Travel: Belmond Grand Hotel Europe, St Petersburg
This was the first five star hotel in Russia, dating from 1824, and like most great Russian buildings it has had a chequered history. It was used as an orphanage during the Revolution and a hospital during the siege of Leningrad, before reverting to use as a hotel after renovation and refurbishment allowed its architectural blend of Neo-Baroque and Art Nouveau to shine.
It has a guest list of international royalty, including modern-day descendants of the Romanovs, presidents, politicians and stars of screen, stage, music and theatre as diverse as Tchaikovsky, Joe Cocker, Stravinsky, Daniel Radcliffe, and Helen Mirren. And its proximity to theatres, concert halls, museums and Nevsky Prospect means that it couldn’t be more central.
Budget or boutique?
It’s five star in the new Russia, so bed and breakfast costs from £310 a room per night. If you are a CEO, an oligarch, or just a rock star, the new, huge, Avant-Garde suites, celebrating Russian art of the 1900s and individually designed to reflect the work of Malevich, Archipenko, Kandinsky, Rodchenko, and Lissitzky are from £3,800. And even bigger, better and more expensive is the Presidential Suite.
Wining and dining
There is plenty of choice: St Petersburg’s only caviar bar and restaurant; the wonderfully Art Nouveau L’Europe Restaurant, with its stunning stained glass, and classic menu, including the definitive beef stroganoff, and emphasis on live music and performances, including a jazz Sunday brunch; the Azia Restaurant with its popular Asian fusion cuisine; and the Mezzanine café, a charming indoor terrace garden with the best patisserie in the city.
But wherever you choose to eat, I have to recommend the Lobby Bar, where I felt impossibly cool in a setting fit for James Bond. A listed architectural Art Nouveau monument, the gilt stucco cornices, stained glass and marble floor are lit by the ethereal glow from the ice cavern bar where we sat sipping yet another vodka.
Rooms and suites are decorated with heavy silk and velvet fabrics for a traditionally lush environment, whilst the Tsarist suites are even more plush and authentic, together with the vast, high-ceilinged, Avant-Garde suites mentioned above, which have distinctive styles, some abstract, some geometric, some sensual, and are bright with colour. All have marble bathrooms large enough to hold a party in, with Jo Malone toiletries and free wi-fi.
Worth getting out of bed for
We were right on Nevsky Prospect, the main thoroughfare of St Petersburg, with the Winter Palace, now known as the Hermitage Museum, and its world class collections, nearby. The Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood is a short stroll, and just across the Arts Square is the Russian Museum, for an even more informed view of Russian art and history. None of these should be missed.
There is a Carita beauty salon and spa, with a sauna and plunge pool, a fitness centre, a luxurious shopping arcade, and the hotel has very good facilities for visiting children, all at a cost. But the best little extra is a tasting of their exclusive, handmade-in-the-hotel chocolates.
Guest book comments
Whilst none of us may claim to be Tsars and Tsarinas, it is possible to live in the style of Russian royalty right here in St Petersburg.
Rooms start from around £300, allowing for currency fluctuations. Belmond Grand Hotel Europe, Mikhailovskaya 1/7, St Petersburg, Russia 7 812 328 6000, [email protected]