Legend has it that in 1703, while boating on the River Neva, Peter the Great saw an eagle flying over Zayacha Island. Taking it as an omen, he laid the foundation stone for the Peter and Paul Fortress and what would fulfil his vision of a European city.
In the 300 years since Peter opened the “window on the west”, this Venice of the North has had many faces. A magnificent city reflecting the majesty of the Russian Empire, it became the so-called cradle of the revolution under Lenin. During World War II it was a symbol of national pride. Today, St Petersburg is Russia’s cultural capital, in which awe- inspiring architecture, grand palaces and vast museums reflect the city’s unique heritage.
Nestled among the most celebrated landmarks on Nevsky Project, the city’s prime area, Belmond Grand Hotel Europe St Petersburg serves as a time capsule of Russia’s illustrious past and a gateway into St. Petersburg’s exciting present.
Ever since it first opened its doors in 1875, the hotel has stood as testimony to the excellence of Russian hospitality. The tsarists regarded it as their playground, the Communists turned it into the “House of Coviet Clerk”, and perestroika changed it into Russia’s first five-star hotel. Tchaikovsky spent his honeymoon here, Rasputin dined here, George Bernard Shaw met Maxim Gorky in a private dining room, Elton John once performed at the restaurant, Bill Clinton enjoyed it as much when president of the United States than years later, and Queen Elizabeth praised the hotel’s kitchen.
It is against this storied background that I arrive at Belmond Grand Hotel Europe St Petersburg for a two-night stay. All too often, hotels are merely a place to rest your head between sightseeing. Once in a rare while, however, they serve as cultural attractions in their own right; as living museums whose walls pulse with the heartbeat of history. I have arrived at such a place; a place whose restaurant was the talk of the town when it became the first place in St Petersburg to install electric light bulbs. After Russia’s October Revolution, the hotel weathered as many changes in the city – then Leningrad – itself. For a while, it served as a hospital and orphanage.
In 1991, after extensive refurbishments, the hotel reopened – beautifully restored to its former glory – the same year that the city re- embraced its original name of St Petersburg. Befitting one of Russia’s most iconic properties, Belmond Grand Hotel Europe is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered. The splendor is palpable throughout 266 rooms and themed suites that transport guests to a bygone age of Tsars, with rare antique furnishings, restored original features and priceless works of art.
Yet, while the hotel has one foot firmly rooted in the city’s glorious past, it has kept up to date with all modern trends, amenities and conveniences – whether you’re enjoying a meal in one of the grand restaurants or indulging in a decadent spa experience. This is topped off with white-glove service that’s at once attentive and unobtrusive.
Most of all, you are surrounded by timeless glamour in an environment that’s a history lesson in itself. The fact that all of St. Petersburg’s pleasures and treasures are right on your doorstep is, well, simply a bonus.
An ode to St Petersburg’s glorious past, Belmond Grand Hotel Europe’s Unique Historic Suites evoke turn-of-the-century Tsarist elegance with plush fabrics, painstakingly restored antiques and picture windows overlooking Arts Square. Tucked into the northern wing of the hotel’s Historic Floor, their names give away a little hint of what to expect: Livdal, Pavarotti, Romanov, Mariinsky, Amber, Stravinsky, Imperial Yacht, Fabergé, Rossi, and Dostoyevsky.