Alight at Pulkovo International Airport (www.pulkovoairport.ru/en) and take in the awe-inspiring views of St. Petersburg at night from the comfort of a chauffered transfer as you drive through the majestic granite and marble-clad embankments of Fontanka River and past countless palaces and palatial mansions.
Step inside the 130-year-old Belmond Grand Hotel Europe (www.grandhoteleurope.com; +7 812 329 6000) whose famed former guests include Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, Rasputin, the Romanovs and a long list of celebrated guests. Let the staff take care of everything else as they escort you to your room. Check into a Historical Suite on the Belle Époque floor. The Fabergé suite is a tribute to legendary House of Fabergé, founded in St. Petersburg in 1842 by French goldsmith Gustav Fabergé.
Treat yourself to dinner at the Caviar Bar and Restaurant (+7 812 329 6651) for fine Russian cuisine, exquisite beluga caviar, traditional entertainment and the city’s only vodka sommelier. Begin with a low-calorie Russian zakuski pickled in its own juice, followed by a selection of caviar and other delicacies. For the main course, the baked osetrina is divine, and forest cep mushrooms are the meal’s crowning glory.
St. Petersburg is a city best enjoyed on foot, so take a stroll towards Kazansky Cathedral along the Nevsky Prospect and enjoy the rotund colonnade of the opulent Orthodox Cathedral on the Griboedova Channel. Turn to the riverbank and head towards the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, the place where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. St. Petersburg never sleeps but you must, so linger in the chilly evening air for a while before returning to the hotel.
Wake early to take in the spectacular sights and sounds of St. Petersburg in the daylight. Walk across Arts Square, which overlooks the Philharmonic Conservatory, the Russian Museum and the Mikhailovsky Opera and Ballet Theatre.
Take a tour of the Russian Museum (http://en.rusmuseum.ru/); home to more than 400,000 exhibits that document the history of Russian art from the 10th century onwards. It was opened in 1898 by decree of Tsar Nicholas II, but it wasn’t until 1976 that it became the cultural behemoth that it is today. During the October Revolution of 1917, the private collections of wealthy Russians became property of the state and were turned over to the museum, swelling the galleries and exhibition halls with untold works of art, which include pieces by renowned Russian contemporary artists such as Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Marc Chagall and more.
13.30 On the northern side of the square stands the picturesque Winter Palace, a sprawling baroque palace built between 1754-62 that is now part of the Hermitage Museum (www.hermitagemuseum.org). Resist the temptation to go in – there will be plenty of time for that tomorrow. In the middle of the square stands the Alexander Column, a monument to the Russian victory over Napoleon in the 19th century. The face of the angel on top of the 155-foot statue is modelled on the face of Emperor Alexander I. The monument is particularly impressive on a sunny evening shortly before dusk, when the last beams of sunlight are reflected off the polished red granite of the column.
14.00 Skip lunch and have a glass of Champagne at the lobby lounge of the Rocco Forte Hotel Astoria (www.roccofortehotels.com; +7 812 494 5757) and catch a glimpse of the majestic golden dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, a 101-metre work by Auguste de Montferrand. Walk back to the Nevsky Prospect and head to The Triumphal Arch that opens to the breathtaking panorama of stone-clad Palace Square, or Dvortsovaya Ploshad, which is home to a trio of architectural styles.
18.30 Put on your best dress and walk across Arts Square to the nearby Mikhailovsky Theatre (www.mikhailovsky.ru), named after Grand Duke Mikhail, the brother of Emperor Nicolas I. Book in for a November evening performance of The Nutcracker – a ballet in two acts by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and the core of St Petersburg’s end of year festivities. During October, there are several highlights, including The Sleeping Beauty and Spartacus.
23.30 Book a table at AZIA (firstname.lastname@example.org), Belmond Grand Hotel Europe’s freshest culinary attraction, which takes its cues from the Far East. With a backdrop of warm woods, sleek reclaimed metal, colourful spice jars and handmade brick tiles, feast on South Asian delicacies, such as vindaloo lamb, or opt for the ‘Wok & Fire’ mains, such as black cod with miso sauce or the sautéed tiger prawns with tamarind sauce and the freshness of pineapple
Head back to the Hermitage Museum (www.hermitagemuseum.org), a complex of six buildings including the magnificent Winter Palace, former home of the Russian Tsars and still the most impressive building in the city. The Hermitage’s collections include works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse and Gaugin, just to name a few. You could easily spend a week walking through the hallowed halls of the museum and admiring its countless exhibits, but if you only have one morning, save time by deciding in advance what you want to see.
14.00 It’s time for lunch and where better to pair a hearty menu with refreshing tipples than Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg (www.fourseasons.com/stpetersburg; +7 812 339 8000) on the south-eastern edge of Aleksandrovskiy Garden. Claim a seat by the double-sided fireplace and mingle with fashionable locals who’ve come for the pre-dinner drinks and handcrafted cocktails served in the wood-panelled, library-style bar, which takes its name from Tsar Alexander I.
18.00 No trip to St. Petersburg is complete without a visit to the cradle of Russian ballet, the Mariinsky Theatre (www.mariinsky.ru/en), formerly the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre and the flagship ballet and opera theatre of Russia’s Imperial Theatre Company.
22.00 Time to say goodbye. Savour a quick glass of champagne in the sophisticated lobby bar at the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe, and watch wealthy locals and international jet-setters rub shoulders with captains of industry, fashion leaders and aristocracy.
Belmond Grand Hotel Europe
+7 812 329 6000
+7 812 494 5757
Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg
+7 812 339 8000