Room at Alexander House, St. Petersburg, Russia

Alexander House

This is a family-run bed-and-breakfast in a residential part of St. Petersburg with only fourteen rooms. Each room is decorated differently and much of the furniture looks like it has been collected at fairs or flea markets. The couple who runs the hotel goes out of their way to make guests feel at home and to share their passion and knowledge of the city but this is not a spot for spoiled travelers seeking luxury and hop-to service; rather it is for those looking for a bargain or an authentic immersion experience. The only TVs are in the kitchen, which remains open all day and has a fireplace to create a cozy ambiance for guest gatherings.

Facade - Belmond Grand Hotel Europe,St. Petersburg, Russia

Belmond Grand Hotel Europe

This massive hotel just off of Nevsky Prospect has a storied history: where Tchaikovsky spent his honeymoon, and a favorite with Dostoevsky.

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Facade - Four Seasons Lion Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia

Four Seasons Lion Palace

You’d be forgiven if you confuse the newest St. Petersburg luxury hotel with one of the city’s Imperial Russian palaces. The Four Seasons Lion Palace, located directly on St. Isaac’s Square, is housed in an extraordinarily beautiful, early-19th century building that has been painstakingly renovated to its former glory.

In 1820, Prince Lobonov-Rostovsky, a close friend and aide-de-camp of Tsar Alexander I, built the triangular-shaped palace with architect August de Montferrand (the same who designed St. Isaac’s Cathedral across the square). Two marble lions by sculptor Paolo Triscorni front the imposing yellow-and-white Classicist façade, upheld with rows of proud columns. The statues, which were made immortal by the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, represent the pride and strength of the city, its people and culture, and are an apt symbol for the hotel and its majestic beauty. The building, which has since been the Ministry of War and a design school, opened as the first Four Seasons in Russia in 2013 after eight years of construction. While much of the hotel is restored (original features like the grand façade, columned lobby and magnificent marble staircase were renovated to landmark specifications), the building has been fully retrofitted to accommodate the most discerning 21st-century guests. Word is that the IT department had to install an unprecedented number of modems to ensure wireless signals could penetrate the three-foot-thick walls; while craftsmen who previously worked on Catherine’s Palace regilded the lobby ceilings.

Guest rooms boast high ceilings, detailed moldings and décor outfitted in pastel colors—designed with a nod to the city’s facades. Luxurious textiles like cashmere, silk, velvet and fine linen abound, creating soft and comfortable spaces. Modern-day amenities were considered as well, such as flatscreen TVs, heated bathroom floors and mirrors with built-in clocks and televisions. Many rooms have terraces and balconies with spectacular views of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and Voznesensky Prospekt, and as an added bonus, terrace floors are heated so that snow build-up doesn’t impede guests from stepping outside for (brief!) breaths of cold, fresh air. The Lobanov Presidential Suite boasts a magnificent balcony under the columned façade, a large living and dining room, a kitchen and a spacious bedroom. The master bath is the star, however, with painted frescoes and a bathtub carved out of a single piece of marble.

Dining options are plentiful, refined and delicious, including the Italian Percorso and pan-Asian Sintoho restaurants, the handsome, walnut-paneled Xander Bar and the Tea Lounge located in a romantic glass-domed winter garden courtyard. The magnificent four-story spa includes a banya (Russian bath) and a fitness room centered around an eight-foot-tall chandelier.

A city of palaces and theaters, St. Petersburg is undoubtedly best explored from a palace of one’s own, and as is the custom of Four Seasons properties, there is an emphasis on truly excellent service. Indeed the staff seems determined to make each guest feel like a member of the Romanovs. When Isadore Sharp, founder and CEO of Four Seasons, introduced the property, he described it as “the best of both worlds.” The hotel is distinctly of the modern era; guests are the movers and shakers of the world and St. Petersburg, and every detail is state-of-the-art luxury. And yet, the 19th century set-up, quirky architecture (the hotel still sits on a labyrinth of passages running throughout and underneath it) and refined sense of service are distinctly of another age. The beauty of the hotel is that it seamlessly blends these two worlds into an exceptionally comfortable and luxurious experience.

