Situated at the heart of Russia’s cultural capital of St Petersburg is The Grand Hotel Europe, a signature hotel in the Belmond Group. Dating back to 1875, the hotel is quite possibly the most famous in Russia and has a rich and important cultural legacy.
The Belmond Grand Hotel Europe is situated between Nevsky Prospect – St Petersburg’s main thoroughfare – and Arts Square, in an area bustling with cafes, boutiques and bars. The State Russian Museum, The Hermitage Museum, The Church of the Spilled Blood and the Fabergé Museum are all also just a short stroll away. Perfectly placed then, for a cultural weekend.
The hotel resides inside a grand Neo-Classical building from 1824 that was designed, like so much of the city centre, by an Italian architect named Carlo Rossi. Rossi also designed part’s of the royal Winter Palace and its adjoining square, and the Russian National Library – and his designs, which include the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe, are recognised for their formal grandeur.
The hotel opened 50 years later inside Rossi’s building and became the first five-star hotel in Russia and over the centuries it has attracted illustrious historical visitors including the Romanovs, Debussy, Tchaikovsky and Rasputin.
In 1908 the interior was given an Art Nouveau makeover by the Russian architect Fyodor Lidval and French designer Leon Benois, complete with elegant wood panelling, coloured tiles of snaking branches and drooping flowers and stunning glass chandeliers and stained windows that still remain today.
The hotel retains its feeling of bygone elegance, with oil paintings, huge wooden doors and marble corridors – but has all the added trappings of modernity associated with a luxury hotel. Inside there is a glass-covered internal courtyard café complete with an in-hotel chocolate factory (watch out for the vodka ones) and a small arcade of shops selling everything from Rolexes to antique Russian icon paintings running around the edge. Leading off from the lobby there is also a health club, spa and round the clock concierge.
Upstairs the 266 rooms (although you would never know it) are spread across the building’s flanking wings. 88 of these are ‘Superior’ and 108 are ‘Deluxe’ but the real showstoppers are the suites. 6 of them are ‘Historical’, named after famous guests at the hotel (the Pavarotti Suite comes complete with a grand piano) and notable residents of the city (the Fabergé Suite comes filled with cases of replica eggs). They are all decked out in the finest antiques, come with dedicated butler service and are supplied with a menu of newspapers, bathroom products and pillows. Each is wonderfully evocative of the hotel’s origins, but with the mod-cons. There are also 6 Avant-Garde suites, named after Russian 20thcentury artists such as Kandinsky and Malevich. These one-bedroom spaces come with amenities including walk-in wardrobes, balconies, in-room dining tables and palatial marble bathrooms stocked with Jo Malone products. They’re tasteful with subtle and elegant features aimed at the most aesthete of travellers.
The hotel’s lobby bar
Back downstairs, past the ornate lobby where a uniformed-clad doorman stands to greet guests and visitors alike from the arctic winds, there is a sumptuous bar in a room decorated with original heating stoves and gilded stucco cornicing, and which hosts a live pianist and singer each evening. Open round the clock, the bar has become famous in the city for its elegant interiors and exquisite drinks and attracts many locals and visitors who often turned out in black-tie for aperitifs before the theatre or ballet.
Upstairs away from the bar is L’Europe Restaurant, Russia’s oldest and most historic restaurant. Whilst the hotel originally prided itself on offering lifts, steam heating and hot water, this restaurant had the first electric lightbulbs in the entire city. Framed by a monumental turn of the 20th century stained glass panel of Apollo in his chariot, this room with its balconies and alcoves has welcomed diners including Igor Stravinsky, Bill Clinton and Queen Elizabeth II since 1905. Elton John even performed an intimate impromptu show here in 1979 while staying at the hotel. The menu is fine European and Russian Haute dining and offers traditional dishes such as stroganoff and a meringue pavlova said to be blessed by the ballet dancer herself. It is regarded as the best fine dining St Petersburg has to offer.
The hotel also boasts its own caviar bar and restaurant – the only one in the city. Opened in partnership with Dom Perignon in 2016, guests can sup on 15 varieties of the fishy delight in any of the Russian ways; off the back of their hand, on a blini or from inside a truffled egg. The restaurant has a wonderfully curated menu of both small and large European and Russian plates to keep you dining into the night – and even has the city’s only vodka sommelier, who claims to know the Holy Grail secret of how to avoid hangovers….
The hotel’s newest restaurant Azia is a sleek and modernist affair that wouldn’t look out of place in Mayfair. Offering some of the best pan-Asian cuisines we have ever tasted, it’s little wonder it’s gained such a reputation in the short time it has been open. The restaurant also has its own sushi counter and a sommelier to help you pick out a drink from the 20 different countries offerings on the list.
With rich surroundings and captivating history, it is easy to see why this hotel has become so famous. It is the ideal spot from which to base oneself while exploring the many museums, palaces and waterways of Russia’s finest city. And as the warmer months approach and St Petersburg’s rivers thaw, there has never been a better time to visit.
The St Petersburg Cultural Heritage Experience package at Belmond Grand Hotel Europe includes a Three-night stay including return airport transfers from Pulkovo International Airport to Belmond Grand Hotel Europe, daily breakfast, a special Russian gift, a guided tour of the Hermitage Museum, two tickets to the opera or ballet at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, guided palace tour of Peterhof, Pavlovsk or Pushkin Palaces, one set-menu dinner in L’Europe or Caviar Bar & Restaurant.
Priced from 28,640 RUB / £334 + VAT per night based on two people sharing. Available till 31/03/2019. For more details and to book visit www.belmond.com