The Hotel de Crillon in Paris, one of the world's oldest luxury hotels, is closing this weekend for a two-year-long makeover that includes a new spa and sweeping renovations.
As the venerable Paris institution located on the foot of the Champs Elysees prepared to close, veteran guests and celebrity habitues bade good-bye to the staff in a wistful and sombre atmosphere.
"We are exceedingly sad. We have been coming here for 32 years. This place is magic. It's real class here, no bling bling," said Bernie Schumacher, a 66-year-old Belgian.
"Thank you for all these smiles during all these years," she said, bidding goodbye to the concierge Serge.
The stone building was commissioned by French King Louis XV and built in 1758. It is one of two twin buildings overlooking the emblematic Place de La Concorde, where French King Louis XVI was guillotined.
The hotel, currently owned by Saudi royals, has attracted celebrity guests over the decades, including Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Charlie Chaplin, Bill Clinton, Michael Jackson and Madonna.
French actor Christophe Lambert, who lived in the hotel for three years, said the Crillon was "unlike any other hotel".
"The staff are very close to you," said Lambert, the star of the "Highlander" series, who also played Tarzan in a remake of the Lord Greystoke story.
"Today I use it as my office," the US-born star told AFP, vowing to return when the hotel reopens in the spring of 2015.
The staff took pains to explain that while innovations such as a basement spa were planned, the hotel's classic look would not be tampered with.
"We will not touch the historic salons on the first floor but we will redo all the 147 rooms, the ground floor and the two inner courtyards," said Sandrine Daban from the Crillon's public relations department.
The hotel's starred Les Ambassadeurs restaurant is offering a luxury farewell dinner on Saturday night, dreamed up by chef Christopher Hache and patissier Jerome Chaucesse and priced at 280 euros ($359), excluding drinks.
It features scallops served with black truffles and the dacquoise, a dessert cake from southern France made with layers of almond and hazelnut meringue and topped with chocolate mousse.