When I first thought about St Petersburg, my imagination conjured freezing temperatures, stark Soviet buildings and the place swarming with security and police, but having just spent four glorious days in Russia’s former capital, I can happily say it truly lives up to its other name – Venice of the North.
Built upon more than 40 separate islands, St Petersburg is surprisingly young at just 315 years old, but that doesn’t impact on the amount of history and culture that oozes from every building and monument.
Russia seems like such a difficult country to reach, with required visas and strict border controls, but you can reach St Petersburg in mere hours from Humberside Airport.
KLM offer daily flights from Humberside to Schiphol lasting just 45 minutes, and from the Amsterdam airport it is an easy breezy two hours and 50 minutes to the Russian airport, Pulkovo.
If you choose to fly business class, not only do you receive on-board luxury treatments such as tasty meals and reclining chairs with plenty of leg room, you can also enjoy the comforts of the KLM Club Lounge in Schiphol airport, where you can help yourself to food and alcohol.
Arriving fresh and relaxed in St Petersburg, and an easy transit through passport control, we headed the 20 minutes into the city centre to the Corinthia Hotel.
Located in Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main street, this marbled, art deco palace is a treat for sore feet and tired eyes with stunning live music performed in the lobby, fabulous customer service and one of the comfiest beds I have ever slept in.
Our first port of call was to the hotel’s Imperial Restaurant, where we ate like royalty thanks to a French twist on typical Russian food such as Kamchatka crab, fresh root vegetables, duck and even the divine, layered honey cake with figs.
Breakfast the next morning was just as stunning, with the option for a cooked offering or continental, and even Greek salad and hummus if you wanted it – as well as all the Russian champagne you could drink.
Our first guided walking tour around the city, thanks to the Russian National Tourist Office, showed us the Dutch influences on the city and we made our way around fortresses, cathedrals and palaces, and worked up enough of an appetite for a seven-course tasting menu at one of Russia’s most sought-after hotels – The Four Seasons (Lion Palace).
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To say the meal was mouth-wateringly amazing would be an understatement, with exquisite service really topped off the dishes including scallops, veal, marbled beef fillet, sea bass, tortellini and tiramisu.
Another restaurant that cannot be missed is the Museum of Russian Vodka, where we were treated to vodka tasting and an authentic Russian food experience, which included the most mouth-watering Stroganoff I had ever had, as well as cured meats and fish, marrow bone with black baked salt, salmon caviar pancakes and even strawberry soup, among many other dishes.
With a live band singing traditional songs, it was the first moment I truly felt I was in the biggest continent on Earth.
It was then onto the Hermitage Museum – or the Winter Palace as many will know it – where we gazed upon the grandeur of how the Tsars lived, and walked along the square which saw such brutality during the revolutions of 1917.
With Rembrandt’s, Michelangelo’s, Da Vinci’s and more, this is a museum on par with the Louvre and should not be missed.
Neither should St Isaak’s Cathedral, which upon entering is like stepping inside an extravagantly gilded Faberge egg.
If you dare, you can climb the 260 steps to the cathedral’s colonnade and breathe in the most awe-inspiring views of the city, seeing right across to the boundary forests.
With every step we took around St Petersburg there was another tale to be told of emperors, uprisings and miracles, including the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood commemorating the spot Alexander I was assassinated, castles where premonitions came terrifyingly true and even bronze statues that are almost rubbed to nothing with people’s hopes of good luck.
Another way to see the beautiful city, which is home to six million people, is via the maze of canals with their intricate draw bridges and waterside mansions.
It is advised to wrap up warm as there is quite a chill, but it is so worth it to see how the city looks from this different angle.
The cherry on top of this Russian adventure was a trip to the Mikhailovsky Theatre for a ballet performance of Cinderella by the Bolshoi. Inside this jewel-encrusted auditorium were four storeys of balcony space looking upon the ballet dancers, who brought the well-known fairy-tale to life with their unimaginable skill.
With Champagne in hand I had to catch my breath knowing I was watching the Russian ballet in the heart of St Petersburg. It was a truly memorable experience.
For the last supper it was on to Mansarda, a superb restaurant taking on Russian produce but with an Asian twist – all overlooking the magically lit St Isaak’s Cathedral.
When you are next choosing your city break or week-long getaway, I urge you to consider a trip to St Petersburg.
The cleanliness of the streets, the vast history and the friendliness of the locals will exceed all of your expectations – and the food and drink is also remarkably cheap.
I can’t wait to return, and will be booking my next visit as soon as possible to see more of one of my new favourite cities in the world.
- KLM flies to St Petersburg from Humberside via its multi-award winning hub, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, removing the stress and cost of having to travel; to one of the larger UK airports. KLM operates 2 daily flights between Amsterdam and St Petersburg during the summer season and a daily flight between the two cities during winter. Return economy fares from Humberside airport start from £223 including taxes and charges. Passengers can book online at www.klm.co.uk or by calling reservations on Ph: +44 20 76600293.
- The Russian National Tourist Office operates as a DMC (Destination Management Company) and a leading tour operator specialising in individual and group tours to Russia. They also assist clients with applying for different types of Visas to Russia (Tourist/Business Visas/Special Purposes). They do pre-checks to ensure all documents are completed correctly and the fingerprints submission can be done at their office.
The Corinthia Hotel, Nevsky prospect, 57, St.Petersburg, Russia 191025, +7 (812) 380 20 01, www.corinthia.com/en/hotels/stpetersburg
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