qatar all fly to Madrid via their respective hubs from Melbourne and Sydney.


Jamie Lafferty was a guest of the Mandarin Oriental Ritz Madrid.