My first trip to Russia - a taster break to St Petersburg...
An early start as the British Airways flight from Heathrow was departing at 0930hrs, amazingly after just under 3 hours we were landing in St Petersburg . Time to adjust our watches as they are 3 hours in front of UK time and after completing immigration facilities incredibly quickly we were on our way to 'The Hotel Astoria' (30 minutes drive) for a two night stay.
The Astoria, a Rocco Forte property (graded 5* Deluxe) has been at the centre of the City’s history since it opened in 1912. Legend has it that Adolf Hitler sent out invitations to a celebratory party to be held in the hotel to celebrate his capture of St Petersburg, needless to say the party never took place! My room had a stunning view of St Isaac’s Cathedral, was extremely comfortable and had the added bonus of being within walking distance of The Hermitage Museums and the shopping areas of Nevsky Project.
View from my room in The Astoria Hotel, St Petersburg
That evening there was a chance to meet up with the hotel management over dinner in the stunning Davidov restaurant and also to take in a tour of the hotel and its sister property next door, the 4* superior Angleterre. The bar in the Angleterre was also well used to round off an excellent start to a busy few days.
Our first full day saw us visit the famous Hermitage Museum – packed full of paintings, sculptures and works of art it is an absolutely amazing place to visit. It is said that if you spent one minute in front of every object it would take over 8 years to see them all. Usual tours last for a maximum of 3 hours and just give you a chance to experience one of the world’s greatest art museums.
In the afternoon we visited the Russian Cruiser Aurora from where the October Revolution began in 1917 followed by site inspection of the Petro Palace a 4* hotel that completed our day.
The next day we visited Peterhof a magnificent palace overlooking the Baltic Sea – not at its best in autumn as the fountains are closed from October to May but still a stunning place to visit and one of St Petersburg’s most famous and popular visitor attractions. Lunch was taken at a restaurant in the grounds and this was the first and probably the last time I shall sample cabbage pie!
On our return we checked into the Grand Hotel Europe for a 3 night stay. This is a 5* Deluxe property which opened in 1824 as Russia’s first 5 Star Hotel. For me this really lived up to its grading and the highlight was enjoying a fantastic Tchaikovsky evening in their famous L’Europe Restaurant with a wonderful dinner and magnificent music as well as a ballet duo performing on the stage of the restaurant - a truly magical experience!
The next day we took the opportunity to visit three of St Petersburgs most impressive buildings, The Peter & Paul Fortress, St Isaac’s Cathedral and probably the most photographed building – The Church on the Spilled Blood. Later that day we did a backstage visit to one of the main theatres in St Petersburg and watched the cast rehearsing and the ballet dancers training. There are so many sights to see in St Petersburg, however our guide ensured we made the most of our time. It was really beneficial to have someone who knew the city so well so that no time was wasted.
Our next and final full day saw us visiting the Catherine The Greats Palace and also the palace at Pavlosk, yet two more stunning buildings and our last evening saw us take in a ballet at the famous Mariinsky Theatre which for most of the group was the highlight of a wonderful few days.
The trip was not just about culture; in between we also visited most of the main hotels, sampled Russian food in traditional surroundings and enjoyed the odd drink or two in some of the many local bars. In summary St Petersburg is a fantastic city, much closer than most people think, full of wonderful surprises and an ideal destination to spend some time
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