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While touring the palaces of St. Petersburg, Russia, my family and I were struck by how only a privileged few were allowed to enjoy the grandeur, artistry and decadence of the royal residences. Of course, the era of tsars and tsarinas is long gone, but the memory lives on vividly at St. Petersburg’s newest luxury hotel. And luckily for us common folk, noble lineage is not required to enter Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg.
Located in a recently restored 19th-century palace, the 183-room property opened in 2013 as the brand’s first in Russia (followed by Moscow in 2014). While Four Seasons knows a thing or two about being fancy, the country’s history seems to have inspired a whole new level of luxury.
Designed as an elite apartment complex by architect Auguste de Montferrand for Prince Alexey Lobanov-Rostovsky, the former palace is easy to mistake for a museum. Palatial and pristine, it features an eggshell yellow facade embellished by white colonnades and two namesake lion sculptures. The palace is adjacent to Montferrand’s St. Isaac’s Cathedral and located within walking distance from State Hermitage Museum, Mariinsky Theatre and other relics of the historic city center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“The hotel has a number of heritage-protected areas,” said Natalia Yermashova, director of public relations for Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace. “Upon arrival, guests feel immediately immersed into the imperial past of Russia.”
That’s because the lobby, like the facade, was also meticulously restored. There’s flawless granite columns, a gold-accented vaulted ceiling and fresh floral arrangements that sit opposite Russia’s most hospitable staff. Two women with matching warm grins checked us in, photocopied our passports upon request and showed us to our room. We took the elevator, but folks on the first floor can use the original granite staircase.
Following the palatial theme, rooms are 30 percent larger than other five-star hotels in the city, with high ceilings and spacious marble bathrooms. Materials embody luxury, from the black lacquer, gilded accents and mahogany of the neoclassical furniture to the velvet, silk and woven fabrics used in curtains, pillows and general upholstery.
Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg is a restored 19th-century palace. // © 2016 Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
Some rooms have close-up views of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. // © 2016 Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
Four-level Luceo Spa offers eight spa rooms, a couples’ suite and more. // © 2016 Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
Lion Palace offers Italian restaurant Percorso (its bar shown here), the Tea Lounge, Sintoho and Xander Bar. // © 2016 Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
The hotel is located in the city center of St. Petersburg. // © 2016 Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
As for our view, we had a close-up look at St. Isaac’s Cathedral. The sense of place at Lion Palace is unbeatable, but that doesn’t mean it skimps on high-tech or modern features, such as bathroom mirrors that transform into televisions by touch or the ability to order soy lattes at the airy all-day dining area.
My brother and I tend to prefer contemporary art and modern properties, but staying at such a place in St. Petersburg would be a mistake. A morning and night at Lion Palace is an organic bookend to daily visits to Peterhof Palace, Catherine Palace and State Hermitage Museum. In fact, there isn’t one inch of the hotel that doesn’t immerse guests in this old majestic vision of Russia. There’s the spa with its glass-topped pool, four traditionally appointed restaurants (including two led by Andrea Accordi, the city’s only Michelin-starred chef) and even the basement gym, which features a nearly floor-to-ceiling diamond chandelier.
The property’s attempt to keep it regal is admirable. But if its royal treatment of guests is any indication, Lion Palace also knows when to modernize.