Words: Tinkerbell Miller
A four-hour flight from England, St Petersburg is easily accessible, and the city makes for a perfect long weekend. The Russian metropole is a place you can travel to throughout the year with high temperatures in the summer and chilly, snowy climes in the winter months. If you are travelling in December there is a very high chance of snow, which gives the city the ultimate festive feel. Wrapping up warm and wandering around in the snow in a city as beautiful as St Petersburg is the holiday dream.
The Eliseyev Emporium
The Eliseyev Emporium built in 1903 at the time of the Czars reign in Russia has a grandeur to it with the decor consisting of glass and gold opulence. This Emporium contains a magnificent food hall, a high-quality restaurant, and an intricate tea-room. Many who have travelled to St Petersburg have suggested the Emporium is the city’s own version of Harrods in London, which is very high praise indeed! The Emporium is located along the Nevsky Prospect; an avenue that is decorated with brightly coloured and elegant buildings. The counters in the food hall are full of the finest quality ingredients and produce, which provides a myriad of smells and sights. In the patisserie area of the food hall you find everything ranging from macarons and torts to extravagant yet delicate cakes, often decorated with gold leaf. Russia of course is also known for its high-quality salmon and caviar, whilst this definitely does not come cheap this is most likely one of the best places to find such delicacies. Every room in the Emporium is decorated with the utmost opulence and to some it may seem over the top, however this is what I think makes the place feel so magical.
The Hermitage Museum
Situated on Palace Square is the Hermitage Museum, the world’s second largest museum. Also known as the Winter Palace this enormous estate was once the residence of the Romanov Czars but now houses over 3 million exhibits which represent a variety of history and culture from all over the world. Whilst it is estimated it would take a single person 15 years to see everything the Hermitage has to offer, there is such a wide range of exhibits meaning that there is something for everyone. The Winter Palace is again just as opulent as all the other buildings constructed in the time Russia was still ruled by the Czar’s. The palace was built on a monumental scale in order to highlight and reflect the power of Imperial Russia in the 1730s. There is no doubt the Winter Palace does just that, with its overwhelming vastness and beauty coupled with the Alexander Column sitting centre stage in the square, they are a tribute to Russia’s intriguing history. The area surrounding the Palace is also a nice place to walk around as it is joined by main streets and smaller hidden cobbled stone streets that hide cafes and quaint gift shops.
A bit further out of St Petersburg itself is Catherine’s Palace. In the winter when it is heavily snowing, the grounds and the house look magical, almost fairy-tale-like and it is possible to take horse drawn carriage around the extensive grounds of the palace. When visiting the palace make sure to have a tour guide as there are so many stories to be told about the Czar’s and their family. Every room in the palace is stunning and was designed with the utmost care and precision, with four different architects being involved in the construction. The outside of the house is spectacular, designed with bule and white facades and gold edging, carvings and statues. Just the outside of the house uses up 100kg of gold and the inside is no less beautiful. The whole palace is something to marvel at most especially the Amber Room which has a story of its own. When first commissioned in 18th century the room was made with panels of amber mosaic and mirrors, however during the Second World War German troops took over Tsarsekoe Selo and dismantled the entire room in 36 hours, the ultimate fate of the tiles and the original room is still unknown. The Amber room has since been recreated and has been made to resemble the original as much as possible, with no expense spared in the process.
For a stylish retreat, the Astoria Hotel should be top of your list. The hotel sits directly across from St Isaac’s Cathedral and the statue of St Nicholas I near the Neva River. The Astoria opened in 1912 and the hotel has kept its 20th century feel to it, with its Art Nouveau style. The Astoria is glamorous but has retained an elegance that highlights why so it attracts many of the stars. The hotel has 169 rooms and consists of two different restaurants, a bar and a tea-room come lounge. From the outside the hotel look enormous however it is actually quite small, allowing for a feel of intimacy and cosiness, especially on those cold, dark winter afternoons, where a drink in the lounge by the roaring fire can never go amiss. Built in 1910, the hotel has a rich history when Russia was still under Czar rule and was the location where Lenin gave a speech from one of the balconies of the hotel in 1919. The Astoria is graceful yet magnificent, providing guests with a sense of royalty making for the perfect long weekend retreat.
Located near to the River Karpovka, Chekhov Restaurant is a homely eatery that focuses on traditional Russian cuisine taking its inspiration from 19thcentury dishes. With a rustic feel to it, the restaurant is aiming to recreate the country house ambience of time gone by and with that comes phenomenal cooking. With a range of dishes including Smoked Pork Ribs, Sturgeon and Fried Potatoes with Porcini Mushrooms, the meals are bursting with authentic Russian flavours. The décor is reserved yet homely, making for a perfect hideaway during the winter months.
If you get a chance, definitely try to see one of the ballets that take place in St Petersburg. Ballet is an essential part of St Petersburg’s culture with ballerinas in the past in Russia being seen as superstars, with nobility and the imperial family appreciating the art, often going to recitals as part of their social calendars. Ballerinas are still held to a high esteem today and their talent is widely appreciated in St Petersburg. There are the classical Russian ballets such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker however there are other esteemed performances such as La Sylphide and Giselle.