The Grand Dame of St. Petersburg

The romance of Old Russia calls

By: Jill Fergus

At the Grand Hotel Europe, you can walk in the footsteps of some of Russia’s historical figures. This storied 1824 hotel, with its magnificent baroque facade, was a favorite of Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Anna Pavlova and Maxim Gorky, and today it continues to be the center of this enchanting city, founded by Peter the Great in 1703.

Celebrities, heads of state and royalty have enjoyed the landmark hotel’s elegant interiors, exquisite art collection and top-notch service. And now there is even more of a reason to visit last year it was acquired by Orient Express Hotels and plans to renovate its 301 rooms are already under way (it will be done in stages and the hotel will remain open).

The Grand couldn’t be in a more ideal location. It sits just off Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main thoroughfare, lined with boutiques, cafes, restaurants even a few remaining Old World grocery shops. It is just minutes from the famed Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood with its traditional Russian onion-dome architecture (built on the site where Czar Alexander II was killed). It is also near the world-famous Hermitage Museum, featuring a priceless collection of artwork, including paintings by Da Vinci, Raphael and Rembrandt, as well as the spectacular Imperial Jewels.

The Philharmonic is across the street and it’s a 10-minute taxi ride to the Mariinsky Theater known as the Kirov Ballet during the Soviet era where Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov danced. (The concierge can arrange sightseeing tours, opera or ballet tickets and more.)

Old World Decadence

If the Grand Hotel Europe is the hub of St. Petersburg, then the focal point of the hotel is the lobby bar. This two-room Art Nouveau treasure is richly decorated with stained-glass ceilings, brass-and-hand-blown-glass lighting fixtures, wood paneling and green-marble table tops.

The bar is open 24 hours a day and is always buzzing with all manner of people, from tourists to visiting dignitaries to powerful Russian businessmen who travel with a phalanx of bodyguards. It’s the only bar in the country that offers Dom Perignon by the glass and, of course, there’s an extensive selection of vodka, including one that comes in a faux Faberge egg (at $1,500, you keep the bottle, the shot glasses and the jewel-encrusted egg).

Many guests enjoy a cocktail in the bar before or after a meal in one of the hotel’s many restaurants. One of the most popular is the Caviar Bar, a jewel box space with live music and a traditional Russian menu. Clients can order the delicious caviar sampler (beluga, osetra and sevruga) accompanied by sour cream and warm buckwheat blinis.

L’Europe restaurant (where the breakfast buffet is also served) is another option. Beneath a beautiful Art Nouveau stained-glass ceiling, guests dine on refined French fare. All of the restaurants are under the direction of executive chef Dominique Ferchaud, who hails from France.

Rooms are elegantly designed with period furnishings, wooden floors and extra-long windows with damask drapes (many suites overlook Nevsky Prospekt). The refurbishment of 120 rooms was completed this May (the next phase will begin this fall). The designs were conceived by French designer Michel Jouannet and new features include hypoallergenic beds, pop-up flat-screen television sets, Russian-style upholstery and curtains and original framed etchings of St Petersburg’s cultural highlights.

Some of the most sought-after accommodations are the fifth-floor terrace suites, which offer striking views of the Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood and the Russian Museum from the spacious terraces. And the premier rooms are the Lidvall and Rossi suites, complete with antique furniture, crystal chandeliers, oriental rugs and gilt-framed paintings (the Rossi even has a piano).

A stay in one of these fantasy suites is like stepping back to the time when St. Petersburg was still ruled by the czars.


Grand Hotel Europe
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