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Lounge at  Hotel Angleterre, St. Petersburg, Russia

Hotel Angleterre

Located directly next door to the Hotel Astoria, and sharing the same stunning view of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Angleterre is viewed as the Astoria’s more economical ‘annex’, but the property is, in fact, one of St. Petersburg’s oldest hotels, dating from 1840. Over the years it played host to such literary stars as Leo Tolstoy and Sergei Yesenen (who committed suicide in the hotel in 1925) and like St. Petersburg itself, changed its name multiple times—from the Napoleon and the Anglia, before settling on the Angleterre after the Occupation.

Today, the modern aesthetic and corridors lined with life-sized photographic portraits of ballerinas reveal little of the hotel’s history, and the 193 rooms and 5 suites are all simply decorated in a contemporary though un-memorable style. All deluxe rooms have views of St. Isaac’s, but the split-level Superior Deluxe rooms feel far more spacious and feature prints of works by avant-garde artist Malevic.

There is a highly regarded Italian restaurant, Borsalino, which plays live music every night, as well as a casual bar and comfortable lobby area.

The hotel has multiple meeting and event spaces, so is very popular with the business and conference crowd. Leisure travelers tend to prefer the Hotel Astoria for this reason, but make use of the Angleterre’s indoor pool and fitness center.

Exterior View - Hotel Astoria, St. Petersburg, Russia

Hotel Astoria

With spectacular views of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Winter Palace, this grande dame property blends history with sleek, modern décor.

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Exterior View -  Kempinski Hotel Moika 22, St. Petersburg, Russia

Kempinski Hotel Moika 22

The 197 bedrooms and 23 suites are outfitted with a nautical red, white and blue theme, but sadly lack any features reflecting the city so beautifully framed through many of the bedroom windows.

There are a number of dining options, including the Beau Rivage restaurant, serving a casual buffet for breakfast and elegant French cuisine for dinner. In the grand Tea Room sit in a wing back chairs next to the open fireplace and enjoy finger sandwiches, leaf tea and champagne. Below ground, the seasonal Wine Cellar 1853 offers rare cognacs and an international wine list. While on the top floor, the spectacular Bellevue restaurant boasts 360-degree city views and a Russian and international menu. Even if you don’t eat here, it is well worth sipping an afternoon drink in this elegant ambience.

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Aerial View : Taleon Imperial Hotel, St. Petersburg, Russia

Taleon Imperial Hotel

From the grand entrance on the Moika canal, guests are welcomed into a vast marble lobby complete with columns, fish tank, gold elevator and red-leather chairs, setting the “more is more” tone that continues throughout. The nineteen suites and ten rooms are individually designed with imported Italian furniture and hand-painted reproductions of classic artwork, although the grandest room, the Eliseev Suite boasts restored historical furnishings including an onyx and gold plated bathroom. Such ostentatious design details are difficult to keep in perfect condition, and most rooms have noticeably worn furniture and a strong smell of smoke.

Of their two fine dining restaurants, Taleon, on the first floor, is decked out with black marble fixtures and silk-upholstered banquet chairs and has become well known for its Sunday Brunch. The top floor restaurant Victoria, is worth a visit for the stunning views of the Kazansky Cathedral and for sampling such traditional dishes as boiled veal and milk-braised rabbit. The Cigar Lounge has the intimidating aesthetic of a traditional gentlemen’s club with dark wood, stained-glass windows and the some of best cognacs in the city. Guests can also play roulette, blackjack and poker in the hotel’s casino.

There is a compact spa on the second floor, which includes a small swimming pool, sauna, banya (a Russian steam bath) and Turkish bath and two treatment rooms. The ‘beauty parlour’ is a cupboard-sized room that looked unused on my visit.

Lounge at  W St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Russia

W St. Petersburg

The W is the hip and sexy hotel option for travelers to St. Petersburg who want to leave the imperial décor to the palaces.

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